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Is Opening a Studio Worth It?

As a Gyrotonic® Master Trainer and Pilates Instructor Trainer I’ve had many discussions over the years with new and experienced trainers in which they tell me their dreams of opening a studio of their own. I’ve also had many friends and colleagues who are studio owners confess their insecurities, frustrations, and also share their stories of successes.

I had a studio for 15 years, at one time I had two, and have seen ups and downs, joys and turmoils. Closing my studio at the end of 2013 was an immense weight lifted from my shoulders. I thought I’d feel some sadness around it, but it was clear that chapter of my life had come to a natural ending. When I closed it I could see shrugging all that off was freeing me to focus on the aspect of my work that was most important to me, which is teaching.

When a trainer asks me whether or not to open a studio, or to expand an existing one, I can’t honestly answer that for someone else. I can only pose the following questions and ideas and hopefully their own responses will lead them to a decision that’s right for that particular person.

How do you imagine your studio?

A studio can be anything from a large, fully equipped space, offering multiple modalities, employing a dozen or more people with a reception staff, and a a juice bar, to a spare bedroom in your home with a single piece of equipment. Or it can be anything in between those two extremes.

Often times I find trainers picture the studio where they’ve done their teacher training, or one that’s hired them to train clients, and that hold that up as the image of what a studio “should” be. But this scale isn’t right for everyone. If you’re planning to create a studio of your own it should be the studio that fits your lifestyle, strengths, and personality. It certainly doesn’t need to be the biggest studio in order to be the best studio you could create.

What are your strengths? And why did you choose the path of becoming a trainer?

If you are terrible with keeping up with emails, overwhelmed by spreadsheets, dread interpersonal confrontation, and if you like a lot of leisure time, running a midsized to large studio might be outside your comfort zone.

But if you thrive off networking, love being in a managerial role, and get a buzz off of being in constant communication with others, maybe it’s something you could consider taking on.

Be aware, if teaching is your sole passion, running a studio will cut into the time, energy, and resources you have to work with clients or pursue continuing education for yourself. In this case working for a studio that provides you with your basic studio needs, or setting up a little home studio for yourself may be a better option.

Another approach is the collective style studio. In this model often times trainers will all chip in rent for the space as well as managing their own scheduling and billing. There are many ways to set up a collective arrangement, partly dependent on state employment laws and partly based on preferences of the trainers involved. There may be one person who takes a lead role in this set up, or a group of equally contributing trainers. Just be sure if you enter into an arrangement like this that you trust all the trainers involved, have clear expectations, and have a written agreement.

How much time can you invest?

If you’re a parent to a young child or have other family obligations, health concerns, outside hobbies that take a lot of your free time, or certainly if you have another job you can’t leave, you might want to consider keeping your vision scaled down to fit your life. This might mean renting space from a small studio, setting up a little basement studio in your house, or continuing to work as an employee for a studio. If you’re single, or have a very undemanding partner, have few family obligations, and are ready to leave your current job, then you might be in a great position to take on opening a bigger studio.

How much money can you invest?

I personally started my studio in my apartment with $2000 I borrowed from my dad to buy a used reformer, and then just added piece by piece as I grew, until I had a studio full of equipment and had to move to an even bigger studio.

But if you want to have a fully equipped studio with a good few trainers from day one you’ll have to have a sizable amount of cash for that. There’s the equipment, studio rent, insurance, small equipment and props, web design, utilities, studio software (I hear Mind-Body Online is running $200 a month or more now for some studios), toilet paper, light bulbs, business taxes, etc. Will you be hiring a payroll service? Maybe you’ll need to hire an accountant. Will you give out little holiday gifts to clients? Will you print T-shirts or swag? Will you offer retail items? All of these have costs that might be bigger than a lot of trainers imagine.

What are you financial expectations?

If you’re going into the Mind-body fitness studio business to make your millions you’d better have a good re-think about that. While I do know some studio owners who are making a fairly comfortable living, I haven’t met any who are really raking it in. It definitely helps if when starting out you’re not counting on studio profits as your primary income to support a family.

The primary issue with the typical studio model is that what we do takes a good bit of square footage, which costs a lot of money. We also need to be in areas accessible to people who can afford our rates, often meaning higher rents. Plus trainers need to be paid an attractive enough wage to come work for you, and to stay working for you. So the percentage of the total fee the client pays for a session that the studio actually gets to keep as profit ends up being pretty low. So this means you either need a large volume of clients coming through (which adds more costs in terms of managing people and scheduling, as well as wear and tear on the equipment and studio furnishings), or you need to bump the price per session up high enough to make a bigger profit margin. But then you’re potentially pricing out a lot of clientele.

Because private sessions and smaller group classes are pricey, a lot of studios tend to present a luxurious front to appeal to the clientele that can afford these types of services. There may be live orchids, and trays of organic lotions available for clients to use, and possibly some expensive retail products displayed alluringly, all creating a sense of indulgence and affluence. Trainers, or students going through teacher training, may see this high end presentation and assume that it reflects the bank account of the studio owner. But that’s probably not an accurate picture of the revenue the studio is actually generating.

It’s important to make any decision about opening a studio, or about what scale of studio to take on, with a clear understanding of the challenges of studio finances.

How long do you want to do this?

Often times I see trainers get really inspired and excited about creating and building a studio business. They love making their business plan, designing a logo and website, picking paint colors, ordering equipment and setting it up, and walking through IKEA picking out their shelving. But there’s a big difference in how it feels to create a studio and how it feels to run a studio. Every day. For years. That can get tedious. And it’s not terribly glamorous work. I remember getting a call at 9pm on a Sunday night that someone was locked out of the studio and had booked a client at that insane hour. Guess who was responsible for changing out of her pajamas and driving to the studio to open the door? That kind of stuff happened all the time.

Once you start hiring people you become responsible for their livelihoods. You can’t ask people to base their career decisions on you providing a consistent teaching space for them and then suddenly close up shop one day because you’re tired of it. Well, you can, but it’s not really an ethical thing to do.

There are lots of other considerations as well, such as is there a market for this where you want to set up? You’ll need to make a business plan. Are there enough skilled trainers in your area, and if not how will you get them? Is your local market saturated with a particular type of studio? What will you do to be different or the best? Or at least the best option for enough people to come to your studio over the other choices.

In my teaching career I started working for a big studio, worked out of my apartment for awhile, ran a collective style studio for awhile, transitioned that studio into a bigger business with employees, a studio manager, administrative help, and interns, and a second location, and now I teach once again out of a larger studio that I don’t own. I plan when I retire to continue teaching part time out of a home studio.

Working out in my studio, The Movement Center, before scaling back

I’m satisfied that through these varied experiences I’ve found what’s the right fit for me. That might be very different for you, or may change over the years as life evolves. While I can’t tell you what the right path is, I hope that these questions and ideas might shed enough light for you to make your best choice.

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