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A Growing Pilates Practice in Istanbul, Turkey

Burcu Ozturk Salargil, head instructor and owner of Hero House Pilates, in Istanbul, is at the forefront of Pilates growth in Turkey. Salargil, a STOTT PILATES®-certified instructor trainer, founded the studio in her native city in October 2009, after returning from a 10-year stint in the United States.

Salargil has an eye for aesthetics, and she trained as a fashion designer at Syracuse University. She began her career in 2003 as a junior designer and worked for Marc Jacobs and Kate Spade design houses in New York City. Around the same time, she had a skiing accident and suffered a spinal injury that required rehabilitation. Her physician recommended Pilates, and she was hooked from her first session.

In 2007, Salargil began her education to become a certified Pilates instructor. In 2008, she returned to Istanbul and became frustrated by the lack of high-quality instruction. Seeing a market opportunity, she opened Hero House Pilates in 2009, in the most prosperous section of Istanbul, a city with a population of over 14 million.

Today, Hero House Pilates is a boutique studio with approximately 400 clients. The 2,690-square-foot (250-square-meter) facility offers up to 300 private sessions and 40 group sessions per month, in addition to professional teacher trainings approximately twice a year. Hero House Pilates trains clients on three reformer-tower combos, two stability chairs, one ladder barrel and two trapeze tables. One room is dedicated to equipment, and another is used for group mat classes.

What stimulated your switch from design professional to Pilates professional?

While I did not study movement in college, I’ve been active my entire life and was surrounded by a family that emphasized the health benefits of exercise. My father (a medical doctor), my mother and my sister were all semipro tennis players. I grew up dabbling in a variety of sports: tennis, track, basketball, skiing, surfing, snowboarding, ballroom dancing, ballet and horseback riding. But after my injury, when I experienced the mindful movement of Pilates, I fell in love.

The mindfulness is what keeps me enthusiastic. Pilates was the first activity that required me to concentrate solely on what I was doing in order to make all the muscle connections. And I discovered that as the level of concentration increased, I was able to stay in the moment more and more and improve my ability to make even more muscle connections. I wanted to deepen my understanding and started taking teacher trainings.

While I enjoyed design, I found that I was a much happier person when I was involved with movement. When I returned to Turkey and saw the need for Pilates studios, I found a way to make more room for that in my life. By opening a studio, I’ve been able to share my passion—and practice my passion—every day.

How did Pilates become popular in Turkey?

Turkish celebrity Ebru Şalli introduced Pilates to popular culture. She single-handedly made Pilates known through her television talk show. Soon the talk show turned into a Pilates show, and many women and men around Turkey began doing Pilates in their living rooms.

Doctors stood by Pilates and referred patients to the few existing studios. Soon, more celebrities were sighted doing Pilates in Istanbul studios. Since the population in Turkey is very young, trends spread rapidly. More yoga, CrossFit® and specialty studios are opening daily. Health and wellness awareness has increased exponentially just as the younger generation is enjoying more affluence. With more discretionary income and a higher quality of life, young people want to look and feel good and take better care of themselves.

Growth has not topped out. In the past, mostly affluent clients were served with private sessions and specialized attention. Now, more studios are likely to offer moderately priced, but still effective, small-group classes that serve people in the middle and upper-middle economic brackets. In Turkey, Pilates will spread from the top down.

Who is your clientele?

I want to give special attention to people who benefit more from private sessions. Our clientele is 85% female and 15% male; half our clients are either injured or in a special-population group. Thirty percent are over age 50, and 10% are older than 60. We provide training for people coping with pain issues, those who require therapeutic Pilates, and women who are pregnant or postpartum. We have a few competitive athletes and a few people who take Pilates for golf conditioning, but athletic training is not a focus.

How many staff do you have, and what is your business structure?

We have four instructors, including myself, and one manager. We also offer the services of a homeopathic doctor, an osteopath and an esthetician, each of whom pays rent. All staff members are employees. One of my biggest challenges initially was finding and keeping good instructors. I solved this by creating an environment where instructors do not want to leave. My instructors earn the best rates and have high-quality training through continuing education with STOTT PILATES.

Our rates are at the top of the price range for our area compared with other businesses that offer the same services. We price ourselves higher because we believe we offer the best service. We sell sessions in packs of 10 and 24, with a small discount for regular clients. We post all prices on the website, and we do not offer additional discounts.

What advice would you give to someone considering opening a boutique studio?

Because of my staffing challenges and the intimate nature of our boutique studio, I learned to take very good care of our clients and treat them like family. Many of our clients work with up to three different instructors each week. We make sure that instructors know all clients and that the clients feel loyalty to the studio and not to one instructor. I encourage everyone to get to know each other and to develop a rapport.

Each week we have a staff meeting where each instructor discusses what she is doing with each client. This way all staff get to know every client; it motivates the instructors to think about how their clients are progressing and how they can continue to develop their programs. Also, if a client is lost, we discuss the circumstances. Why was that client lost? Why weren’t his or her expectations met? How could we have retained the client’s business? This keeps every staff person accountable and strengthens our work as a team.

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