Balancing a career and owning a business is hard—but running an infrared sauna while deployed on active duty in the Navy? That’s the reality for Alyza Brevard-Rodriguez over the next few months.
“I think in being a military owner and having leadership and resilience instilled in me, it keeps me trucking,” Brevard-Rodriguez said.
Seeing a hot opportunity
Brevard-Rodriguez and her wife own SW3AT sauna studio, New Jersey's first infrared sauna, and although it launched in 2018, the business's roots reach back as far as 2013. That's when the couple discovered an infrared sauna while visiting California and noticed how common they were on the West Coast. They set a goal of opening up a location of their own as an extension of their fitness apparel line, but before they could accomplish their goal, Brevard-Rodriguez was deployed in 2016.
"Once I came back, we regrouped," Brevard-Rodriguez said. "When you get deployed overseas, there are some monetary benefits that come with it, so I was like, 'Let's just dive into this business thing.'"
While the Brevard-Rodriguez's deployment meant SW3AT wasn't the first infrared sauna on the East Coast, it was the first in New Jersey. And while being first offered an untapped market, it also meant that as owners, Brevard-Rodriguez and her wife needed to continuously promote the benefits of their offering.
"It just was something that people didn't really understand," Brevard-Rodriguez said. "And I think cryo was making its wave. So, it's taken a lot of us to engage the community, engage social media, and teach people about the benefits of heat therapy."
It takes a team
Because of her military experience, Brevard-Rodriguez knew that leadership was tantamount to business success. She also knew that nothing is accomplished alone and sought to lead a strong team to support the business—even when she couldn’t be there.
"The key is leadership and learning how to be a leader and not be a boss," she explained. "But I always try to tell people, you know, I'm a leader, I am the type of person that anything that I ask them to do or require them to do is nothing that I won't do, that I wouldn't do, or that they have even seen me do."
Staffing an unfamiliar business could be a daunting challenge, but Brevard-Rodriguez knew what to look for in her team.
"One of the key things that I look for is somebody that does have a passion for fitness," she said. "When I say the word passion, that doesn't mean that they have to be a big buff trainer, or they have to have a NASM degree or anything. Just someone who cares about wellness, because I can't make you do that. If I hire you, I can't make you want to have that type of lifestyle."
This commitment to finding a staff that shares the same passion for wellness has paid dividends for SW3AT. The team had grown close and developed a family dynamic—so much so that when Brevard-Rodriguez prepared for deployment in October, they had a special going away party with their team.
"We have a small crew. Including my wife and I, there's six of us," she said. "We went out to lunch and brainstormed what things are going to look like, how they're going to be, treat them to lunch, and just say goodbye."
As Brevard-Rodriguez looked towards her deployment, she knew there would be challenges, but she planned for them. She would miss her family—she and her wife have a one-year-old daughter—but she used her business's COVID-19 closure this spring to spend quality time with them. She also spent her pandemic closure delivering meals to the Javits Center military field hospital and USNS Comfort while they were in New York City as a means to stay connected to her brothers and sisters in service.
As for the business, she knows that she can run it from her phone, checking in as she has opportunities, despite being deployed.
"As long as I have my phone, I have my team on the ground that's handling things, and my wife doing any matters that require in-person," Brevard-Rodriguez said. "But social media running, emails, all that stuff, I have my phone. I think technology has been beneficial."
Ultimately, by blending her military background with a strong team behind her, Brevard-Rodriguez knows that SW3AT will be just fine while she’s gone.