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Sept. 20 2006 12:00 AM

The increasing popularity of an integrated wellness center, which has a multiple focus on the physical, mental and medical health, has placed ancillary services, such as Pilates

and yoga, to the forefront as "must haves" in these burgeoning fitness centers. Whether as a bonus service offering of the fitness facility or a critical sector of the wellness center, the Pilates program is leading to the overwhelming expansion of many facilities across the country. Therefore, smartly developing a Pilates program for your center not only can drive profits, but can also increase the public's clamor for your facility.

The potential for growth, either as an independent Pilates facility or housed within the wellness center, is substantial. In fact, such growth can be seen through Louise McMenamin's, Claudia Moose's and Katie Santos' Lafayette, California facility the ABsolute Center. Since the opening in 2003, the center has grown from 300 clients and three trainers to over 1,200 clients and a staff of 14 trainers. Now, they are looking to expand from their current 2,000 square foot building to a 4,000 to 5,000 square foot space. Although many factors have contributed to such a skyrocketing expansion, the real catapult is a solid business plan.

Start with a Plan

Writing a specific business plan for a profitable Pilates program is an imperative investment. However, such a process can take up to a year before opening the studio or offering these services. Be sure to include detailed information and market research on the nearby population, value propositions (which should answer the question, "Why would a consumer buy our service?"), projected overhead costs (including equipment) and return-on-investment scenarios. Effectively building a comprehensive plan can provide an invaluable blueprint as you build the foundation for a flourishing program.

An essential aspect of the plan should also incorporate the diversification of services. In traditional fitness facilities with conventional fitness equipment, revenue streams can often only be generated from one service which makes the profit margin a big hurdle to jump. Many times, other than through membership, additional profit-generating services in a fitness center are few and far between. Taking this familiar business model as an archetype, the wellness center, with its imbedded integrated service, has bypassed this very challenge. Due to its multiple offerings, whether through the fitness facility, medical offices or mind/body programs, these centers utilize multiple streams of revenue to continually add to the profit center. This important revenue lesson can still be applied even if the Pilates program exists outside of such a wellness center. If you add

a service like Pilates to your revenue stream, it is extremely business savvy to also incorporate other offerings, like yoga or "reconditioning" packages, which will aid in building other outlets in which profit can be generated as well as a built-in opportunity to up-sell or cross-sell to other programs.

One of the most important details of the business plan is the pricing scale for your services. For both group and personal classes, outline a fair, yet profitable fee structure based on market research. A common rate starts at $15 for a drop-in mat class and can increase to $75 for a personal session. The appropriate pricing strategy can be assessed by researching the average age groups and corresponding income ranges that surround your facility. From this research, you will be able to determine if there is disposable income to be capitalized on. Adjust your pricing to the cost of living within your market.

Hire Good Personnel

A fitness or wellness program is only as good as its instructors, and that axiom holds even truer for a Pilates program. Because of the variety of exercises that target specific muscle groups, a qualified and quality instructor becomes doubly important. Whom you choose to staff your program will greatly impact your ability to develop a successful Pilates program, particularly since these instructors represent your center and will be responsible in helping your members attain their wellness goals. This decision can pose as the critical foundation of your business, especially in the face of injury, potential lawsuits and more importantly, profits. For centers looking to hire Pilates instructors to start or expand an existing program, there are two viable options:

  • Train existing instructors. Your Pilates equipment vendor is a good resource for finding instructor training programs. For instance, the Balanced Body Web site ( lists a wide variety of established educators including several that will come to your facility and train your staff. This can save traveling expenses as well as reduce the time a trainer is away from your center.
  • Hire externally. For facilities that want to launch their programs right away, recruiting externally is probably the best scenario. Where to look? One tip is to call a local Pilates studio or instructor training program. They may know instructors with a personal training or wellness background who are looking for openings. Another resource is the Pilates Method Alliance (PMA) Web site (, which has an online national instructor locator. If you choose to look outside your center for an instructor, make sure that the candidates agree with your facility's corporate philosophy and that they have personalities that will click with your members or clients.

Market, Market, Market!

A thorough and concrete marketing strategy is critical to the long-term success of your program. This is particularly true when marketing to a consumer base that is unaware of not only what Pilates is, but also what Pilates can do for its physical wellbeing. Many consumers, although referred to such programs in an integrated center, might not be willing to make an appointment if unaware of the benefits. This same principle can also be applied in expanding the program's market to both the internal staff and to external parties. Simple methods of marketing can include conducting free demos for potential clients and staff, creating flyers to pass out at the center as well as offering discount packages based on members signing up for group sessions.

Also, remember to not under-estimate the power of word-of-mouth, the oldest and most inexpensive way to advertise, to both your existing and potential clients. It is also important to network with external businesses in town, hold a variety of open houses and join the local chamber of commerce in order to attract new clients. It is also very beneficial to begin to market the program to new groups that have not been reached previously, including the male population within your area. The ABsolute Center, in fact, found that its community had a large segment of successful men in their 40s with older children (eight to nine years old). These men now had some extra time and were asking (from a fitness standpoint), "What about me?" The center's efforts in marketing to this group increased its male clientele from three to approximately one-fifth of its total client base.

Ken Endelman is the founder and CEO of Balanced Body, Inc., the source for Pilates information, equipment and education. For more information, visit