We chatted with Melina Olivia DiPaola, founder of Ride North End, about how she started her own indoor cycling business in the North End of Boston.
Tell us about your background. How did you come to own and operate a fitness studio?
I was born in San Francisco, and lived in Western Massachusetts for much of my childhood. I moved to Boston (where my dad grew up) right before high school. I’ve lived in the North End ever since. I grew up in the restaurant business (my dad owned around 10 restaurants all throughout my life) and had the entrepreneurial spirit ingrained in me very early.
On the health end of things, I was diagnosed with a brain tumor when I was 5. Throughout the surgeries and recovery, my parents solicited the help of acupuncturists and alternative medicinalists. I became pretty fascinated with the different realms of health and wellness even at that age, which eventually lead into my passion for fitness. I started going to the gym with my dad when I was just 11 years old. We did the lifting and cardio machine thing. In high school, I added group fitness to my regimen, and found indoor cycling when I was about 19. No other workout had ever made the tops of my hands sweat before, and no other workout had ever offered me such an opportunity for introspection.
A few years later I decided to make it my 5 year plan to open a cycling studio (there were far fewer back then!) in my community. I spent years saving the money I made from bartending. It happened a lot sooner than that. I believe that when certain circumstances and opportunities arise, it’s a good idea to jump.
What makes Ride North End unique?
Ride is unique in that it was kind of my fantasy vision that actually ended up coming to life, deplete of the influence of a corporation or anyone telling me what to do or not to do. It was created from the perspective of an avid rider and fitness fanatic, since I was (and am) my audience.
It’s my hope that riders feel a more personal vibe when attending classes at Ride. Monster gyms and fitness chains have their place, but I think there is value in knowing where your money is going, and that it is actively helping to keep a local community thriving. Lots of care is put into the classes, vibe, and every aspect of the studio. Our instructors are a huge part of what makes us unique as well. Our classes don’t follow any formulaic protocol or recipe; rather, our instructors’ individualities are encouraged to shine through with their personal styles of music and choreography. Variety helps keep the mind engaged and the body challenged.
How did you decide on this location for your studio?
I didn’t really decide — my mindset was solely, “If I ever open a cycling studio, it must be in the North End!” The North End has been my blood ever since I was born (my dad immigrated here from Sicily at the age of 3, and my Nonno opened the original Cafe Dello Sport on Hanover Street in the ’70’s) and as I mentioned, I spent most of my formative years here. Automatically this restricted most options for locations, since the type of venue we would need would have to fulfill a certain size requirement for the purpose. That goes back to my belief in taking those rare opportunities, because if it hits you and the circumstance is right, it’s meant to be.
What are some of the challenges and upsides of owning and operating a studio in Boston?
Boston is small enough to create a great sense of community in the fitness world. Everyone seems to know everyone, which is great. The flip side of that, of course, is that within a smaller market competition can be fierce.
How has your business evolved over time?
To be honest, in the earlier months (and year I suppose) a lot of what we did was trial and error. I had never run promotions, created pricing options, or had to deal with so many emails and customer interactions prior to opening Ride. I eventually learned to create systems for each and every aspect of studio life, which makes everything so much easier. I also think that we hold our instructors to a much higher standard now that we’re around a year and a half old. As a studio and as an owner, I’m learning more of what I want, what the client wants, and how to implement these things. It definitely takes time, but I’m so satisfied with the evolution that we have made and continue to make.
What’s the most important thing you look for in an instructor?
As a rider, I have always been quite discerning. So I can’t dismiss this to a one-word answer! I think competence, willingness to take and address criticism, and enthusiasm are crucial. It’s also important to have some kind of unique flair, and the ability to make your presence known.
What piece of advice do you wish you had when you first started your business?
Record each step and process you carry out so that by the end of it, your written systems will already be in place. Also, get rid of any negativity within your business right away! Beyond that, listen to business podcasts, read books, and always keep learning and asking. I’m pretty stubborn, but a valuable nugget that I learned after quite a while was to not be afraid to ask for help — something I still struggle with — and to remember that all in all, even in a climate of fierce competition, most people want you to succeed. And of course, I live by “risk everything.”