“Originally we thought we were selling fun fitness, and it is still the reason people enjoy Zumba. But throughout the years we have realized it is much deeper.”
~ Alberto Perlman, CEO / Co-Founder Zumba Fitness
LG: As a trendsetter and trend spotter, what was the defining moment that led you to envision, create this amazingly successful dance workout phenomenon?
AP: I think that having a vision is a bit hyperbolic. People have taken the word “vision” and added so much weight to it that it has become intimidating. I prefer the word imagination. All my cousins, my mom, my future wife and everyone else in Aventura, Florida was taking Beto Perez’s dance fitness class in 2001, and at my mom’s suggestion I went to see it. It wasn’t even called Zumba at that time. He called it Rumbacise. What I saw was fitness without sacrifice. What I saw was a group of people dancing their hearts out and smiling all the way through it. All I could think to myself was “Why is this class not famous around the world?.” The first thing I thought of was selling VHS tapes of his class via infomercials as I was obsessed with infomercials at that time because you could go directly to the consumer. I didn’t have to go and convince a buyer at a retail store, it was me, with a great product, a great sales pitch, and the person at the other end.
LG: Share with us the creation of the brand name Zumba, what it stands for, and the runner-up name you considered.
AP:We first tried “Rumbacise” but the gym owner at one of the gyms Beto worked at had registered the URL. He did us a huge favor. I don’t think Rumbacise would’ve done justice to the power of Zumba. Zumba rhymed with Rumba which means to party, that is why we chose it. Zumba turned working out into a party.
LG: What is Zumba ‘really selling’ that emotionally connects, resonates with your target audience, and reflects the authenticity of your brand purpose and culture?
AP: Originally we thought we were selling fun fitness, and it is still the reason people enjoy Zumba. But throughout the years we have realized it is much deeper. By focusing on the moves, listening to the music and doing it in a room with other people, the participants reach a state of what I like to call “active nirvana”. Nirvana in buddhism is defined as a place of perfect peace and happiness. Ask anyone who is a Zumba fanatic and they will understand what I mean. People get lost in the music. Like Bob Marley said: “One Good Thing AboutMusic: “When It Hits You, You Feel NoPain”. I guess we help the music hit you. There are so many stories about people overcoming painful situations through their Zumba class. Our first instructor in Paris was a trained psychologist, I asked her “Why did you become a Zumba instructor?” And she said “I saw what it was doing to one of my patients, so I decided why treat one person at a time when I can treat 40 at a time”.
LG: What were some of the brand building and marketing challenges you encountered when you initially launched the brand? And what growth challenges are you facing today?
AP: How do you tell someone you are going to change their life through a fitness class? You can’t. So we set out to attract them via weight loss. Weight loss is what they thought they were looking for and we excel at it since Zumba is really effective cardio. Once people experienced the class a few times they realized all the other things it did for them. Today we are in a pandemic, and although we pivoted to virtual Zumba via www.zumba.dance, it is not the in-person experience. We expect to be fully back in-person and growing in 2021.
LG: You founded Zumba 20 years ago and now this amazing dance movement is being enjoyed by 15 million people/week in 180 countries. Talk about a few of the key milestones achieved over the years as the brand has evolved.
AP: As I look back I think about all the moments that brought us closer to reaching more and more people. There are many milestones, many days…the day we signed our deal with our infomercial partner to launch the first infomercial in 2002. The day we held our first instructor training in 2003 and 150 people show up.The day in 2003 when we got a call from Kellogg’s asking us to be their fitness partner in The US Hispanic Market and Latin America. The day in 2006 when we launched ZIN, our amazing instructor career development system. That day in 2006 when we held our first Zumbathon to benefit breast cancer survivors. The day in 2008 when we held our first Zumba convention. The day we found out our infomercial was playing in the Netherlands and thought to ourselves “what if Zumba works internationally?.” The day we won INC Magazine Company of the Year in 2012. The day we won the most prestigious award in the fitness industry: “The John McCarthy Industry Visionary Of the Year Award”. The day our instructors showed us that they had the strength and passion to teach virtually during a pandemic. There are so many wonderful milestone days.
LG: How has Zumba modified its in-person dance experience model to deliver a high energy, sense of community ‘feel’ to ensure consumer engagement during the pandemic where the virtual platform is the focal point in today’s experiential economy?
AP: 60 days after the lockdown started we had built a suite of tools for our instructors. Video streaming app, class management, marketing tools and more. It wasn’t easy but our team was so passionate they worked 24/7to make it happen.
LG: Zumba also has a vibrant e-Commerce apparel business. Talk about your vision regarding expanding the brand with an apparel category and its growth trajectory.
AP: Apparel was a huge surprise for us. It started out as “merch” and quickly became functional. Instructors and their students wanted shoes with special soles to make their experience better. Colors and designs that ‘showed’ their happiness. It became part of the expression of what we internally call FEJ: Freeing Electrifying Joy.
LG: If you could rewind the Alberto Perlman story, what changes might you have made during your entrepreneurial career and/or at Zumba?
AP: It’s hard to think about changes because of the butterfly effect. I had many failures. Many mistakes. And I’ll make many more. I learned a lot of lessons along the way.
LG: How often do you take a Zumba class and can we say you’ve got the ‘moves down’ to show the video on social media?
AP: There is a video of me dancing in front of 7,000 people at the Zumba Convention. I never in my life thought I would do that. The Zumba Transformation effect in full force!