When you think about Zumba, you imagine people wearing brightly coloured cargo pants and pumping their fists.You think about the dance fitness craze.
But Zumba isn’t just about fitness — it’s an entire franchise that turns dance instructors into entrepreneurs selling apparel and CDs.
A decade ago, Alberto Perlman decided to launch Zumba so that he could sell the classes as VHS tapes on late night infomercials.
In 2012, Zumba was named “Company of the Year,” by Inc.com and is currently the largest fitness brand in the world.
In 1986, Alberto 'Beto' Perez was teaching an aerobics class and forgot his music at home. He had to use whatever he had, which happened to be a fun dance mix incorporating a variety of dance moves, including hip-hop, salsa, martial arts and even Bollywood style.
It was a huge hit with his students.
In 2001, he moved from Colombia to the United States and continued to teach.
'I go to my mum's house for dinner and she was talking about her dancing class,' Perlman told us. 'She said it was the only thing she'd ever done that didn't feel like exercising.'
Perlman became intrigued when his mother told him that the instructor had a way of integrating 'the Saturday night feel' into an exercise class.
When Perlman visited his first Zumba class, it wasn't called Zumba yet and there were '120 people packed in like sardines,' he told Leigh Buchanan at Inc.com.
'We never thought it was going to become what it did become,' Perlman said.
The founders knew Zumba was going to be big when they kept getting phone calls in the middle of the night.
Given the popularity of their line of taped Zumba workouts, they decided to create a training course called the 'Zumba Academy' in Miami in 2003.
'We thought 20 people would show up,' Perlman told us. 'We got 150 people.' Within two years, Zumba Academy had trained around 700 new instructors -- and turned them into entrepreneurs.
Once certified, the instructors could teach their own classes, sell Zumba attire and CDs to their students.
'Well, we thought these people needed some sort of career, so for $30 per month, they could get their career in a box.'
Zumba is different than any other fitness program because most people don't take it for the fitness benefits.
'It's the only real fitness program where most people taking it are not taking it for the fitness benefits,' Perlman said. 'They're taking it for the happiness and joy that they feel while they're doing it, and the fitness is just a result of this.'
'We know so many people who have gone off their depression medications because of Zumba,' he said. 'A person that is depressed and on Prozac...this is one hour when they're not on their meds. If you have breast cancer, it's one hour when you don't remember that you have it.'
According to Perlman, participants are burning around 750 calories in a class.
'Clothing is a big thing for us,' Perlman told us. 'The demand is unstoppable.'
Unlike the typical dark-coloured yoga gear, Zumba apparel is made up of brightly-coloured and patterned clothing.
'Everyone is wearing black yoga pants and then you see the Zumba people wearing colourful, cool cargo pants,' he said. 'It makes a statement that says 'I don't have to hide like everyone else. I can show a little bit of brightness, and not have to wear these black pants.'
The company sells more than 3.5 million units of clothing through their Web site.
The core energy of Zumba classes is made up of upbeat music and when the company launched its most recent CD in Europe, it went platinum twice.
In you attend a Zumba fitness concert on Sunday mornings, there are singers on stage and instructors teaching you how to dance to the beat.
'Music is a big part of our business,' Perlman said. 'We have musicians come to us and record labels wanting to work with us now. It wasn't always like that.'
Zumba instructors receive new CDs and DVDs for their classes every month.
There's a huge child obesity epidemic in America and Zumba is trying to become part of the solution, Perlman told us.
'Kids don't want to run -- they want to do something that's fun,' he said. 'Some kids want to do sports, but the ones that are bad at it, they don't want to do it, so we want to create something fun for them.'
'We believe there's a big future for us in kids,' Perlman told us.
For a long time, big chains didn't want Zumba classes in their gyms, but now they're all contacting Perlman.
Before Zumba became mainstream, Perlman was rejected by big gym chains when he approached them about Zumba classes.
'They wouldn't hire our instructors for many years.' So Zumba was taught at smaller gyms and dance studios, but within three years of launching, the same big gyms that rejected Perlman were calling to ask how they could get involved.
'Don't listen to the big corporations or the big business people -- listen to the consumers,' he said. 'If you know your product is good and consumers like your product, it doesn't matter what anyone else says.'
Right now, 14 million people take Zumba classes every week in 150 countries and at 140,000 locations.
But Zumba isn't stopping any time soon.
Perlman wants to reach 25 million students within the next few years.
NOW WATCH: Ideas videos
Business Insider Emails & Alerts
Site highlights each day to your inbox.