Pilates First, Company Second

By Ken Endelman, Founder and CEO, Balanced Body, PMA Member

From the 2011 edition of the PIlates Method Alliance Newsletter, “The Hundred.”

I am proud to be a founding member of the PMA. When they asked me to tell my story in this edition of The Hundred!, I was a bit concerned that I would sound like I was trying to do a commercial for my company. I was convinced by the editor of The Hundred! that my story was one you would like to hear in my own words. I hope she’s right!

Another Crazy Lady

That’s what I first thought when one of my customers approached me with an idea to build a strange piece of fitness equipment for her.

The year was 1976 and I was a fledgling furniture maker in Los Angeles. Let’s just say the neighborhood had some very colorful residents who would often find their way into the store. So when this woman came up to me with a request to build something she called “the apparatus,” I’m thinking, “Great… another wacky one.”

Originally I put her off, but she was persistent and wore me down. After running out of excuses, I finally agreed to build her “apparatus.” That decision changed my life forever.

As you have probably already guessed, the “apparatus.” was called a reformer. The customer was Isa Bohn, a Pilates instructor who gave me my first lessons on the reformer. She then introduced me to fellow instructor Carol Monaco, who in turn introduced me to Pilates elder Ron Fletcher. I had discovered a whole new world.

Little did I know that crazy looking piece of fitness equipment would become my life’s calling.

Flash forward 33 years and today I am both the founder and CEO of Balanced Body, a leading provider of Pilates equipment and education.

From What? to Wow!

How did I go from thinking, “What in the world is this?,” to becoming one of the biggest proponents of Pilates? As I met more and more Pilates instructors and their customers, I really began to get excited. Ron Fletcher was an inspiration. I was fascinated by the exercise and what it could do for the human body, as well as by the biomechanical aspects of the equipment. I decided I wanted to learn as much as possible, so I began to research everything I could on Joseph Pilates and how Pilates evolved, as well as who was in the modern community and where they were located.

After meeting Ron, I went on to meet many of the other Pilates elders, including Carola Trier, Eve Gentry, Romana Kryzanowska, Kathy Grant and others. They generously shared their ideas about what made this exercise method so special and where they thought it was headed in the future. It was totally fascinating and I was hooked.

At that time the Pilates community was both small and geographically dispersed, and there were no equipment manufacturers as we know them today. Any equipment needed was made strictly on a custom basis, one at a time. A reformer cost more than a Volkswagen Bug and no two machines were alike. I knew I could improve the quality of the machines and make them more affordable.

The Early Years

I began making Pilates equipment in 1976 (sharing 1200 square feet of space with an auto mechanic) and from that point on, Pilates equipment became my livelihood. Right then I made a conscious decision that, first and foremost, I would do whatever I could to promote and perpetuate Pilates. And as a by-product of that, I was hoping my business would grow along with it. The company was originally called Current Concepts. In 1999, I changed it to Balanced Body.

A Family Affair

I stood by my promise to perpetuate Pilates throughout the years and it paid off for both the industry and the company. But it was slow at first. There were times in those early years when I thought, “What am I doing?” I never would have made it without my wife, Rosalind. She not only supported us financially while I was starting out, but she supported what I was trying to do. This is truly a family-owned business.

I also had customers like Stephan Frease who singlehandedly kept me in business at times by buying one reformer at a time. It was small mom-and-pop studios that helped put me on the map, and those same mom-and-pop studios are still the foundation of our business today.

In the 1980s, I helped promote workshops conducted by the elders, including the now famous Pilates Dance Medicine workshop in San Francisco that featured Eve, Ron and Kathy Grant. Soon after, the first Pilates national conference was held in Houston. I also formed 1-800-PILATES, a phone service where people could call for studio referrals in their area. In the early 1990s, the founding of the Pilates Institute continued to help push Pilates into the mainstream. And articles about the exercise method soon appeared in major magazines, like Life, Vogue, Shape, Self and Harper’s Bazaar. More studios began to dot the horizon. Things were looking rosy.

I felt a responsibility to take a leadership role in the Pilates trademark case in the 1990s. The conclusion of the lawsuit infused a breath of fresh air into the Pilates community. Increasingly, people everywhere were recognizing the long-term health benefits of core strength and flexibility, and even more studios began to appear. Then health clubs started promoting group classes, the PMA was founded and additional people were exposed.

Today’s Balanced Body

As the Pilates community grew, so did the company. Today Balanced Body is housed in an 85,000 square foot building in Sacramento, California where we manufacture all our equipment. Our educational arm offers and supports training and continuing education courses all over the world. In mid-2009 we launched a series of free podcasts created for Pilates practitioners and participants. In just six months, the podcasts have already been viewed/downloaded more than 275,000 times.

We are doing well — even in this economy. I think it demonstrates how important Pilates really is to so many people. They’ll give up some things, but they won’t give up Pilates. I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t happy about where the company is financially. However, it is more important to me to be part of this vibrant, nurturing community. Like I said, we grew one reformer at a time and so did the community. We truly cherish all of the relationships we’ve made over the years.

As Pilates professionals, we get a chance to positively change people’s lives every day. How absolutely cool is that?