For those who think all entrepreneurial success stories must be filled with loops and whorls and fits and starts, consider the laser-straight tale of Elaine Jewart, who started something at age 6 and is still doing it 49 years later.
Jewart, owner of Jewarts School of Gymnastics, literally grew into the business from a wee-tiny tot in a leotard, enrolled by her parents in a gymnastics school, to the tailored-suited matriarch of a successful family business devoted to the training and education of gymnasts and their parents.
Jewart started the school in her basement in 1969; by 1999, the company boasted a world-class 17,000-square-foot facility and was awarded the 1999 Family Business of the Year award in her size category by the University of Pittsburgh Katz School of Business.
Recalling her start-up in 1969, Jewart explains: Actually, the business didnt have a name at that time. But it did have a purpose to teach dancing lessons to the neighbor kids. I had a preschool program and several classes for elementary school-age kids. Tap, ballet and acrobatics were the roots. Modern jazz and toe were soon added.
My goal was to have a school that gave kids the best things that I had learned from my 12 years of dancing lessons, my four years as a Slippery Rock University dancer and gymnast, and my three years of teaching physical education for the Los Angeles City School District.
She insists that she has always wanted only the best for her students, just as she had growing up.
To me, the best meant that it would be really fun, only the best technique would be taught, it would be creative and we would show off our skills to get recognition, Jewart says. There was an unwritten mission statement in my heart.
Tied to the Olympic cycle
Jewart expresses herself in terms of four-year time frames because Olympic competition defines her business.
In 1972, she says, the year that Olga Korbut dazzled the world with her innovative routines, we expanded to the Dance/Gymnastics School in a commercial space. We grew as needs arose. For example, when one of the girls broke my nose while I was spotting her back handspring, I asked my brother Paul to join me.
The 1972-era gym was 1,400 square feet, with brick pillars in the center of two rooms and 10-foot ceilings. In 1976, Jewart added a second location on Route 8 above Andersons Car Wash and hired more employees.
In 1980, we built the 7,000-square-foot gym on Wildwood Road [in Hampton Township], she says. We were expecting the Olympic games to give us a lot of publicity as it had in previous Olympic years, but the U.S. decided to boycott the Moscow games. Fortunately, our new facility was a great drawing card, and we weathered the boycott and the recession.
In 1984, with the Olympic games in Los Angeles, we added 4,000 feet to the side of the gym.
Becoming a business
It wasnt until 1990 that the business had a formal business office, Jewart says.
Its hard to believe that we had survived for over 20 years without that important office position, but we moved into the 1990s with a real office manager, a computer and an answering machine. The gym took a significant step to become a business.
During the early 1990s, Jewarts sons, Randy, Alex and Ben, joined the business. In 1992, during the Barcelona games, the family built yet another addition. They added a rock wall pit area in 1993, followed a year later by a cave climbing area.
Jewart says the combined influences of her 50th birthday, the career commitment of her family members and a desire for continuity led to her joining the Katz Schools Family Enterprise Center in 1995.
I would say that was a defining step, she says. We learned from experts about contemporary business theories and practices. We learned our strengths and weaknesses. We learned how to work toward the future while excelling in the present.
And, most important for the future of the business, we learned techniques for succession and continuity.
Says Jewart of her business experience: We are proud to be a work in progress, to be leaders in bringing the world of gymnastics to Pittsburgh, and to have the opportunity to coach such great kids.
How to reach: Elaine Jewart, Jewarts Gymnastics, (412) 487-5999 or by e-mail at email@example.com
William McCloskey is a Pittsburgh-based free-lance writer.