Founder, Runway Pilates
STOTT PILATES® Certified Instructor
When Catherine Hebb opened the first Runway Pilates in 2015, she already had plans for a second studio, which she opened earlier this year with a launch party attended by UK celebrities such as Coleen Rooney and Lucy and Amy Bruce.Expanding from one studio to two presents a unique set of challenges that Catherine successfully navigated to open Runway Pilates' second location.
Here is how she did it.
It was a netball injury that changed the course of Catherine Hebb’s life. She discovered Pilates during her rehabilitation, and after she recovered from her injury, she continued with it, eventually training and becoming a Certified Instructor. But Catherine, who is based in the UK, had even larger goals. “I always wanted to have my own studio,” she says. And now she has not only one, but two.
When Catherine relocated from Oxford to Cheshire, she “was ready to press play” on her dream of opening her own studio, which she did in September of 2015. Her goal at Runway Pilates was to provide a “really good workout in a fun environment.” But first, she needed to lay the groundwork.
This kind of prep work to open the studio can be the most difficult, says Catherine. “You’re kind of on your own with it,” she says. There is no client feedback when you debut your logo, or craft your schedule. And for someone who thrives on teaching, keeping up the motivation for the necessary marketing and administration work can be draining. “It’s a lonely process,” she says.
In addition to navigating the logistics required in opening a business, Catherine also needed to educate her audience. In the UK, Pilates is often used to rehabilitate injuries, for post-rehab work, or for those who want to maintain health and stamina as they age. It’s not seen as something for young, healthy adults, she says. In addition to a Pilates image makeover, Catherine also had to inform her prospective client base on exactly what Pilates was and how it could work for them. Hers was the first Reformer Pilates studio in Cheshire. Many people had no idea what a Reformer was.
In the northwest UK there’s no Reformer Pilates educational push, says Catherine. So she provided one. Part of Catherine’s success lay in educating the market in her area, which she did through social media posts and networking and scheduling appointments to talk with physical therapists and chiropractors in the area to explain the benefits of what she was doing for future referrals. And it worked. Once a few people understood what she was doing, they began talking about it, and the buzz grew. “Word of mouth was powerful,” she says.
It took roughly six to eight months from finding a place to signing the lease to opening the doors of Runway Pilates, says Catherine. On the first day she arrived to open the studio, she was filled with an exhilarating mixture of “excitement and fear”.
Catherine soon learned that the foundation she had laid for her business was solid. Pickup was relatively quick, and within the first two months, the classes at Runway Pilates were 40 percent full, bringing in enough to cover all the bills. She had piqued enough interest for people to come in and give Pilates a try, but retention rates proved to be a challenge.
So Catherine focused on customer care, listening to what her clients wanted and experimenting with ideas until she found ones that stuck. Catherine believes in variety being the spice of life and changes class programmes every week to stave off boredom for clients, tried men-only classes—but after understanding that the men preferred to be in with the women – got rid of them.
Once she felt she had a handle on the studio, she began looking for a place to open a second location. Catherine always knew she wanted multiple locations, and looked to the Costa coffee chain as inspiration. Costa had a consistent product and brand—you knew what to expect when you walked in the door. “I wanted that for Pilates,” says Catherine. Moving from one location to two was tough, she says, in part because she needed to solidify her brand, and put the proper processes in place so that clients would have the same experience at both locations.
Standardization was the goal. As a client, Catherine had found that some Pilates studios were great, and others weren’t. The trick was to find what worked, and replicate it consistently across both locations. A large part of that was training staff. “It’s hugely important,” she says.
Catherine says she looks for Reformer-trained teachers with the right personality, and lots of training. Part of the in-house training that they received is about “getting everyone on the same page”—essentially standardizing the service. She currently has four ITs and two receptionists in her employment, running 36 classes per week at the first location, and 26 per week in the second location.
“It’s a constant work stream,” Catherine says. “Teaching is easy by comparison.” But she wouldn’t have it any other way.