Tara Simich is 23 years old. She is a Perth based entrepreneur, having founded The Jungle Body when she was 19, which now sports over 300 franchises across 6 countries. For the first two years, the business made a loss. Not a cent in sight. Then, the UK discovered the boutique fitness craze and from there, Tara hasn’t looked back.
Exercise is obviously very dear to you. Where did your love of exercise begin?
I didn’t think that I would end up in fitness. Now in hindsight my whole life has been about fitness. My Mum was always into health and fitness. I remember being 10 years old and doing Denise Austin workouts DVD’s with Mum. I always loved the gym through high school and I danced (ballroom dancing). I was always around health, fitness & dance but it never occurred to me that it would be something I’d end up in.
What did you study at university?
Bachelor of Commerce, Economics and Management. I always knew from early on that I wanted to be in business and I loved anything to do with economics. I knew I wanted to work in finance and economics. I really loved it.
What was your role with Price Waterhouse Coopers?
Once I finished school I got a traineeship with PWC and worked with them for 12 months full time in a special advisory program where I studied accounting at night. That was my dream job at that point.
You then headed off overseas. What bought this about?
I received a scholarship to study for one semester abroad in New York. I went there thinking I would come straight back after 3 months. When I got there I got a job and it was working for these two guys who wanted to open up a gym. My role was to research how much it was going to cost and ascertain the financial projections for the gym. In the time that I had that job that I started to see there was a gap in the market.
Gap in the market for what exactly?
For group fitness. There is pretty much just Les Mills. That is all they offer in gyms in Australia along with yoga, pilates and zumba. There are no other big players or major competitors. Les Mills has a complete monopoly over the market. I noticed this gap and decided to fill it specifically around group fitness for women and people who weren’t totally coordinated. The average Australian woman.
Did you design the Jungle Body programs yourself or was it something already in existence in the US?
When I got back to Australia, I basically started thinking of the ultimate workout. For me that combined cardio, dancing, boxing, pilates all in one. I started teaching one class per week. I called it konga. It was out of control and we had hundreds of people attending the one class I was holding per week. I then came up with The Jungle Body from there and branded the konga work out.
How did people find out about it?
Word of mouth and social media. It was insane. When I first started the business I had no money. I was 19. It was purely through word of mouth and social media that the word spread.
How long did it take to come up with the workout?
It didn’t take me long. I’d spent that 12 months in the US, trialling these classes as that was my job. I’d tried everything possible in the US. I knew what I wanted and what I wanted to create. I was a dancer so was coordinated enough to start teaching it. We now have 5 programs but that original program is still there, konga.
Is it in Melbourne yet?
Victoria has two but not near the city.
Are you looking for instructors?
Yes. We do a training program online. You complete online training and video yourself doing our routines. We assess people this way. Instructors pay a monthly fee to receive all the choreography. Ultimately instructors work for themselves. They can teach in gyms, health clubs, schools, rec centres. Some do it full time, some teach once per week. We just haven’t done much promotion in Melbourne. We are focusing overseas in the UK as it’s our main market. In Australia we are a little slower on the uptake in the fitness industry. UK is the main growth area so we are focusing energy there.
How influential were Wladimir and Matteo in deciding how you run your business today? Have they taken on roles as mentors for you?
It wasn’t necessarily specifically them who have inspired or helped me. It was more the role that I had, which allowed me to understand the fitness industry and to understand the gaps in the market and how it can be improved. I went to a zumba training course as part of my job and that was when I realised I could do better in the training and quality control of instructors. The role in the US enabled me to educate myself. I’m still in touch with Matteo.
Note: Wladimir is the partner of Hayden Panettiere from the Heroes series.
What was the catalyst for you starting The Jungle Body in 2009? Was there anything in particular that made you think “I’m just going to do it”?
It just happened that I had the role working for Matteo and Wladimir and saw a gap in the market and I knew I had the abilities to make it work. I did have a dance background. I knew I could physically create this business. I knew I could achieve great things. Australia was so behind in the fitness industry and so it was a great place to start. Especially Perth, where everyone really supported it.
Did you always know you’d be go into business for yourself?
I always wanted to work for myself as my family works for themselves. I always thought I would have some kind of business consultancy, something to do with economics. In that industry you need to work your way up. The plan was to work for a big company like PWC for 10 years and then venture out by myself.
How were you feeling when you took your first class?
Most people thought I was having a break down. I’d just left my job at PWC. Anyone who knew me knew I was so focused on business, economics and finance and to be suddenly teaching a group fitness class was mind blowing to people. I knew it had potential and could be a massive franchise. People couldn’t understand why I was taking on Les Mills and Zumba. The first few years was the hardest part as not many people understood my vision. It was a lot of hard work and it wasn’t profitable for the first two years. Being overseas has allowed us to build our rapport and reputation more. Here in Australia, gyms like Fernwood fitness didn’t want to hear from us. Then the manager saw we were in the UK and she emailed us to get the programs in there. International expansion has been really really important.
Probably perseverance. Because I had so many roadblocks just being so young, having no investors and no cash flow and so many people saying no. I persevered and stayed determined. Even my partner was saying what’s the point. Persevering and staying determined. It has all been worth it now, four years down the track. Getting through those first two years was really difficult.
What made you keep going?
I just believed that these workouts were the best. Every time a gym took on the program, they were raving about the results. Everyone loved the values of the company. I just knew it needed to get out there and people needed to see it. There is still nothing that compares to it to this day. I knew there was demand for the product, someone just needed to provide it.
You now have over 300 Franchises in 6 different Countries around the Globe. That’s fairly quick growth. How have you managed such a fast growing company?
Firstly, putting in place our IT. That was the first thing. When we started everything was manually entered into an excel document. When we started to notice the major growth after the first course in the UK, we had to take it up a level in the back end. We were also dealing with different currencies and the direct debits. It opened us up to a lot of legalities as well. Getting all this in hand and getting the best programs has helped. Building a great team is also important. Two girls work in business development for me and they’ve been with me since the very beginning. At the beginning they worked for free for me. Having people like this around has been instrumental as they believe in the program and got on board because they were passionate about the product.
Do you have any mentors?
No I don’t. No real mentors.
Who do you go to for business advice?
I don’t really have anyone I go to. I can’t think of anyone. If anyone, it would probably be my husband as he has his own business. He is very big about business and cash flow. He always grounds me and been helpful with the fundamentals. He’s always been there to remind me that making a business profitable is super important. A lot of businesses don’t make a profit. He’s helped me see that turning my passion into a profitable business is how to sustain it.
What is the Jungle Body mission?
To create the ultimate fitness experience for women. It’s all about being totally approachable and easy. That was the main driving force. It has to be easy for anyone to do. There are a lot of workouts out there for the super fit body builder types. Konga is an all in one workout. Most people don’t have time for four different workouts and this makes them all accessible for everyone and anyone.
What’s next for Tara Simich?
We are wanting to focus more on Europe next year. We expanded into the UK over 12 months ago and that’s been exceptional. The UK has really taken on board the program so we want to expand into France and Europe. We are also planning to do a workout DVD.
If someone wants to attends a Jungle Body class, where would they go?
Head to the website, click on find a class and there’s a map – zoom into your area.