Business in bloom: Marie Claire Bilyk and Blossom Fitness
Some people discover they are entrepreneurs later in life, but Marie Claire Bilyk says she's always been a self-starter.
Marie Claire is a retired athlete and mother of two. She grew up with partial sight, and her sight degenerated further when she was pregnant. She had trouble finding a job she could balance with being a mother. In 2002 after her daughter was born, Marie Claire received a $5,000 grant from Goodwill to start a small business. She opened a successful prenatal fitness program combining her love of health and motherhood — Blossom Fitness and Nutrition. The program offered prenatal Aquafit, yoga and strength-building workouts.
It took about a year to prepare and plan details. Marie Claire got her certifications to be a yoga and fitness instructor. There were only six participants in her first class, which was held in a church basement. Over the years, Blossom grew. Eventually, she was serving 200 mothers each year.
With her growing reputation, Marie Claire was making $130 per hour, working five hours each week. She found this was perfect; she could make money and still have time to spend with her family.
Blossom rose above the competition, because Marie Claire added more value for her customers. She incorporated group discussion and exercise into the classes, and even added a special relaxation CD that she made. She invested most of her grant money into making a professional website and good marketing materials. Knowing the value of word of mouth, she spent time promoting herself to local healthcare professionals. She was determined to be better than her competitors. She added a doula (birth coach) to the package. She paid the doula to host classes of extra comfort measures, and 20 to 30 couples would attend.
"It didn't happen overnight," says Marie Claire. "It was a garden that needed to be tended to and eventually grow."
She sold the business in 2010, but she still runs into women who took her classes. In 2017 on her first day working at CNIB, one of Marie Claire's colleagues told her she was one of those moms 12 years ago.
Marie Claire is practical with money but she also wanted to offer something she believed in and cared about. The bottom line is important, but so is the value of the service, she says. Her advice is to learn from competition. Research what works for others and consider how it could work for you.
Marie Claire has one more piece of advice for entrepreneurs who are blind or partially sighted is to remember your worth. "Whether or not your business succeeds won't make or break your worthiness as a person. When you're rooted in your dignity as a person, it's not as scary to take those risks."