By Nicole Rogers
Owning your own business is a tough job. Most Pilates professionals know this because they’ve had some experience going into business for themselves. Freelancers, studio owners, and people who teach from their homes can all share stories about the joys and challenges of being your own boss.
So what happens when your partner in business is also your partner in life? With Valentine’s Day just around the corner, we thought it would be a great time to look into these Pilates-studio romances. We found three couples willing to open up and share the ins and outs of being in the ultimate Pilates partnership.
Husband and wife studio owners Nicole Dooley Collet and Chris Collet met as actors playing—what else?— husband and wife on an episode of Silk Stalkings in 1998. After becoming Pilates instructors, they became co-owners of The Pilates Boutique, in picturesque Carroll Gardens, Brooklyn. Nicole had been taking Pilates classes for years, and completed a certification at Power Pilates in New York. Chris’s office happened to be in the very same building, one floor up. “He started taking class during his lunch break, and really loved it,” Nicole says. “We opened the studio and then Chris got downsized, so he certified as well and it became our full-time gig.”
For the Collets, the highlight of owning a Pilates studio together is being their own boss. They get to make their own schedules, and have built-in time to spend with their young son as he grows up. “Oddly enough, it sometimes doesn’t feel like we work together, says Chris. “Our shifts are built around one of us teaching at the studio and the other one taking care of our son, Julien…. That was the idea when we first opened the studio, and losing my day job just accelerated the pace of our eventual plan.”
A major drawback, he says, is the tendency to take the office home with you at the end of the day. Nicole agrees, adding, “If something needs doing, chances are you’ll be doing it. The scheduling balancing act can be a headache too, especially if you’re trying to get out of town and need to cover all your shifts.”
The Collets encourage other couples thinking of starting a studio together to go for it. “The bond we’ve built with our clients is also very fulfilling. Even in today’s tough economic climate, we feel we’ve created a small home away from home for our clients, and that’s a great feeling,” says Chris. He offers one caveat though: “Keep your sense of humor at hand. Opening a new business can be a roller coaster ride especially if it’s with your significant other. That being said, I don’t think there’s a “secret” to success… Understand that this is always going to be a work in progress and there’s always room for improvement.”
Tanya and Jade Winter, who own Studio Pilates in Brisbane, Australia, met as competitive swimmers in high school. They lived in different towns and only saw each other at swim meets, both competing in the breaststroke. “I guess you could call it a chlorine romance,” Jade jokes. Tanya went on to compete at a national level, and Jade made the Australian Olympic Team in 1996. Both had done Pilates cross-training as athletes. In fact, Jade says he performed the best in his swimming career when he was doing Pilates. After their swim careers, Tanya completed a physiotherapy degree, and Jade became a personal trainer. They were both still passionate about health and fitness, and Tanya found that teaching her patients Pilates exercises was helpful in getting them strong and stable enough to be functional. Jade had begun to feel the restrictions of gym equipment, particularly for clients with injuries. They both began teaching Pilates, and as Jade puts it, “have gone from strength to strength since.”
Opportunity brought the couple to the decision to open Studio Pilates together. It was the right space and the right time, so they went for it. “We started our business on our credit cards and backed ourselves—not advised by the way,” Jade wrote in an email. “We focused on making sure every client had a good workout every time they came in and we helped to get any injured people pain free fast so they could enjoy the workout benefits of Pilates.” The gamble and their hard work paid off. Eight-and-a-half years later their company covers instructor training, DVDs, and retail products. They are now working on franchising their studio model globally.
Tanya says that while some couples grow apart, working together toward a common goal has made her and her husband grow closer together. “We have fun. If we had different jobs we wouldn’t get to see each other anywhere near as much as we do,” she says. Jade adds, “In the early years we were a two-man show and when you came home from instructing your behind off almost every hour from 6 a.m. until 8:30 p.m. you knew what the other person was feeling because they had just done the same thing, standing right beside you. It would have created a lot of problems if one person had been doing a 9 to 5 office job, as they wouldn’t have understood.”
The Winters find few drawbacks to their arrangement, though Tanya did say that it takes effort to make sure that life isn’t all about work. They have to create boundaries, or they could easily end up talking about work all the time.
Anyone thinking of starting a studio with their partner should first find out if you work well together and if you can spend large amounts of time together peacefully, the Winters advise. It’s also important to know each other’s strengths; just because you are a great instructor doesn’t mean you will be a great business owner. “Let’s not kid ourselves here—a Pilates studio is a business,” Jade says.“We all love helping people, we love instructing and teaching Pilates, but it is still a business at the end of the day and the definition of a business is a profitable commercial enterprise.” Don’t be afraid of getting professional help along the way and to acquire the knowledge, business training, and professional development you need to generate your own success, Jade advises.
Earlier this month, Matt and Carrie McCulloch took me on a tour of their bustling (but relaxed) Manhattan studio, Kinected. They are hands-on and immersed in their growing business, much like the other couples. Yet in many ways, it was Pilates that brought them together (though the phrase makes them cringe).
Carrie, who is currently completing an internship in internal medicine, was Matt’s student in a Stott certification course. She was entering medical school at the time and thought Pilates education would be a nice complement to her work. Little did she know it would lead her to her future husband. “She was just one of those individuals who asked a lot of questions about everything, and always had the answer,” says Matt. “There were two things going on simultaneously,” says Carrie, “the chemistry of our relationship and the chemistry of our shared professional life.” They found they shared a passion for movement, anatomy and healing.
“As a ploy to get us out on our first date, I tried to get Matt into the gross anatomy lab at Mount Sinai [medical school],” Carrie admits. “And actually, Matt met the director of anatomy and that’s where the whole idea for the FAMI Workshop started,” she says. Kinected’s web site describes FAMI (an acronym for “Functional Anatomy for Movement and Injuries”) as designed to bridge the gap between movement and medicine.
Soon after launching FAMI, the opportunity arose to buy into and renovate an existing business. It felt like the right thing to do. “Our skill sets really complement one another,” Matt says. Carrie likes spreadsheets, setting up operations and covering the details while Matt enjoys managing people and wants to be able to teach a lot. They say they also overlap in many ways, especially creatively. “[Another] big commitment for both of us is to create the kind of environment that is nurturing not only for clientele, but also for teachers,” he says.
According to Matt, the most important components of owning a business with your spouse are respect and support. “It doesn’t matter if one person is doing all admin and the other person is doing all teaching. You really have to respect what that other person is doing, and how valuable it is to the business,” he says. “If that doesn’t happen, there is an imbalance that doesn’t work. One person feels like they are working for the other.”
Though they admit to having had a few “knock-down drag-outs,” Carrie, like other coupled-off studio owners, finds little fault with the scenario. “You search all your life for someone to be your husband or your wife. Then you find that person, and for most people, the current structure of society is that you really don’t spend the majority of your time with them. [Matt and I] get to be together the majority of the day, and that’s pretty lucky,” she says.
All of these couples showed a great amount of love and respect for their partner, not to mention a great sense of humor. Even though business has the potential to put strain on a marriage or partnership, the benefits of working together clearly outweigh the difficulties. After all, don’t forget that Joe and Clara worked together for 30 years!
Nicole Rogers is a Pilates instructor and writer. She lives in Brooklyn, New York.
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