Anna Alvarez, owner and director of Pilates Miami Shores, Miami Shores, Florida, and continuing education specialist for the Pilates Method Alliance® (PMA), first experienced Pilates as a ballet dancer, enjoying occasional mat work and reformer sessions. She then left the dance world, earned an MBA degree, pursued a corporate job (“not my thing at all”) and engaged in recreational sports, including marathons. From the corporate world she went on to earn her teaching certificate and became a secondary-education teacher. Her interest in Pilates was rekindled after a sports injury that required physical therapy. In rehab, she enjoyed the results and specificity of Pilates training; it took her back “to the days when [she] was dancing.” Alvarez did her initial teacher training with the PhysicalMind Institute® in Santa Fe, New Mexico, and her comprehensive teacher training came from Core Dynamics® Pilates and Michele Larsson.
What motivated you to open your own studio?
I was working at a local studio from 1998 to 2003—when not many studios were around. It was time to move on. Running a studio did not appeal to me, so I worked out of my house for a while until it got so busy that, in 2005, I looked into leasing a space. Some clients knew each other and requested to work out together. That is when I had the idea of offering reformer classes, in addition to private trainings, at my studio.
How would you describe your business?
I own my studio 100%. I lease the space. My original space was 758 square feet, and then I moved across the street and acquired 1,250 square feet. Unfortunately for me, both spaces were in terrible shape, so I spent my savings renovating. I could have opted for a more upgraded space, but I was not willing to be in a strip mall, where most updated units were.
My business is 50% private sessions and 50% classes. My rates are not outrageous—they’re in line with industry practice. Given my experience and number of years in the business, I could charge a higher fee for privates, but I choose not to. I enjoy being fair and consistent. Teacher training is not as profitable as everyone thinks, especially with a boutique-type program as small as mine. I predict that the small, boutique-type schools may not survive. Also, fewer people are entering teacher-training programs, due to the economy.
My instructors are independent contractors. They get paid an hourly rate based on their experience. When they teach a reformer class, they receive their usual rate or higher, depending on the number of students. I teach 23–25 privates per week and only two classes. After observing and training for a certain amount of hours, trainees can teach, but they receive a basic fee and clients can train with them at a reduced rate.
What would you say was your most costly business mistake?
When I started the business, I offered 20-class packs as an incentive to purchase more classes at a lower rate. The problem was that I didn’t enforce the expiration date. While the initial income was fantastic, the fact that clients were not around to use up the classes meant I spent the money and honored their classes when they decided to return. Not good for business—overhead remains and income suddenly drops.
Another mistake has been not putting time, energy and money into a website. Most people like to check out a place first before they actually go there. A website offers that and much more. It’s as important as the business card.
What would you say was your most lucrative business decision?
I added the credit card machine. Immediately I saw a 30% increase in income. Most people don’t think twice about using plastic over check or cash. Actually, it’s not [simply] lucrative; it’s a necessity. I should have done it earlier.
How would you describe the state of Pilates in the Miami community?
Miami is super-transient, with lots of young people who tend to go to gyms and strength train. Yoga is more popular than Pilates, but Miami does have Pilates devotees. People who fall in the 45–75 age range are pretty serious about Pilates. [Participants] under 40 come and go and are not very consistent, unless they’re pregnant.
Some studios are well established and have been around for more than 7 years. Many teachers work out of their homes. The number of studios is fairly stable; there doesn’t seem to be much growth. Some studios offer other services, such as Zumba®, dance, ballet and baby-sitting, but the “true experience” studios [offer] pure Pilates.
How did you get into teacher training and start reviewing continuing education programs?
I enjoyed the method and experienced its benefits. I wanted to pass on the work. I have been involved with the PMA since its inception. I review continuing education programs to make sure they meet PMA guidelines and are valuable from a continuing education perspective.
What makes a Pilates teacher a “good teacher”?
It’s really important to completely immerse yourself in studying and practicing the work. If you attend a comprehensive program that follows a set of guidelines, you can teach the work, though I believe you must also possess an instinct to teach. Also, an experienced mentor is critical and extremely beneficial.
What are the best aspects of owning your own business?
I make the decisions, and I don’t have to ask anyone else. I can work as hard or as little as I want. I’m happy where I am; I am very passionate about my work and feel blessed that I am able to do what I do. I still get excited when a client connects with an exercise or has an “epiphany” moment.