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Haley Stone: WERQ and Purpose

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Most of us can recall the exact minute that terrorists drove planes loaded with passengers into the World Trade Towers, the Pentagon and a country field near Shanksville, Pennsylvania. For Parkville, Missouri, resident, Haley Stone, it defined her life.

“I remember the moment when my world view shifted and that was 9/11. I saw what was happening on TV. My sister was in New York, and it was scary and made me question who I was and what I was doing. I didn’t know what my passion was or what moved me,” recalled Haley, who was attending Mizzou at the time. “The Peace Corps offered talkbacks with former volunteers at Columbia, and it took one meeting to discover this was what I wanted to do. I was a Missouri girl who had never really left Missouri, except for vacations.”

New Horizons
In 2002 and just two months after her college graduation, Haley landed near the west coast of Africa, in the French-speaking country of Gabon, near the Republic of the Congo. After a two-month intensive culture and language immersion with a local family, she began her work, building on her environmental college education.

“I worked with school-aged kids and village officials to clean up the environment for better health with a focus on trash containment, composting and recycling. The goal was to keep the water supply away from auto shops and other contaminants,” she shared. “I also developed a malaria prevention plan by cleaning up standing water and started a high school environmental club.”

After her two-year commitment ended, she headed back to America, moving to Chicago to be with her long-time boyfriend, Jeff, whom she later married. She was working at the Environmental Protection Agency but felt something was missing from her life. Her defining moment was pulling her in another direction. “I didn’t have kids at the time so I had plenty of free time and had been teaching group fitness, boot camp, aerobics and cycling. It was great, and I worked a few different gyms,” she recalled.

Getting to WERQ
“Then I took some hip-hop classes, and I loved the expression of it. I looked around at group fitness classes in the area and nothing really scratched my itch for hip-hop fitness classes. So I offered my own class to some friends. It was a mix of cardio dance to pop and hip-hop music, really achievable for all folks. People loved it and wanted to know where and when I was teaching it. I got a few routines together to teach a one-hour class. The first few weeks zero people showed, but then three, and then four and then seven. Then we filled the studio, and it became a thing.”

And in 2011 WERQ® was born. Haley describes it as a cardio-dance class based on the latest pop and hip-hop music with repetitive athletic moves and fresh dance steps. The playlist features trendsetting pop and hip-hop music, and each week new routines are introduced. She also describes it as an attitude, although WERQ can be used as a noun and a verb and even comes with its own language, ranging from WERQaholics to WERQouts. She delights in the empowerment that WERQ can bring to a person while owning the skin they’re in, the movement of their bodies and the fierceness in using what they’re given. She says: To WERQ is to escape.

“WERQ is my fitness baby. Even though I started it seven years ago, it feels like yesterday. WERQ is my program, my brand. Sure, it began as a side hustle, but I had built the training and choreography, and at that point, I wanted out of government work to do full-time fitness. I saw the benefits of a dance fitness program and so did my students,” she said. “I got in with a chain of gyms in the Chicago area, Cheetah, for about four years to learn the business and leadership and bring it from a hobby to a full-time passion.”

Each Person’s Commitment
But while WERQ is different from traditional cardio exercise programs, Haley is quick to point out that the success of any one program depends on meeting the needs of the individual. “It’s not what makes a program better than others but the individual’s success with that program and what keeps them more in a routine. The most effective workout is the one you enjoy the most. My goal with WERQ is that fun comes first and the calories will follow,” she stated. “I have respect and love for other programs that get people moving because dance fitness is special with its community connection and social aspect. It brings in the enjoyment factor that so many connect to because of music and rhythm. There’s something going on in the brain that gets that connection going.”

Haley knew that WERQ could grow to be a popular and successful company. She identified revenue streams and structured her company based on the success of Zumba. But she quickly realized that one person could not do it all. That’s when she decided to share the choreography with others, certify more instructors with day-long trainings and expand her online subscribers.

“Flash forward to today, and I’ve built a solid base in Chicago and I have 15 women working with me; 13 are WERQ Master Trainers who travel to lead certification classes, and two are operations and training managers. There are 1,200 WERQ instructors in 38 states, teaching live in gyms. When you add it all up, thousands of gyms and studios are teaching WERQ group fitness. We have videos on YouTube and a library with over 600 routines available to WERQ instructors. Each month we release two new routines for the public, and for instructors it’s two a week. I also have an e-commerce shop with branded WERQ apparel.”

The one-day trainings for certification offer another revenue stream for the company. After receiving the training to be a licensed instructor, class leaders pay an annual or monthly fee to maintain their certification and to subscribe and access routines on the internet.

WERQing for Success
With these different avenues, the future looks very bright for Haley and her WERQaholics. “Recently, we’ve had explosive growth and achieved a critical mass, 30 percent more instructors since August 2017, with more trainers in the bigger cities,” Haley remarked. “My goal is to also get WERQ to the people who’ll never step foot in a live WERQ session by taking classes online. We call it homeWERQ, and I predict a stronger connection to more WERQaholics. They’ll be having fun and the therapeutic release is a big part of the positive outlook that WERQ can bring.”

With the Chicago market sporting a solid foothold, coupled with the heartfelt pull of family ties, Haley, Jeff and their two daughters decided to come back home, settling in Parkville, in 2017. Haley sees the KC-metro as ripe for expansion. “We’re really excited about expanding our Midwest foothold. The Kansas City fitness scene has changed so much, and fitness is now such fertile ground,” Haley commented. “I’m excited to be in KC as the city makes more of a spot for itself on the map.”

As for other hopeful entrepreneurs, Haley shares that finding a mentor is critical to success. She also offers this advice to other women looking to start out on their own. “Your heart will tell you where your passion is. If you don’t have passion, it will be rough. The love of your game will be your fuel and keep you from burning out. Consult your head as well. If you’re not good with numbers, find someone who is. And trust your gut. A woman’s intuition has a reputation for a reason,” she advised. “Women should listen to these three things, but go with your gut if the other two are on the fence. Sometimes, as women, we second guess ourselves and allow others to limit us, but your gut is right a lot of the time. I also say that other people’s opinions of you are none of your business. Don’t let them bring you down.”

This woman from a small town in Missouri ventured into the wilds of Africa to find herself, and Haley’s demonstrated she’s discovered her purpose in life. From wife, mother and successful businesswoman, she’s WERQed out the kinks to her questions in life.