It’s not every day you meet someone as inspiring as Nutrition Bar and KX Pilate‘s Eli Censor. The Queen of Self Transformation has reshaped herself from a 95 kilogram office worker, who was unhappy with both her body and her job, into a successful health obsessed business owner in just 7 years.
Eli had the foresight to envisage both the Pilates and fit food phenomenons and is reaping the rewards of the good old fashioned hard work she put into making her dreams come true.
Her secrets to success are simple: Just start. Work hard. Put one foot in front of the other. Find out all about how she did it and how you can too start changing your life, one small step at a time.
Name: Eli Censor
Occupation: Business Owner / Personal Trainer; co-owner Nutrition Bar, co-owner 3x KX Pilates Studios and owner of a private personal training business. I’m a helicopter: I helicopter around overseeing everything. Someone once told me that that’s what my end goal should be, because you cant just be in it everyday, you have to work on the business not in the business.
What did you study and what was your original intended career path?
I studied public relations, marketing and advertising at uni then worked in events when I was younger. I think PR is something you use for your whole life, it’s a real good life skill as you are always PRing yourself – making friends, finding boyfriends or jobs, but I have never gone down that path as a career as such.
[line][pullquote width=”600″ float=”left”]On the way to work in the morning I wanted to cry, and when I left work at night, I wanted to have a party…. However, I took that time and made it into a positive thing.[/pullquote][line]
Give us an outline of your career to date:
I started working in PR at fashion events as a contractor/volunteer to begin with, just to get my foot in the door.
I then traveled around the world for 6 months and when I came back, I was sort of head hunted by a family friend who had a business in fashion, who wanted someone to run the stores from head office. I had no fashion background, it was more of a trust thing – she wanted someone that she knew to do the job because the role was dealing with all the figures of the stores and other financial things.
At that stage I was 95 kilos, which was quite strange because I came from a very healthy family. My sister and I since found out we have under active thyroids, which probably contributed to it, which meant I was battling against the odds.
So I was at working this fashion job, after numerous attempts to loose the weight, and I didn’t really enjoy the role because all the of the new styles coming from overseas were really small, and I didn’t fit into any of them. All the girls in the office were fussing over the new clothes and there I was. I hated it. On the way to work in the morning I wanted to cry, and when I left work at night, I wanted to have a party. The girls there were amazing, my boss there was amazing, but the industry just wasn’t for me – I have never been a girly girl so it didn’t suit my personality to work in fashion.
However, I took that time and made it into a positive thing. From 9 to 5 I was there, then I had a routine. I started a exercising more and eating perfectly. I went to weight watchers for a year and made it a mission to loose the weight. I lost 30 kilos in just over a year.
After I had lost the weight I have a big D and M (deep and meaningful) with my mum and dad about what I loved, what I was passionate about and what I wanted to do with my life. It was then when I realised that I loved exercising and I really wanted to do help other people achieve the same success that I had achieved.
At that point in time (2006), personal training was still quite rare. I enrolled in a course, was honest with my boss, and she was so great that she said to me “I would like you to stay here as long as you can, so put your hand up when you are ready to go”. This meant I got to do my course while I had a full time job. It was full on; 3 nights and Saturday I had classes, then I spent additional time training people as apart of the curriculum, as well as my 40 hours a week at work.
Eventually I built up my clients and was earning enough from training people that I was in a position where I could leave my other job, so I transitioned into personal training full time. I did that for about 5 years – personal training in actually a really tough role; people cancel all the time, people don’t pay always, you’re subject to the hours that suit them etc. So it was a messy 5 years, but it suited me as I had a flexible lifestyle at the time.
How did you decide to go from personal trainer to owning your own studio?
I always had this entrepreneurial bug in me – my grandparents are self employed, my parents are self employed, I am stubborn and I don’t like to be told what to do and I wanted to be my own boss. I had decided to go to South America so I needed a bit of extra cash to fund my adventure, which is how I started working for KX Pilates. At that point in time there was only one KX studio and they were opening a second studio. I started working with KX Studio owner Aaron, which I clicked with instantly. I worked there for about 3 months before approaching him about buying into the business in some capacity. I then went on my trip to South America, and when I came back Aaron sat me down and said “instead of buying a studio, lets go into a partnership in the companies 3rd studio”.
The 3rd studio in Richmond did really well in its first year, which funded doing another one in Camberwell, and then also we opened another one in Brighton, which meant KX was up to five studios. Off the back of that there was interest for franchising. So Aaron went down that path and now owns 13 Pilates studios, 4 bar studios and a yoga studio. I co-own 3 of those studios with him.
[line][pullquote width=”300″ float=”left”]I really want to be the 7/11 of healthy eating.[/pullquote][line]
How did Nutrition Bar come about?
Nutrition Bar was my little side thing, I always wanted to do something with food and having been through that whole food journey myself, I wanted a depot where people could come pick up fit food, smart snacks and eat clean. I’m not necessarily trying to be the organic, hippy-dippy, alternative style of food – I really want to be the 7/11 of healthy eating.
How did you decide to open it?
Nutrition Bar is a partnership between my Mum and I. We had always talked about doing something together food wise and had a few false starts over the last ten years, which we never followed through with. It’s a collaboration of everything I do at home and what I was seeing people doing at home on Instagram / social media. I really saw there was a gap in the market, everyone was doing this clean eating thing at home, but there was nowhere you could get it while you were on the run. For example, you finish your run at The Tan, and then you want something healthy! It’s a family affair, my little sister has now gotten involved in the business too – she was also overweight growing up and is now is a health freak, so it is really cool to have her involved.
So who comes up with all the recipes?
Me at the moment, I am inspired by everything that’s out there. I am seeing what the market wants and I try to stay in line with trends, keeping the food nutrient dense and staying seasonal. I have done nutrition courses and we get sports dieticians input on our menus, but a lot of it is also just years and years of doing it myself.
We have just signed the leases to open a new branch of the KX brand ‘KX Cycles’, which will be dedicated cycle studios that are a bit different to what you get in the gyms and in spin classes – they will be more of a boutique studio which we think is a great concept that will work well.
[line][pullquote width=”600″ float=”left”]We will end up having them everywhere and everyone can have access to Nutrition Bar’s healthy depots.[/pullquote][line]
That’s exciting! What about Nutrition Bar?
We have now sold part of the business to another partnership, which is pretty big in the fast-food market, and they’re going to help up grow and roll out stores. So we will end up having them everywhere and everyone can have access to Nutrition Bar’s healthy depots.
When/where are you planning on rolling out the new Nutrition Bar stores?
We have two stores in line to be opened in the next 6 -8 weeks in St Kilda Road and Chapel Street, then 2 stores lined up next year in the city, then we are looking interstate.
We are rebranding to roll them all out; we will have more ‘grab and go’ in the floor fridges so customers can access everything faster, more food offering such as take home meals and other new offerings like that which is really exciting.
[line][pullquote width=”600″ float=”left”]If you work really hard, and you just put one foot in front of the other, and work out the strategy of how you are going to transition into what you really want to do, it’s totally possible.[/pullquote][line]
Why do you think you have been so successful?
It’s funny because I look back and I wouldn’t of been able to do this without the KX success, and that was, I wouldn’t say luck, but that first studio I invested in, has rolled on to all of this. Everyone is always complaining that you can’t leave what you are doing because of money, but if you work really hard, and you just put one foot in front of the other, and work out the strategy of how you are going to transition into what you really want to do, it’s totally possible. I am so happy with my lifestyle and everything now, and all of it has happened in just two years. I had maxed out credit cards, was owing money to Mum, owing money to dad, but now it has all changed.
strong>So you managed to change your life in only 2 years, what are some of the steps you took to get there?
Definitely the people around you are a big thing. Negative people are not good for the positivity in your life. For example, friends and/or family members who discourage you from changing what you are doing, or taking a leap into the unknown, i.e. you might have been studying something at uni for years and years that is not working for you. People project their own issues onto you, so you have to be careful that the people that are advising or commenting on what you are doing, really care about you and have your best interests when they give you advise, not as a result of their own insecurities, issues or jealousy.
You need to spend time with people who are what you want to be or can help you improve yourself, and it doesn’t have to be older people – there are a lot of young people doing fabulous things in their 20’s and 30’s. Aaron for example has been amazing for me; we have grown our business together bouncing off each other. He is really open minded, thinks similarly to me, and we are always thinking how we can be the best and make things better. Doing that as quickly as you can – surrounding yourself with the right people and getting rid of the wrong people, will accelerate that process to change your life.
Balance is a big thing, you can’t just throw yourself 100% into something new and neglect the other areas of your life, I’ve learnt hat the hard way. 12 months ago I was pretty stressed, relationships and other things were being neglected. I found that when I found the time to do things that I enjoy as well as work (which I also enjoy but at the end of the day it is still work), it’s made me a happier person and changed my life faster to be what I wanted it to be.
Being one of the first clean eating stores of this kind in Melbourne, did you have any doubts at the beginning that it might not work, or were you pretty confident it was all going to work out?
I had no idea, I was pretty confident that the market was out there as I was seeing it everywhere and hearing all about it from my clients. It is scary, we didn’t expect for it to take off like it did. It’s been amazing and to be honest we really weren’t prepared for it and there was a lot of research that we should of done before we opened that we are doing now. For example the menu is changing weekly at the moment, refining the way we do things to tailor it to make it what people want.
What are some of the most exciting parts of running your own business?
That you can be your own boss and therefore do whatever you want. My goal for the last 12 months was to try and get out of working in the businesses so I could work on the businesses. For the first 12 months after the Richmond KX studio opened, I was taking every class, opening every email, taking every phone call, and sleeping on the reformer beds having naps, which obviously wasn’t doing great things for the bigger picture or my health. I have found that there is actually a lot of people out there who are really motivated and looking for work so being able to delegate to the right people has really helped me grow.
[line][pullquote width=”300″ float=”left”]Being able to decided where I work each day, who I speak to each day – I just love creating my own destiny.[/pullquote][line]
What are some of the unexpected things that have happen as a result of owning your own business?
I didn’t expect it to take off like it has only 10 months in! The freedom side of it is the best thing for me. Being able to decided where I work each day, who I speak to each day – I just love creating my own destiny. Working 18 hours days or working at night just doesn’t feel like work when it is your own thing. I love it. I love being able to share everything I do, whether it is the personal training, the Pilates or Nutrition, it’s all for the greater good, it’s all to help people better themselves, it’s all positive. It’s a really good industry to be in. I love nothing more than when someone walks out of a class, endorphins pumping, when they have walked in grumpy. I know that in 50 minutes, when they leave and are sweaty, dirty and tired, that they’re going to be happier. Same with Nutrition Bar, they come in hangry, and they’re not going somewhere like McDonald’s or getting a junk food sugar spike, and I can say this is really good and these are benefits it will give, and your impacting peoples health – that is really rewarding.
So… do you ever eat junk food?
Not really. My downfall, and it’s not really junk food, is nuts. I like to eat them in excessive quantities. If I’m going to be “bad”, it’s nuts. Like 200grams of cashews or pistachios. I love quest bars as well, but I have to limit myself to one a day!
[line][pullquote width=”600″ float=”left”]I have always done everything backwards. I bought an apartment when I was 26 backwards – I bought it before I knew I could finance it… That positive mindset of that I will work it out when I have to has made it happen.[/pullquote][line]
What are some of the challenges you have had?
Financial pressures are a big one. With these businesses you owe money to the bank and you don’t know if you are going to make it back and you have taken a big risk there. I have always done everything backwards. I bought an apartment when I was 26 backwards – I bought it before I knew I could finance it. Every lease I have signed, I have always done it that way, every holiday I have ever had, was on credit and I have paid it back. That positive mindset of that I will work it out when I have to has made it happen.
If I had done it the other way around, I would have never have done anything. So if you’ve got the means to do it, and you can handle the debt flying over your head, it’s the only way to do things these days unless you inherit money.
Signing leases, permits and dealing with councils is also pretty challenging to deal with.
Staff and people – going from being a sole trader and only worrying about myself, to worrying about classes running where there is 3 people at different locations all at the same time, then now we have 17 people at the same time on the hour! Different personalities, males and females are very different to deal with.
I have had to learn all that very quickly – I’m not a leader by nature, it’s been a rocky road trying to learn how to be a manager and a role model and being consistent so people know what they’re getting when they see you. There was a long time where I was up and down and moody and it was hard to mask that and be a role model.
What are some of the ways you have gotten your name out there?
Social media has been the main drive over the last 12 months. Prior to the explosion of that, you had to pay for any advertising or exposure. Strategic partnerships are amazing and you can get coverage by networking that way. A lot of businesses in Melbourne are run by young people and we have found that offering Pilates classes and free food is a good way of giving something back and we have had a lot of good things come along through doing that. For example Lululemon, we are did an event with them a few weeks ago. With KX we sponsor a lot of events such as balls and charity events with prizes, in return for them putting up something on a slide or on their website, which is a low cost to get involved. Using ambassadors and building relationships with public figures has been great for us. For example Carry Bickmore, Nat Bassingthwaighte and lots of athletics and footballers comes to the studios.
How did you grow your Instagram account to 17,000 followers so quickly?
No idea! When I first studied PR there was no Instagram or Facebook, so I didn’t learn how to utilise social media until recently. It has come down to people loving food, or crumbing as will.i.am puts it, AKA, people posting food photos. Nutrition Bar is the ultimate crumbing place because we have colourful, amazing looking food. It just spread like wild fire. We haven’t paid for a follower, we haven’t paid for a person to post anything, and it’s really been, pardon the pun, all organically grown.
[line][pullquote width=”600″ float=”left”]It’s all just hard work… there is something to be said about hard work and failing, and having the wear the consequences of that and how it actually makes you successful in the long run.[/pullquote][line]
What advise would you give someone starting their own business?
Like I said before, it’s about putting one foot in front of the other and trusting your gut, that if you think that what you’ve got, there’s a need for it then you are probably right. You have to be realistic, I have a lot of people coming up to me now bouncing ideas off me, and I’ll be brutally honest with them. I have come up with some things in the past that I laugh at now, so you need to be realistic about what your idea is and is it really feasible.
The big one is not jumping ship, for example, the way I did it by staying in my full time job so I could still support myself, until I transitioned into the new role was smart. I have had a few friends who have decided to start something and they quit what they were doing to try and do it full time, but it takes a good 6-12 months to build up clientele. So you are better working your ass off for 6-12 months and transition into it.
Get the right people around you, because there are people out there who know a lot more than you that can really accelerate what you are doing, which can cut out a lot of the legwork because they have already been there done that.
Research! Google is amazing, I Google in the middle of the night when I go to the toilet if I have an idea!
It’s all just hard work. I think about people who get gifted money. Sometimes you need a little bit of help to get to where you want to go, but there is something to be said about hard work and failing, and having the wear the consequences of that, and how it actually makes you successful in the long run.
[line][pullquote width=”300″ float=”right”]I trust myself to make things happen. Just like getting a parking spot at the supermarket.[/pullquote][line]
What would you say to your 21-year-old self?
I don’t regret anything I have done. Everything I did along the way was the journey I needed to take to get to where I am. I have always had this self-confidence no matter what my physical look was at the time that I am worthy and that I trust myself to make things happen. Just like getting a parking spot at the supermarket – I think about it and put one foot in front of the other and make it happen. The only thing is that I probably should have travelled a bit longer.
If you were to have a dinner party, what people dead or alive would you invite?
Kelly Slater – he’s my favourite! I have loved him since Bay Watch – he is 10 years, 10 months and 2 days older than me.
Oprah would be amazing.
Kurt Cobain – because I loved nirvana when I was younger.
Caleb Followill from Kings of Leon.
We can throw in Pete Evans the Paleo chef. It would be good to talk to about his groundbreaking research on food. He has proven things that people have been saying for years!
Does that mean you believe in Paleo?
To a degree, I believe in eating real whole foods but not cutting out any food groups like Paleo does. I love peanut butter!