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Success Inside a Health Club

When Gayle Winegar introduced Pilates mat classes at her facility, she planted seeds for what would grow into a flourishing three-studio program.

Gayle Winegar, founder and owner of SweatShop Health Club in Saint Paul, Minnesota, sensed Pilates “would be big” in 1994 after her fitness director, Jill Winegar, took classes at Rancho La Puerta.

As it turns out, one of the SweatShop staff members, Molly Lynn, had trained with Joseph Pilates and was willing to lead mat classes. After this introduction, Winegar committed.

The SweatShop became affiliated with STOTT PILATES® in 1995. It is a 15,000-square-foot, independently owned, community-based, full-service health club, serving 70% women and 30% “really smart men.” It presently features a fully equipped 2,500-square-foot Pilates studio; a 200-square-foot overflow studio with trapeze table, reformer and chair; and a 2,000-square-foot mat class and yoga studio. Together the studios deliver 500 private sessions and 40 group and class sessions per month, in addition to professional teacher training.

How did you build the Pilates program?

After offering mat classes for about a year, we researched training and equipment and contacted STOTT PILATES. We paid for a portion of each staff member’s training, purchased one reformer and slotted mat classes in our aerobics studio during fitness downtimes. Since we were the first club in the metropolitan area to offer Pilates, people drove long distances to participate. Our fitness director started offering private reformer trainings, and classes grew. It became clear Pilates was going to change our business.

When did you create your dedicated Pilates studio?

In 1998, we converted a 2,500-square-foot circuit training room into our main Pilates studio. By that point we had acquired more reformers to meet training demand and had significant mat class numbers. We became a STOTT PILATES licensed training center, having invested in professional staff training for our employees from the outset. Others then came to our facility for education. We added barrels and chairs to accommodate growing interest.

What equipment do you have today?

We have eight reformers with cardio tramps and jump boards; all but one have towers. We have an extended reformer for our big, tall guys–the basketball trainers. There are two trapeze tables, two barrels, four chairs and all the accessories. We offer group reformer and tower classes for eight people at a time. The equipment is rotated out every few years through sales to other fitness pros or to clients so that at least one of the newest, most improved versions of the reformer is always on-site.

What programs do you offer and who are your “typical” clients?

Mat classes and private or reformer training are really two separate groups. Privates range from $50 to $95 per session; semiprivates, groups or reformer classes are $23–$30 per session. The typical private training client is a busy executive or professional. Older adults also prefer private or semiprivate training. And men prefer one-on-one sessions with female trainers, with whom they do not feel a “need to compete.”

Group equipment classes are popular with people who started in private sessions but feel confident enough to do small-group trainings for the workout and social contact they offer. Mat classes draw working parents, 30-somethings, and those who are budget conscious, with more and more men coming. Mat classes are still female dominated, but we’re seeing more 20- and 30-year-olds who are more budget conscious, and Pilates is part of their fitness menu.

While mat classes generally do not “feed” private or semiprivate training, fitness and Pilates participants experience good crossover. Programming in each area is principle based. Both management and staff cross-promote those principles. Most trainers are certified in both fitness and Pilates and see value in both. Trainers share clients, and clients go back and forth.

We grow programs by offering beginner packages, and we keep things fresh by promoting new and different challenges. Every month we offer an eight-session beginning mat program in two time slots; that program brings in an average of 30 new people. (We’ve used Groupon® offers to build interest.) Our goal is to convert these people into fitness or Pilates members. A beginner group reformer package feeds equipment-based activities.

In the beginning, our business model—like that of most facilities—was fitness- and club membership–based. Now, the business model has shifted to being Pilates- and training-based. Private Pilates training generates the most revenue; group reformer classes are the fastest-growing. The recession popularized our group programs, but this was reflected more in fitness than Pilates. The private Pilates training business has remained steady even in the recession, and overall program growth continues.

How do you compensate and incentivize staff?

Our trainers are all employees and “true” Pilates professionals. Since our program is so large, most Pilates staff are close to full-time with both private and group clients and a mix of reformer and mat classes. Several staff members are master trainers who train other instructors. Compensation depends on the number of weekly training hours. If instructors train under 20 hours per week, it’s a base rate. If they average 21–30 hours, they receive 5% more; if they train over 31 hours, they receive 10% more.

What advice would you give to club owners who are considering installing a studio?

Invest in finding well-trained staff or commit to staff training. If you hire and train right, the interest is out there. You cannot use staff who had a weekend Pilates training and grow a program. You must invest in Pilates professionals who understand the lifelong, life-changing potential of Pilates.


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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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