Even as her boutique fitness studio Upside Motion goes into its fifth year, Beh Hwee Sze still looks back with gratitude at how far she has come.
She had picked up Pilates at the advice of a chiropractor, whom she had consulted for a string of health problems, including chronic sleep deprivation, sinus infection and a pinched nerve on the back.
Hwee Sze’s role in hospitality procurement in her family business meant she often had to travel to different parts of the world. Here, her time was spent on working with hotel owners, designers and manufacturers to acquire items such as furniture, artworks and bathroom amenities.
She says, “There were weeks for which I slept in different hotels every night! I also had to squeeze in time to return to Singapore every two or three months. The schedule was intense. In order to recuperate, I cut back on travelling and grounded myself in Singapore.”
While she enjoyed Pilates, she didn’t like practising it at a big gym – “and having to fork out thousands of dollars for the yearly membership”. Observing that many in Singapore were now more aware of the importance of healthy living, she knew there would be others like her, who preferred working out in smaller-sized classes with more affordable fees.
So, despite having practised Pilates for only less than two years, she quit her full-time job to establish Upside Motion.
Hwee Sze, 32, says: “Everything happened so fast that when the opportunity presented itself, I simply thought, ‘Why not?’ I didn’t think I even had time to find courage then. Entrepreneurship is a trait that runs deep in my family, so it wasn’t a matter of why but a matter of when.”
Being a shrewd entrepreneur also requires a good understanding of one’s personal strength(s), which she demonstrated right from the start. For starters, she decided to focus on running the business, instead of taking on teaching duties too. It led to many queries from friends and business associates, which left her occasionally feeling insecure, but she refused to give in.
“I’ve learnt to challenge the notion of such expectations. In the same way, not all restaurant owners are chefs, right? I focus on being a good student, and allow my instructors to do what they do best. I get to attend their classes and provide feedback from a student’s point of view. The instructors also get to boss me around for an hour,” she says, with a laugh.
This turned out to be one of her best moves ever. Upside Motion broke even after two-and-half years, and now has two studios in Armenian Street and Orchard Shopping Centre. Both offer a total of 100 classes in Pilates, Aerial and Xtend Barre every week.
Most recently, the studio rolled out an Xtend Barre Babies on Board programme, where new mothers will be taken through the Xtend Barre routine while their babies watch as they nestle safely in a sling. The programme seeks to encourage new mothers to return to their fitness regime without feeling the guilt of leaving their children at home, offers Hwee Sze, who is single.
Read on for Hwee Sze’s lessons on living happily and letting go.
What were some of the challenges you had to overcome when you started Upside Motion?
I had no background in the fitness industry when I started Upside Motion, so the first few years were a matter of trial and error. I spent effort and time to grow the company, define its ethos and study the best practices.
For example, when Upside Motion began, there was no clear late-cancellation policy for our classes. The significant number of no-shows and late-cancellation on a daily basis hurt our staff morale and affected our bottom line. We decided to notify and educate clients that fees would apply for such instances.
We also wanted to make it easier for them to manage their classes. Three years ago, we became the first fitness studio to introduce a mobile app, which allowed clients to book/cancel classes and review purchases and visit records. Response has been good and attendance improved.
The most important lesson you learnt since starting Upside Motion?
The ultimate goal in life is happiness and everyone defines that slightly differently. Not all relationships, be they friends, employees or even clients, will work out smoothly. Sometimes we have to recognise when to let go so everyone can seek our own happy paths.
What was the hardest thing you had to learn to let go in order to pursue Upside Motion?
It was the opportunity to work alongside my parents before they retire. I hope I will have another chance to do so soon. The family business is very close to my heart and I’m still kept in the loop about its growth and development.
What advice can you offer other women who want to start their own business?
Create a positive space and surround yourself only with honest people who have the best interest for you and your business. During moments of chaos (there will be lots!), find your zen, stand your ground and stay resilient.
Know where to focus your energy and time. Not all battles are worth fighting and not all opportunities are worth pursuing. It is important to have a clear vision of how you want your business to be.
Diet, exercise and rest – how important is each in your life?
There’s so much to do in a day that we often neglect rest. We wake up too early to get stuck in traffic and we stay up on our computers/tablets/smartphones till way too late for our own good. I believe that getting enough sleep is crucial to starting the day right.
I still do Pilates twice a week. I don’t have a strict diet or exercise plan. I indulge in chocolate, fried chicken and desserts ever so often 🙂 I keep everything in moderation. If I need to unwind, I go for a full-body deep tissue massage or a lymphatic facial at the spa.
How often do you travel these days?
Once every quarter of the year. The only place where I can achieve total me-time is in the plane. I don’t have to speak to anyone. I don’t need to check my phone or mailbox. I can catch up on movies and get as much sleep as I need.
When I reach my destination, I keep fit by walking. That’s how I explore new places. It’s really easy to clock 15,000-20,000 steps daily while on vacation. My favourite city to walk is Barcelona in Spain. It has mild weather, lovely cobblestone walkways, beautiful architecture, and a tapas bar at every corner to rest your feet and sip on sangria!
Finally, your strangest ever thought during Pilates class?
“You mean I’ve been breathing wrongly all my life?”
For more on Xtend Barre Babies on Board programme, visit Upside Motion. Here’s a preview of how the programme can help mothers bond better with their newborns.