PJ O’Clair’s pursuit of excellence and commitment to service have led to a career of leadership in program development, exercise instruction and studio success.
“Movement saved my life,” says PJ O’Clair, owner of ClubXcel/Northeast Pilates in Manchester-by-the-Sea, Massachusetts. O’Clair started her fitness career teaching jazz dance at 16 years old. A serious childhood injury had left her with spinal trauma that impacted her life but never stopped her determination. Within 20 years, she had succeeded as a master group exercise instructor, personal trainer and international presenter. Her quest for ideal training led her to Pilates, which she felt worked for her and motivated her to share with others.
In adding Pilates to her repertoire, O’Clair originally trained under Mary Bowen. From there she went on to purchase STOTT PILATES® equipment and developed a relationship with Lindsay and Moira Merrithew. The STOTT PILATES approach was a natural fit for O’Clair, given her interest in postrehabilitation and athletic training. When she felt ready to offer her skills as a teacher trainer, she approached the Merrithews, who invited her to Toronto for training. The rest is “Pilates history.”
In 1997, O’Clair became the first external instructor trainer for STOTT PILATES and the first to open a licensed STOTT PILATES training center in the United States. O’Clair opened her Pilates studio and fitness facility in Essex, Massachusetts, with a mission to change people’s lives. She founded Northeast Pilates Education & Movement Centers—one of the largest STOTT PILATES licensed training centers in North America—and headquartered it within her club. This center is among the top five award-winning centers within the STOTT PILATES group for having trained the most instructors. Today, O’Clair is a program developer and master instructor trainer; she has appeared in more than 40 Pilates and fitness DVDs.
What is it about the Pilates training method that inspired you to expand an already successful fitness career into a fitness and Pilates career?
I had experienced and taught many movement styles, including jazz dance, aerobics, yoga, yoga fusion and others. Pilates changed my life. With my major spinal injury, Pilates was the first movement that worked for me. I wanted to share it with others.
Trend reports note that Pilates is on the decline. What do you think?
I do not believe Pilates is on the decline. I think there are some other new exercise modalities that might be attracting participants’ attention. Our studio is stronger than ever, and we have both postrehab and performance enhancement clients.
As for teacher trainings, we did see a decline, but [interest is] beginning to build again. I believe that the decline was partly due to financial fears and partly due to the influx of other Pilates training opportunities. There’s a lot more competition [in teacher training] now, so we’re not nearly as busy as we were when we provided the only training around. We’re seeing growth for the first time in 3 years. I truly believe that this will continue to build.
What is the revenue model for your business?
Seventy-five percent of our business is Pilates-based revenue. This includes private sessions, small-group classes, instructor workshops and special courses. We offer small-group equipment and mat-with-props classes plus instructor teacher training. Pilates clientele include beginners to advanced practitioners who are interested in postrehab, back issues, osteopenia or osteoporosis, or athletic performance. Our other programs include Spinning®, TRX®, Zumba®, yoga, strength and sport-specific training for recreational and professional athletes.
Our team has 13 trainers and three administrative personnel. Most staff are independent contractors who get an hourly rate based on their expertise. I also do a 60% split for some trainers who come up with their own program ideas and market the program themselves. This is successful for those who are go-getters and know how to build a class. We do this on studio “off times” so it’s not taking away from top revenue hours.
What advice would you give to others who are contemplating opening their own studio?
My words of wisdom primarily regard staffing. Don't let any of your staff think they are "helping you out." You are paying them; they have no responsibility other than to show up and do what they do best. Include staff in some decision-making so they have a voice—and so they feel that they do. Build your staff up as a team so some individuals don’t get “diva-itis” and think they are worth more than anyone else on staff.
Keep communication open with all your clients so they know you and not just the staff, because if staff members leave, you risk them taking the clients with them [if clients don’t know you].
What’s your inspiration?
I’m thankful to be able to move. I’m here to spread the good word [about movement] and keep people from giving up. My inspiration comes from those around me, like my husband and clients, and from my good fortune to be able to do what I love every day and make a living that way. I’m not rich financially, but I live a very rich life.
What is the secret to your success?
That’s hard to say. We are givers, and when you give, you get back. Be in this business to change people’s lives; not just your clients’ lives, but also the lives of your team. Be there for all of them and stay true to your craft. Give, give, give; share, share, share. Knowledge is meant to be shared. When you share [what you know], your offerings become contagious.