Angel Garcia, co-founder and co-owner of Akro and Akro Studio, Toledo, Spain, knew when he began his physiotherapy career that he wanted to combine physical therapy services with exercise training. Garcia’s studio achieved licensed teaching center status from STOTT PILATES® in 2005, and Garcia quickly became a leading instructor trainer in the Spanish-speaking world. Today, Akro is a four-story, 1,000-square-meter [10,674-square-foot] facility that has served more than 6,000 clients. Akro Studio has trained 2,387 new instructors since its inception.

What drew you to Pilates?

In 2000, I was 22 years old and studying to become a physiotherapist. My mother, who has arthritis and osteoporosis, pushed me to check out Pilates, a “new” training method that she had heard was effective. I was intrigued right from the beginning and knew I wanted to offer this to my future clients. I liked how easy Pilates made it to teach movement and reconnect people to their bodies.

How did you become an instructor?

I took classes regularly, enrolled in instructor training and began teaching at various locations in Madrid in 2002. The number of classes I led grew rapidly. In 2004, I decided to open my own Pilates and physical therapy studio inside an existing facility, owned by a famous Spanish choreographer, Victor Ullate.

Even after that first training course, I had many questions. Fortunately, I met Lesley Braverman and Melanie Beyford, STOTT PILATES instructors, and they had answers! I fell in love with STOTT PILATES. In 2004, I went to Toronto and became an instructor.

What stimulated your rapid business expansion?

In 2005, I met Marta Yuste, PT, who owned a physiotherapy clinic. We became business partners, combined our clientele and opened Akro. Akro comes from Greek and means “topmost” or the “highest point,” like a mountain peak. We also created Akro Studio, an education company, to offer instructor training, develop our own staff and meet the increasing demand for instructor training in the region.

Most clients come to us because they want to maintain a good quality of life. People who have time and resources want high-quality personal services that will positively impact their health. This population typically consists of people 45 years and older. They don’t find this high-quality service in big gyms or clubs, so they look for it in Pilates studios.

Marta and I share a dream to serve these clients with a global approach that includes exercise, local treatments, nutrition education and motivation.

How did your teacher-training career evolve?

In 2006, STOTT PILATES invited me to Chile to teach instructor-training courses. I was excited to travel and see the world and took the opportunity. In Chile, I met someone from Argentina who invited me to train instructors. In Argentina, I met someone from Peru and then from Uruguay. Now Akro Studio offers teacher-training courses throughout the year in Peru, Chile, Argentina, Uruguay, Mexico, Spain and Portugal. Since I did not want to always be away from my own center, I trained staff to offer education services.

What is the revenue model for your business?

Once Marta and I joined forces, our business grew rapidly. We attracted attention from doctors who wanted access to our clientele. In November 2008, we opened a new four-story global health facility that offers physical therapy, personal fitness training, individual and group Pilates classes, medical aesthetics and surgery. Twenty-seven people work there, including five Pilates trainers and six physiotherapists.

On a typical day, we offer 20 group classes, about 15–18 personal training sessions and 25 physiotherapy sessions. The doctors rotate, depending on their specialty. For example, the surgeons come every 2 weeks, and medical aesthetics doctors come twice a week. We provide the facility and clients; [the doctors] provide services; we share profits.

In Spain, people can choose between public and private insurance. We accept our rehab clients’ private insurance. Most of these clients transition into becoming facility clients for ongoing training services when they have finished with rehab. Our business is 100% service oriented. Every visit is supervised; there is no open gym. We focus on quality and are proud of our 89% retention rate.

For the educational business, we have 12 instructors who offer trainings throughout the Spanish-speaking world. We are also expanding into providing equipment. Fifty percent of our business is from the facility, and 50% is from teacher training.

What advice would you give to others with dreams of running their own business?

My dream is what I live every day. What I tell others is to follow your heart. If you have a dream, just do it. Sometimes we spend time thinking, “Is something too big or too small? Is it achievable?” Everything is possible if you feel that you can do it. Even if you are exhausted from working hard—if it is what you really want to do, just do it.

Shirley Archer-Eichenberger, JD, MA

Shirley Archer, JD, MA, is an internationally acknowledged integrative health and mindfulness specialist, best-selling author of 16 fitness and wellness books translated into multiple languages and sold worldwide, award-winning health journalist, contributing editor to Fitness Journal, media spokesperson, and IDEA's 2008 Fitness Instructor of the Year. She's a 25-year industry veteran and former health and fitness educator at the Stanford Prevention Research Center, who has served on multiple industry committees and co-authored trade books and manuals for ACE, ACSM and YMCA of the USA. She has appeared on TV worldwide and was a featured trainer on America's Next Top Model.

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