Success Story: West Hills Athletic Club

By Elisa Dely
As seen in the Fall 2007 Balanced Body Pilates COREterly

Opened in 1974, West Hills Athletic Club is one of the oldest athletic clubs in southwest Michigan. Originally a tennis facility, the club today features a large fitness center, a cardio center, several group exercise studios, basketball courts, an indoor track and two very popular Pilates Reformer Studios.

I first caught wind of Pilates ten years ago. A small, local private studio was going out of business and approached the club about purchasing their equipment. Back then, Pilates on the Reformer was still done mostly as private and duet lessons. After some research we opted not to purchase the equipment because, at the time, we needed to focus more on something that was available for small groups in order to generate more revenue. Little did we know that we looking at an optimal solution right then and there.

Two years later I was personally exposed to Pilates when my mother began having hip problems. She went to a small studio in North Carolina and participated in a trio Pilates class using mat and Reformer work. She was blown away by the results and invited me down to try it. After a couple of sessions I was hooked – and I realized that group Pilates classes on the Reformer could be a big hit at the club.

In 2000, my predecessor and I went to Club Industry and started looking at Reformers. We chose the Balanced Body equipment because of its durability, flexibility and smooth ride. We initially purchased six Allegro® Reformers and went through training to get our program off and running.

At first it was slow going. To the uninitiated club member Pilates can be a very foreign sounding type of exercise, and for some it is hard to truly understand its benefits. It was also difficult to get people to try out a Reformer because, as one of our members jokingly said, “it looks like to a medieval torture device.”

Using free demos to attract some interest, we began our program with a few small groups. During our first year (2001) we made around $5,000 with a total of 37 people in 5 classes per week. Initially we had 4 instructors who were certified through Pilates Coach.

In order to grow I knew we had to market our program.

So we used a variety of media to get existing members to join, as well as attract potential new members. This included radio ads, direct mail pieces, referral programs, and newspaper ads. But our best advertising came from word-of-mouth—our clients. I can’t tell you how many times a current member would go home and tell a friend about the class. At the next session that friend would be there ready to sign up. It’s been remarkable.

Once we got past that somewhat bumpy first year the program just took off. Last year our gross revenue was $95,000, and we are on track to reach $125,000 for this fiscal year. The program now features 30 Reformer classes of 4-6 people each week. Our teaching staff has grown to 10 instructors, all of whom have been certified through various educational programs.

Outside of having a crack Pilates staff, I think one of the other factors in our success was the development of a wide variety of Pilates programs. You’ve got to keep things fresh and interesting so that your members keep coming back. Currently we have Beginner, Intermediate, Advanced, Senior and Super Seniors, Extreme Reformer, Sport Specific Reformer, Multi-level, and Reformer Circuit classes.

Another unique service we feature is our Pilates Playground. This is basically an “open studio” where anyone who is taking intermediate and advanced level classes can come in and work on specific exercises with an instructor standing by to help with form and spotting.

Our Senior Programs are key

Our biggest revenue stream, however, is our Senior Pilates program. The idea began four years ago when I had a woman who was 82 years old start in one of my beginner group classes. At the time she had little strength, was bent over, and had unnatural curves in her cervical spine and throughout her body. She began taking
the class two times a week, with modifications to the exercises. Almost immediately both she and I noticed an improvement. She became much stronger, and her posture has improved dramatically. She has actually straightened out so much that you would never guess she ever had a problem and now looks twenty years younger. She started recommending some of her friends and soon I had so many seniors that I decided that it would be better to group them together because they all had issues related to the aging process and were concerned they would slow down the other beginners.

We promoted the Senior program to our active adult members and also posted information about the program at senior centers around town. Now we have approximately 30 seniors involved and that number will grow much larger next year.
And we continue to have new programming ideas – our newest class is set to start soon – it is Pilates Reformer for the Performer, specifically designed for Singers, Actors and Dancers.

With a variety of programming options, a continual marketing effort and members who can’t wait to spread the word, the future is looking extremely bright for Pilates at the West Hills Athletic Club. I’m looking forward to seeing it grow even bigger.

Elisa is the Pilates and Group Exercise Coordinator at the West Hills Athletic Club in Kalamazoo, MI. She has been a Pilates instructor for 8 years. In 2000 she was certified through Pilates Coach and received her Master Trainer Certification in 2002.