Black female-owned businesses are the fastest growing economic force in the U.S. The number of black women-owned businesses grew 67 percent between 2007 and 2012, outpacing the 27 percent growth rate for female-owned businesses, reports the U.S. Census Bureau. The rapid growth is particularly impressive and hard-won considering the challenges that black women face as entrepreneurs, including lack of startup capital, resources and loans, along with racial and gender discrimination within the largely white, male-dominated sectors of financing and technology.
In spite of considerable hurdles, Suzette Allen, co-founder and CEO of Sweattboxx Wellness Center, has built a highly successful business offering personal training and wellness coaching. We chatted with her about what it took to get to this point and what’s next for her.
Callie Zimmerman: Tell us about where the idea for your business came from.
Suzette Allen: I used to work for Medicaid, so I worked for the state of Indiana. Overall I noticed a lot of unhealthy individuals when they would call or we had to go out and do visits. I did some home visits and found out that often times it was because people were obese, unhealthy, high-risk, illnesses — things like that. So I began to personal train myself; it came from a biometric screening at work. When they show you those numbers, it’s kind of a WOW factor. From there, I began to look into a personal trainer so that I could better myself. After personal training, I realized that I enjoyed it, so I started researching a little bit more: how am I able to assist the community? I became an advocate for wellness and obtained my group certification. Once I did that, I was doing [fitness] part time and then it became a little bit more. Next thing you know, after ten years of my job with corporate, I walked away from it and went into fitness full time.
CZ: Can you elaborate more on the products and services that you offer?
SA: My husband (Daniel Sweatt) and I co-own the Sweattboxx Wellness Center. We are personal trainers and provide one-on-one individual customized programs for people that tend to not want to be around other people. They like that private one-on-one attention and they like the structure. And then we have (and I love this program!) WWTT (Wonder Woman Transformation Team), and basically it’s just women in weights. We keep a small group, between two to four people. We bring the women in and they work out together. Different goals, but same style workout. That’s a major thing we do here, women in weights. And then we’re known, of course, for SweattBounce. We do Kangoo Jumps, Bounce Boots, Body Sculpt — all of these fall into the flow of group fitness. We are currently launching our Kangoo Discovery Program for Kids, which is basically Bounce Boots, but it’s a learning curriculum going back to wellness. We also do health and wellness coaching and I enjoy that part of it, because I actually get a chance to talk to people, find out their obstacles and barriers and help them to de-stress. Oftentimes they come in for personal training but they have barriers, and the only way to get them to their goals is to help them break down what’s keeping them from getting there.
CZ: What does a typical Kangoo Discovery Program for Kids experience look like?
SA: The amazing thing is that we’re the only place internationally licensed to teach the program here in Indiana, so we’re treading into new waters here. Generally, we’ll take on about ten to fifteen children and bring some volunteers in to assist us. We’re putting kids together between the age of five all the way up to fifteen. Summer camp is all ages, but for the program itself we keep it to ages five to nine, ten to twelve, and thirteen to fifteen. When they come in, we get into a little safe circle and explain to them “Hi, this is how the boots came to be… would you guys like to put the Bounce Boots on?” We talk about how to safely put them on, do a safe fall, and show them how to get up. Then we do follow the leader and get them to pay attention to us. When they’re paying attention they get a sticker as a reward. After that we get into a circle and do some exercises, then we do spelling bees, maybe dodge ball. It’s a progressive eight-week program, so the more they come the more they’re building their skills.
CZ: Who are some of your professional mentors?
SA: I would say my husband first. We work together and sometimes that can be challenging, but he really supports, pushes, and motivates me. He allows me to do this full-time so I get to pursue my passion. Outside of that, I probably have to give some kudos to the BOI (Business Ownership Initiative) with Sarah who provided some business coaching for me in 2019 to help propel us into 2020. Then we have Source River West — we were the recipients of a grant from the Jason Andrews Seed Fund. They purchased our Kangoo Jump boots for our babies and allowed us to have that jump start (ha) for 2020. The PopUp Business School also helped us. I didn’t really have people, I had events that I went to, like the Center of Wellness for Urban Women. We did a year program with female African American entrepreneurs and we’re just now finishing up that class.
CZ: What are some challenges you’ve faced running your business?
SA: First would be our location, as far as our size. When we did just personal training, it was excellent for what we needed. We quickly outgrew that by the time we added the Kangoo Jumps program. Another thing as a small entrepreneur is your day-to-day financial expenses. People don’t realize that everything costs, from your toiletries to your electrical and so on. And oftentimes we don’t say competitors, but I think that to not say competitors would be wrong. Indiana has more Kangoo Jump and personal trainers than most states, so it can be very challenging. So we have to go back and remember what sets us apart. Lastly, a big challenge is being a black female entrepreneur. At first I was not able to identify a lot of resources, but now I’ve been able to do that and it’s been great.
CZ: You said you have to remember what sets you apart. What sets Sweattboxx apart from the competition?
SA: For one, [Daniel and I] are one of the few couples that actually train together. When people come in we say “you’ve been tagged by team Sweatt.” Normally you would not have two trainers. Another thing is — people will tell you — our smile. When they walk in, the atmosphere is totally different. If you notice, we have carpet in our gym. Most gyms don’t. My husband is adamant that it be more of a warm, inviting environment.
CZ: What’s your favorite way of communicating with and marketing to your clients?
SA: Face to face! I am so old-school, I still have that personalized touch. I go live every other day on Facebook and use social media a lot. I love to go live with a smile, be upbeat, and target their needs — what are they looking for? And then I do simple things, like networking events. I always bring something that’s not a business card, something that’s going to allow them to remember us.
CZ: Where do you see your business going in the next five years?
SA: As of this week, we’ll be moving into our larger location. We’re thinking, will it allow us to grow an additional four years in that space? We’re also becoming more mobile so that we can hit all sides of Indiana.
CZ: What’s one big project that you’re working on right now?
SA: Our Kangoo Discovery Program for Kids. It is launching as we speak. It’s a mobile program; we go to various parts of town. We pitched to United Way for the daycare centers, to the police department, some of the larger daycare centers, as well as after school programs. So we’re working on securing those. We have secured something with the YMCA for a summer camp. So it’s on a case-by-case basis and we’re taking six of those on for this year.
CZ: What issues are important to you today?
SA: Obesity. Indiana ranked as the 11th state in the U.S. for obesity. We were number 35 for the top unhealthiest states in the world. That’s really discouraging. We’re known for eating a lot and eating unhealthy. At Sweattboxx we don’t discourage anyone, but the health and wellness coaching part is key. I say, “Tell me, what do you like to eat? If you had to switch your diet, what would you do? How can we help?” Our goal is to target obesity, to reduce it, working with the children — and adults, because when you work with adults they’re going to begin to foster more healthy eating at home.
CZ: What are some goals you are working towards for your business?
SA: One thing is that we did go paperless for 2020. We want to become more online, have more online presence to reduce paper. I’m plant-based and try to conserve as much as I can to help the earth. I also want to recycle more with our gym. We’re going through a rebranding for 2020. As we’re going through that rebranding, we’re going to do crowd funding. We would like to own our own location, not rent.
CZ: What advice would you give to other aspiring entrepreneurs?
SA: I tell people to research, research, research. You can have a passion but that doesn’t mean you can do what it is that you want to do. So make sure that you research and study. Every day, read a book — read something knowledgeable about your program or product. Ask questions. There is no dumb question to ask. And build a team. My husband and I are together; I operate the business while he works a full-time job. Volunteers have come on board to be a team and I wish we had started that in the beginning. And just have great customer service. Whatever you do, do it with a smile.
CZ: Is there a quote that has inspired you along the way?
SA: “Why fit in when you were born to stand out?” — Dr. Seuss
“If you copy, it means you’re working without any real feeling. No two people on earth are alike, and it’s got to be that way in music or it isn’t music.” — Billie Holiday
Basically, be your authentic self.