Interviews

Pip Black, Co-Founder, FRAME

"We wanted to create a place that was for everyone, no matter if they hadn’t worked out since PE or were a top athlete. Most importantly we wanted to build a community."

Izzy Ashton

Assistant Editor of BITE

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What did you do when you were “young, a bit stupid and naïve”? If you were Pip Black and Joan Murphy, you quit your advertising jobs, raised some money, set up shop in a car park in Shoreditch and launched a lifestyle brand.

Pip Black is one of the co-founders of the achingly cool FRAME. Having played “a lot of top-level sport” at school and university, she realised that there was nothing similar on offer in London. “[In 2007] being active and exercising was not cool.”

It’s always been about being social and going with your mate, and then going for a drink or dinner or brunch after. It didn’t exist, so we just created it.

Pip Black

Fast forward to last week, almost ten years to the day, and her team are now happily ensconced in their first ever HQ. From the start, the co-founders’ roles at the heart of the business have been integral to maintaining a cohesive culture. As the brand continues to rapidly grow, Black hopes that having everyone in one office will only serve to cement this. “Right now, it’s important to have everyone together at HQ to really have our culture engrained as we grow.”

Black is at pains to point out that, while frequently categorised in the boutique, glamorised corner of the fitness industry, FRAME is about more than that: “We’re very much about making people feel good … it should be for everybody.” With seven studios across London and over 280 instructors, Black’s next step is to expand outside of the city.

While the brand seeks to remain aspirational, Black is also looking into how they can work more closely with schools and teenagers to promote positive mental health and wellbeing. As she says, perhaps only half-jokingly, “Ideally we’ll be the Jamie Oliver of school PE.”

Ideally we’ll be the Jamie Oliver of school PE.

Pip Black

Black reveals that they tend not to look at what’s happening across their own sector but instead look to how other industries are using smart technology. “We try not to look at our own industry because it’s generally quite painful and backward so it’s looking at external influences”. For example, the idea for the FRAME card, which allows gym visitors to top up on the go, came from looking at mobile phone companies, while their online booking system drew inspiration from the set-up at ASOS.

When she’s not working out or running after her young children, Black is a self-proclaimed magazine junkie, drawing inspiration from art and culture, as well as trips abroad, The High Low podcast and long dinners with friends. As she says of the original thought behind FRAME, “it’s always been about being social and going with your mate, and then going for a drink or dinner or brunch after. It didn’t exist, so we just created it”.

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Creativebrief: Talk a bit about how and why you started your business.
Pip Black: Joan and I are the founders of FRAME and MumHood. We met on a surfing trip in 2007 and immediately bonded. Back in 2007 before fitness was a ‘thing’, we we’re both living the fast-paced London life, loved a good party, like everyone did those days and probably burning the candle at both ends. Having both grown up running around and playing sports for the simple fact that it made us feel fucking great, we quickly realised that this was what we were missing. The fitness offering at the time was very much geared towards ‘weight loss’ or feelings of guilt if you’d eaten too much. Spending hours on a treadmill going nowhere, counting calories lost and wishing it would end. Over a gin (or two!) it hit us that as soon as you became an adult, exercise and movement changed from being the highlight of your day to the thing that you dreaded all day. We wanted to make exercise fun again, for our health and sanity if no one else's. We wanted to create a place that was for everyone, no matter if they hadn’t worked out since PE or were a top athlete. Most importantly we wanted to build a community, a space filled with positive energy so that FRAMERS would leave feeling like they could take on the world.
Creativebrief: What’s the most challenging part of starting/running your own business?
Pip Black: I would say finding balance. When we started FRAME, we were ‘young, free and single’ and worked pretty much 18-hour days, seven days a week. There’s a fine balance between keeping spending low for cashflow purposes and bringing in people with experience to help you on your journey. We probably waited too long before boosting the team, but on the flip side we were able to manage our cash and P+L to the point where we were able to keep full ownership of the business until sites three and four. But it was hard work. Other than this, and it’s a bit of a cliché, but people. Managing people and trying to keep them happy, whilst considering the needs of the business at the same time is something that never gets easier.

We wanted to create a place that was for everyone, no matter if they hadn’t worked out since PE or were a top athlete. Most importantly we wanted to build a community.

Pip Black
Creativebrief: What role did marketing play when you were starting up? How did you increase your visibility?
Pip Black: We set out to create a Lifestyle brand, not just a fitness studio and so marketing was key to our success. We had very tiny budgets so had to be extremely resourceful. We had some great contacts from our days in advertising and some very talented friends, so there were quite a few contra deals in those early days. Because what we were doing was so disruptive, we didn’t struggle to get press, and we worked hard to build strong relationships with press and influential people in the creative industries. For our type of business, word of mouth is key, so we put all our events into building a strong local community in Shoreditch - we were great friends with all the local coffee shops and boutiques - and ensuring that the experience was ‘bang on’. This didn’t mean being premium and fancy, but fun, authentic and an effective workout, which FRAMERS genuinely enjoyed doing.
Creativebrief: What brands/businesses/business leaders do you look up to?
Pip Black: From a brand perspective, we often look at Red Bull for how they’ve managed to build a hugely successful brand of a single energy drink and the concept of it “giving you wings”. I would never drink Red Bull, but I love what the brand stands for both internally and customer-facing. In terms of more current brands, I love Reformation and Glossier. The copy is great. Super simple, clever and makes me laugh. You feel really engaged with the brand and know exactly what they stand for.
Creativebrief: Looking ahead, what do you think is your biggest challenge?
Pip Black: Finding the balance between simplifying the business in order to grow, and keeping the sense of authenticity, customer-centricity and differentiation between sites etc which makes FRAME what it is. How do we ensure that every visitor has a fantastic FRAME experience, whilst making sure that it’s easy to train and keep individuality at the heart of what we do?

For our type of business, word of mouth is key, so we put all our events into building a strong local community in Shoreditch...and ensuring that the experience was ‘bang on’. This didn’t mean being premium and fancy, but fun, authentic and an effective workout.

Pip Black
Creativebrief: What are your ambitions for the year ahead?
Pip Black: This is the year that FRAME will grow outside of London. We want to ensure that this launch into other cities is super successful, obviously, which will require a significant amount of research and planning. What does the FRAME experience look like in other cities, what elements should stay the same and what should be tweaked? I also really want to nail our teenage offering. I feel like FRAME could play a huge part in building confidence and helping with the mental health of the younger generation. With small kids, Joan and I feel extremely passionately about using our brand strength to hit other segments who can benefit from movement and having positive ‘time out’ through being in a fitness, yoga, dance class environment.
Creativebrief: What would your advice be to someone who has an idea for their own business?
Pip Black: Draw up a business plan. Put together a cashflow, P+L to make sure that the business will actually work. Research your idea, and then once you’re happy that there is a market and demand, throw yourself into it and go for it! In the words of Nike, Just Do It. But be prepared for hard work and having to prioritise the business over other areas of your life whilst you get it up and running. Also, don’t be afraid to ask for help. There will be people out there who will have gone through what you are struggling with and who will have nuggets of wisdom that you could really benefit from.

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