As a part of my series about the women in wellness, I had the pleasure of interviewing Joia Kopelow, co-owner and full-time multi-unit operator of StretchLab in Chicago, IL. Prior to StretchLab, Joia worked managing and opening retail stores and also spent four years working in advertising at various companies including British Broadcasting Company and The New York Times. She was an early adopter of StretchLab, under the XPonential Fitness umbrella, and her studio StretchLab Lakeview was officially the third location in the country to open.
Joia, the daughter of a Suzuki violin teacher, spent her school years studying to be a professional violinist. It wasn’t until Joia was halfway through college that she realized she was finding more enjoyment at her ice hockey practices and gym workouts then she was practicing the violin. While she still graduated with a B.A. in Music, she also added on a B.A. in Psychology and a minor in Economics. Graduating college during the recession slowed down Joia’s path towards finding a fulfilling and stable career life. She spent four year working in retail management with Abercrombie & Fitch where she eventually worked her way up to being on the new stores team where she had the opportunity to open new Hollister locations in Germany and England. Joia didn’t plan on spending her life working in retail, so she left that world after four years and found a position with the British Broadcasting Company in advertising, starting at the coordinator level. She worked her way up through various positions including a position with The New York Times, a programmatic advertising company, and an advertising agency. After the birth of her son, Joia was still in search of a more fulfilling career and also some much-needed work-life balance that would allow her to fulfill her strong career ambitions and also be a loving and present mother. She made a giant leap of faith towards purchasing the rights to three StretchLab studios located on the Northside of Chicago and is finally finding fulfillment in her work by helping people with their health & wellness journey.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you share your top three “lifestyle tweaks” that will help support people’s journey towards better wellbeing?
- Work-life balance is my number one lifestyle tweak! It’s possible, albeit difficult to find a position that allows it in The United States, to be incredibly ambitious but to still find time for friends, family, vacation, serving others, and hobbies. Without the space for life outside of work, it is nearly impossible to find true happiness and health.
- Move your body every day. I don’t personally own a Fitbit, but I support those that do because it teaches people to be conscious of when they are getting too sedentary. You don’t need to do anything fancy to workout, just walk a couple miles every day or take a walk every lunch break and you’ll find your health improves a lot!
Can you share the interesting story that happened to you since you started your career?
I was always sure I would never work in a medical career because I am terrified of getting sick and can’t stand the sight of needles or medical equipment. I also never saw myself as working in health & wellness because I grew up in Northern California in an area that was over-saturated with natural health remedies and was always resistant to learning about all the various methods for improving your health. However, when I saw StretchLab, I was very excited about the concept because I love stretching, take dance and figure skating where flexibility is a much-needed skill, and have had difficulty finding places to learn more about how to stretch correctly. Even dance studios spend very limited amounts of time teaching you how to stretch because they are mostly focused on teaching placement and technique. After spending time in StretchLab Lakeview after it opened, I was blown away about the amount of stories I was hearing where people were curing their everyday aches and pains by simply stretching and being able to do the activities that bring them pleasure because of the help we were giving them. I am finding so much enjoyment in helping people in the community that I am now fully invested in working in health & wellness and now seeking out more alternative ways to improve your health. I am also able to carry on detailed conversations with people about their medical issues without becoming squeamish, and I feel like I have truly grown as a person this past year in that regard. I look forward to a lifetime of working in either health & wellness or fitness-related companies and have truly found a home in the health & fitness community!
Can you share a story about the biggest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
I have made many, many mistakes in just the past year alone, but I don’t see it as a lesson learned so much as hindsight is 20/20. I constantly ask myself, “Given the information I had at the time, should I have made a different decision?” The answer is almost always no. If the answer is no, then I say you need to forgive yourself, even if it cost you a lot of money, and move on.
When it comes to health and wellness, how are you helping people making a bigger impact in the world?
Working in a stretching studio, I see a lot of people with very limited range of motion and overly tight muscles causing imbalance to the body. Sometimes they were born that way, and other times they just spent a lifetime not stretching and gradually worked up stiffness over the years. Hardly anyone spends enough time stretching! When these customers start stretching in our studio, it is the first experience in years where they are devoting the time needed to really stretch out their stiff muscles and to improve their range of motion. The results happen quickly. They feel younger, fresher, and can do all their desired activities for the first time in years, free of pain and with better performance. I’m glad StretchLab exists if for no other reason than to raise awareness about stretching and recovery and to remind people how much better they can feel if they include stretching as part of their daily routine.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?
Yes! After my time working in retail and in advertising, I was frustrated that I had no life balance, hadn’t achieved all that I had wanted to in my career, and felt like I wasn’t spending enough time with my family. I had a few appointments with Laurie Rosen, a career counselor at JVS. I had met with career counselors many years before that with no results, but Laurie Rosen was really able to tap into the core values of what I was looking for and to make suggestions on what career paths would help me to find the fulfillment and balance I was looking for. She was the one that suggested franchising and it was through her network that I discovered StretchLab. I am forever in her debt!
If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of wellness to the most amount of people, what would that be?
Work-life balance throughout The United States!
How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?
One of my highest goals as an owner/operator is to create a workspace that supports my staff. I want them to feel valued, enjoy coming to work, and to feel supported by their direct managers.
What is your “I Thing I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Started” and why.
Starting a business is very similar to deciding to have your first kid. When you decide to have a baby, other parents will tell you that you won’t get much sleep, your social life is over, and it will completely change your life. It mentally makes sense to you, but you don’t really feel the depth of those statements until you are sleep-deprived for three months straight and realize after one year that you can no longer casually swing by a restaurant to grab a drink with a friend whenever you feel like it. It’s the same with starting a business. Everyone tells you it’s stressful, there are financial risks associated with it, and that there is no guarantee it will be a success. It all makes sense on a mental level, but you don’t really understand the depth of the warnings until you are two months into opening your business and you are digging through profit & loss statements trying to make sense of it all. As a business owner, you make so many hard decisions daily that effect the bottom line of your company and also effect the livelihood of all of your employees. It’s a much deeper type of stress than the superficial stress you feel in a salaried position when you are managing someone else’s assets. I no longer roll my eyes at business owners golfing in the middle of a Tuesday. They deserve it! Whatever it takes to take the edge off the constant pressure and to take a mental break from it all. Still, now that I’ve had a taste of owning a company, I have no desire to go back to the life I had before I started my own businesses.
Do you have any “girl-crush” in this industry? If you could take one person to brunch, who would they be? (Let another “woman in wellness” know that you respect her as a teacher and guide! )
I’m really enjoying networking with all the other women owners of StretchLab. I call Lynell D’Sylva all the time for advice, a multi-unit StretchLab owner located in the Dallas area. She’s much smarter than me and I learn a lot from her analysis of business models and payment structures. I would take any face-time I can get with her to learn more about how to successfully operate my own business.
Sustainability, veganism, mental health and environmental changes are big topics at the moment. Which one of these causes is dearest to you, and why?
Mental health is the closest and dearest to me. In full disclosure, mental health issues are prevalent in my family and I also have a lot of friends who struggle with mental health disorders. I sound like a broken record, but we really need to establish a culture in The United States that supports the idea that a person can be ambitious and successful while working their 9a to 5p job; that it’s okay to leave work on time, to leave the cell phone in the other room while at home, and that vacation time should plentiful and fully utilized.
What is the best way our readers can follow you on social media?
Both of my StretchLab studios are on Facebook and Instagram, @stretchlablakeview & @stretchlaboldtown. One of these days I’ll start a personal Instagram account worthy of following, but not while I’m in the middle of raising a toddler and opening brick & mortar studios. Huzzah to the life of a mother and entrepreneur!