Starting a Boutique Pilates Business

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Whether you have been teaching Pilates for some time, or you are just starting to establish your classes and one-to-one clients, then perhaps the idea of running your own studio has entered your head once or twice? Even if you are new to Pilates and you are only just starting out on your Pilates journey, this may be something you have contemplated and will want to aspire towards as a longer-term career goal.

It is estimated that the Pilates and Yoga Studio industry in the UK is worth around £812m, employing around 16,000 staff. Boutique-style studios are on the rise in all areas of the health and fitness sector, but especially Pilates. If you are serious about running your own Pilates then read on, as we explore a range of subject areas you will want to consider before taking the plunge.

Services: qualifications, space and client base

It’s important to first consider your scope of professional practice and the extent to which your Pilates course and qualification allows you to operate. Just because you have completed a Pilates qualification doesn’t mean that you can teach any forms of exercise. While it’s unlikely that the Pilates police will come and carry you away, you certainly wouldn’t be insured if something were to go wrong. Even if you had an insurance policy! If you can deliver other types of exercise as well as Pilates (e.g. Yoga) and have an existing and pipeline client base for those activities, then it may be worth continuing with this provision, rather than totally changing your direction.

If Pilates is to be your sole focus, then you will still need to consider whether you want to provide just matwork or whether you are intending to use small equipment (foam rollers, Pilates circles) or whether you intend to use larger equipment (e.g. the reformer) as well.

The cost of purchasing equipment has reduced significantly over the last few years. Yes, the bigger brands are still charging more, but there are other equipment providers of equivalent quality offering more affordable costs to support business set up. Plus, if you are trained to work with Pilates equipment (e.g. reformer Pilates) then you can offer your existing clientele a new service as well as opening avenues to build a new client base.

It is also important to consider the clients you currently work with and those you may want to work with. It is often more effective to focus on working with specific groups (e.g. rehab and low back pain), rather than trying to cover every possible group or individual need imaginable (e.g. pre and post-natal; sport people and athletes); unless of course, your plan is to employ or work in partnership with others.

Another consideration is the number of people you would want to work with in a single session. People are often willing to pay more for more bespoke one-to-one and smaller group numbers, e.g. 2-4 in a session, than when exercising in larger numbers (8+) which they will pretty much see as just like attending a regular group class. So, lots of initial questions and considerations!

Location: home-based or high street?

Another consideration is the location and whether you want to operate from.

If you have a large enough home or a spare room, or even a large garage or summerhouse, then it may be worth looking at converting the space to use as a studio. Depending on the size of the space, it may be that you are able to offer a variety of services – matwork and equipment (reformer) sessions on a one to one and small group basis. If space is an issue, it is worth noting that some Pilates equipment manufacturers have developed reformers that can be folded away and easily stored to maximise available room space when the equipment is not in use!

Clearly (and probably stating the obvious), it is important to be trained and qualified to use specific equipment, as well as holding appropriate insurance. You will also be required to check with local authorities regarding the use of your home space to deliver services and running your business from home, as there may be associated costs for health and safety checks etc. As a minimum, a separate toilet will be needed for your clients to use. This is something else to explore and investigate.

You may also want to consider whether you will be working one-to-one or with small groups; especially if you are planning to invest in equipment. It may be that some equipment is more versatile (e.g. reformer) and easier to use for small group training; so it may work out more cost-effective to purchase 2-4 pieces of the same equipment, which may be used more, rather than multiple pieces of other equipment which may end up being used less often to work with single clients. You will need to get a return on your investment!

The cost of purchasing equipment and setting up a home studio also needs to be considered. However, it may be more accessible than you think, as there several quality equipment brands on the market today who offer some relatively good deals for equipment bundles. Some companies will even assist with the design and layout of the studio to optimise available space. This is where it can be invaluable to shop around a little and do your research. Big brand names can be attractive, but the main thing for clients is the equipment is comfortable and easy to use.

High street and boutique studios

Alternatively, maybe you have your sights on something bigger than a home-based operation and are considering setting up a boutique Pilates studio in a local high street (e.g. space above a shop) or within a unit on a business industrial state.

There has certainly been an increase in the number and types of Boutique fitness studios setting up over the last decade. Most specialise and focus on providing one or two services (e.g. Pilates and yoga or personal training, and even indoor cycling). For the near future it looks like Boutiques may continue to grow, as they serve a niche clientele base! Of course, as with all businesses, there will be a saturation at some point, especially in some locations; but that is unlikely to happen anytime soon and if you locate yourself effectively, establish a good reputation and create a great customer experience then the odds of survival are likely to be in your favour.

Once again, it is important to consider the specific services, client base and which equipment is going to be essential. Most boutique Pilates studios will offer matwork and reformer classes and some deliver group classes using the wunda chair.

However, what must be considered is that whilst group equipment classes can be lucrative (if 8 -12 people attending) and if delivering a number of classes per day (e.g. 6-8 hours of equipment use each day), they need to delivered by a number of instructors and not just by one person; otherwise you may find yourself experiencing ‘burn-out’.

Group spaces can also be used for Pilates personal training and it may be practicable to have 2-3 trainers utilising a space and working one-to-one with clients at the same time. Renting the space to other trainers may provide a potential additional revenue source.

Launching a new business  

As is possibly expected, the best times to open and promote a new studio from a financial perspective are between January to March (the start of the New Year and pre-holiday season) or between September & October (After the summer holidays and before Christmas). So, the timing of your studio launch can also be an essential factor to consider.

Legal status

Another important question is what will be your legal status? (e.g. sole trader, limited company or even partnership). The best way to answer this question is to speak with a chartered accountant or one of the many formation organisations that exist. Their advice could prove invaluable and the decisions that you make will affect your future profitability. That’s why it’s so important to get it right!

Laying the foundations

You wouldn’t build a house on an unstable foundation so why build your business on one? Take the time to think about your values, what you represent and what you believe in. It’s important to ensure that your business shares the same values and lives up to them in everything that you do.

Once you know precisely what services you will be offering, you’ll also need to decide how much will you charge for your sessions, what discounts and incentives will you offer for bulk purchases, what the limitations of your service are and what is your position on cancellations? It’s important to define and document these from the start so that you don’t have any miscommunication with customers.

Also, as your business starts to flourish, you’ll probably have to sacrifice some of your own training or time with your friends and family and taking a holiday may also go on the back burner for a while.  However, it is all about balance and every business owner will need a break from time-to-time.  What you do need to consider as a self-employed person is that you won’t get paid for your holidays. You, therefore, need to decide early on how much time you want to take off and how much you need to be paid for your time off. You’ll then need to put money aside to fund this!

As we have seen, starting a new business venture isn’t a decision that should be taken lightly. It is important to take your time, do your research and absorb all the facts before you take that leap of faith. And don’t forget the Business plan!

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