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Hiring and Retaining a Crack Pilates Staff

by Ken Endelman, Founder and CEO of Balanced Body
As originally seen in the April 2007 issue of Club Solutions Magazine

Pilates can be an important source of non-dues revenue for health and fitness clubs, as has been well documented in previous articles in this magazine. To achieve that profitability, pay careful attention to the key elements of hiring, and retaining, a high-quality instructor staff.

For pointers on how to successfully staff your program, we turn to an expert: Elizabeth Larkam, Director of Pilates & Beyond for Western Athletic Clubs in Northern California. She is also the on-site manager for the Pilates staff at the largest WAC facility – The San Francisco Bay Club. Now in her seventh year,

Larkam has put together a top-notch staff of eight instructors – some of whom have remained throughout her entire tenure. How has she done it?

Know Your Clubs Style and Demographics

“When hiring an instructor, it is so important to make sure the potential employee is in sync with your club’s philosophy,” says Larkam. “A person may be very qualified from an experience standpoint, but if they do not fit in with your club’s style and dynamic, it is not in the best interest of the individual and the organization.”

Larkam also recommends matching your hiring prerequisites on the demographic of your clientele: “I receive many resumes since we have reputation as a top-quality facility with a strong managerial commitment to provide outstanding Pilates programming. I have very specific criteria that I look for in an instructor.

First, the person must have received training from an internationally recognized training organization. Next, I require a minimum of three years of professional experience. And finally, I look for them to be experienced in all the different aspects (e.g. mat, Reformer, group/personal) of delivering Pilates instruction, and they must be in tune with our client demographics. For example, we have many older adults in our membership as well as a wide variety of people who come to the program as post-rehab referrals. So my staff must be familiar with modifying the exercises to benefit different populations like those with osteoporosis, post-rehab clients, and pre and postnatal mothers.”

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Keeping Your Staff Interested

Once you assemble quality staff, how do you keep them? Larkam says that one of the big keys in her ability to retain her staff is the fact that San Francisco Bay Club management understands and values what she and her staff provides. “They stand behind us and appreciate what we bring to the club, and have invested in a great facility, equipment and education for us. That makes it a great place to work,” says Larkam.

Another key is keeping the program innovative and fresh. “I always encourage innovation and creativity within our program,” says Larkam. “If one of my staff has a suggestion that may make the program better, I’m all ears.”

One example of that creativity came when Larkam asked her staff to teach a specialty Pilates class based on a sport that the instructors enjoyed. As a result, the club now features unique and unusual specialty classes like Pilates for squash players and Pilates for sailors.

Rewarding Continuing Education

Pilates offers great health benefits and is a very interesting form of exercise. Despite that, no matter how much a member may like the exercise, they will eventually lose interest if they are repeating the same things over and over in a class. Continuing education is a must for instructors to keep their Pilates classes fresh and keep members coming back.

Larkam stresses to all her instructors that they must continue to learn and refine their craft, and makes sure they are rewarded for doing so. “Last year we had the Pilates Method Alliance certification examination coming up, which is a requirement of our educational curriculum,” says Larkam. “I made an agreement with them that they would get a raise if they studied for and passed the exam. They all passed.”

Pay Them What They’re Worth

Instructors are the lifeblood of any program, and should be compensated accordingly. This is especially crucial when your instructors are a profit center for your club. Larkam bases her instructor compensation on what comparable clubs in the area pay. Although this will differ depending on your geographic area, a good rule of thumb is to establish a pay rate equivalent to what you pay your personal trainers – another source of non-dues revenue for clubs.

Pilates is one of the programs in your facility for which some of your members will expect to pay extra. Make sure you reward their investment, by providing a high quality staff that keeps them signing up for more.