CHARLOTTETOWN, Oct. 20 /CNW Telbec/ - People don't need to wear Spandex to fit in at Eireann Rigby's UFIT classes. Eireann, 34, broke the stereotypical fitness club mould when she developed a business from her vision of an all-inclusive, non-judgmental, fun group activity. With thousands of Islanders from all walks of life embracing her pay-as-you-go, $5-a-class concept, Eireann has earned BDC's Young Entrepreneur Award for P.E.I., which she will receive tonight at a ceremony in Ottawa.
"When I started UFIT, I chose the name to mean 'you belong' as well as to refer to fitness," Eireann points out. She had played professional basketball in Europe before starting her business seven years ago and had come to realize that people who weren't involved in organized sports had few opportunities to get active in a group setting. "I had a vision of an equal playing field for all, where it doesn't matter where you come from, who you are, what you do. I wanted to create a place where all feel equal and comfortable and non-judged and excited." One of Eireann's goals was to make it easy for people to attend her classes, and that meant making it inexpensive and flexible. That resulted in the $5-a-class fee on a pay-as-you-go basis. "It hasn't changed a bit in seven years," she says. "I have fought hard not to raise the price, even with costs going up."
As the UFIT approach caught on, the business expanded. Eireann now employs eight instructors who provide 20 classes per week in eight locations across the province, with average attendance of 100 people per class in a big street party atmosphere. "We have people of all shapes and sizes from all walks of life, ranging from young children to grandmothers in their 70s."
For Eireann, the success of UFIT is due in large measure to the team of instructors and volunteers she works with, including her husband, Gordon McNeilly, who is both a master trainer and a motivational leader. "Gord and I work together and UFIT wouldn't be what it is without both of us," she says.
Feedback from class participants is what continues to drive Eireann and her team. "Nothing beats the feeling you get when people tell you that you have changed their life."
Beyond the gym
Building on its growing success, the company has branched out into providing motivational seminars that help organizations manage change, under the banner "The Power to Believe," and has produced two fitness videos.
It has also created its own foundation, UFIT CARES, fuelled by the enthusiasm of UFIT participants. "People who had been helped by UFIT wanted to give something back," says Eireann. "We created the UFIT Foundation when we decided to do something at Christmas for needy families. Last year, we gave food, toys and clothing to 125 families."
Five years ago, UFIT put together a team in the Canadian Cancer Society Relay for Life. From a small start, the team grew to well over 100 and went on to win the Society's team spirit award. This year, the Cancer Society developed an award in their name to be presented to the most spirited team.
"Eireann had a vision and, with hard work and conviction, she has turned it into a growing concern. It's more than a successful business; she has also infused it with passion that she is igniting in others," says BDC President and CEO Jean-René Halde.
"We've realized that UFIT is more powerful than an average aerobics class," says Eireann. "It has been a lifesaver in so many ways for so many people."
Recognition for young leaders
A major feature of Small Business Week, BDC's Young Entrepreneur Awards recognize the entrepreneurial spirit and the business and leadership accomplishments of Canadians between the ages of 19 and 35. Winners are selected by panels of business people from across the country, who consider the originality of the business concept, success, growth potential and social involvement. They also take into account the entrepreneur's age when the business was started and any special challenges that were overcome.
2009 YEA and Small Business Week partners
Platinum partners of the 2009 Young Entrepreneur Awards and Small Business Week are Deloitte and Export Development Canada. Gold partners are Borden Ladner Gervais, and Maclean's.
BDC is Canada's business development bank. From more than 100 offices across the country, BDC promotes entrepreneurship by providing highly tailored financing, venture capital and consulting services to entrepreneurs. Visit www.bdc.ca for more information.
Small Business Week is a registered trademark of BDC.
SOURCE Business Development Bank of Canada
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