Alexa Nykanen arrived at Northeastern University in fall 2013 with a career goal in mind: to one day take over her mom’s fitness studio in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates, where she had spent the first 18 years of her life.
“My mom opened up the studio when I was in fifth grade,” says Nykanen, who worked as the gym’s receptionist when she was in high school, “and I wanted to follow in her footsteps.”
She quickly got to work, honing her business acumen by enrolling in the D’Amore-McKim School of Business and expanding her fitness expertise by earning her yoga certification.
But her dream truly came into focus in May 2015, when she took a risk and reached out to Jonathan Cruz, the owner of Burn Fitness Studios, one of Boston’s most popular boutique gyms. By July, Nykanen, who had routinely walked passed the gym’s South End location on her way to campus, had secured a part-time job as the studio manager as well as a yoga instructor.
For the past three months, she’s been working there on co-op as the studio manager and marketing lead. She’s also had the opportunity to harness her fitness acumen, teaching some yoga classes on the side. As she puts it, “this is the perfect co-op.”
Her primary responsibility is increasing membership at the gym’s new Back Bay location, a task that has often prompted the fourth-year business administration major to reference her notes from her marketing and consumer behavior courses.
“I’ve pulled out my notes and gone over them to help me shape the ideas I bring to the table,” says Nykanen, who’s also drawn from a business plan she created for a course called “Business Planning for Technology Ventures.” “What you learn is that customer satisfaction is huge, that the price members pay has to reflect the value they receive.”
Nykanen is currently overseeing several partnerships aimed at boosting Burn’s customer base. She is particularly invested in Burn’s collaborations with Gymbuildr, a marketing agency that drives people to gyms through six-week fitness challenges, and ClassPass, a service that lets subscribers attend a variety of fitness classes at boutique studios.
When she’s not working with Burn’s partners, she’s running email campaigns to drive up the studio’s clientele or calling casual gym-goers to entice them with free classes. And she’s loving every minute of it, including the crazy hours. Sometimes, she’ll rise at 4:30 a.m. to run a class. On other occasions, she’ll field important phone calls at odd hours, like 11 p.m. on a Sunday.
“I’ve never been the type of person to work 9-to-5,” says Nykanen, whose first co-op, as a production assistant at a now defunct education technology startup, helped her realize she didn’t want a desk job. “Working at Burn can be stressful, but I love seeing how happy the clients are. It lights up my day and makes me smile for the rest of the week.”
Her advice to other students looking to shape their own co-op experiences is simple: Find a mentor, ask for help when needed, and don’t be afraid to fail. “I was given so much responsibility and I wasn’t sure I could live up to the expectations,” says Nykanen, who counts Cruz as her mentor. “But I wasn’t afraid to ask for help and I knew that I would learn from my mistakes.”