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Creating an Inspiring & Effective Working Environment

by Ann Toran

My studio, Pilates Reforming New York, has been growing steadily since its inception. One of the building blocks to its success has been creating a working environment that conveys the excitement we feel about sharing the Pilates experience. It's changed our lives - we want it to do the same for our clients.

I first experienced Pilates equipment when my husband, a Chiropractor, expanded his rehabilitative practice to include a Reformer. It ultimately led me to take a one-week Reformer course. From that point on I was hooked. A year later, I attended the First International Polestar Pilates conference in Miami, Florida. I decided that would be a great place to meet other teachers and find out more about Pilates. In early 2002, I took Brent Anderson's Allegro® class. I was instantly blown away by that group Reformer experience and had an immediate vision of students working in a group environment on the Reformer at affordable prices! By August my husband and I had taken over the space next door to his Chiropractic practice on the eighth floor of an office building in Times Square. We installed 10 Balanced Body Allegros and began our first classes.

Finding the right instructors

Our first teachers were performers - Radio City Rockettes and former Broadway performers looking to enhance their off-season income - as well as a Physical Therapist who worked with my husband's practice and was going to use Pilates as part of his rehabilitation protocol. Believe it or not, performers make great teachers because they learned in a group environment as students and they are definite crowd pleasers. They often have been Pilates clients themselves for years, so have great intuition as well. They need the energy from the class as much as the class needs them!

I also look at our existing clients as future Pilates teachers. When I see a student display a more than typical curiosity, I try to nurture it and plant the seeds of a potential second career. Now I have several teachers on my staff that were originally students of mine!

Fostering a "sharing" environment

To keep my teachers in top form, they take continuing education courses on a regular basis. They also attend each other's classes at no cost. This fosters both a sharing teaching environment and a generosity amongst the teachers. I often see them brainstorming together between classes or deep in conversation about a client and the client's protocol.

I have found that the teachers who have fuller classes are willing to share their tips. The successful teachers have made it a point to learn the names of all the clients in their classes. This, I have observed, makes a huge difference. Creating that personal feeling, even in a group setting, creates quite a following. Teachers search within themselves to figure out what works, and what within their personality they need to work on to enhance their classes. From the clients' point of view, we are not all the same and variety is the spice of life. The clients themselves gravitate to the teacher that suits them best!

Creating a fair compensation

In my experience I feel that teachers should be compensated according to the number of students in their classes. This also allows for a payroll that responds to the ebb and flow of business. I believe that if the teachers are popular and have full classes, then they should be paid for that. It also encourages teachers to take the initiative to fill their classes. It takes a while for a teacher to have a following and as they mature, so does their income.

I have a guarantee that I pay for each class. Our studio requires a 2-person minimum for a class to take place. Teachers are paid a flat fee for privates and I allow them to "rent space" if they bring in their private clients from outside who are not clients of our studio. This allows them to make extra money, as they can charge the client whatever they like, while the studio gets the rental fee.

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Support staff is critical

Teachers aren't the only ones with an important role. Our support staff is integral to our success. Our studio manager has the main responsibility of customer service. Using an amazing online scheduling software package has freed up our limited staff, which is centrally located in one studio, to answer and deal with issues in all locations, instead of having a huge team of people in each location to field an the incredible amount of incoming phone calls. It creates a uniformity and simplicity that allows is necessary for us to keep our prices affordable.

The studio manager also has the responsibility of making sure all the classes are covered. Maintaining a predictable and reliable schedule is tantamount to our success. While teachers attempt to find coverage for classes, our studio manager sends out emails to all staff as necessary to find coverage. I also compensate my front desk staff on sales they make to clients within 10 days of the clients Free Introductory Class. This commission gives them an extra incentive to follow-up and provides a higher level of customer service. We have found these follow up calls not only answer unasked questions, but also demonstrate that, although our specialty is group class, we care about each individual.

An improved client experience

We've worked hard at creating an environment that rewards growth, learning and success and I feel that environment definitely affects our clients in a positive way. I feel that intelligently working in a group setting is empowering. The participation of the client in adjusting their Allegros, changing the springs, making sure the ropes are even heightens that empowerment. Our goal is to have the client participate in every aspect of the class.

We also offer modifications and choices as necessary, as they are crucial to successfully teaching in a group setting. I like to equate teaching group Reformer to being a conductor of an orchestra playing beautiful music. When the class works well together there is a huge energy that fills the room and creates an unbelievable endorphin release. Teacher and students alike are energized! It is not uncommon for the class to burst into applause when the class comes to a close.

Also important is to provide a pleasant atmosphere. We found that music was huge. It is never so loud as to drown out the teachers, but loud enough that the students listen, their bodies respond and they are removed from their day-to-day thoughts. We find it enhances their focus to feel the music as well. We tend to gravitate toward the New Age genre, such as Buddha-Bar, Café del Mar, Afro Celt, B-Tribe and Café series. Teachers now bring their own MP3 players to plug them into our sound systems and customize their classes.

The planning and hard work it took to establish a good working dynamic between the studio owners, instructors, support staff and clients has paid off for us. Today we have 3 studio locations, 20 plus teachers and about 175 (approaching 200) classes per week total, plus privates as requested, and continuing education sessions for educators as well. Our client base has grown to over 5000 strong. We have come a long way and I can say with confidence we've only just begun. Pilates is here to stay because it works, and we are here to stay because we make it affordable and fun!


Ann Toran is the Co-owner/Director/Teacher of Pilates Reforming New York. She made Pilates her career after reaping the benefits of Pilates as an injured ballet dancer, and experiencing its effectiveness in both rehabilitation and her improved fitness. Ann has been certified through both Polestar Pilates and IM=X Pilates and continues to further her Pilates education. Her goal is to make the Pilates Reformer experience available to everyone.