From Music Educator to Boutique Studio Owner
Fueled by a passion for music and sports, Steven Burnes created a unique Pilates and Spinning® studio that serves a diverse Southern Florida clientele.
Steven Burnes, Australian-born founder and owner of Aussie Fitness Pilates and Spinning Studio in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, reinvented his career in October 2008, after 22 years as a professional musician and high-school and college music teacher. The Peak Pilates® master instructor supplements his studio practice with teacher training and indoor cycling classes.
In 2007, Burnes became a certified Peak Pilates instructor. In 2010, his studio became a licensed Peak Pilates education center and licensed Spinning facility. Today, his 800-square-foot, two-room studio offers up to 80 private sessions and 44 group sessions per month, in addition to professional teacher training and continuing education. The “black box” cycling room holds 12 bikes, and the fully equipped Pilates studio includes a trapeze table, four reformer/tower combos, five chairs, a ladder barrel, a ped-o-pull and a spine corrector.
How did you get into the studio business?
I’ve been a Spinning instructor in Fort Lauderdale since 1996. Many of my clients were only taking indoor cycling classes and not using the rest of their gym memberships. A friend knew I was interested in having a studio and introduced me to a Pilates studio owner. Since her studio only offered Pilates in one room of the two-room facility, I approached her to rent the second room as a “Spinning studio.” In March 2007, many of my participants followed me and helped form my business.
For personal reasons, the original owner needed to relocate. I purchased the entire business from her on October 1, 2008, and assumed the lease. I chose the name Aussie Fitness Pilates and Spinning because of my Australian heritage and because I was known around town as Aussie Steve, the Spinning instructor. After 23 years of living in the United States, I still have a very strong, memorable Australian accent. My business logo, an aboriginal boomerang, reflects both my roots and the Pilates mat exercise of the same name.
Pilates and Spinning are complementary practices and unite my two personal passions. People who do Pilates still need cardio training. Each time I offer group Pilates, I also teach cycling so people can take both classes back to back. Many of my clients enjoy this.
Who are your typical clients?
My clients are 60% female and 40% male. They are between the ages of 18 and 80, with the majority being in their 40s and 50s. They include seasonal residents. Most are motivated to stay fit later into life as part of healthy aging. In the past 3 years, the male side of the business has increased. Since I’m a man, I think men feel more comfortable training with me [than they might with a woman]. Pilates has long had a stigma of being a workout for women, even though Joseph Pilates trained boxers.
Coming from a personal training background, I can relate to men’s concerns, understand their physical issues—such as tight and often overdeveloped muscles—and teach the Pilates repertoire in a way that makes it more accessible to them. By breaking the work down and using “building blocks” to progress them, I find they are less frustrated and gain a greater understanding of Pilates as both a workout and a movement system.
Which is more popular: Pilates or Spinning?
They are equally popular, but I find my Pilates clients tend to stay with me a lot longer. About 40% of my clients participate in both programs. Since the group classes are back to back, students who begin with Pilates see the Spinners, and this stimulates their curiosity. Often, they’ll tell me they think Spinning is too hard, but I encourage them to try it. Since I teach both, they feel comfortable. Once they realize they can be successful, they stick with it. The same happens with the Spinners.
How many staff do you have and why?
For the most part, I teach everything. Currently, I have one apprentice, who is a graduate of the teacher-training program. Since we’re in fairly close quarters, it’s important to have the right person teaching with me.
The good news is that I have a reasonably low overhead. I prefer to keep the business small, which reduces complexity. The combined revenue from group and private classes as well as teacher training provides enough income. And I can maintain my musical interests.
I’m the resident conductor of the Florida Youth Orchestra, which has 95 musicians between the ages of 12 and 18. We rehearse every Monday night from September to May, present six concerts a season and have performed at Carnegie Hall twice. Even though I no longer teach music in the classroom, it’s important to keep musical training in my life.
How do you see the relationship among your musical background, Pilates and Spinning?
I find they are similar in many ways. [All] require a great deal of discipline and practice and are constantly evolving. Studying music definitely influences my Pilates teaching. As you practice and teach the same moves year after year, the depth of your understanding increases. It’s never boring—you’re always gaining new insights. I believe being an educator requires the same skills, regardless of subject. I consider myself more of an educator than a fitness leader. I teach the “how” and “why” of every move, not just the exercise.
Pilates cuing is also very musical in style. Maintaining voice inflection, flow and rhythm is important. We use this [style of cuing] to emphasize and accent certain parts of a movement and alter tempo. I have often been asked why we don’t use music in Pilates, as we do in other forms of group exercise. My response is that the music is in the movement.
Music is critical in indoor cycling classes. I love using the emotion of music to push people. My classes use a wide variety of music, from classical to dance, rock, pop, New Age—you name it. I teach my students to find power, energy and inspiration in music. It is a powerful motivator and can inspire people to break through barriers and find new levels of achievement.
What advice would you give to someone considering opening a boutique studio?
It’s important to understand scheduling and seasonality, as well as the need for downtime. These are the most important lessons I’ve learned. Since I teach all classes, offering too many of them cuts into opportunities for private sessions. It’s better to have fewer and fuller classes and keep prime slots available for one-on-one training. I used to teach daily, and I felt burned out. Once I gave myself time off, the business survived and I felt much happier.
The other challenge is that South Florida is very seasonal. Initially, I was so busy during the high season that I didn’t have time to plan for the downtime. Now that I understand when the lulls occur, I make alternative plans to keep revenue streaming in year round. It would have been better to anticipate this from the outset.
I’m currently exploring offering Pilates for musicians, since I understand all too well the postural challenges for people who play instruments like flute, violin or cello. Another area I’m contemplating is Pilates for student athletes, since I understand how to teach to that age group. Pilates has so much to offer so many people—I’m excited about the opportunities.