In Conversation With Rachel Woolford, North Studio Owner and Winner of The Apprentice 2024

Rachel Woolford launched North Studio in Roundhay, Leeds during the COVID-19 pandemic, leaving her job in finance to pursue her love for fitness.

In the years that followed, North Studio went from strength to strength, with new and returning members attending a range of classes, including run and cycle sessions, barre and vinyasa yoga every day.

I can vouch for the studio, having been to the Run and Build class. (You can read my review for Leeds Living here). I loved the challenge and the camaraderie. The success of the Roundhay studio led to a second North Studio space, which opened in 2023 in Harrogate.

Rachel, who is always on the lookout for a new challenge, took part in the 2024 series of Apprentice. She entered to challenge herself, and her growing business. But she did more than just take part, Rachel won the whole competition, bringing the Apprentice crown to Leeds! I spoke to Rachel about North Studio, her time on the Apprentice and her plans for her business moving forward.

I asked Rachel what it’s like to look back on all that she and her team have achieved since launching North Studio just over 4 years ago. ‘”It is surreal” Rachel explained. “We have been on such a journey since setting up the business in the middle of Covid. Starting a business in the middle of a difficult time for businesses, as well as us personally, was hard. Since then, we have been on a journey of highs and lows, but it has been an amazing journey.’

A happy team

I was interested to know, despite the strengths of the current business, whether there is anything that Rachel and her team would have done differently with the business if they could go back in time. Adamantly, Rachel said “I have no regrets. Everything that has gone wrong with the business, I have learnt from. I have taken positives from every difficult situation. I knew it was going to be hard when I started, and so I was prepared for difficult times again.”

Considering all of the lessons that Rachel has learned in setting up and managing her own business, I asked her what advice she would give to others looking to set up a business in Leeds. “Leeds is a great City, with so much to give.” Rachel said. She went on to highlight that since launching North Studio, she and her team have felt supported by people in the community. “The people I come across in Leeds are supportive of independent businesses. I think a lot of people from the north are really proud to be from here.

However, she explained that setting up a business is not always easy. “If you are looking to launch a new business, get ready for a difficult first few years.” She emphasised the importance of being prepared for the challenge, with strong foundations. “It was hard when I launched the business, I had to build my foundations whilst everything was a mess economically. It is still tough now, so others need to be prepared to deal with this, too.”

The gym

Rachel went on to add that making money is not always easy and doesn’t happen overnight. ‘You won’t make money straight away. It is important for people launching a new business that they do not assume that they can quit their old job, and make money straight away.” She said that she received advice from her dad before launching North Studio, which emphasised that making money is really hard, and that it is important to stick with it. Rachel added, “So many people quit their businesses after just 3-5 years. Those that stick it out have to make the decision to deal with challenges. They need to be prepared for road bumps, and not to wait for things to be perfect, because they never will be.”

We moved the conversation over to The Apprentice. To start, I wanted to know what inspired Rachel to apply to be on the show. “I applied to be on The Apprentice because I love a challenge. I had two sites open at the time, and although it was busy, I wanted to push myself and the business.”

Even after making it through the recruitment stages of the Apprentice, Rachel never thought that she would win it. “I thought it would be a great learning experience. I entered because I wanted to hear what the others thought about my
business, and to get into the nitty gritty of the business.”

Having watched The Apprentice, I know that it is a hard process to be part of. I was interested to hear from Rachel what was most challenging about taking part. Unexpectedly, for me at least, Rachel said: “The hardest bit was not the tasks; it was being away from home. We were away for over 9 weeks. We did not get a break. I only got one phone call home every week or so, for just 10 minutes.

Rachel, who is running the Leeds Marathon on Sunday 12 th May, went on to say, “Although I learned a lot, I would do a marathon any day over doing the Apprentice again. It was mentally hard; we had to go through a lot.”

To hear more about the positives of Rachel’s time in the competition, I asked her about her favourite memories from her time on the Apprentice. She started by saying that she didn’t have one moment that really stands out, but instead, “I had to let go of the control of the business, which was hard and the first time I had done it. But knowing that it can go on without me made me happy.” She went on to say that she also enjoyed going to new places. “I really liked Budapest. It was great to be able to host a tour of a city that I had never been to before. I also loved being able to do so many new things, especially the tasks that involved talking to people.”

Next, the conversation moved to how Rachel’s life and business have changed since winning the Apprentice.

“The business was established before the Apprentice, and so it is not successful just because of the Apprentice. We have been consistently busy since we reopened COVID after lockdown in May 2021.”

The juice bar at North Studio

There have been positive changes since the show: “Both studios have grown since being on the show. We have had an influx of people since the show was aired on TV. However, I’ve had some issues online with people not being that nice.’ That was the hardest bit of being on the show. During the show being on TV, you got people putting their opinions online without actually knowing anything about me or my business.” Rachel explained.

As an Apprentice winner, running an already successful business, I was interested to hear what Rachel’s plans are for North Studio moving forward. She told me “The plan is to open another studio, but we want to grow sustainably.” I was interested to know where studio 3 would be, but Rachel explained that whilst there is a lot going on behind the scenes, they are still in the planning phases. ‘The new studio will be Yorkshire-based, but we don’t have set plans yet.”

To bring the conversation to a close, I asked Rachel to share her top tips for others thinking about applying to go on the Apprentice.

Rachel: “My biggest advice is to maintain accountability with yourself. Don’t change who you are when you go
on the show.”
She also emphasised the importance of being honest. “Tell the truth when you are on the show. Lord Sugar always knows when someone is not being truthful.” Her final piece of advice related to the reason for going on the show. “Don’t go on it to be the next influencer. Go on for business reasons. That is who Lord Sugar wants to support. Go on for the right reasons.”

If you would like to try out a class at North Studio, you can now purchase 3 classes for £20 via the North Studio website. If you enjoy the classes, you can join North Studio as a member, with flexible payment options available.

For more information, head to the North Studio website here. You can follow on Instagram @northstudiouk.

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