Maxine Haber remembers when her husband, Joseph, was diagnosed with diabetes. Their daughter, Jennifer, was 2, and Maxine was determined to help her live a healthy lifestyle to decrease her chances of contracting the disease later in life.
Born and raised in North Miami, Maxine Haber had always been active, so she made sure that physical activity was part of Jennifer’s routine. After her second daughter, Jacqueline, was born, Haber began incorporating her dance routines and obstacle courses into their birthday parties. When another mom wanted to copy her tactics, Haber knew she had a business idea.
Now she owns STARcise, a fitness company for kids. Here’s how she did it.
The big idea
STARcise offers weekday fitness classes to preschoolers age 1 to 5 at Broward and Miami-Dade preschools. On weekends, birthday party packages include an exercise routine for kids set
to music at the destination of your choice. Prices range from $149 to a Mommy and Me class designed for 1- to 2-year-olds' birthday parties, to $195 for a one-hour party, to $395 for a
Haber earned a bachelor’s degree in radio and television broadcasting from the Connecticut School of Broadcasting in Palm Beach. She worked in broadcast and marketing for several years, including a stint as a music-writing intern at MTV in the early 1990s. "But when I started my (fitness) company, I went back and got another education," Haber said.
Haber got certified as a youth fitness instructor and became CPR certified. She started working with a kid party business, and took courses to learn how to teach fitness classes in preschools.
Haber researched how to teach preschoolers, to understand what they knew and how to make them learn new concepts. "It taught me how to speak to kids at their level," she said. She bought books about how to start a party business.
She began working at a kids’ party business, "where I learned to think on my feet, and to improvise," Haber said. She did Internet searches to learn about other kids’ fitness programs, and how they were using music, props and activities.
Haber took her two daughters to Mommy and Me, dance and gymnastics classes to see what else was in the marketplace. "I was able to see things from a mommy’s perspective," she said.
Haber’s idea began with "crazy dance parties" in her living room with her girls, Jennifer, 11, and Jacqueline, 6. Then she started planning activities for their home birthday parties.
In 2009, she kicked off the business by offering birthday parties for other kids at their homes.
Haber hired two college students to help at parties, and when they didn’t show up one day, she said she learned her greatest lesson. "I learned I didn’t need a staff," she said. "I had 25 kids waiting at a party, and I sucked it up and powered through it." Later, sitting in her car and collecting her thoughts, she realized she could do it on her own.
One day, when picking up her daughters at a preschool where they took after-school classes, Haber offered the principal a free demo class. That was the start of her preschool fitness classes. It led to weekly commitments from various preschools, and gigs at winter break and summer camps. She experiments with changing music, and develops coloring pages so the kids have a take-away from the class.
"I still do free demo classes," Haber said. "Everybody loves getting something for free."
Besides the free demos at preschools, Haber offers a free open house to indoor playspaces. It’s a win-win, she said. "It gets new people into their business, and it helps showcase what I do."
She hands out business cards and fliers at the end of a party. She uses Facebook and Twitter to post pictures from classes and parties, specials, kids’ activities, and spread messages about kids’ wellness. She also uses Facebook groups like South Florida Moms Making Sales to network.
"I’m very grass roots with my marketing, because I don’t have a big budget," she said.
Living Social deals for her birthday party packages have increased traffic on her website from five hits a day to 500 a day for a week or two after the promotion, plus brought in sales.
Haber also has set up a booth and done demo classes at health fairs and kids’ fairs, and at farmers markets like the Yellow/Green in Hollywood.
Haber spent about $1,500 initially on certifications, liability insurance, marketing materials and equipment. Her husband, Joseph, helps with graphics and developed the website. Haber has six to eight birthday parties a month and does preschool classes three days a week.
She has $200-300 a month in business expenses (gas, supplies, etc.) and is not yet profitable.
"Not being able to provide services for distant callers," said Haber, who limits her parties to a 30-mile radius. "It’s just me. I can only travel so far."
Haber would like to franchise her idea to other moms. She also would like to develop the original kids’ music she has been writing into CDs and DVDs, "so kids can enjoy STARcise at
Haber rises at 6 a.m. and gets the girls ready for school. They walk to the school bus at 7:30 a.m. She heads home, dons her STARcise exercise clothes, packs up her equipment and heads to the first preschool by 9 a.m.
At 9:30 a.m., she begins four back-to-back classes. Haber packs up at 12:15 p.m., and heads to the home office, where she returns calls, checks email and sets up client meetings and demos. Haber fits in some dishes and laundry, and eats lunch in the car on the way to a playspace at 3:30 p.m.
At 4 p.m., she teaches two more back-to-back classes. "That’s why I don’t need to go to a gym," she said. Haber picks up the girls from after-care at 6 p.m. and heads home for homework and dinner. After the girls are put to bed at 8 p.m., she checks email, Facebook and does online research. Haber turns in about 11:30 p.m. or midnight.
"Seek out and network with other moms already in business, whether they are successful or just starting out," Haber said. "Starting a business can be very lonely. You need the support system outside of your immediate family. Surround yourself with others doing the same thing."