Is your Zumba class the best part of your day? Do you daydream about leaving your job and working for yourself? Do you pay close attention to the latest developments in physical fitness?
Kathy Anderson merged her love of dance and exercise, her business background, and her desire to be her own boss to found My Pilates Studio. I asked Kathy how she crafted her career. The highlights of her story follow.
How did Kathy wend her way from high school dancer to successful business owner?
Kathy was groomed to be a perfectionist from the day she was born. The third of four children, Kathy was conceived to bring her family out of grieving after one of her older sisters died of polio. She was expected to be perfect. Kathy tried hard to be the best at everything she did, but she felt like nothing she ever did was good enough. Her solution was always to work harder. Her outlet was dance, ballet and jazz, and she relished performing with her high school drill team.
After high school, she spent a few years in New York City modeling, but she had always dreamed of becoming a Kilgore Rangerette. So after a few years in New York, she enrolled at Kilgore College in Texas and became a Rangerette, a precision dance team. The Rangerettes, known for their high kicks (they have to hit their hats) and jump splits, travel across the United States and internationally. She told me her years with the Rangerettes were “wonderful”.
Two years passes quickly. What did Kathy do after she graduated?
After graduating from Kilgore, Kathy got a job in retail, selling clothing. Her real interest was working with dance and drill teams and she fell into a pattern of quitting whatever job she had to spend the summer teaching at dance camps. Her parents told her she wasn’t on a viable career path and pushed her to get a more stable job. “You should be a teacher”, they said.
Shrugging off that suggestion, Kathy became an account executive for a cosmetic company and then, the first female account executive for WING radio. Those jobs didn’t last long, however, because Kathy kept running headlong into a problem – her own self-confessed issue with authority. She said she frequently feels like she knows better and has better ideas, which makes her impatient with employers. “I have never been a good employee”, she admitted.
How did Kathy handle her dislike of working for others?
Brainstorming with a friend, Kathy developed the idea to create a clearinghouse for people looking for rental property. She opened American Homeowners and Renters Association with a database of rental properties similar to the MLS (Multiple Listing Service), and a research department that located unoccupied units. Users could enter the type of rental housing they were looking for, the price range, and the area, and get a printout of available options. Kathy offered the services free to landlords. Her clients were families, corporations, and appraisers seeking rental housing for rent or for sale.
During the seven years Kathy managed American Homeowners and Renters Association, she got her real estate license and began selling houses for Heritage Realtors. In the beginning, Heritage wanted her to bring the clearinghouse with her, because it was a great feeder for finding first-time homebuyers. Kathy decided to sell the business instead. She kept all the information about her clients, however, so she could explore if they were interested in buying instead of renting. That approach worked; in her first month, she sold 14 houses.
Kathy and her husband met when they were both with Heritage. Her husband eventually left Heritage to start his own realty company. Kathy left, too, ran his business and worked with homebuyers until their first child was born. At that point, Kathy cut back so she wouldn’t have to work evenings. She continued to manage the business and assumed the task of training new buyer agents.
Kathy was successful in real estate. How did Pilates enter the picture?
When Kathy stopped teaching summer dance camps, she no longer had the time for or access to dance programs, and she stopped dancing. She still wanted to exercise, however. She did aerobics and weight lifting, but she hated weight lifting. Eventually she got hurt lifting weights that were too heavy. Thinking it would help to rehabilitate her injury, she took a Pilates class and loved it.
Kathy explained that Pilates emphasizes alignment, breathing, concentration and developing a strong core – the muscles of the abdomen, low back, and hips. The choreographed exercises move the muscles concentrically and eccentrically, improving strength and flexibility. Although Pilates emphasizes the muscles of the core, the program works the whole body, stabilizing the action of the joints overall. Pilates can be done on an exercise mat or using specific equipment such as the Reformer (which sounds scary, but is actually a lot of fun), Chair or Barrel.
Kathy wasn’t content just to show up at a Pilates class; to satisfy her need for perfection, she had to understand the principles and be the best student. To feed that drive, she began more intensive Pilates training. The more she did Pilates, the more she loved it. As she learned the principles, understood their effect on the body, and mastered the movements, she decided she wanted to become a Pilates teacher. To do that, she needed to get certified, which meant taking hundreds of hours of theoretical and practical, hands-on training.
In order to get the best training, Kathy researched numerous programs, finally settling on Stott Pilates. Stott appealed to her, because the program is based on research in sports medicine, physical therapy and exercise science. According to Kathy, it is the most rigorous Pilates certification program – the “Harvard of certification”.
Did anything change when Kathy shifted her focus to Pilates?
Kathy had been running her husband’s real estate business for 15 years. Shifting her focus to Pilates was a big challenge, because her husband didn’t like the change. Kathy knew, however, that Pilates was important piece of her puzzle; it fit. Ultimately, she decided that she wanted to own a Pilates studio. Her mother agreed. “You have got to stop chasing your dreams and start living them.”
Grudgingly, her husband went along with the plan at first. Rather than rent a space, they decided to build the best studio possible. They found a piece of ground, worked with an architect and built the studio.
Isn’t there more to opening a Pilates studio than just the building?
Wherever Kathy went, she took Pilates classes and talked to the studio owners, instructors and receptionists, observing and asking about the best ways to manage clients and instructors. By the time Kathy was developing her own studio, she had a good idea of what she wanted and how it should look.
Prior to opening My Pilates Studio, she taught in another studio and worked with a number of instructors there. In addition, when she was taking classes for her certification, she met more Pilates practitioners, further building her Pilates network. One of her biggest concerns about opening her place was attracting qualified instructors, but her contacts in her network enabled her to find qualified instructors.
Based on her research, Kathy set high standards for her studio. She wanted My Pilates Studio to have the same customer service approach as the Ritz Carlton, the attitude of “It’s my pleasure”. With that goal in mind, Kathy directed the entire client experience from the greeting by the receptionist, to the workout with an instructor, and the cleanliness of the facilities.
To ensure a good client experience, she also established requirements for her teachers. They must
- Become trained in Stott Pilates, including theoretical coursework, hands-on coursework, class observations, and a final exam
- Understand the principles and purpose of Pilates
- Apprentice with an experienced instructor
- Complete six hours of continuing education each year
- Provide their own liability insurance in addition to the liability insurance that Kathy maintains for the business
Did Kathy have any surprises when she opened My Pilates Studio? What has she learned?
Kathy said she discovered that “people are people are people”, with the same problems and issues regardless of the business. She has found, however, that the customer’s goal impacts the nature of the interaction. People engaged in buying or selling real estate are much more anxious about money and the transaction, which colors their outlook. As Kathy said, “People are at a Pilates studio because they want to work out, feel better and, generally speaking, they’re happy to be there.”
To Kathy’s surprise, the biggest challenge is not dealing with the clients, but managing the business and the personnel. Kathy has a number of instructors, which necessitates supervising the quality of their teaching, care of the equipment, and status of continuing education credits. Her instructors tease her about being slightly OCD, but she realizes that attention to detail is crucial, because the clients have other choices.
In addition, Kathy has learned that being an entrepreneur often means working seven days a week. “You go home and take the business with you.” From a financial perspective, running My Pilates Studio doesn’t provide Kathy the same financial stability as working in real estate. She said, “It’s a challenge, because it’s a low profit business”, exacerbated by the fact that her building makes the overhead higher than the typical Pilates studio. Nonetheless, she said, “But I love what I’m doing.”
Many Pilates studios require their instructors to do their own marketing to recruit clients. Kathy has taken on that task, promoting the business through the My Pilates Studio website, social media, such as the My Pilates Studio Facebook page, ads in the local Pennysaver, donations of coupons to charitable silent auctions, and health fairs. She noted that word of mouth is actually the most productive method.
- Recognize your personality type; operating as an entrepreneur is “way more work, but I like it that way”
- Ask questions everywhere you go and research, research, research
- Meet challenges by asking, “How can I?” instead of saying, “I can’t”
- Remember “for the first 40 years of your life, you get the body you were born with; for the next 40 years, you get the body you deserve”
- Pay attention to the four building blocks of a healthy lifestyle:
- Exercise – Strengthening, Flexibility and Cardio (aerobic)
- Mental outlook
- Find a fitness activity you enjoy; “exercise is only as good as you showing up”