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Jazzercise founder continues dancing to success

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There was no blueprint or business plan, just simple steps leading to an international franchise.

Judi Sheppard Missett’s passion for dance modified with simplified choreography evolved into the household fitness name, Jazzercise.

The founder and CEO of the Carlsbad-based company created the dance fitness program 38 years ago.

Yet it was just recently that Jazzercise reported its most successful year in the company’s history with sales topping $85 million for the 2006/2007 fiscal year.

The company has been able to tout such success for each of the past six years due to its ability to change. Missett said awareness, acceptance and action equals achievement.

“In your life you have signs that tell you when to change and if you’re aware of them you can make the most of them,” Missett explained to business students at California State University, San Marcos on Wednesday.

“If you stay the same, you never grow,” she added.

Since training five women to teach her fitness program in 1977, the company has grown in fiscal numbers and expanded to other outlets.

Jazzercise is currently comprised of 150 employees and 7,200 instructors teaching more than 32,000 classes weekly in 32 countries.

Divisions of the company include Jazzertogs, a fitness apparel and equipment line launched in 1982 and JM DigitalWorks, a multimedia production company founded in 1984.

The growth of the company began with the help of San Diego’s Army wives. Many of the people in Missett’s fitness classes were wives of Army personnel who, when they moved, “they took Jazzercise with them.”

As Jazzercise grew to 1,200 instructors who operated as independent contractors across the country, Missett said the decision to franchise resulted in giving them “a sense of ownership.”

The fitness industry is usually low-paying, according to Missett. However, she said one of the Jazzercise instructors is currently making six figures -- proof of the franchise's success.

When it came to translating the business overseas, Missett said it was not difficult because “music and dance is truly a universal language.”

Jazzercise was not based solely on strategy -- Missett also relied on her gut instinct. She learned to trust such inclinations after losing a quarter of a million dollars creating an infomercial in the 1990s.

Missett attributes this as her biggest mistake because Jazzercise is a people-based program, not a product-based one.

She also did not look at the business venture as a gamble.

"When you love what you do, it’s not a risk,” she explained.

Missett continues to be active in the company through choreographing new routines and ensuring a certain image is conveyed. She said Jazzercise is “not your grandma’s program.”

The franchise currently has programs for every age, shape and size.

As for the reported recent success, it’s not a result of a comeback. Missett said they’ve been around the whole time.

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Online Videos

* Judi Sheppard Missett's class discussion

* Interview with Judi Sheppard Missett

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