On a scale from “free” to “must give up daily green juice to afford,” Pilates reformer workouts generally fall on the more expensive end of the spectrum. (Blame the high equipment cost and small class sizes.)
But SoCal-based fitness franchise Club Pilates has built a name for itself by offering exactly the opposite: affordable classes (gasp!) that also boast lots of personal attention from ultra-educated instructors.
Yeah, it’s a pretty sweet deal, and I’m not the only one who thinks so—the demand is so great that new studios are opening at an unheard-of rate across the US to meet it.
Consider this: With 65 locations, Club Pilates now the largest Pilates franchise in the US—and by the end of 2016, it plans to more than double that number, with 150 in 370 territories. A foray into New York City is also in the works.
The brand doesn’t plan on stopping until it reaches Starbucks-level status. (Or shall I say OrangeTheory– or F45-level status—two other fitness franchises that are currently on fire, although both are HIIT-focused.) “We want people not to ask ‘Where do you do Pilates?’ but ‘Which Club Pilates do you go to?’” says Vanessa Huffman, the brand’s director of education. “We want to be everywhere.”
How it all started
When popular San Diego instructor Allison Beardsley launched the first Club Pilates studio circa 2007, the nation was on the brink of economic collapse—and while some fitness entrepreneurs might see that as, um, a minor red flag, she saw an opportunity.
“At that time, people were unable to afford the high-priced, private Pilates studio experience,” recalls Huffman. “But because of Groupon and all the social media discounts that were starting to ramp up, Allison was able to offer classes for as low as $7.” (In other words, she made a play on volume—serving lots of students at a low rate in hopes that they’d convert to paying clients later, rather than a few students at a high one.)
Obviously, this approach doesn’t translate into repeat clients for all fitness studios (just ask ClassPass), but in Club Pilates’ case, it did. “We had about an 86 percent retention rate with our Groupon clients,” says Huffman. “Most of them would stay on and become full-price members.”
To this day, class prices at Club Pilates are still Millennial-friendly and well below those of its competitors—Huffman says a monthly unlimited membership costs $135 on average (similar Pilates studios in New York and Los Angeles often charge upwards of $200 a month for unlimited workouts.)
The brand also attracted a faithful following for its well-rounded workouts, some of which include a mash-up of Pilates—each 12-person studio uses Balanced Body reformers, springboards, and EXO chairs—with barre, TRX, and recovery. “We want a client who’s going to 10 different places to be able to find everything at our studios,” says Huffman.
Join the club
By the time 2015 rolled around, Beardsley oversaw about 30 Club Pilates locations, most of which were franchises. But the brand’s growth spurt kicked into overdrive in spring of last year, when LA Boxing franchise founder Anthony Geisler purchased the company. (Beardsley’s title has since changed to director of education and culture.) It may seem like an unlikely match-up, but Joseph Pilates himself was a boxer.
Since then, the brand has undergone its biggest growth spurt yet, pulling away from the Pilates pack. With 65 outposts, it’s much larger than its closest competitors, IM=X (with just over 30 locations nationwide) and WundaBar, which boasts nine (mostly in California).
Plus, Club Pilates is beta-testing a partnership with LA Fitness, opening a Pilates studio recently inside the megagym’s Irvine, CA, location. (And considering LA Fitness’ 600-plus clubs, it’d be a pretty big deal if this were to launch on a larger scale.)
And Huffman says she’s already thinking internationally. “I’ve had people come to me saying they wanted to open a Club Pilates in Rome, China….It’s exciting.”
Given how successful other boutique fitness franchises have become in recent years—Pure Barre now has well over 300 locations, while OrangeTheory proclaimed that it’d be opening a new studio every day in 2016—there’s no reason to believe that Club Pilates isn’t primed to garner the same kind of success in the world of planks and pikes.
If you want to get your Pilates skills polished at home before trying out a studio, grab a few paper plates (yes, really) and try these moves. And, hey, while you’re at it, treat yourself to some foam roller love.