Rachele Gilman is the Founder and Director of Stretch Inc., an Assisted Stretch studio in London’s Covent Garden. They work with clients to help them reach mobility and flexibility goals, guiding them through controlled stretching sessions to help alleviate aches, pains and muscle tightness. FRANK’s editor-in-chief Melanie Sykes finds out how her stretch business unfolded.
Stretch Inc, What a genius idea. How did it come to you, Rachele?
Rachele Gilman: Assisted stretching is a fast-growing trend in the USA, where I am from, so I had some previous knowledge. I am also a certified yoga instructor. Over the past ten years of teaching and practising yoga I noticed a tiny pool of people accessing yoga. I asked myself how could I bring the benefits of mobility, flexibility and stretching to more people?
Stretching removes some of the performance anxiety and appeals to a much broader portion of the population. Add to that no special clothes, no special equipment, no special knowledge, plus a totally demystified experience and boom! We have a great product that is accessible to almost anyone.
What was your line of work before Stretch Inc. was born?
Rachele Gilman: I get this one a lot, especially if someone has seen my LinkedIn profile! Before stretch inc. I worked for the US government in various roles. I was overseas a lot, sometimes in places where I didn’t have access to loads of stuff. I started practising yoga and when I was back in Washington DC I got certified to teach. I used yoga to decompress. When I left the US Government I spent some time in tech, teaching yoga in the office or overseas at resorts. I realised that I wanted to make the leap to my own company and a new industry – so Stretch Inc. was born.
You were about to launch as the pandemic hit so you closed before you even opened. How have you kept the faith? And tell us how the business has evolved since then?
Rachele Gilman: This has been the biggest obstacle for Stretch Inc. Honestly, we had a fantastic team and everyone just picked up exactly where we left off every time the restrictions lifted. We were fortunate to have supportive landlords and investors. And knowing we have an amazing service is a significant driver.
We’ve learned a lot because of the pandemic, mainly that people crave human interaction more than ever and that self-care is on an upswing.
We’ve also adapted our model to include more classes. Initially, during lockdown, we started offering 10-minute stretches on Instagram called Take Ten. We still do those, but now we also provide in-studio and online full-length classes.
I passed by your Covent Garden studio and talk about window shopping! I saw it, I bought and what a great experience it was! Tell us why the stretches are in full view of the street and how do clients react?
Rachele Gilman: I think these windows have become our unofficial trademark. The idea behind keeping things in full view is two-fold. First, there is a teaching element; assisted stretching is brand new in the UK. Most people are unsure of what it is, so they may not be motivated by words or ads, but almost everyone is intrigued when they look through our windows. Second, despite being on display, it helps alleviate performance anxiety when you know exactly what to expect. I think people are comforted by understanding it is fully-clothed, no oils, no sweating, no surprises. Some clients are shy in the beginning but, overall, it works for most people. The windows are marketing and education combined.
What a brilliant space you have there. Would you liken it to choosing a home? Does it all have to feel right?
It definitely has to have the right feel. Windows and space and light are essential. We are a wellness brand and want everyone to feel well when they are in our space. Plus, it needs to be comfortable. You are on those benches in full view, so relaxation is vital.
Who are the stretchologists?
Rachele Gilman: Stretchologists make stretch inc. We have been so lucky in this regard. We have such a diverse team but everyone has bodywork experience or credentials. Our start-up team included a physio, a sports therapist, a Pilates instructor, a yoga instructor and a PT. We worked together to create stretchologist training at different levels and then we hired the best people out there. Being a stretchologist requires quite a bit of body knowledge but also a fantastic set of soft skills. We have motivated and well-trained stretchologists. They are the best.
And who are your clients?
Rachele Gilman: Anyone 18-80 is what we like to say and for the most part, it is true. We see a lot of repeat clients and they fall across a broad spectrum of people. Athletes, office workers, remote workers, parents, retirees, people recovering from injury. Stretching is beneficial to just about everybody and post-pandemic people are starting to realise how much they need it. In wellness, we often struggle to reach across demographics, which is something stretch inc. does well. We have 50/50 male/female clients and most people being stretched fall between 25-55.
What are the benefits of stretching? And why is it seemingly the last thing people want to do pre and post-workout?
Rachele Gilman: The easiest to recognise benefit is that it feels good. Almost everyone feels better after stretching. There are, of course, other benefits. It increases mobility and flexibility, which both impact performance and recovery and helps with ageing and daily activities. Stretching is a critical factor in maintaining mobility for life, plus it just adds to your ability to live better no matter when you start.
I think we’ve been in a work hard play hard cycle for the past few years, so people have been neglecting rest.
We haven’t prioritised rest and recovery and using healing practices with our bodies. The pandemic has changed that, and we seem to be in a new era or work hard, play hard, rest hard.
Stretching is better suited to this mindset. It takes time to see gains, and you have to make time to do it. Once resting, recovery and self-care are the priority, stretching becomes easier to focus on.
People see the value of massage. Do you think people are getting their head around the notion that stretching is as valuable and as enjoyable?
Rachele Gilman: Slowly but steadily, we are getting the message out there. Part of the education piece is showing people our giant windows and making it accessible. Most people who experience an assisted stretch get it immediately. Now we need to work on the daily value of stretching. This is why classes and social media are so important. Stretch inc. wants to help everyone embrace flexibility and mobility, and we are still working through all the best ways to get the message out!
How does receiving regular stretches benefit our lives?
Rachele Gilman: So many ways. Sometimes I am worried I sound like a broken record. The most fundamental stretching goal is functional movement. That is really why we need stretching, which translates to flexibility. Can I reach behind me to put on my seatbelt? Can I reach above me to get something from my pantry? Can I bend down to tie my shoes? Can I bend down to pick up my kid? Flexibility and mobility are not synonymous, BUT one does depend on the other. Mobility is about finding the sweet spot between strength and flexibility.
Follow Rachele Gilman on Instagram at @stretchinc_uk to find out more about her work at Stretch Inc.