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Growing the Pilates Market

Ken Endelman, CEO and owner of Balanced Body Inc., provided leadership and built community at critical points in the evolution of Pilates.

Ken Endelman has not taught a single class in his 37-year Pilates career, but the Pilates world would not be the same without his leadership and contributions. In 1976, when Endelman was working as a furniture designer and craftsman in Los Angeles, a prospective client asked him to build a reformer—something with which he was completely unfamiliar. This stimulated the start of his company, Balanced Body Inc., headquartered in Sacramento, California.

How did you get involved with the Pilates trademark issue?

In the 1990s, Sean Gallagher asserted that he owned a trademark for “Pilates” and began issuing letters to Pilates practitioners threatening litigation if they used the word Pilates to describe their business unless they paid him a licensing fee and/or obtained certification through his program. This artificially constricted the industry, because legitimate instructors and studio owners could no longer advertise their services. Most were small-business owners without the means to fight back legally. Then, Gallagher came after my business. I decided it was time to take an official stand, and I put my resources into challenging him.

We also helped to organize a class action suit, which was critically important. The case took over 4 years to complete, and during that time only those who had joined the suit could freely market their services as Pilates training. In 2000, Judge Cedarbaum of the U.S. District Court ruled that the Pilates trademarks were not valid and that the term Pilates is generic and describes a particular method of exercise. This finally opened up the possibility for Pilates to spread among consumers, as it naturally should have done all along.

Besides taking a stand with the lawsuit, how have you seen your role in the Pilates community?

We’re a source for building the Pilates community, which has always been diverse—and we support that. Before the lawsuit, we were the first company to maintain and publish a Pilates studio finder. After the lawsuit began, we became an information clearinghouse. Instructors and studio owners contacted us to find out what was going on and to learn how to become involved.

From that, we built a huge database of Pilates professionals. Both during and after the lawsuit, I saw a need to continue building and uniting this community. In addition to improving and expanding our equipment offerings, we started to offer education. We created the Pilates on Tour® program in 2004, and our instructor-training program began in 2005. Our education program welcomes master trainers from every Pilates school—trainers who reflect the styles of Ron Fletcher, Romana Kryzanowska, Eve Gentry and Cathy Grant, and many others who continue to help the Pilates method evolve. We respect and welcome everyone.

From your perspective, how is Pilates growing?

In the very beginning, I thought that the bottom would fall out of the Pilates market. By the 1990s, I had dedicated my entire business to Pilates. Each year, sales have surpassed the prior year; this hasn’t stopped. Not only is it growing internationally; it’s also continuing to expand throughout the United States. We started with one employee—me. Now we have 111 employees, and we’ve just moved into a 125,000-square-foot facility. Balanced Body has grown 12% per year since 2009; we now sell to over 100 countries.

Recently, we’ve been seeing more small studios, especially in the South. Europe and Israel continue to grow steadily. Pilates is also very popular in Turkey. Demographics are on our side. As the population ages, people are realizing that Pilates can be the perfect fit for them. And as instructors continue to deliver top-quality, individualized service, this interest will keep growing. I’m also excited about the number of people in colleges now taking Pilates.

You have met so many Pilates professionals and have trained personally with the best. What qualities have you seen consistently among those who are most successful?

Passion is key. A passionate instructor who loves what he or she is doing and who genuinely cares about giving each client the best possible experience is hands down the most successful in this business. And, if the studio isn’t run by an owner/operator, then whoever is in charge [of the program] must have that passion.

High-quality instruction is also important. Pilates is a discipline that requires time and training. The best instructors pay attention to subtle details, modify programs for each individual and care about clients making progress. I think high-quality instruction is what sets Pilates apart from so many other fitness activities and is the main reason for its growth.

Cleanliness is another aspect of success. Every successful studio I have ever been in is not only spotless—it also smells clean. Not perfumed, but simply clean, because it is clean. And this goes back to the same attention to detail. It’s about delivering the best client experience possible on every level. That’s what sets the best professionals apart in this business.

Do you have any last thoughts about what is important for the continued, successful growth of Pilates?

Pilates instructors need to support one another. There are many different ways to practice Pilates, and that sometimes leads to arguments and misinformation about “who is doing it the right way.” Instead of embellishing [on stories of] people getting injured by others who are not doing it “properly,” Pilates pros should focus on giving each client a great experience and sharing that there are a variety of styles and approaches within the Pilates community. To consumers, it is all one Pilates market. Instructors should educate clients and encourage them to work with the teacher who best suits their individual needs.

Pilates teachers should try to build up the reputation of Pilates overall. Remember—we are one community. Believing this will help us grow. Let’s unite and stop the infighting. This will make a huge difference.

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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