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Pilates Profitability – Still Going Strong

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Is it still going strong? Still profitable? Has it come down to Earth? Was it just a fad? The subject matter: Pilates. The answers are yes, yes, no and no. Now a decade into a massive resurgence, many people are wondering if Pilates will indeed continue as a major revenue stream for health and fitness clubs, or if its popularity will begin to decline. All signs point to the former, but with a caveat: Clubs implementing a Pilates program must understand the business of Pilates in order to be successful.

It used to be that a club could announce a Pilates program and people would rush through the doors. It was new. It was effective. Movie stars did it. But, now the “newness” has worn off. Unlimited revenue potential is still there, for those who do their homework and put some thought and energy into creating a successful program.

A Quick Investment Recoup
Nico Gonzalez is the Group Fitness Manager for the Mercy Healthplex – a group of three large health and fitness clubs owned by the Mercy Health Partners in the Cincinnati, OH area. Gonzalez, a long-time Pilates advocate, was charged with re-energizing their Pilates program.

At the first of his three clubs, Gonzalez purchased an initial five Allegro┬« Reformers and then added towers to them. The initial equipment investment was around $18,000. “It only took three months for that investment to be paid off,” said Gonzalez. “The program has been generating profit ever since.”

He then installed more Reformers at his other two facilities. The result was the same: All equipment was paid off in just a few months and Pilates became an instant profit center. The main reason? Gonzalez took the time to implement a business plan that helped catapult the program to profitability.

Know What the Customer Wants
Before anyone begins a Pilates class at Mercy, Nico’s crew of instructors gives all clients a “needs analysis.” What do they want to work on? What should they avoid? What time do they like to workout? This information helps the Pilates staff at Mercy customize the optimal program for each individual – an effort that impresses the members. “They’re very appreciative of it. We charge extra for a Pilates class. So, we have to make sure the program is bringing additional value to each member,” says Gonzalez.

Innovative Programming and Scheduling
Gonzalez implemented special niche Pilates programs designed to get members with similar demographics together in group classes – seniors, specific athletic groups, even members with multiple sclerosis. Gonzalaez also created an assisted Pilates stretching class, which he says has gone through the roof. “People can’t get enough – it is quite possibly the most popular Pilates class we offer,” says Gonzalez.

In addition, Gonzalez also scheduled his Pilates adjacent to other fitness classes – like spin. “Our members really responded to that. They got their cardio with the spin class and then could work on flexibility and lengthening their muscles with Pilates,” said Gonzalez.

Make Sure Your Instructors Fit the Bill
Even though Pilates is hot right now, if the class is not interesting or well taught, then clients will not return. Clubs have multiple options available for hiring external instructors, or training internal instructors, although the most important hiring decision applies no matter which route you choose: Make sure the instructor fits the dynamic of your club’s membership.

At Mercy, Gonzalez, a certified instructor, created his own educational program and trained several of Mercy’s existing staff. “It was a 90-day program – from basic foundation to integrated training on the Reformer,” said Gonzalez.

He also included training outside the realm of exercise. “Many instructors just want to teach their class and then leave. That won’t cut it here at Mercy. So, I included a component on client retention, because getting members in is easy – keeping them is hard,” said Gonzalez.

Reaping the Rewards
Gonzalez’ plan has worked very nicely for Mercy Healthplex. With a combination of fee-based group sessions, personal sessions, and stretching classes, the program (launched in the summer of 2004) initially generated $6,000 per month between the three clubs (which has a combined membership of approximately 21,000 people). Now, they generate $20,000 a month – nearly a quarter million dollars of yearly revenue – for Mercy. “Last quarter we were at 148% of our revenue goal. It’s been very successful. Once we got the program in place, the sky was the limit,” said Gonzalez.

With a little planning and effort, your club could be more profitable and more successful too.

Ken Endelman is the Founder and CEO of Balanced Body Inc, the world’s leading resource for Pilates equipment, education, and information. He can be contacted at 1.800.PILATES, or visit www.pilates.com.

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