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A new studio, a grand opening and a lockdown

Building a Pilates studio business online

Sara Deeley, a former professional dancer turned STOTT PILATES® Certified Instructor and owner of Pilates Hub Weybridge in Weybridge, U.K., had done everything right.

She’d found the perfect studio space in a charming town 20 minutes outside London, she’d kitted it out in Merrithew SPX® Max Reformers with Vertical Stands for easy storage, she’d set-up her business and marketing plans, had a photo shoot for her website and social accounts, and best of all, had 100 people booked to attend her grand opening weekend in April.

Reformers at Pilates Hub Weybridge

And then COVID-19 arrived and the U.K. went into lockdown, forcing small businesses like hers to cancel their plans and close their doors.

Sara is taking it all in stride with good humor and grace, despite the obvious letdown. “I was just so ready to go. But I have to keep reminding myself that it will happen, I just have to stay positive.”

She’s now moved her classes online and is attempting to build up a local client base via word of mouth and social media activity, including free Instagram lives.

“It’s been extra challenging because I haven’t quite built up my reputation in the U.K. yet as I was living in Dubai for the last five years and only just returned this past December. I got certified at Merrithew Licensed Training Center Real Pilates in Dubai, and then I started working there and teaching private clients. So my whole following is abroad.”

Barre class at Pilates Hub Weybridge

Fortunately, that following has supported her during this time by taking her online sessions.

“When I left Dubai, none of this was happening; the pandemic hadn’t broken out yet. I thought I’d never see or train those clients again. So when this happened, I got in touch with them and offered my services and now I’m training them virtually and also doing a few outdoor privates with people here in England,” she says.

“I was a little bit apprehensive about teaching virtually at the beginning and it’s definitely been a learning curve. I really like to be there giving hands-on instruction and tactile feedback, but this experience is helping me perfect my verbal cueing. I think we’re lucky that as STOTT PILATES instructors, verbal cueing is greatly emphasized during training. I remember my Merrithew Instructor Trainers telling me that we had to practice teaching a whole class without demonstrating and without touching, so I’m just doing that all the time now!”

Sara says another silver lining is that it’s making clients more aware of their bodies, rather than relying on the instructor to correct their alignment or positioning.

“I think those who’ve been practicing regularly virtually might actually see some improvement when they return to the studio. It’s also great to see people falling in love with Matwork!”

Sara Deeley instructing Flex-Band exercise

Meeting and growing her studio following virtually

As a new studio, Sara’s been working hard to market her business on social media, engage with clients online, and launch collaborations with other small businesses in the area.

“This is one way that small businesses can support each other during this time. We can advertise to each other’s different audiences and provide incentives to clients.

“I did an Instagram takeover of this account called Oh Mumma, a community for mothers. I worked with a local restaurant that offered discounts to anyone who took my online classes. I’m now planning to offer private Pilates sessions to a corporate client’s employees via Zoom. These are all great initiatives that help get my business and brand out there,” she says.

And best of all, she’s making a name for herself among the locals in Weybridge.

“Even though we’ve never actually met in person before, I’m building a relationship with them online, and hopefully when they walk through my studio door in the future, we’ll feel like we know each other already. It really does mean the world to me that people are reaching out, commenting and sharing the work I’m putting out there.”

What challenges or opportunities are you experiencing right now as a studio owner? Tell us your story to get featured on the blog. Email: communications@merrithew.com

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