Merrithew™ Instructor Trainer
Matwork; Reformer; Cadillac; Chair and Barrels; Total Barre®
Royal Academy of Dance (New Zealand), Bachelor of Commerce, Masters of Commerce, University of Otega
Founder, Be Pilates
As a young dancer, Sharon Currie was afflicted with a spinal condition that caused her discomfort and pain in her back. Years later, after trying numerous methods to relieve her back pain with minimal effect, she discovered Pilates. Inspired by the benefits she found for her own condition, Sharon decided to train to become an Instructor at a time when Pilates was just arriving in New Zealand. Today, she owns Be Pilates, a Merrithew LTC in Hawkes Bay, New Zealand.
This is her story.
Sharon Currie began movement at a very early age as a ballet dancer moving through the Royal Academy of Dance (RAD) syllabus in New Zealand. But she struggled with Scheuermann’s Disease and discovered early on the discomfort that can be caused by back pain and the physical toll that dancing had on her body as her spine was growing.
In New Zealand in the 1970s, there was very little known about how to relieve back pain with exercise. “Aside from resorting to alchemy, I was left to struggle on with mediocre potions and cure-alls, including sleeping on the floor,” Sharon says. “My dancing body was supple and flexible, however my spine was strapped with tape vertically to encourage straight back posture, rather than strengthening my muscles to support my neutral spinal position.”
After graduating with distinction from RAD, she put aside dance to focus on a career in commerce. She worked part time as a fitness instructor while studying for first a Bachelor’s, then a Post Graduate Diploma in Commerce at the University of Otago. After graduating, she worked in marketing/design/apparel production for sports companies, including the category manager for Adidas NZ All Blacks and Super 15 Rugby official licensed merchandise.
Sharon discovered Pilates by chance. “Like good coffee, Pilates was in its infancy in New Zealand with only a handful of practitioners,” she says. “All were expatriates having returned from far flung places where Pilates was becoming as big as Rod Stewart.” Sharon found that Pilates supported and strengthened her back within hours of her first session, and she has been devoted to the practice ever since. She decided to train in Pilates and became a certified practitioner with an international Pilates academy whilst still holding her position with Adidas, and began moonlighting as a Pilates instructor when she wasn’t at her corporate job in fitness apparel.
“Soon after I met Vaughan, my husband to be, we built our own Pilates studio in our new home,” she says. “We had the vision of teaching Pilates from home once we started a family.” After having her first child Sasha, she taught Pilates for a few hours a day in her home studio, building business by displaying cards in local businesses, and networking with local health practitioners for client referrals. “The word spread fast and I created a valued clientele that I still have to this day,” she says.
As her clientele grew, Sharon realized she needed to continue with her Pilates education to best help her clients. She researched online and found STOTT PILATES®. “I introduced STOTT PILATES education to New Zealand, which was previously not formally on offer,” she says.
It wasn’t long after her second child Ben was born that Sharon decided to expand her business. She bought a second-hand Merrithew Cadillac from a local physiotherapist who had in turn bought it from the actress Lucy Lawless, and secured a commercial premise near the local town centre, scraping together enough money with a business loan to import an additional 4 Merrithew Reformers, 2 Stability Chairs, 1 Ladder Barrel, 4 Arc Barrels and props for her new studio.
To maintain instruction quality, she instituted limited class sizes to no more than three to a studio class and five in a group Reformer class. “A constraint of this business philosophy was obviously low client volume per labour hour and to compensate I needed to run a higher frequency of classes,” she says. She needed to hire staff.
Finding qualified Instructors proved a challenge. Sharon decided to solve the shortage herself. In 2009, she hosted the first of many STOTT PILATES courses. She hired STOTT PILATES instructors from around the world on yearly contracts to work in her Auckland studio. The numbers of STOTT PILATES trained instructors attending the courses in New Zealand also rose, and Sharon was able to hire the help she needed. She was invited to become an Instructor Trainer in 2012, and in 2015, her studio became the only Merrithew Licensed Training Center in Australasia.
Next, Sharon built a studio on her property – her third. It was larger than the commercial premises that she had been leasing. “Aesthetically, it was to compliment the Pilates experience that I wanted to offer my clients,” she says.
The larger studio space allowed her to extend her client service to include Total Barre®. “Total Barre allowed me to lift the number of clients per hour within my own studio without compromising the technical aspects of my client’s experience, particularly as many clients would supplement their contemporary Pilates program with a Total Barre class,” she says. “I experienced revenue growth in my education business, the client services business and improved over all margin as a consequence of reduced business over head with an enhanced student and client studio experience.”
In 2017, Sharon and her family moved to Hawkes Bay, New Zealand, and sought a new property on which to build a new larger Merrithew Licensed Training Center, Be Pilates New Zealand.
Her advice for those thinking of striking out on their own?
- Invest in the best education for yourself and your staff members which will best serve your clientele and give you credibility within the medical & health industries in your communities
- Invest in the equipment needed to support your client’s needs – save and invest in quality equipment that will present the level of professionalism that you are delivering
- Resist the urge to over invest in commercial premises.A credible Pilates studio does not need to occupy a space on the high street
- Keep your hand in and continue to learn and develop your skill set – keep ahead and stay updated with current industry knowledge and expertise
- Resist the urge to lift revenue by increasing the number of clients per labour hour in Pilates disciplines that require personal attention and programming.Keep your point of difference and reduce client turn over
- Value your emotional intelligence.Know when your client’s need to be restored and recharged rather than athletically challenged. Read your client’s needs by observing weekly changes in their mind-body connections and muscular/postural needs.Atune your method to their daily and weekly needs and you will make a client for life… it’s a rewarding experience to make such a meaningful difference in long-term health and wellbeing of the community around you
And finally, “remember to love what you do, and who you do it with. Be Pilates is where you want and sometimes just need to ‘Be’,” she says.