The idea for group Pilates sessions came to me when I moved to Sydney, Australia. I worked at Yahoo! from 2006 to 2007 and spent some of my downtime practicing Pilates. When I came back to the US, I realized it was all about individual sessions here, but out there the classes had a different vibe — there was an energy I wanted to bring back to the States.
I set up Mighty Pilates in 2010 with my business partner, Victoria. We self-funded the business, which meant I wasn’t able to quit my day job for awhile after we started the business. Up until just this month, I was working for Edelman while Victoria ran our San Francisco studio.
We’re about to open a new studio in Santa Monica, so I quit my job to focus on getting it up and running. Most people I talk to can’t believe I quit my full-time job, but the ones who know me really well understand that my passion lies with my business. I’m an entrepreneur at heart.
When did you know your business was going to work?
The first six months were really scary but exhilarating at the same time. We were constantly worried about making payroll, but I always knew that if we created the right atmosphere, it would be a success.
We did this by creating a beautiful, clean studio, employing great instructors, delivering excellent customer service and encouraging a strong community atmosphere.
We also change things up a bit by running unique classes like our Mighty Moonlight class, which runs late at night and involves mellow electronica and candles, or our mixer class on a Friday night, which includes a glass of champagne afterwards to encourage people to rewind from the work week.
It was when I saw the success of these classes that I knew it would work. We had people come into the studio and tell us it was their happy place, which was encouragement enough for me.
What has been the biggest surprise in starting your own business?
Nothing in my 20-year career prepared me for the challenges of opening a small business. Sure I’ve worked for major companies, but, for example, I had no idea how to make a bathroom ADA compliant (suitable for wheelchair users) or how to trade out web services on a small budget.
When I started Mighty Pilates, I found myself having to do everything on a very tight budget, which meant calling in favors from friends. It was certainly a change of pace, but I came to love it because it connected me with a whole new community of people. I learned business tips from the hairdresser down the street, and a jewelry designer taught me how to hire the best employees to work for a small business.
One of the biggest challenges that I’m facing right now is hiring great front desk staff because the cost of living in San Francisco is so high. If I put out an ad for a front desk manager five years ago, I’d get 200 applicants with great experience and enthusiasm. If I put out the same ad now, I’ll get maybe five. Right now we’re focusing on hiring students or people that see themselves as Pilates instructors one day because the paycheck we offer isn’t enough alone, even with the incentive of free classes.
How do you price your classes?
Our classes are limited to eight people, so we can offer a lot of teacher attention. We do a price per class that starts at $36 and the price for 10 is $295.
We experimented with membership in the past and, although it brought in great money, it was a client service disaster because our regular customers couldn’t get their spots. We didn’t want to sacrifice the experience of our loyal customers, and we’ve found that paying per class is the best way to keep everyone happy.
What does a typical day look like for you?
Before I left my full-time job, I often spent time every weekend working on all the profit and loss sheets for the Pilates studio and doing the marketing. My business partner Victoria also stepped up and we learned to rely on our great staff during those early days. Although I wish I could have been there more back then, being forced to trust our business with employees created an opportunity for us to expand and grow. No one can run a business by themselves, after all.
Now my days looks slightly different. Today, for example, I’m heading down to the permit office to get a license for our new studio in Santa Monica, which is opening in December. When we open, I’ll be working the front desk, which will involve getting in before classes start at 7am to welcome customers, handling enquiries, managing instructors and even mopping the floor — it’ll be a little bit of everything, which is what I like.
Then I’ll leave the studio around 2pm to pick my daughter up from school and spend the rest of my day getting the word out about the studio through blogger programs, big PR events and walking the neighborhood to make sure the community knows we’re here for them. I also talk to Victoria in San Francisco three times a day so we both understand what’s going on with the business as a whole.
If you could go back in time, what’s the one thing you’d do differently in starting your business?
More team meetings. Pilates studios have individual trainers and desk managers who rarely get to see each other, especially if they’re not working the same shifts. There’s a great community there just with our employees and if we can bring people together, this will eventually make it easier for them to find cover for shifts or ask for advice. We have more team meetings than we used to, but I’d like to have more still.
What would you like to learn today from a network other of small business owners and self-employed professionals?
As small business owners, how important is it to have a presence in our physical locations? I struggle with not being at the San Francisco branch often enough. Before we open up in Santa Monica, I’d like to know how much time I need to be prepared to spend on site, and how I can better manage my time to make sure I'm available for all of our customers — across both cities!
Can you help Cricket out?
If you're running a business with more than one physical location, how do you balance your time so that you're present and available to your customers?