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How this personal trainer became a successful business owner in China with four Pilates studios and counting

Yu Lan Pilates Studio

Yu (Chen) Lan is celebrating her first studio’s fifth anniversary this year and the success this personal trainer turned STOTT PILATES® Certified Instructor has experienced is staggering.

A graduate of Henan Sports University with a degree in physical education, specializing in aerobics dance and artistic gymnastics, Yu Lan opened her first fitness studio in Dongguan City, China, in October 2014, a bold step for a woman in a largely male dominated industry at the time.

After suffering from some neck and lower back pain stemming from her pregnancy, she started looking into Pilates for its therapeutic and rehabilitative benefits. She tried out several different methods, but was disappointed by the education available.

She was introduced to Merrithew in 2016 and found that the STOTT PILATES education was exactly what she was looking for.

“It’s a very comprehensive, systematic and effective program that’s easy to understand and follow, especially because the teaching and course manuals are translated into Chinese. I was impressed by the quality of the education and that the standard of training is the same whether you receive it in China or in North America,” Yu Lan says.

That’s because Merrithew sends Instructor Trainers from its head office in Toronto to teach at Host Training Centers around the world on its behalf.

“There are many competing fitness and Pilates brands in China but they’re not all created equal. You need to do your research and find a high quality and rigorous program. The STOTT PILATES training made me feel so much more confident with my clients.”

Students in Reformer class

Growing the business through education

Immediately after attending her first STOTT PILATES course in June 2016 at Merrithew Host Training Center, The Orange Room in Shanghai, and experiencing the Merrithew equipment there, she started looking into becoming a Host Training Center, eager to introduce this method to southern China.

“The Orange Room had been using Merrithew equipment for years and I was very impressed by how it had held up over all that time,” she says.

Just three months later, she had four SPX® Max Reformers and 12 people registered in her first STOTT PILATES Intensive Reformer course in Dongguan City, taught by Merrithew Lead Instructor Trainer Carol Earle from the U.S.

That humble beginning is now ancient history. Yu Lan has since grown her network of Yu Lan Pilates studios to four, with two in Dongguan City and two in Guangzhou.

Reformers in classroom at Yu Lan Pilates Studio

She’s turned one of those studios in Guangzhou into a Merrithew Host Training Center, an education hub specifically for Merrithew instructor training and education programs.

In total, her studios have hosted more than 40 Merrithew courses and workshops, training more than 400 people.

High-caliber instructors bring in clients

In October 2019, just three years after her introduction to Merrithew, the two studios in Dongguan City alone earned US $600,000 (RMB 4 million) in revenue from client sales and an anniversary membership promotion held that month.

Studio setup for anniversary celebration

Yu Lan credits her strong team, the quality of Merrithew training, opportunities and knowledge of the fitness industry, and encouragement from others for her success.

“I’m so proud of my team. Everyone has their own skills and they’re committed to continually learning and that leads to great success,” she says.

Her business model is also unique in that it allows instructors to become small shareholders, so they’re extra invested in its viability.

“When we started this, we wanted to try our best to offer clients and students high quality education and equipment to help them grow. We want our instructors to be STOTT PILATES Certified Instructors. We have high standards for ourselves and we always feel that we could do more and be better,” she says.

Yu Lan at celebration ceremony

Professionalism, knowledge and reputation— key to success in fitness

She says the Yu Lan Pilates studios have become successful in part because of the professionalism and knowledge of the Merrithew Instructor Trainers who lead the courses.

Yu Lan Pilates Studio team photo

“Merrithew has helped Yu Lan Pilates grow its reputation by helping us develop strong and successful Pilates instructors. It takes time to acquire the necessary skills to become a Pilates instructor, you need patience and practice, it’s not a shortcut to a fitness career,” she says.

Yu Lan may have four studios already, but her ambition seems boundless.

“Pilates is very effective at helping people maintain a healthy lifestyle, and I think once more people realize that, it will become even more popular in China over the next couple of years. This is just the beginning.”

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