Laura Wilson, the owner of Natural Pilates, is one of the most dominant figures in LA’s Pilates world.
With boutique Pilates studios in Beverly Hills, West Hollywood and Brentwood, she’s known for her challenging Reformer workouts and inexhaustible work ethic.
Whether she’s teaching clients or running three studio businesses, Laura is very much at the center of the action.
When she transitioned all of her classes outdoors in accordance with her area’s COVID-19 regulations, she moved every single one of her 20 Merrithew® V2 Max Plus™ Reformers onto the terrace of her West Hollywood studio herself.
This is just one example of Laura’s perseverance and drive, qualities that stem from her upbringing in communist Romania, her background in competitive sports, and her pursuit of the American Dream.
From cleaning houses to owning a boutique Pilates studio empire
Laura arrived in the U.S. in 2002 as an optimistic 21-year-old with two national archery champions to her name and $100 in her pocket.
She worked as a housekeeper in Long Beach Island, New Jersey, cleaning houses and motels, saving as much as she could. She eventually had enough money to move to LA where she enrolled in a massage therapy program, finding work at a physical therapy clinic.
It was there that she was introduced to Pilates and recognized the many benefits it could offer athletes like herself for full-body conditioning, injury prevention and rehabilitation.
The physical therapist recommended she pursue her STOTT PILATES® Certification through Merrithew.
“I was really inspired by my Merrithew Instructor Trainer, his energy, passion, knowledge and expertise. My English wasn’t very good at the time, but I could speak this fitness language and it opened up a whole new career path and world for me,” Laura says.
After passing the STOTT PILATES exams, she started teaching Pilates at the physical therapy clinic where she worked, building confidence and experience with diverse clients.
In 2005, she opened her first 700-square-foot studio in Beverly Hills with two V2 Max Reformers and a massage table. She recorded all of her client appointments on pen and paper.
“I was so new. I had no idea how to launch, run or grow a Pilates studio business, but I did it anyway because I wanted to share my passion for Pilates and fitness with others. With my background in sports and massage therapy, I was confident that I had a lot of expertise to offer clients,” she says.
From 2005 to 2015, she focused on growing her Beverly Hills studio, eventually expanding from 700-square-feet to 3,500. But it was a slow and challenging process of discovering, making mistakes, learning from those, and adapting.
Laura applied those lessons to her next studio openings, launching the Brentwood location in 2017 and West Hollywood in 2019. This time, she had both up-and-running in less than two months.
Launching, building and growing Natural Pilates – lessons learned
Over the last 16 years, Laura has kept her business afloat and thriving through the 2008 Financial Crisis and the COVID-19 pandemic, with many other ups-and-downs in between.
These are the lessons she’s learned about overcoming challenges and finding business opportunities in good times and bad.
1. Stick to what you’re good at instead of chasing trends
Over the years, Laura has tried adding treadmills and spin bikes to her studio, but she’s always returned to the core of her business— good quality Pilates Reformer classes that make people sweat.
“I tried all of these different fitness ideas and concepts, but in the end, I learned that I needed to embrace what I was good at and enjoyed teaching instead of doing what other people were doing,” Laura says.
“I train my clients the way I like to train. It’s an athletic full-body workout that they feel in every part of their body. Many of my clients are working mothers who only have one-hour for their workout. People come to Natural Pilates because they know we take things seriously and are professional. We make sure they have fun, but work hard and people appreciate that we don’t waste their time.”
2. Focus on intelligent exercise instead of fancy acrobatic moves
“There is so much stress today on doing ‘fancy moves’ that look good in photos, but don’t actually do anything for the body,” Laura says.
“At Natural Pilates, we believe in teaching our clients the foundation of Pilates and progressing them from there, so they achieve quality of movement and master form and technique while also feeling the burn and building more cardio endurance and muscle strength. We focus on the mind-body connection, so our clients learn to feel and understand their bodies in a different way.”
She’s trained her instructors to focus on quality programming and attention to detail, creating individualized programs for clients.
“We assess their biomechanics and we address their goals. We develop relationships with our clients so we understand their bodies and how they move. We also partner with other fitness and health care professionals to ensure our clients get the holistic care they deserve,” Laura says.
3. Keep innovating and be open to change
Three or four days after the first COVID-19 shutdown, Laura set up a full schedule of livestream classes. She sold all of the equipment from one of her studios, so clients could participate on their own Merrithew Reformers at home.
She approached this latest challenge with a growth-mindset, thinking about ways she could innovate, expand and improve her offering.
“I didn’t have time to worry or dwell on the negatives. I dove into the changes and figured out how to adapt to the new conditions,” Laura says.
Over the next few months, she tried various things, including filming outdoor workouts, setting up dividers between Reformers, and finally moving her entire studio outside.
“This was so popular with clients that someone asked us to teach Pilates classes in front of their hotel. I bought tents on Amazon and set up a second studio outside. We now teach outdoors in two locations. You can’t always be certain of how things are going to go, especially with the weather, but I love teaching outdoors and hope to keep doing it for as long as possible.”
4. Invest in quality equipment and education
From the very beginning, Laura knew that if she was going to build a successful business and have the career path in fitness that she wanted, she needed to have the best equipment and education in the industry.
“I trained on Merrithew equipment and it’s like the Mercedes of Pilates equipment. Quality does make a big difference to your workouts. You can really feel the tension and resistance from the springs, it provides greater feedback than other machines I’ve tried, and Merrithew Reformers are incredibly sturdy and durable, which is what you need as a business owner,” Laura says.
As for her education path, the world of fitness opened up to her after becoming a STOTT PILATES Certified Instructor, allowing her to cater to all types of clients.
“STOTT PILATES is the best training out there. It’s a well-structured and thorough program, the manuals are great, and the Instructor Trainers are extremely knowledgeable and passionate. STOTT PILATES is for everyone from all backgrounds. You learn to teach people of all ages, levels and demographics. It really is fitness for all.”
The future of Natural Pilates
After all these years in business, of building and expanding various studios, and finding the silver lining in a pandemic, Laura’s resilience and work ethic have paid off.
Her next idea is to build a huge studio with a wall of sliding glass doors to bring the outside in. Instead of contracting her business, she wants to expand and accommodate what she expects will be a Pilates boom.
It’s exactly the type of exercise people need and want right now because it combines balance, symmetry, connection and awareness with strength, injury prevention and endurance. It’s the perfect form of exercise for our modern lives.