The Evolving Pilates Studio

by Dian Ramirez
As seen in the Balanced Body eCOREterly

Dian Ramirez, MS, ACE Dian is the Fitness Director at the San Diego Tennis and Racquet Club where she also trains clients in the club’s evolving Pilates Studio. Drawing on over 20 years as a wellness educator, Dian’s innovative approach to fitness training uses the time-tested method of Pilates and yoga combined with current knowledge in exercise physiology. Dian has produced eleven internationally distributed exercise videos.

Creating a Pilates studio and programming from scratch in a club or gym can seem like an overwhelming task, but it is much simpler if you break the project into smaller, more realistic tasks. Just as the Pilates method takes time to learn, so does the proper development of a successful Pilates studio and programs it provides.

How we built the Pilates Studio at the San Diego Tennis and Racquet Club is a good example. We began quite simply, with just a few Pilates mat classes. The program evolved when we inherited a room that was formerly the top half of a racquetball court (800 sq. ft.). The room had been used as a storage/multi-purpose room with occasional spin classes. After rearranging the room, I was able to outfit it with a complete suite of Pilates equipment.

Sharing time and space with ten spinning bikes, riders and sweat was challenging. With time, the bikes were moved to a more appropriate space and more room was created for the Pilates equipment. Transforming the space permitted the Pilates program to evolve, expand the client base, and offer group equipment sessions.

Keys to Success

Keep the elements of time working for – not against – your program.

Fight the urge to rush, and avoid falling into the “too much too soon” syndrome. Don’t add more classes, events or clients than you can handle at any given time. It is harder to undo offering too much than it is to add these gradually. Realistically assess your
progress, and adopt a conservative approach to additions and purchases so you won’t constantly be playing catch-up. It also allows any room for vacations or unexpected trainer absences.

Create an environment that makes clients want to return again and again.

Your environment can reflect your style and philosophy of teaching. Do you want to project a more athletic feel? Then keep things basic and super clean! Or do you want something more zen-like? We placed a shoji screen in front of our entrance to the studio to provide privacy and create a more peaceful look and feel. Immediately everyone commented on how the studio was beginning to feel more like a spa!

Our room originally had carpet, paint and a thermostat. Over time we added mirrors, track lighting with a dimmer to replace overhead fluorescent lights, and neutral colors for flooring and walls. Small touches such as offering purified water in a glass decanter and towels make the clients feel special and pampered.

Another reason to provide such a comfortable environment is that clients begin to associate good feelings with the time they spend there. This is great for those people who don’t like to exercise and have years of negative associations with it. Several clients have commented that the pleasant atmosphere in our studio is a significant reason why they come in and exercise on a regular basis. It is easier to talk themselves into showing up!

Our participants expect a focused and sometimes demanding workout, but it seems more palatable in the comfort and privacy of the Pilates studio. Your studio should be a bit more exclusive than other training areas, especially when it is located within a gym or club setting. The bottom-line is that people pay extra for the VIP experience and all of the “extras” will make them feel they are getting their money’s worth.

Whatever the size of your studio space, keep it organized, clean and clutter-free.

With the growth of small group Pilates sessions and the increase of people coming into the studio with their belongings, there is a real need to keep things off the floor and clutter-free. A recent purchase of several sets of cubbies now keep everyone’s personal belongings away from equipment and activities in the studio. We have also been extremely diligent in putting all props away as soon as possible. Everything has a designated home.

Don’t let your eagerness or your clients’ enthusiasm override your common sense.

When we first initiated small Pilates group sessions, I was inundated with suggestions on how to do it. People wanted too many classes offered at too many odd times. Everyone had an opinion regarding policies for signing up, subbing and payment. I listened closely to their suggestions, but made sure to make the decisions based on the big picture for the program. It is easy to be influenced by the hardcore Pilates enthusiasts especially when they have dominant personalities. The best thing I did was to be conservative by limiting classes offered to just a few in the beginning and increasing them only when one was full and running smoothly. Stick to your plan as much as possible and thoroughly think through any changes before making them.

Sometimes NOT acting on something is the best thing to do. I made the mistake of not being a stickler for prepayment of group sessions. Initially, some people said they were coming in, but then didn’t actually show up for some or all of the classes. Now I have people sign up and prepay for a month’s worth of classes. For example, Mondays @ 8:30 a.m. might meet 4 times during one month. A participant would prepay for 4 sessions in advance to hold their space and pay slightly less than someone dropping in.

The Group Equipment Pilates classes have blossomed, with 5 solid morning times, 2 afternoons and a waiting list for several of these. It took several months to determine just what times and days would really click. I found that adding a group session during the time and day that was most popular and consistent for privates filled quickly. Instead of turning away several people for that time, we were able to have them all participate in the group session.

The power of pictures!

For months, I mentioned the Pilates studio, training rates, and other Pilates basics in the club’s bi-monthly newsletter to garner more interest and participation. I did get some response, but really hit paydirt when I added photos of clients doing Pilates in the studio. Suddenly a whole new level of interest and awareness was created. Something so obvious … but in the busyness of it all, had been overlooked! The photos in the newsletter exposed two specific markets at our club that were not even aware of the evolving Pilates program. These two groups were:

  • The potential Pilates participant with little to no experience with Pilates.
  • Members that may have been practicing Pilates for many years at other locations, but not at our club.

Some were looking for an additional day to train during the week and others were simply looking for change from their current situation. We now always have some Pilates-related photos in our newsletter to pique interest. Whether or not you have a club newsletter to contribute to, do try to get Pilates photos seen by your potential clients whenever possible. Even better, personalize the shots by spotlighting your own staff and members in the photos.

Educate and communicate with your management and staff.

I am fortunate to have a general manager with an open mind to new ideas and trends in the industry. He still needed to be convinced as to why we wanted such a program at the club. Educating him was the key.

Since I have been at the club, he has heard more about Pilates than he ever wanted to know, but some of this education has rubbed off. He has seen the excitement and positive energy that the Pilates studio creates at the club, as well as the revenue it can produce. I have kept him informed step-by-step, as we have expanded. Plus, we stuck to the slow positive growth plan that has created a comfort zone during our progress. Allow no curveballs or unexpected large expenditures.

The club’s staff can better promote the program if they have experienced Pilates first-hand. Increased understanding of what Pilates is can aid in answering basic questions from members and presents an opportunity to create more clients.

Create a Vision for the Future

Allow yourself to dream and become a visionary for your studio and overall Pilates program. Take a realistic look at where it is today. Then envision where it can be 1, 2 and even 5 years from now. How will it look and feel? What do you intend to accomplish? Where do you fit in personally and professionally? How does the program fit with the rest of your club or gym?

An example of this is that we are now looking forward to hosting Balanced Body University instructor trainings at our club. Once again, this is a win-win situation for studio clients and trainers, and of course, the club. Our intent is to “grow” some of our own qualified Pilates personal trainers. In addition, we plan to purchase one more Allegro® Reformer and upgrade our other Reformers with towers.
Some other checklist items include:

  • Website improvements relating to the Pilates Studio
  • Adding one or two more qualified Pilates mat instructors who are, ideally, also trainers in the studio
  • Streamlining sign-up sheets, filing systems and intake forms
  • Adding a Circuit class and an Intro to Pilates Equipment workshop

By taking the time to properly plan, promote and launch a Pilates program, you can place yourself in a better position to succeed and leave less to chance or misfortune. Maximize what you already have in place and what you are doing well. Add elements only when the program needs some new excitement and variety and when you have enough participants to move on to the next level.

Get a sense for the difference between what you have now and where you want it to be. Take the time to look back at your beginnings, the current state of your programs and the potential for the future. Above all, remember to put the element of time on your side and break your goals into small, realistic steps