By Nicole Rogers
It’s been a little more than a year since Pilates-Pro.com reported on a Pilates collective forming in the San Francisco Bay Area in August 2008, but in that short span, something seems to have taken hold. Other regional collectives have surfaced across the country, and the Bay Area group—which quickly ballooned to the state level—is now taking its program national. These collectives were inspired by a desire to build Pilates community spirit or a local Pilates network, and some, on a more pragmatic level, organized for a shared business advantage. For all, the rewards of sharing information, comparing notes and pooling resources are only beginning. There is, after all, strength in numbers.
We were able to catch up with a few of these groups to bring you this update on grassroots-style Pilates organizing. Read on to find out what the various Pilates collectives are up to now.
Support for the Business of Pilates
The Bay Area Pilates Collective, now known as the United Pilates Collective, was one of the first to materialize. It started in 2008 when Tracey Sylvester and Nancy Myers, owners of EHS Pilates in San Francisco, thought to hold a mixer for Pilates studios in the Bay Area. “We invited trainers and studio owners within a 25 mile radius to chat about business, and it was immediately obvious that there was a need in the community for this kind of support network,” Sylvester says. She and Myers, as business owners, saw a need for studio owners and independent contractors to share information, such as where to find a lawyer who understood the Pilates business or where to get good liability insurance.
The organization quickly grew into a statewide California Pilates collective. As word of the meetings spread, Sylvester said, they began to receive calls from interested studios and trainers all over the country. Now, as the United Pilates Collective, they’re establishing a national organization focused on helping Pilates professionals thrive as business people. “Although similar groups have existed in the past and continue today, we were looking to provide a platform for both business and practice discussion and to create collective bargaining power for a group that had mostly worked alone,” Sylvester said. They’re hard at work on creating an umbrella organization for local and regional collectives that emerge across the U.S.
The UPC is now offering group health insurance plans on a national basis. In California, they’re offering several types of business insurance. They’ve organized liability, property insurance, and worker’s comp insurance for California members and are even offering a four-tiered liability plan for independent contractors that is specifically tailored to Pilates. They’re now finishing up negotiations for similar group rate structures in New York State, and plan to continue on a state-by-state basis.
The UPC offers two levels of membership: a free membership and pro membership. The pro membership costs $165 per year and allows access to group insurance rates and credit card processing rates, as well as different vendor discounts. Sylvester says they’d like to be able to offer discounts on goods and services from MindBody Online to Zipcar rentals to office supplies. They’ve recently updated their website to offer the free membership, which is for anyone involved in the Pilates community who wishes to join.
The UPC is still in a “soft launch” phase at the national level, according to Sylvester. They’re working on building up a chapter in the Midwest, and eyeballing late January 2010 “to really get everything going.” Currently, there are 300 people nationwide on the collective’s e-mail list who have been to at least one meeting. By mandate, each chapter holds a meeting every two months. “We need to help keep the [studio] doors open instead of just thinking of each other as competition…. We need to be good solid business owners,” Sylvester says. Visit www.unitedpilatescollective.com to learn more. (Much of the information on the site is still not available until one becomes a member.)
New York City
In New York, studio owner Michelle Fama brought a group together after reading Pilates-Pro’s post about the Bay Area collective. With the cooperation of Alycea Ungaro of Real Pilates, Fama and Kim Villanueva, her Core Pilates NYC business partner, sent out an e-mail for their first meeting in October of 2008. Since then they have joined the United Pilates Collective as the New York branch.
The New York collective has met steadily every other month over the course of the past year, and each meeting has focused on a central theme, with a relevant guest speaker. Themes have included the economy, the payoff (or lack thereof) of in-studio retail, and marketing and public relations. They held a session on utilizing technology, featuring MindBody Online executives. In addition, Nancy Myers from the San Francisco organization flew in for one meeting, to talk about the collective movement and how to organize on a local level. “We all felt there was nothing dealing with local/regional issues of entrepreneurship, and that there was a need for it,” Fama says. “We need to have the freedom to call each other on questions of software, or pay rates, for instance.”
Fama says that some issues are very specific to the New York community. “New York is a unique market and requires a unique dialogue on marketing, clientele, personalities, real estate, the effect of the financial downturn, new business opportunities, etc.,” she wrote in an e-mail. “As a result of the collective, we’ve been able to share ideas, ask questions…inform and innovate—all with a friendly eye toward our respective successes.”
Like the other collectives, Fama and Villanueva assert the need for a harmonious community, free of “exclusivity and division.” The New York City group has a policy of holding meetings at different studios, so they can all become familiar with their fellow colleagues’ establishments. They’ve even discussed creating a “passport package” that would allow clients to use sessions at various studios throughout the city, which would allow for business and profit share in tough times.
“These ideas and more would have never been possible before with the negativity that existed. It’s a new market, a new economy and we are so pleased that the collective is fostering a new way of thinking and growing ideas together,” says Fama. For more information on the New York collective, contact Fama at Core Pilates NYC, at (212) 260-5464 or email@example.com.
Meanwhile, in Arizona, studio owners Kyria Sabin of Body Works, and Katrina Foe of Personalized Pilates, were seeking a sense of professional community, and launched the Arizona Pilates Alliance in 2007, along with a few other Pilates notables in the region. The founders felt that the Pilates environment at the time held an undercurrent of fear and unspoken competition. Thus the mandate of the Arizona Pilates Alliance is a non-competitive environment for networking and learning. They are very conscious, Sabin says, of “keeping the politics out of it.” Each meeting is held at a neutral location, such as a conference center, to avoid favoring a particular studio, or style of Pilates.
Meetings are annual, and each has a theme. The first theme was BYOB (Bring Your Own Barrel), and the second meeting paired teachers with different training backgrounds (for example a Fletcher person and a Kryzanowska person) to teach the same exercise at various stations around the room. The focus of the Arizona Pilates Alliance is unity and learning, but naturally, Sabin says, “business opportunities come out of simply putting people together.” The Alliance has laid a strong foundation for such opportunities with 50 to 60 people from all over Arizona attending each meeting over the course of the last three years. The next meeting is May 8, 2010. Visit the Arizona Pilates Alliance’s Facebook page for updates and further information.
Jennifer Balboni, owner of Joy of Movement Pilates and Gyrotonic Studio, was lucky enough to have a working model to begin with. She brought the collective idea home to her own community, when she set up the Monterey Bay Pilates Collective in December of 2008 after attending a Bay Area collective meeting. Monterey Bay’s goal, she says, is “to create community, learn from each other, share information and marketing ideas and generally create a supportive network of like-minded business professionals.”
Balboni says the benefits of the collective have already been significant—a sense of community has been fostered, and her business has gotten a boost. Balboni has given and received several referrals as a direct result of the collective; now that instructors from different studios know one another, they can refer clients. She has also found new teachers for her studio through the collective. The MBPC’s next meeting will be Saturday, January 16th, 2010, 3 to 4:30pm at Joy of Movement Pilates and Gyrotonic Studio, 8035 Soquel Drive #31 in Aptos. Please RSVP by e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org or phone (831) 688-8077.
Know of a collective we didn’t cover? Post a comment below and share! Wish there were a collective in your area? Start one of your own or e-mail email@example.com to find out more about working with the United Pilates Collective.
Nicole Rogers is a Pilates instructor and writer. She lives in Brooklyn, New York.
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