October 2, 2008
Conqueror of the Pole
By MATT FLEMING
Business ReporterIT'S been called sleazy, raunchy and indecent.
It's also been labelled as a craze which is soon to die.
However, Sam Remmer reckons it's a fabulous way to keep fit, it's good, clean fun - and it will, she hopes, be around for a long, long time.
And she should know. She's built an entire business around it.
It's pole-dancing. And it's the reason she is quickly becoming a success in the city's business community.
Sam started with an outlandish concept which depended on pole- dancing becoming a craze - and she has reaped the rewards ever since.
She has opened her own studio, The Art Of Dance in Mutley, which has a range of pole-dancing sessions taking place regularly and all of them, she said, are well attended.
"Yes, some people picture pole-dancing as bikini-clad or naked women acting sleazily in a dimly-lit nightclub," she said, "but that's not what it's about at all.
"It's a great way to get fit, socialise and enjoy dancing. There's nothing indecent about it.
"I saw the business opportunity from the first time I tried it and now I have hundreds of girls who come along to my dance studio and take part in the sessions."
Sam was born in Plymouth and lived for three years on The Hoe before her family moved to Peverell.
She went to Montpelier Primary School before studying at the nearby Devonport High School for Girls.
After finishing school, she was prepared to go to university but decided - at the last minute - to get some money behind her and to go into employment for a year.
In the end, she never went to university; if she had, she might never have started up her own dance studio business.
Between the ages of 18 and 27 she worked for the NHS and social services as a therapist assistant, involved in screening and referrals, generally working with people with mental health issues.
It was a tough job. "I was beaten up a lot," she said. "I have the scars to prove it. I was in a challenging behaviour unit for a long time, with the most violent people.
"I learned a lot and I guess it set me up to be able to deal with the toughest sides of life, but I think I got out at the right time."
About five years ago, Sam decided she needed a career change. The job had become too demanding and she needed a new lease of life. However, she just didn't know what to do.
"I was so desperate to get out of my job I would have done anything, but pole- dancing came about in a strange way," she said.
"I'm a keen fan of fitness and I used to dance as a kid; I hadn't done anything like that for years, but I went along to a club where there was pole-dancing and decided I'd give it a go in a bid to get fitter.
"It's then that I had an idea."
Sam saw how all the pole-dancers enjoyed dancing as a form of fitness, and could see its business potential.
She says: "I loved it, but not enough to do it myself as a hobby. What I did like, though, was the idea of organising sessions myself.
"It started out as a part-time job. I was going to sell mortgages and design websites at the same time but, as it goes, that didn't happen.
"I never realised just how big the pole-dancing craze was to be and how successful my business was to become."
Sam started compiling a database of girls who had expressed an interest in pole-dancing, and realised she could take on a managerial role by organising classes under the instruction of professional dancers. That's exactly what she did.
"There was a gap in the market to become a pole-dancing manager but I never expected to get into it full-time," she said.
"I could see the major interest in pole-dancing from all sorts of girls so I set up the business and the website. I planned on selling clothing as well.
"The website didn't seem to work, but the girls were still coming to me and I was arranging sessions."
It was tough at first and Sam admits she 'made every mistake possible' during the first two years of trading.
She turned her business into a limited company, which failed, and tried to expand too quickly. She was doing an immense amount of work for next to no profit.
However, after the first two years it started to work.
"It just started going mad," she said. "I was based in the city centre and more and more girls were finding out about the business.
"They were generally people who wanted to get fit and find out more about pole-dancing, so they'd come to me and I'd get them involved in the sessions, which were taking place all over Plymouth.
"It was then that I started to become properly focused on the business. My time for dabbling in other things had come to an end.
"I could see the massive interest in pole-dancing and I knew how I could get the best out of it."
Sam said she knew opening Plymouth's first dedicated pole- dancing studio would be the way to success, and she was right.
She first moved into Saints Gym, just off Mutley Plain, planning to use half the space for sessions.
"Lots of girls came along and the business grew rapidly," she said.
"I was able to organise pole- dancing sessions every day for all sorts of ages and abilities.
"The space was rented from Saints so, after a while, we outgrew it. The classes were getting massive, the interest in pole-dancing was huge and I needed to move and get a place of my own."
In January this year Sam finally got her business base established. She took the lease on a building next door to Saints and The Art Of Dance was born.
She said Mutley Plain was perfect - central, yet with rents and business rates 'half the price of the city centre'.
She had a studio installed and started a range of classes which have been expanded during this year.
"It was an immediate success," she said. "All the work I'd put in over the first few years had paid off.
"It's a fantastic space and is now being constantly used for all sorts of dancing sessions. However, pole-dancing is still the main product."
Sam is now in the middle of having a second studio built, which should be open at the end of the year and will also include burlesque dance classes.
The business is expanding elsewhere too. In the past few months Caradon District Council has opened up Art Of Dance sessions at the Lux Park Leisure Centre in Liskeard, and the business is also running sessions at a gym in Exeter and a hotel in Torquay.
Sam now has 10 members of staff working for her, with two or three lessons every day at the Plymouth base alone.
More than 200 women - and the occasional man - take part in the pole-dancing sessions every week.
"They love it," she said. "They get to learn how to sit on the pole at first and then climb up it and then, from there, they learn all sorts of great techniques which look brilliant and get their bodies really toned.
"To be honest, I'm amazed by the popularity. It's great for my business but I never expected it to take off like it has.
"Pole-dancing does have a stigma attached to it, but people just associate it with lap-dancing, which is ridiculous.
"To pole-dance well is to make it look effortless. It's an art: hence Art Of Dance - and hence its popularity."
Sam said one of the major draws to her classes was the social aspect.
She has more than 600 members and many of them have said to her they come just as much for the social side as the exercise.
For the future, Sam wants to expand further. She is improving the base, expanding across the South West and she wants a better shop attached to the business, where the poles can be sold.
She also wants some of the girls to enter more competitions after successes over the past few years, and plans to improve on her own pole-dancing course syllabuses, which she is hoping will be accredited by the YMCA.
As a business owner, she said, she was 'kept on her toes' a lot by some of the competition which has sprung up since she began.
"It's been fantastic and it can only get better," she said.
"I've had amazing help from so many people, like my friend Jo Turpin, who's put in so many hours for this business.
"In fact, I'm so proud of all of the members of my team.
"It's been a success story so far. I hope that continues and pole- dancing continues to be an amazing craze that so many women enjoy."
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