While Pilates tops the hottest growing exercise trends, fee-based Pilates group equipment classes remain largely untapped as a profit center. Responding to strong consumer demand, fitness clubs worldwide have introduced Pilates Mat classes successfully. Many business owners, however, remain unsure about whether to add Pilates equipment programs using the reformer. If your members want Pilates, it’s likely they want it all and are willing to pay for it. Can you afford to leave money on the table?
If you're interested in launching an equipment-based group reformer program at your facility, you don't need to reinvent the wheel... or the reformer. With some thoughtful planning, you can start a Pilates reformer program on the right foot and be off and running to record numbers.
Research, Troubleshooting and Marketing
Three main factors are the key to success. First, identify program interest. Once you find the need is there, spend time researching other programs. Identify any potential challenges with the new program prior to the start and come up with resolutions. Lastly, give free demonstration classes for those who do not know about Pilates or just want to try the class, coupled with knowledgeable instructors. The importance of planning and attention to detail cannot be overstated. One of the biggest mistakes fitness centers make is to hastily begin a Pilates program without thinking it through. Management should make a business plan, so that the Pilates program can act as an independent business within their center.
The proper training company is critical to success. When you look for a training company, try to find one that will meet your facility’s needs. Some programs like PowerHouse Pilates will help you with instructor training, and they also provide consultation on how to start the program with advice on all the little details that are essential to program profitability (i.e., how to package class sessions, how to track member sessions). When you are choosing an educational company, make sure the educator’s philosophy fits with your center’s goals and mission. Decide how much support you think you will need and if the educational company you choose is able to meet this demand.
One of the most important issues to resolve before launching any equipment-based program is how to cover start up costs (i.e., the purchase of equipment, staff training and marketing). Since an equipment-based Pilates program requires a significant initial investment, introduce the program on a fee basis and work to make it self supporting. Purchase just a few reformers up front to keep class sizes small, allow for easy storage and reduce costs. Also, stick with the marketing tool of Pilates group personal training, where instructors do not do the exercises but instead walk around and provide hands on instruction. This keeps value in the class.
After the initial research and marketing, the other factors to consider are as follows:
Equipment Expenses -
Portable reformers can cost between $2,000 and $2,500 each, and stationary reformers can cost upwards of $5,000 each. When purchasing Pilates equipment, get expert advice about what apparatus are best to start with and ask what would be the next alternative if your program begins to grow. Price several companies and try all the equipment at trade shows and conventions.
One way to save funds when purchasing equipment is to negotiate a discount with your training provider. Some training providers have relationships with equipment companies and will provide a discounted rate when both training services and equipment products are purchased together. When considering training providers, inquire whether or not your training services contract includes equipment discounts and consultation.
Instructor Training Costs -
The investment in training can range anywhere from $1,000 to $1,500 per instructor. Consider having your facility pay for part of a tailored in-house training for staff, and the instructors would then cover the balance. Select a minimum number of trainers to participate in the training to start. Pick your most mature, experienced, enthusiastic, educated staff. Select those trainers who already teach many classes and have established a relationship with the members.
Establish a Fee Schedule and Do the Math -
To determine the fee schedule, create a worksheet with the cost of equipment, training, promotions and instructor salaries. Research not just your immediate area but also other cities in your state and see what facilities in those areas are charging members. Offer one free 30-minute orientation a week on a sign up basis. Members who want to participate in the Pilates program must then enroll in a four-week beginner clinic that meets once a week. The beginner clinic classes are priced at about half the cost of regular classes. After completing the beginner clinic, members can then purchase class cards for one, five or 10 sessions for either group reformer classes with six participants, semi-private sessions with two participants or private sessions.
Create Class Policies and a Registration System -
To ensure a smooth program launch, plan for every contingency. Research class sign up and waiting list procedures and payment, refund and cancellation policies all prior to launching the program. Create registration forms for each of the individual classes and participant cards for each registrant. Have your staff post and distribute fliers with guidelines and policies.
Market to Staff and to Members -
If your facility has a large membership to draw from, your marketing should focus on both staff and member education about the benefits of Pilates training. One option is to create an eight page brochure on two pages of paper, printed on both sides and folded in half. The brochure could include the history of Pilates, benefits from training, FAQs, group class, semi-private and private session fees, policies and guidelines, instructor biographies and a Pilates and mind-body weekly class schedule.
Get "Buy In" from All Facility Staff -
Most successful program directors know that enthusiastic and knowledgeable staff are crucial to launching any new program. The only way to build that excitement is by taking time to educate all facility staff about your new program. Attend a staff meeting and train the staff on what Pilates is so they can describe it to members. Explain to them how to run the registration process for the orientations, beginner clinics and regular classes. Ask them for their input so everyone feels included and excited about the program.
Offer Free Demo Classes for Members -
Educating members is the next most important step in successful program marketing. Begin with having the group exercise instructors talk it up in their classes, especially in any Pilates and/or yoga classes. You'll find the most important thing, however, will be the free demo classes for members. Offer two weeks of free 30-minute orientations to members before the regular program starts, and after the program begins, bring back two weeks of free orientations on a quarterly basis for new members.
Grassroots marketing is often the most effective for drawing members into a Pilates program. Most Pilates programs get the majority of their customers from word-of-mouth advertising. This type of marketing works best when you require the Pilates instructors to do a monthly promotion as a part of their contract in that program. Often, a center will pay all or part of their instructor’s education, and in return, that instructor must participate in program promotions each month to "work off" their education.
Count Your Class Numbers
Launching any new program takes time, effort and careful planning. With current and growing interest in Pilates, establishing a long-term Pilates program makes good business sense. According to the Health Club Trend Report published by American Sports Data Inc., Pilates participation increased 41 percent in 2001 from the prior year. This growth rate shows no sign of slowing. Take time now to learn all that you can about the pros and cons of a Pilates program profit center. A well-managed Pilates program can increase member satisfaction, strengthen your membership base and sweeten the bottom line.