Anita Tang (right), Patricia Liao (left)
Founders, Orange Room
Merrithew™ Instructor Trainers
Anita Tang and Patricia Liao met at a yoga studio in Shanghai, where Patricia, a mother and homemaker, was looking for relief from sciatic pain and Anita for relief from her high-powered corporate job. Yoga helped ease some of Patricia’s pain and shed some of Anita’s stress from a life of boardrooms and international travel. They decided to open up a yoga studio, the Orange Room, in 2006. But they soon realized that yoga wasn’t enough. When they discovered STOTT PILATES®, they knew they had found what they were looking for. Now, they co-own the Orange Room, a Pilates and yoga studio in Shanghai that became the first hosting site for Merrithew in China in 2012.
Here is how they did it.
The Orange Room in Shanghai has southeast-facing windows that let in reams of light. “In the morning it’s flooded with it,” says co-owner Anita Tang. The cozy space recently celebrated its 11th anniversary, and at the party Anita and Patricia Liao unveiled ZEN•GA® images on the walls of the studio, announcing new training and class offerings, underscoring the Orange Room’s commitment to combining Pilates and yoga. “Pilates skills make yoga teachers better,” says Anita.
It’s been a long road for the duo, but a satisfying one. The 340 square-meter Orange Room was originally a yoga studio, with five owners, including Anita and Patricia, and one instructor from Vancouver. After opening, they ran it for three years as a primarily yoga-focused space. But after three years, the owners realized they needed to add to the business, and Pilates seemed like a natural extension of what they were already doing.
Anita took a yoga training in Hong Kong, and in 2008 she traveled to Vancouver to take a Pilates Mat course, while at the same time Patricia traveled to San Francisco and Thailand to take the same training. After they had returned to Shanghai and started teaching at the Orange Room, they saw how the biomechanical knowledge and attention to effective exercise execution inherent in Pilates aided in yoga classes, and “felt even more strongly that Pilates could complement yoga.”
Anita and Patricia hosted a Pilates training course with another educator in the Orange Room, but from the beginning, they weren’t pleased. “It didn’t go well,” Anita says. The number of students that enrolled was not strictly controlled, and the training materials weren’t up to snuff, says Anita. “There must be a better training course than this,” she and Patricia said to each other.
Anita had heard about STOTT PILATES® while in Vancouver, and she and Patricia made a deal. They would both travel to North America to check out what Merrithew had to offer, Patricia to San Francisco and Anita to Vancouver and Toronto. They agreed not to share their discoveries until they were both back in Shanghai. “We had a discussion about whether we should go for (Merrithew) or not, and we both said “go!” says Anita. “Now that’s training!” They both trained in STOTT PILATES, and in 2015, they became Instructor Trainers in Matwork and Reformer.
From 2012-2017 Anita and Patricia built the largest team of STOTT PILATES Certified Instructors in China, with 14 working at Orange Room today. Their first STOTT PILATES student was a trained yoga instructor in his late 50s, who is now teaching Pilates in Minnesota. “Regardless of age, if we dare to make a change, we can make a change,” says Anita, noting that she and Patricia were in their 40s when they decided to start the Orange Room.
It wasn’t always easy. Money was tight, especially in the beginning. In the first two years of hosting training courses, they didn’t make any profit. In two courses they offered, there were only three students in each. In 2009, over 40 percent of their clientele disappeared in the wake of the financial crash. One sweltering summer day, the landlord cut the power to the studio during the middle of a class—they were 20 days overdue on rent. “We almost had to close our doors,” says Anita.
They began to shift their focus away from expat clients, who had previously comprised the bulk of their income. The yoga market in China had become saturated, and in terms of income generation, Pilates classes, especially equipment-based classes, had long overtaken the yoga program at Orange Room. “Most of our clients are mature and have physical issues,” says Anita. “Pilates is more effective than yoga in helping them.”
When encouraging local clients to try Pilates, Anita and Patricia had to struggle with expectations that the studio operate like a spa, with makeup tables and special lighting. They began training Chinese-speaking teachers, and rearranged pricing to suit local preferences—Chinese customers wanted discounted all-class passes, while expats had often chosen 10 class packages. They created a mission statement: Share knowledge with the community.
The hard work paid off. Today the Orange Room is a successful studio that is helping clients achieve real results through yoga and Pilates. Although there has been a sharp increase in the number of STOTT PILATES training courses offered by new host sites in China over the past year, Anita and Pat insist on upholding the quality of each course they host rather than going for the numbers, says Anita.
And the heart and soul that Anita and Patricia have poured into the business have built something even more special. “We pride ourselves on having a real community,” says Anita.