Jazzercise Inc.

Jazz 1

Jazzercise endures with a focus on fun, fitness, and healthy and empowered women.

By Staci Davidson

Jazzercise has 8,300+ franchisees teaching more than 32,000 classes each week in 32 countries around the world. While some may associate the fitness class brand with leg-warmers and leotards of the 1980s when Jazzercise exploded in popularity, the company is celebrating its 50th anniversary next year because the original dance party workout takes pride in staying current with its audience and continuously attracting new franchisees and attendees. 

Judi Sheppard Missett created Jazzercise in 1969 and today runs the company as the CEO and founder, while continuing to teach Jazzercise classes every week. Her daughter, Shanna Missett Nelson, is the company’s president and an instructor. Classes offer a high-intensity fitness program that combines cardio with strength training, Pilates, hip hop, yoga and kickboxing. Although the music and dance styles have changed a bit since its inception, Jazzercise maintains its founding philosophy of offering a fun and inclusive environment. 

“We have a program that is for everybody,” Sheppard Missett says. “Jazzercise reaches all kinds of folks and that is because our philosophy has endured. We want these classes to be fun and have the people feel successful and have the classes work. When you put all of that together, customers get addicted and from there, a community develops. Jazz fact box

“When someone walks in the door to a class for the first time, they don’t feel intimidated because it’s a welcoming atmosphere,” she continues. “Our instructors try to engage the customers and help them work through the movements the best they can. While some people are not attracted to a dance workout, it’s really fun for us and fun for customers who do love that type of class. As a result, we have a huge retention rate, including many customers who have been with us almost from the beginning.”

Many Opportunities

Jazzercise’s popularity and business have endured because the classes are fun for the customers as well as the instructors. This level of enjoyment is what spurs many customers to become franchisees. 

“People come in, they sweat like crazy, those endorphins come out and they find they have something that they can do for a long time,” Sheppard Missett explains. “The program has evolved and changed over the years and there is always variety so no one gets bored. Music changes and the choreography changes. I’ve always said, ‘Do not be afraid to change.’ I have always thought that change was fun and exciting – it keeps me interested.”

Sheppard Missett enjoys seeing how passionate franchisees become about the brand while evolving and becoming great at business. Jazzercise is attractive to potential franchisees, she notes, because it doesn’t require a large financial investment to get started, and they can teach classes as their sole business or have another job and do this on the side. 

“This business keeps you in shape but you can do it part-time and still do something else,” she says. “It’s attractive to stay-at-home moms and professional women because it’s a nice way to make a living but you have time for other things as well. We give people opportunities: if they want to do it part time as a hobby, that is available. If they want to make it a career, that is available as well.”

Jazzercise began franchising because Sheppard Missett had to decide if instructors would be employees or franchisees. The company’s instructors started as independent contractors, but her lawyers and accountants found that wasn’t working. Sheppard Missett believed that as employees, instructors wouldn’t feel the business was their own, but as franchisees, they could do with the business as they wish and empower themselves as business owners. 

“It has worked so well, and that choice is one of the best things I’ve ever done,” she says. “As franchisees, they are allowed to do what they love and it’s allowed me to help them be as successful as they want.”

Premier Experience

Usually franchisees start out in class as a customer. When they decide they want to go further and become an instructor, they are mentored by an established instructor to ensure they really have the ability to do what they need to do to be a Jazzercise franchisee. Sheppard Missett says “they need the right personality, the right mentality and the right reasons to do this,” and if they fit those standards, they start an extensive training program with their mentor and other trainers. They have to audition by teaching specific routines, and if they succeed with that, they go through more training. Once they pass the physiology test and practical of teaching routines they are granted a franchise. 

It costs approximately $2,500 if someone wants to be an associate franchisee, where they are teaching classes and only need to invest in apparel and the music. Owner instructors’ investment costs range from about $9,000 to $38,000, depending if they operate classes in an existing space – such as a community center or town hall – or if they want to open their own brick-and-mortar space. 

“We need all those people so we can offer as many classes to the public as possible,” Sheppard Missett explains. “Today, people are busy so they want to be able to choose when to go to a class. We always want to be in places where people frequent.”

Once Jazzercise franchisees are established they receive continual support from the company. The corporate office is always available, and sales managers are in the field to work one-on-one with class owners. The company holds many conferences to give franchisees the latest ideas in marketing and promotion, and every 10 weeks, they receive new Choreography Collections. Jazzercise’s training and development department also works with franchisees, and assessment coordinators help franchisees teach and develop the best programs. Instructor development associates are also in the field, offering different seminars to support the franchisees. 

Additionally, “The Studio” is an online platform where instructors can get any information they need about Jazzercise and its classes. This includes marketing information, promotions and dance technique tips. Jazzercise also offers continuing education where franchisees can take classes one-on-one or as part of a group, and an apparel division with outfits that are designed for instructors and customers. 

“We want to provide our franchisees with the resources and inspiration to create, promote and execute a premier dance fitness experience that helps people change their bodies and their lives,” Sheppard Missett says.



Passion Party

Jazzercise is appropriate for any geographic market, Sheppard Missett says, but it continues to develop new programs and classes to attract new customers. For example, the company is offering a low-impact program for older customers that is less strenuous and easier on the joints and the body. It also is developing programs for younger customers who like to work hard but still like to have fun. Sheppard Missett stresses that new programs keep its clients interested. 

“People may feel like we haven’t changed since they first heard of us, but if we hadn’t changed we wouldn’t still be here,” she says. “We really want to attract folks who already know about us and show them what we offer that’s new. My daughter, Shanna, is president of Jazzercise, and she is an instructor, choreographer and fantastic businesswoman. She is leading the charge to move the company forward with new programs and new people. You are only as good as the people you’ve surrounded yourself with, and we are so blessed to have people who want to buy into my passion and bring their own passion to the party. 

“What is great is the fact that we have touched millions of people and helped them to improve their health and wellbeing,” she adds. “I am very proud that we have reached out to thousands of women and helped them to get into business – women who never thought they could do this. There is so much dedication here, they work very hard and it makes me very proud.”


Sidebar – A Force in the Community

Judi Sheppard Missett has been dedicated to giving back to Jazzercise’s communities since the company’s inception, and it has raised more than $30 million for charity over the years while also staying involved in different women’s business groups. Last year, Jazzercise stepped up its community activity with the introduction of GirlForce, a program focused on healthy lifestyles for young women.

“We wanted to do something for young women who want to be healthy, fit and feel empowered,” Sheppard Missett says. “With GirlForce, we offered free classes for women aged 16 to 21, and they could come to any class. It was incredible the response we received – so many young women came and loved it, and many waited until they were 18 to become instructors. We got so many wonderful letters of endorsement – it was such a great way to give back to the community and it was so simple.”

Sidebar – Celebrating Good Times

In June 2019, the San Diego Convention Center is going to be moving to the beat, because Jazzercise will be celebrating its 50th anniversary in business. The two-day party will put a spotlight on original instructors, instructors who are excelling today, instructors bringing Jazzercise to overseas markets and all of the milestones over the years, as well as non-stop entertainment and dancing. Additionally, Sheppard Missett’s book – Building a Business with a Beat, Leadership Lessons from Jazzercise – An Empire Built on Passion, Purpose, and Heart – will be released by publisher McGraw Hill.

“It will be a huge party and a lot of fun,” Founder and CEO Judi Sheppard Missett says. “I’m thrilled to be having this celebration – it’s not really my party, it’s for everyone else. It’s for everyone who has made all of this possible through the years.”


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