Anita Tang, a former corporate professional, and Patricia Liao, a mother and homemaker, opened their first studio in Shanghai, China in 2006.
As expats, they brought a unique perspective to their business model and studio culture, creating a nurturing, welcoming, and community-focused space for clients.
On March 6, Orange Room will celebrate its 15-year anniversary as one of the leading yoga and Pilates studios in China, and its 10-year anniversary as a Merrithew™ Host Training Center, both remarkable milestones in such a competitive market.
To mark the occasion, they’ll also be unveiling their third studio in the trendy Xin Tian Di neighborhood of Shanghai with six new V2 Max™ Reformers.
“Orange Room’s unique core value is professional integrity and perseverance. Gaining profit is not our main purpose or goal; our priority has always been the practice of professional ethics,” Patricia says.
“Our team of 14 instructors are all STOTT PILATES® Certified. We only allow instructors to teach clients after they’ve become Certified STOTT PILATES Instructors, as they must serve customers with quality and integrity. This value and business style have made Orange Room unique in the Chinese market. This is also what makes us different from our competitors in the industry.”
Even Orange Room’s support staff (admin, marketing, IT) have all taken at least one STOTT PILATES course. “This provides common ground for knowledge exchange, instills a sense of cohesion, and a uniform standard that translates to greater professionalism for our clients,” Anita says.
How Orange Room learned to thrive in one of the most competitive fitness markets in the world
Orange Room has come a long way since 2006, when it was primarily a yoga studio. Now Pilates classes and private sessions, and Merrithew instructor training, make up the majority of its business.
“For 15 years, we have been learning how to become more successful in China, how to balance our values, keep up with the country’s rapid pace of change and consumers’ evolving needs and interests,” Patricia says.
“The biggest challenge has been upholding our original standards and intentions when we were faced with financial difficulties in the early stages of our operations,” Anita says.
Three years into running the business, they realized they needed to offer clients something more than yoga, so they decided to diversify into Pilates.
After traveling to North America to find out more about Merrithew equipment and education, Anita and Patricia decided that they had to bring both back to their studio.
They became STOTT PILATES Certified Instructors themselves and then returned to the Merrithew Corporate Training Center in 2015 to become Instructor Trainers.
In those early years, Pilates wasn’t well known in China, so it took Orange Room a few years to raise awareness and understanding of the benefits of Pilates in the wider fitness community.
“All seven participants in our first STOTT PILATES training course were the yoga teachers at our studio. A solid axis developed among the faculty. With our teachers buying in and applying the STOTT PILATES method in their teaching, demand from our clients organically shifted from yoga to Pilates,” Anita says.
Once local customers experienced how Pilates could help alleviate their physical ailments, and fitness professionals saw how Merrithew education could improve their teaching skills, knowledge, and marketability, Orange Room’s business took off.
“Merrithew’s premium education system and equipment fit well with Orange Room’s high-quality standards. The systematic and in-depth education, and the small-class training design, have allowed Orange Room to train many outstanding fitness professionals, generating positive word-of-mouth referrals in the Chinese market over the last 10 years,” Anita says.
An education leader during the COVID-19 pandemic
Like so many fitness businesses, the pandemic forced Orange Room to completely suspend operations for two months.
“During the gradual recovery period after the closure, we segregated the studio so that each client had class in an isolated space. We also limited the number of trainees to eight to ensure that everyone had enough space to move around,” Patricia says.
But the pandemic also gave Orange Room an opportunity to shine as a leader in the fitness education market and assert its place in the industry.
Since the pandemic prevented foreign Instructor Trainers from entering China, Patricia and Anita stepped up the task to ensure the Chinese student community’s overall training demands would be met. Anita, Patricia and two other Orange Room ITs traveled to training centers in the China, despite them being competitors to some extent, to run Merrithew’s education programs.
“As a result of Anita, Patricia and their ITs’ dedication and assistance during the pandemic, students were able to continue their education with the least disruptions possible. We’re very proud and lucky to have partners like Orange Room,” says Cindy Sun-Dawes, Merrithew’s Senior Director, Business Development and Sourcing.
A bright future for the mind-body fitness industry in China
Awareness of Pilates and mind-body fitness has come a long way in China since Orange Room started, and Patricia predicts it will continue to grow post-pandemic.
“Due to the changes in lifestyles, more and more people have realized they need this kind of exercise to balance the mind and body. After the pandemic, Chinese people value their health even more, and as a result, demand for our programs has also risen,” Patricia says.
To meet that demand, Orange Room added 10% more training courses in 2020, and at least 50% more in 2021.
After 15 years in the industry, Orange Room’s co-founders are not only recognized leaders in the mind-body fitness industry in China, they’re also role models for other entrepreneurs who hope to build successful fitness businesses without compromising their ethics and integrity.
“Choosing the right education and training system, and gaining a solid foundation of knowledge, are the first steps to success,” Patricia says.
“In terms of growth, being fast is not necessarily a good thing. Only by persevering and experiencing the ups-and-downs can you build a strong business and bear fruit. There are no shortcuts to success. You must make the right choice first and foremost to serve your community and earn a profit in business.”
Merrithew is still growing in China! If you want to become part of the Merrithew community, please follow our public WeChat account or visit our Chinese website www.merrithew.com/zh, or email firstname.lastname@example.org (English and Chinese) for any inquiries.