This is my experience of running Pilates apparatus studios in the Northwest UK and teaching worldwide after 30 years. Most private studios that I know of “bought themselves a business,” including myself at times. I have learnt the hard way, thus meaning the pricing was never graded right for clients, staff, the overheads of commercial premises or a home studio. Although many studio owners in both Pilates and Yoga will tell you that they are entrepreneurs, most are subbing their studio from other incomes, which is amazing.

If you are triggered by reading this blog, this is your reaction and your responsibility!

My career has had many ups and downs both in business and personally, but guess what, I would never have it any other way; I love the challenges that life throws at me. Everything happens for my growth and not to me! We actually learn more through pain than we do through pleasure. There are no exceptions to the rule and no shortcuts in life. You either show up as an adult and do the work or stay the child archetype and wait for everyone else to fix the problems (parent/child relationship/transactional analysis). Most successful businesses will tell you how they lost everything or failed many times before reaching success. In other words you have to give it away in order to keep it, if you get my drift. Every single one of us is unique and an individual. We are all a product of our environment, upbringing, schooling, religion and parenting. We have the ability to change this at any time, if we are prepared to do the work (Bruce Lipton – ‘The biology of belief’).

Our genes load the gun, but the environment pulls the trigger. Neurons that fire together, wire together. What you focus on grows. So if you are constantly focusing on the pain, that stays the problem. It’s finding different ways of  thinking and learning to critically think outside the box. If you can imagine your worst nightmare situation, the opposite of that becomes the dream (ref Paul Chek).

Now, without further ado, here are my 5 shocking truths about Pilates studio finances:

1.Studio location – Your face-to-face location is everything, I always compare this to the local supermarkets. It is easier to sell Pilates in more affluent areas where people have more disposable income or perhaps both partners do not have to work. Having said that there is always money to be made with what I call ‘low hanging fruit’ something that is affordable for everyone. The internet is also key, there is nothing to stop you selling online to anywhere or anyone in the world. I also always try to give out free information, classes online and resources to my local community and to teachers worldwide. Also parking, noise and neighbours are very important aspect to look at with studio set up. Life is already stressful for most people, so finding an easy location including perhaps close to public transport, by a motorway or an airport link is an added bonus.

2. Overheads – Studio overheads depend widely again on location, unit size and the customer capacity of the business. If you are over a certain square footage you will have business rates on top of everything else. Also booking software prices vary widely across the world. A home studio will not be paying business gas, electric or business rates. Your net profit is what is left minus all expenses involved in running a studio. Teachers always ask me if they can take me to lunch to pick my brains and see my business plan. If you want my time, there has to be a fair exchange of energy.

3. Staff pay – This is the biggest confusion for both teachers, gyms and studio owners. I speak from both sides of the fence having worked in all fields. Big chain gyms subsidise their teachers from mass group memberships and larger packed class numbers. When I was a freelance instructor, I always demanded more than the gym floor staff. Now the boot is on the other foot I understand how this is not always feasible and we need to all work together with better communication, compassion and empathy. Money will always flow to perceived value. We cannot expect the company director, managers or senior staff to be on the same pay rate as someone new with limited experience. Like all jobs, the more responsibility you have the more problem solving you are required to do. All businesses are designed to make profit as they are taking the risk of setting it up. If there is NO profit, it is an expensive hobby. Individual Pilates studios often only have income from clients, workshops, products and perhaps teacher training. My understanding is that 30% of turnover should go towards staff payroll. So for example in a private studio, a one to one that cost £45 or group class that tuned over £45 would leave a net of £37.50 if not vat registered. This would then be divided into three, so a third would go to the staff, a third to overheads and a third to depreciation and apparatus investment. What I see is completely the opposite in private studios, with overheads not being covered in all three categories. If you want to have your staff on £30 an hour, then your net profit needs to be £90 for that hour. This is where I feel both Raphael Bender and Lesley Logan have their figures right. The solution is that simple and is followed by many physiotherapy centres. The physios are on many hours back-to-back (rather than coming in for one hour) and on a scalable rate of pay dependent on physio level. This is how studios and their staff can thrive rather than survive. Incentives need to be on all sides, you can read about the apprenticeship program here.

4. Ongoing development and training – We never stop learning, just doing one piece of the puzzle does not promote growth. I am always learning and looking at other perspectives, trainings and trainers from around the world. I learn from people in and outside of my field and try not to take polarised opinions, as I have done in the past like everyone. Any ‘ISM’ worth following is worth questioning. The biggest teachers of all are my clients. You don’t start learning till you start teaching and this is when the real work and development begins. I have a mentor; this ensures that by paying to show up I am more likely to do the work. There are so many free resources nowadays, but you have to make the effort and do the work. You are either a victim of your circumstances or a master of your future. I also make sure I put in daily time to learn even if it’s just 30 minutes. Podcasts are a great way to learn whilst driving or walking the dog. There are also plenty of free ebooks and let’s not forget our local library.

5. Knowing what health is – After so many years of running studios and being in the dance world, I have seen many suffer with ongoing injuries, weight problems and poor immune system problems including myself. I only understood and found real health through Paul Chek. After all everything in life is a model and just because everyone else is doing it, it does not make it correct or right. Poor health leaves us with deficiencies mentally, spiritually emotionally and physically. If what we are doing is working, why is disease, illness and disconnection on the rise. I will leave that thought with you.


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Chris Onslow – Pilates Consultant –