It’s My Gym and it’s your gym, but now it’s also Helen’s gym and Kiki’s gym.
Los Altos mom Helen Vallaeys and her friend and longtime activities instructor Juakila “Kiki” McConnell are now the owners of the My Gym in the Midtown Shopping Center in Palo Alto after realizing their dream of keeping the children’s play center a growing space for families.
McConnell, who has worked in various capacities for My Gym Palo Alto the past 10 years, approached Vallaeys shortly after Christmas when she learned then-owner Bob Yanofsky told his team he was thinking about selling the location upon his retirement.
Vallaeys had already shared with McConnell that she was interested in running a My Gym franchise, and the Palo Alto location was ideal for both of them; McConnell knew the ins and outs of the location and its community, while Vallaeys’ children had been going to My Gym for five years as she worked in corporate Silicon Valley.
Excitement turned to action when the two friends, whose kids have grown up and had birthday parties at the gym, agreed they were perfectly suited to take over: McConnell could run the front-end and continue to instruct, and Vallaeys could bring her marketing and teamwork skills to continue the support My Gym has enjoyed as one of the most popular children’s gyms in the world.
With the aim of “creating moments that matter,” the pair dove in. After three months of planning, the moms officially took the reins of the business March 31.
“It has been rewarding, but the challenging thing is running a small business in the Bay Area,” Vallaeys said. “We know that this has been in the community for so long … (and) we wanted (so badly) to make it work that we did troubleshoot and consider how we would do it.”
Although Vallaeys has a business background, this is her first time partnering to manage her own venture.
“So it’s kind of like, ‘Let me apply everything I’ve learned,’” she said. “I’m (used) to working with a team, so bringing (McConnell’s) understanding to the table means bringing it all together and marrying the best of both worlds.”
Vallaeys and McConnell plan to retain My Gym’s successful corporate model while incorporating new activities that parents and children need or are interested in. Currently, the partners are focusing on expanding classes such as Ninja Warrior Training, dance and gymnastics. Their location attracts hundreds of children, ranging from 6-week-olds in the Little Bundles class to 12-year-olds in classes like Whiz Kids.
Los Altos mom Hayden Brown said the care provided by the likes of Vallaeys and McConnell at My Gym creates an environment that acts as a “great resource.”
“My family (including our two kids) has been attending My Gym since my first daughter was 6 months old, about four years ago,” Brown said. “Now, my second daughter is a weekly participant in My Gym’s classes. We love how the gym enables our kids to explore their physical capabilities in a safe and interesting environment.”
Striving to be a regional asset
Remaining connected to the community is another focus, which is why My Gym Palo Alto offers classes at the Mitchell Park Library and is considering expanding their reach to Los Altos libraries as well, as many My Gym members are Los Altos residents.
The classes, Vallaeys said, are designed to engage kids and get them moving.
“It’s plugging in. … They might enjoy a little bit of physical exercise, some singing and dancing,” she added.
Vallaeys and McConnell have summer camp plans in the work, with McConnell customizing the curriculum with daily themes like “Fun in the Sun.” Vallaeys attributes much of My Gym Palo Alto’s success over the past decade to her business partner.
“It’s good to see a Bay Area local that has put in the hours and gotten their dream,” Vallaeys said of McConnell, who was born and raised in the area and now resides in Hayward. “She passionately believed in it.”
My Gym Palo Alto is located at 2655 Middlefield Road. For more information, visit mygym.com/paloalto.