Jake Holmes, owner of Pilates United, could be your next boss.
First, tell me about your company.
I established Pilates United with Moji Austell in 1993. It’s a fitness studio. Our objective was to give our clients exactly what they wanted and needed in the way of personal training. Today we have two studios, in La Jolla and Middletown, and we’re planning a third for 2013.
How did you get started in this business?
After college I struggled in the corporate world for a while but found myself poorly equipped for that life. So Moji and I (we were married at the time) decided to start our own business. We didn’t have much money so we restricted our choices to businesses we could start with less than 10K. We interviewed several couples who owned businesses together. We discovered that the couples who seemed happiest were in businesses that they were passionate about. We chose the fitness industry.
I have always been an athlete. I wrestled in school and did body building, triathlons and marathons in the Navy and throughout my twenties. Moji was also accomplished in running and weight training. We found out about Pilates when she injured her knee on a training run. My sister, a professional dancer and choreographer in LA, told us to check out this new thing a lot of the dancers were doing — Pilates. We tried it once and we were hooked.
We spent the next year traveling to different studios around the country and spent about every dollar we had learning from different instructors. At the time there was no real training or certifications available. Eventually we opened a tiny studio with one piece of equipment in a 10’x14’ room in a La Jolla health club.
Today we’re still partners but married to other people and are even more passionate about what we do than when we started. As a side note, although thousands of people have come through our doors both Moji and I still have each of our first clients.
What are the backgrounds of your employees? Are they new to the field? Long-timers?
We’ve had several trainers through the years, all from different backgrounds. Rarely do they have professional fitness backgrounds, but they’ve all had a passion for it. Some have come to us already trained but the most successful ones we’ve trained ourselves. We have four long time trainers. We also have a few newer trainers who are also amazing.
We’ve had several trainers start out with us and then leave in order to open their own studios. We’re very proud of that.
Are you looking for more trainers?
We’re always looking for trainers. In the last few years there simply haven’t been many Pilates trainers to choose from - at least not the type we want or need. Most Pilates trainers in the industry today are super dedicated to the traditional method as established by Joseph Pilates over 80 years ago which was geared for rehabilitation. Joseph’s clientele were dancers and other performers who were recovering from injuries. Today, those people go to physical therapists who are well trained for that type of work.
Our clients simply want to look and feel their best as easily and quickly as possible. We’re in the body sculpting business and we’ve had to adapt the original method and create new exercises (still based solidly on Joseph’s principles) in order to best serve them, so we need instructors who are willing to step outside the Pilates tradition and put the needs and desires of their client first. (We’ve had a number of professional and Olympic athletes come to us for flexibility and performance enhancement and we are very good at that, but the bulk of our business is body sculpting.)
We offer internships that take from 3 to 9 months to complete. What makes our program different from most others is that we do most of the training one on one or in small groups.
Let’s say I’m an experienced Pilates instructor looking for employment. What do you offer as far as wages, benefits, etc?
This Pilates industry operates like the beauty industry. Most studios have independent contractors, and each instructor runs their own business – working as much or as little as they like. They pay a monthly rent like a hairdresser rents a chair. Some of our trainers teach the group classes and we pay them for those but otherwise their clients pay them directly. In San Diego, the average billing rate for personal training in Pilates ranges from $55 - $75 per hour-long session.
So, tell me about these internships. How do they work?
Internships are fun, I love training new trainers. We spend a lot of time in one-on-one or small group sessions; meticulously going over each exercise in great detail. Required reading includes some Pilates and fitness oriented material as well a few books outside the industry. They also learn skeletal and muscular anatomy. Each intern has access to both studios and is expected to workout on their own to perfect their technique. The last section of the internship is spent observing and assisting other trainers and learning sound business principles and strategies that will help them be successful.
Ok, so let’s say I’m an amateur Pilates lover interested in pursuing a career as an instructor. What are the first steps I’d need to take before coming to you as an intern?
Your first step is to schedule an interview with me. Our program isn’t right for everyone and we won’t know if it’s a fit until we get to know each other a bit.
What kind of person would you say is best suited for this type of work?
This is a people business so you have to love people - all kinds of people. I can teach almost anyone to do this, but the truly great instructors are those who have a passion and an instinct for it.
Do you have any last bits of advice you’d give to someone who might come to you looking for work?
If you’re right for this business you already know it.