It's a sound strategy, said Figarelli, whose book covers 100 years of working out, from 1900 to 2000. "Most group exercise instructors will just go with the next popular class. But if Zumba is your business, instructors will stay with that."
Ensuring instructors are successful has become the company's main mission. "We have three people who all they do is call up gyms all day and try to find instructors employment," said company co-founder Alberto Perlman.
The company has made Zumba instructors easy to find, with a worldwide listing that includes all of their network instructors' classes regularly updated on the company's website. Instructors also receive new music and choreography about every two months. The music department now creates music just for Zumba classes, with original songs that include Zumbalicious, Que Te Mueve and Caipirinha, which was a No. 1 song in Israel.
Zumba Fitness makes its money on its instructors academy, instructors courses, monthly fee for instructors in their network and on all its brand merchandise. The company has built its own line of hip, colorful clothing and footwear, workout DVDS, two video games, original music and a lifestyle magazine, Z-Life.
The first Zumba Fitness video game came out in 2010 and was a big success, selling more than four million copies - and outperforming Harry Potter's new video game. "One headline said, 'Harry Potter and magic can't vanquish Zumba,' " Perlman said.
International music stars Pitbull and Wyclef Jean have seen the value of the Zumba loyalists and their love of music. Both performed at Zumba's national convention last year in Orlando, where 7,000 instructors from around the world congregated.
This was not the business model when Zumba Fitness was founded in Aventura, Fla., in 2001 by the "three Albertos" - creator Perez and boyhood friends Perlman and Aghion, both entrepreneurs in their mid-20s and natives of Colombia. The trio's original plan was simple: produce VHS workout tapes of Perez' popular South Florida classes to sell around the country on infomercials.
The story of Zumba Fitness predates even those humble plans, dating back to 1986 - in the slums of Cali, Colombia. And it's a story that includes rejection, a mother's prodding, the dot-com bubble burst, a Baywatch babe, some tiny fibs, John Travolta and even Tony the Tiger.
Perez fell in love with dancing at age 7 by watching a VHS tape of the 1978 movie Grease, starring Travolta. At age 16, he was teaching aerobics classes for $1 an hour. One day, he forgot his prepared music. All he had in his backpack was a cassette tape of merengue and salsa music he recorded off the radio.
His morning class was full of moms who had dropped their kids off at school. "I can't say, 'Hey sorry, I forgot my music'," Perez said. "I say to the people: 'I have a new class I prepared for a long time.' It was not true. I improvised for one hour."
The moms loved the dancing exercise. Perez turned it into a regular class in Cali. He soon moved to the Colombian capital of Bogota, where he continued those classes and became a choreographer for Sony Music and Shakira.
In 1999, Perez came to the United States for the first time. He pounded the pavement on South Beach, going from gym to gym. Nobody was interested in this new dance exercise class by a guy who couldn't speak English.
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