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Opening a Pilates Studio: Three Business Lessons this Studio Owner Learned in Her First Year

Opening a Pilates Studio: 3 Lessons Learned

On January 18, Tahlia Charleson and her team at The Pilates Fix in Tauranga, New Zealand, will celebrate one year in business— successfully navigating the many ups-and-downs of operating a Pilates studio during a pandemic.

“The saying, ‘Your first year in business is always the hardest,’ is no joke,” says Tahlia, director of The Pilates Fix and a STOTT PILATES® Certified Instructor. “But the rewards have already outweighed the difficulties that 2021 threw at us.”

Tahlia has had a crash course on running a Pilates studio business during one of the most turbulent times for the fitness industry. She shares what she’s learned about onboarding clients and personalizing their Pilates journey, recruiting and retaining staff, and launching an on-demand training platform.

A group fitness class practices Mat Pilates exercises at a Pilates studio in New Zealand

Lesson 1: How to onboard clients and personalize their Pilates journey so they stick around

A boutique studio should offer boutique customer service. “We do everything we can to move away from a ‘production line feel,’” Tahlia says.

“Instead of squeezing in back-to-back classes, we run 55-minute classes with a 15-minute break in between. This allows our clients to arrive early, chat with their classmates, stay longer afterwards and engage with our instructor team,” Tahlia says.

This cultivates a personal and community-oriented vibe at the studio, which people are so clearly craving after COVID-19 lockdowns.

“We make the most of smart technology in our reception check-in area to ensure we’re kept free and open inside the movement rooms to be there for our clients,” she says.

To incentivize new clients to join, The Pilates Fix has created an $85 introductory offer that includes a private one-on-one Pilates session followed by seven days of unlimited free classes so clients can try any class they want.

“As instructors, we know exactly who these new clients are in each of our classes and we make sure to spend a lot of time settling them in, making introductions, getting to know them and listening to their personal goals,” she says.

“The community and culture at The Pilates Fix is one I haven’t ever experienced in all my years teaching. I am so proud we have established such an open, welcoming and beautiful space for our clients to enjoy— and our testimonials continually speak to this. We often hear that our space is ‘so welcoming,’ ‘so safe,’ ‘so beautiful and calming,’ ‘this is truly my me time/my fix.’ This is the best feedback and we love to hear this over and over.”

A group fitness class practices an advanced Pilates exercise on Merrithew SPX Max Reformers at a Pilates studio in New Zealand

Lesson 2: How to recruit and retain staff so they feel valued and engaged

Having worked as an instructor for many years herself, Tahlia knows how challenging it can be to make a living wage from teaching 20-30 hours a week. There’s often a lot of unpaid time planning classes, setting up equipment, packing up, writing notes or chatting with clients.

“I ensure that every moment worked at The Pilates Fix is paid. So my team is reimbursed for time spent inside the studio, not just for the class taught. This really motivates them to engage with their clients after each class and ensures they feel fairly compensated for customer care, which is a vital part of the business.”

They also hang out outside of work just for fun, which helps everyone feel part of the team.

“I understand the load we carry as instructors, especially when dealing with a chronic pain client, for example. Our jobs can get quite heavy, so getting out and having a good time together is important to us all. I make sure every team member feels involved in the decision-making process, planning and business strategy and we have an open space for anyone to suggest changes and improvements to our service.”

Tahlia says she does her best to lead by example, not by title, rotating all evening and Saturday shifts between staff members to keep things fair.

“Lastly, I do not incentivize my staff with bonuses to achieve high class capacity numbers. I believe this generates competitiveness within a team and can be a hard thing for others to deal with if their confidence is low. Our team culture is everything. So as a team, we have a goal to sell studio memberships and we base our bonus schemes around this collectively.”

A group fitness class practices a Mat Pilates exercise at a Pilates studio in New Zealand

Lesson 3: How to embrace virtual fitness to futureproof your business

Tahlia recently launched The Pilates Fix On Demand to remain current with fitness industry offerings and client expectations, to futureproof her business in case of more lockdowns and to offer a training option for traveling or remote New Zealanders.

As happy as she is that her clients have embraced the platform, she hopes virtual fitness is not the way of the future.

“I may be naive here, and am planning for the alternative just like everyone else, but I do hope we’ll always get to work with bodies in a room, in person. Pilates instructors have such a special gift and are incredibly talented when it comes to teaching the precise techniques and sequencing required to master these movements safely and effectively. When those with the largest social media following but not the expertise or training are teaching Pilates, it can drive down the value and price point of our instruction and offering.”

Growing her studio business with Pilates education and staying optimistic about the future

Looking ahead, Tahlia would like to expand her studio into an education hub for Pilates and mindful movement instructor training.

“Offering education and a space for instructors to come and learn this wonderful career has always been a top priority when establishing a studio with Merrithew equipment and STOTT PILATES. We have an incredible team of instructors wishing to further their careers, as well as a database of new instructors looking to enter the industry. I cannot wait to support them through their learning.

“I know 2022 will still have some challenges to overcome, but I hope this year will be more about enjoying what we’ve all created, celebrating the successes often and having a little breather as we’re no longer in survival mode. From there, the world is my oyster. Multiple studio locations, grow our service offering, expand and partner with other allied health care professionals - I could go on. My list is a very long, ambitious one. You’ll just have to watch this space!”

Opening a Pilates studio business? Find out how Merrithew can help >

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