If Sonya Pennel and Tina Schumaker weren’t born with their entrepreneurial spirits, they certainly were nurtured. Growing up in the tiny 800-person town of Necedah, Wisconsin with parents that owned a small business, the sisters spent every New Year’s Eve counting inventory instead of minutes until midnight.
Neither Pennel or Schumaker felt that college was the right fit for them. Separated in age by just three years, they both directly entered the workforce full of ambition right after graduating high school, each launching their own first businesses—Pennel’s in technology sales, Schumaker’s in medical transcription—which they still own today.
Pennel, the older of the two, says that while she was always passionate about caring for her employees and customers, over the years, she couldn’t shake the feeling that something was missing. “I used to tell my kids that I didn’t know what I wanted to be when I grow up,” she said. “I always admired people who just knew!”
In 2015, Pennel’s only daughter, Ali, was studying at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte. One day, Ali’s roommate said that her mother was opening an exciting new gym called Burn Boot Camp. With an interest in marketing and social media, Ali volunteered to help with anything they needed for the opening.
It wasn’t long before Ali called Sonya from Charlotte to tell her, “Mom, I figured out what you want to do with the rest of your life.”
The Pennels drove all the way down to Charlotte, and the rest is history. They met Burn Boot Camp’s co-founders, Morgan and Devan Kline, and hit it off immediately. “It was love at first sight—the warm hugs and the smiles,” said Pennel.
She remembers knowing that helping other women get healthy, feel good about themselves and meet others going through similar struggles would fulfill a void in her own life. “Burn Boot Camp checks off so many boxes for what we want to do with our lives,” she said. She and her husband bought a franchise that very day.
Though they had decades of entrepreneurial experience under their belts, the Pennels were new to franchising. They loved how Burn Boot Camp’s turnkey model and in-depth training set them up for success. “We’re really good at following directions, so we wanted that kind of full support,” said Pennel.
Her husband was set to run their two small businesses while Pennel headed up their first Burn Boot Camp in La Crosse, Wisconsin. To her surprise, 350 people showed up on the very first day. “We ran out of everything,” remembered Pennel.
Meanwhile, Schumaker wasn’t sure what to make of her big sister’s endeavor at first. But because brand new Burn Boot Camp locations offer a 30-day promotion that includes access to free camps, Schumaker decided to recruit several friends and show some sisterly support.
Ten days in, Schumaker found herself springing out of bed at 4:30 in the morning ready to sweat. She quickly became hooked on the mission, the community-building and the business model. And by the end of the 30 days, she and her husband planned their own trip to Charlotte to meet the Klines. There, they agreed to purchase a franchise of their own, which quickly turned into three.
In a few short years, the sisters have made an indelible mark on the communities they serve. Schumaker now owns seven licenses in the Madison area, with four gyms currently open. Pennel dramatically ramped up her commitment, now owning a total of 16 licenses. Her fourth Wisconsin gym is set to open this month in addition to three locations currently up and running in Minnesota.
“Tina and Sonya are dynamic forces within Burn Boot Camp,” said Jolene Purchia, Vice President of Franchise Development. “They both embody and personify the core values and philosophies of our organization. Their leadership and mentorship have been instrumental in the success of their area development.”
Schumaker said that both sisters struggled with their weight after having children. She noted that unbeknownst to them, they both actually began exercising on the same exact day, several months before Burn Boot Camp came into their lives. By the time Schumaker opened her first gym, the sisters had lost a combined 100 pounds.
“Taking into account how we felt about ourselves at our heaviest and after our weight loss, and knowing how that can affect the whole household—because mama makes the household go ‘round—we knew weight loss was important,” said Schumaker. “But what we have learned is that it’s more about feeling good in your own skin. The positive impact we’ve seen and the people who say, ‘You’ve literally saved my life’... you can’t put a price on that whatsoever.”
The sisters had discussed going into the Burn Boot Camp business together at first. Then they decided they’d both benefit from a more independent arrangement. Today, they serve as each other’s professional and personal support system, bouncing around ideas and coming up with solutions to problems together. Now in their mid-forties, they very much know, understand and embrace their differences.
“She made the bed every day, I did not. She’s organized and methodical, I’m more fly-by-the-seat-of-my-pants. I literally thrive in chaos,” laughed Schumaker. “We manage so differently, both our people and processes. We continually collaborate, come together to discuss issues or write systems, and then we take them back to our individual teams and implement in slightly different ways.”
Despite how they differ, Pennel and Schumaker share a bond and history that only sisters could. “It’s not a secret that we had a somewhat difficult childhood,” said younger sister Schumaker. “It’s always just been her and me. There was a lot of uncertainty and chaos in our childhood, and she was the one to always take responsibility for me, always made sure I was okay.”
Considering Burn Boot Camp’s mission is for women to love themselves today and be inspired by who they’ll be tomorrow, it’s no surprise that the brand’s franchisees practice what they preach.
Burn Boot Camp has expanded its inspiring mission outside of the gyms’ walls as well. The brand partners with the Muscular Dystrophy Association and encourages franchisees to take a community-based approach to address local needs. Pennel and Schumaker embrace this aspect fully. Last year, one of Schumaker’s gyms raised $12,000 for victims of a gas explosion in Sun Prairie, while Pennel’s hometown La Crosse gym continues to go “above and beyond” to support women’s shelters and neighborhood clothing drives.
“Sonya and I bring almost 50 years of business experience combined. She and I are entrepreneurs at heart,” said Schumaker. “But when you can combine that with something that does so much good in the world, that’s a grand slam.”
Burn Boot Camp is currently awarding franchises in the United States and Canada with plans to expand into 10,000 global units over the next 10 to 12 years. The investment range for a Burn Boot Camp location is $142,000 to $350,000 inclusive of the $40,000 franchise fee for a single unit. Area development agreements for a minimum of three units are available to qualified candidates. For more information, visit http://franchise.burnbootcamp.com.