The low-cost, multi-location, 225+ members Fitness Business Model — that works anywhere! (Part 1) (Interview with Louise Clancy)

Highlights from the interview

[15:38] – How she went against the traditional idea of opening a leased fitness studio space, and instead grew her business by renting multiple different locations at a low cost

[26:40] – The one change she made, that supercharged her growing to 60 recurring clients per month with just 5 classes per week

[30:35] – The exact phrasing she started using to target her pilates customers that has consistently increased her membership

[34:07] – What she does to retain top trainers who can work well working remote and unsupervised


About our Guest

The huge thing that happened to her that made her quit her job at a fancy investment firm

I am so excited because today I’m talking with Louise Clancy who lives in North Wales, United Kingdom, where she operates a successful pilates business and an online coaching business for other fitness professionals. 

Louise is originally from Australia. She has worked in London for many years in the corporate world, but always had a passion for the health and fitness industry. Then, something happened. 

In 2016, she had a baby. She was working in the corporate world, and was just not able to see her newborn baby. Louise made that decision, “Why don’t I quit my corporate job and start my own fitness business, particularly in pilates?”

So, she quit her job and started teaching. But, the thing is she was the main breadwinner for her family, and she had two mortgages and a small child. At about £60 for each class, one class a week was not enough. 

You know what she did? She took a leap of faith and found the money to get one of those expensive coaches. From there, her mindset and strategies grew. Then, she was able to really grow her business and support her family. 

What’s interesting now is that she actually has become a coach herself and teaches other professional fitness studio owners on how to grow their business, so they also can provide for their family and have a little bit more relaxation time for themselves.


Edited transcription of Fitness Business Secrets Podcast, Episode 20

How her husband reacted after she told him she quit the corporate world and was starting a pilates business (with no background in running a gym)

Kristy: I’m so excited to have Louise on the show. Louise, how are you doing in the United Kingdom today? 

Louise: I’m doing very well. Thank you for having me, Kristy. 

Kristy: It’s my pleasure. What an amazing story and turnaround. I would like to just know a little bit more about you regarding what you were doing in the corporate world. 

To me, it’s always such a brave move to quit that corporate paycheck while you have a child, kind of like a midlife career change. What were you doing? What were you thinking and feeling at that time to give you the courage to make the change? 

Louise: Basically, I was working at an investment firm. Essentially, I was a personal assistant to the main CEO and so forth. It was a lot of fun, but I wasn’t truly passionate about it. 

I had worked in the health and fitness industry pretty much since the age of 16. I was doing various classes, working in the gym, and even a bit of gymnastics coaching. So, I really had a passion for that and I’d kept it up.

I’d still taught a few classes on the side, but once we had our little girl, my priorities changed. I wanted to be around and be a really great hands on mom, and I couldn’t do that working in that investment firm. It just didn’t work that way. I guess I wanted to be in control of my life a little bit more.

Kristy: That makes a lot of sense and I hear that. What was your plan when you decided to quit and tell your husband that you were going to start this fitness business? Were you going to start a studio? Were you going to just teach one-on-ones?

Louise: Great question. There’s a really funny bit to that because I was dreading telling my husband. Here in the UK, we have a lot of pubs. So, I took him down to the pub and I put a beer in front of him and I said, “I’ve quit my job. I am going to start a pilates business.”

He went, “Okay, Lou.” I think he needed a second beer after that.

It was a really important thing, and I just said to him, “I want you to trust me that I am so passionate that I can run a pilates business and love it. I really want to help people with pilates, provide for our family, and still have a really good life. I want you to trust me.”

And, he did. 

Kristy: That’s good. It sounds like you guys are still together. 

Louise: Yeah. It all worked out, but you know what? It was a real leap of faith and it was a really scary time because you had to really believe in yourself. 

Kristy: It sounds that way. What year was this? 

Louise: This was in 2016.  

Kristy: And, how old was your daughter at the time? 

Louise: She was two years old. 


How she went against the traditional idea of opening a leased fitness studio space, and instead grew her business by renting multiple different locations at a low cost

[15:38] – Kristy: So, what was your plan at this point? Were you looking at maybe opening a franchise?

Since I know you hadn’t run a studio and that’s what a lot of us do. We start looking at franchises, lease space, and all these things.

What were your thoughts since you hadn’t actually run a fitness studio where you can be confident that it’ll be successful?

Louise: I live sort of in the countryside of North Wales, so it’s not a big city in the area that we live in. There are a lot of small villages and there wasn’t much available to people around here, in terms of pilates or any form of fitness. 

So, I had an idea that if I ran classes by hiring local halls like a village or church hall, or maybe hiring a space in a local school, it could be really accessible for people in the area. 

I really honestly believed that that was a great way of doing it, and I wanted to give it a try. That’s the route I went down, rather than just opening a studio on the main street of one village. I wanted to reach out and be able to allow lots of people to access my classes.

Kristy: Did you think to look into opening a retail studio at some point? What did you think?

Louise: I did. I went down that road probably about a year after I started doing the classes just in the local villages, and I was this close. I’d found the space in the main street of one of the villages. Then, I sort of added up the numbers, and the overheads just didn’t work.

It was too expensive. It also didn’t allow me to reach out to as many people as I wanted because it was just based in that one area. So, I was glad I explored that option, but for me and my business, It didn’t work. It wasn’t in alignment with where I wanted to go with the business. 

Kristy: I like that you said that because I think it’s really interesting to remind a lot of us as trainers or fitness entrepreneurs that we always feel like the next thing up is that lease space because it seems so prestigious. 

Like, “Oh, no. I have this space.” Then, the prestige gets in the way of, “Does it add up for your life and are you going to make enough money?” And, it could if it’s the right space, but lots of times from what I’m seeing, it doesn’t. So, I am glad you’re bringing up a different model. 

You have these classes going in these remote locations. Was it successful? Were you making enough money for your mortgages and family?

I had more and more people responding to my marketing, and they were interested. I just started opening up at new locations in different villages. 

Louise: Yeah. In the beginning, I just started with one class, and as I sort of got my mindset, my marketing, and my packaging, it gradually grew. I had more and more people responding to my marketing, and they were interested. I just started opening up at new locations in different villages. 

As that grew, I couldn’t do it all by myself anymore. I was like, “Oh, my God. There’s only one of me.”

So, I started recruiting some other instructors. Right now, I have four instructors. There’s a class going on as I’m chatting with you, and I’ve got one of my instructors teaching that tonight. 

There’s myself, four instructors, and my client care manager that’s part of the team. 

Kristy: How many classes per week are you offering?

Louise: There are 15 classes across the different locations. They’re accessible for all of my members, so they can choose to attend any of those. They can just go, “I’m happy to stay with the one in my village. That’s the one I’m going to.” 

Kristy: If you don’t mind me jumping back a little bit, because I hear that you started the remote locations. You looked into the space and said no. 

What I hear from a lot of entrepreneurs, they jump into it and start, but how it all adds up from a business perspective doesn’t always add up initially. Did you already understand how you should price your products, market, and basically be able to grow from what you knew? 

Louise: No. I’ll be really honest. I didn’t know anything about marketing when I started. I’m being really transparent here. I really didn’t know what I was doing. If I didn’t know, then I needed to get some help with that. 

So, I invested in a coach. It was more of a mentor/coach to sort of hold my hand and guide me along the way. That was probably the best investment I made for my business.

Kristy: Those coaches are kind of expensive, so you have to really justify it. How was your business doing before you got your coach? How many classes were you teaching?

Louise: One class a week, and it was ‘pay as you go’. People would come in, and maybe pay me £5, so let’s say $5. It’s not very much, but you know what? If it was snowing, pouring rain, or if they just simply couldn’t be bothered, they didn’t turn up.

If they didn’t turn up, I didn’t get paid, and that’s not sustainable. 

Kristy: One class a week. Maybe you’re getting about $60 a week. No matter where you live, that’s not going to support your family or mortgages. So, this inspired you to get a coach, and that sounds really expensive.

What did you end up learning? What ended up changing from this coach and how did you find the money to get them?

Louise: A credit card was really handy at the time, and I’ve paid it all off and then some, because the funniest thing I said to the coach was, “I need to make my investment back here. I’ve invested in this. You need to help me find a way to pay that investment back.”

What I learned was who exactly I wanted to target in my business. My ideal client, avatar, or my dreamboat client or whatever you want to call them.

What I learned was who exactly I wanted to target in my business. My ideal client, avatar, or my dreamboat client or whatever you want to call them. Who that person was, what they were like, and where I can find them. Also, the packaging of moving completely away from pay-as-you-go.

I do not offer a pay-as-you-go option at all. In my business, there are packages. I have a gold membership, a gold plus membership, or a platinum membership, and they pay monthly by direct debit. 

Kristy: Yeah. We like direct debit and monthly. 

Louise: Absolutely, because then you know what your cash flow is going to be. As your business grows and you’ve got to maybe pay other instructors, your venue, your whole hire, and yourself.

Actually, that’s quite important. You’ve got to know what’s going on. 

Kristy: It sounds like one big change that your clear coach helped you with was implement a monthly subscription plan and that was big. Was that the point where you’re able to grow more? 

Louise: Definitely. It was a really scary point though. That’s where a lot of mindset came in because with my coach, we worked a lot on mindset and using that level of energy and law of attraction, and putting out the energy that you expect to get back. It’s the way you do that that can really work or not work with your clients. 

When I introduced the monthly memberships, I came about it as a really positive way. I said, “You know what, guys? This is going to be so much easier for you. You don’t have to worry about bringing money every week. You’re going to get better results because you know you’ve paid for that month, and you need to come to get those results.”

It’s just going to work so much better for everybody. If you put it out there like that and you are so confident in what you’re offering, the response back is mirrored. It’s that law of attraction. 

There were a couple of people at the time that just said, “That’s not what I wanna do.”

And, I said, “That’s okay. Thank you for even giving it even a thought.”

What was interesting is as I kept growing and marketing to my ideal client, all I offered was a monthly membership. These new people coming in didn’t even have a choice to pay-as-you-go. It was really easy because I didn’t know that it ever existed in the first place.

Kristy: After your coach and your business grew, how many members did you end up having? 

Louise: These are rough figures. To be honest, I’d have to look back. I think it increased to about 60 members in a three month period after implementing the targeting of ideal clients and moving away from pay-as-you-go and onto packages.

Kristy: How much were you charging them? 

Louise: Back then, I was charging £25 for five classes a month, and £39 for unlimited classes a month, which was really quite cheap at that moment. But, for me, part of it was just getting my confidence to go, “I can do this.” The price has increased every single year since then.

At the time, I was just starting it out. You’ve got to get in there and have a go. There’s no such thing as doing something wrong because you’re learning from every single thing that you do anyway. It’s all a journey and you just enjoy the ride.

Kristy: What year was this where in three months you saw a lot of growth? 

Louise: That was from September to December 2016. That was the three month period.

Kristy:  Were you the only instructor at this time? And, how many locations were there? 

Louise: Yes, and there were three locations at that point. 

Kristy: And, how many classes did you have?

Louise: We had five classes.

Kristy: That’s not bad. 


The one change she made, that supercharged her growing to 60 recurring clients per month with just 5 classes per week

[26:40] Kristy: So, you just have to teach five classes a week and you have these 60 recurring members. In your general fitness career, what happened after that? Did you just continue to have locations?

I know that you’re a fitness coach now. When did that evolve? 

Louise: I came into January 2017, and January is the big month of the year for fitness businesses because everyone’s got their new year’s resolutions.

You really got to jump on it. I went, “I need to really get some growth here.”

So, I added two more locations and brought on a second instructor. Then, that grew yet again. I think I got to around close to a hundred members coming into 2017. It fluctuated a bit as anything does. You get people who maybe move away from the area or whatever. That’s to be expected.

There’s always sort of a little bit of a cancellation. But, as long as each month I was gaining more members than what was cancelled, it meant that I grew month by month anyway, which I was happy with. 

There’s always sort of a little bit of a cancellation. But, as long as each month I was gaining more members than what was cancelled, it meant that I grew month by month anyway, which I was happy with. 

In terms of the coaching, that only came about towards the end of 2017 or at the start of 2018, and my coach asked me to come on board with her business as a mentor. I was really shocked at the time. I’ll be honest. I’m like, “Me? Really? What do I know?” 

And, they’re like, “Look how much your business has grown. Look what you do know. I think you’d be a real inspiration for others.”

At the time, she was running three day seminars for people in the fitness industry to help them build their business. So, I was up on stage with her and sharing my story, and then mentoring these people over the three day period, which was really amazing. I loved it. 

I thought, “I can help others achieve what I’ve done.” That felt really good to me. 

Kristy: If I could just go back and ask about your fitness studio part of your business. I know you mentioned you get kind of these community centers that are low cost, which is brilliant. How many people can you have in one pilates class in these community centers?

Louise: It varies at each center because each hall or space is slightly different. I think the smallest room we have fits 12 people maximum, and the biggest room we have can take up to 25. 

I don’t really want to go any bigger than that because then I don’t feel we’re giving a quality experience for our members because it’s just too many people. It’s too squashy and one instructor can’t get around that many people.

Kristy: For the pilates class, is it just pilates mats or do you have other tools that you use? 

Louise: We use pilates mats and other small equipment. We encourage our members to have their own mats. Although, of course, we have some spare ones and we provide all the small equipment like head blocks, some small balls, resistance bands, and foam rollers.  

Kristy: Does the community center usually allow you to store your equipment there?

Louise: No. I wished they did. Most of us have reasonably big cars because my instructors have their own equipment as well, so they just hang on to it and it stays in our cars most of the time. 

Kristy: I understand. I used to run a tennis school in New York City, and we would use schools a lot. Most of the time, we could not store one thing there, which was really tough.  

Today, you’ve grown your business. You have 15 classes a week and four staff. I believe three instructors and one customer care specialist. I’m imagining people are booking online. How many members do you have?

Louise: At the moment, we’ve got between 200 and 220 members.

Kristy: You mentioned you increased every year, which is a great pricing strategy. Where’s your pricing now?

Louise: Our pricing is £35 for five classes a month, and £59 for unlimited classes. 


The exact phrasing she started using to target her pilates customers that has consistently increased her membership

[30:35] Kristy: You probably have this much more down to science since you’ve been coaching. How do you get people into your pilates studio and convert them?

Because pilates has a different type of customer and it’s such a different type of activity than some other trainers or studios that I’ve had on the podcast.

I’m just curious if it’s a different dynamic because one thing is when a lot of people come into, let’s say, a boot camp or even a spin class, the big thing they want to do is lose weight or maybe a quick class. Is it the same wording that they use?

Louise: No. It’s really different. This is one of my favorite topics to talk about. I get excited by this one because what I did is I worked out who I wanted to work with and who I loved to work with as a client. I then learn all about that particular type of client inside out and back to front.

I knew everything about them. I knew where to find them. In the pilates business, who we target are men and women aged between 30 and 65 who are suffering from aches and stiffness in their body, and they would like to move more freely. That is exactly who I target and speak to in my marketing.

I learned through research and actually talking to these types of people who were already coming to my class that a lot of them are on Facebook. Probably 90% of my marketing is on Facebook.

I learned through research and actually talking to these types of people who were already coming to my class that a lot of them are on Facebook. Probably 90% of my marketing is on Facebook because that’s where they are. My marketing says exactly what I’ve just said. 

The headline is, “Sick and tired, or fed up of suffering from aches and stiffness and would like to move more freely.”

And, that person would go, “Yeah. That’s me.”

“Would you like to learn the exercises that you can do to ease back pain or reduce shoulder pain?” Something like that. You’re talking directly to them.

Then, I invite them to one of our classes as a free taster. They can come along completely free of charge and experience the exercises that are gonna help them relieve their aches and stiffness, and move more freely. 

And, they think, “Fantastic. I’m going to come along.” So, they click a little link. It’s all done on software.

They get booked in, and get automatic emails and texts giving them all the details of where they need to come. They come into our class and get greeted immediately by name. They’re made to feel comfortable. Maybe they’re introduced to somebody else in the class because your best salespeople are actually your current clients.

They do the work for you and they enjoy the class. At the end, we just chat and say, “I’d love to invite you to continue with this. Would you like to see the offers we’ve got this month?”

You share with them your packages and ask them which one suits best. They say, “Oh. The gold membership please, Louise.” Then, we sign them up. That’s my strategy.


What she does to retain top trainers who can work well working remote and unsupervised

[34:07] Kristy: That sounds really easy. Being there, you have such a warm personality.

When someone greets them, since these are multiple location setups, I’m imagining it’s mainly the instructor who goes there. Is it the instructor who does the greeting, the set up, the teaching, and then basically does everything?

Louise: Correct. I’ve trained my instructors on that complete strategy of how you greet this new person. You introduce them to someone in the class, go over to them during the class and make sure they’re okay and enjoying the exercises. Then, they’re trained on the sales pitch. I never liked to call it that. I say an invitation to work with us. 

Kristy:  That sounds like a lot of responsibility for a trainer. You must need multiple good skill sets and someone who’s reliable for that. Sometimes it doesn’t work in a place like New York city, but maybe you find that quality who’s reliable, can do sales, and can teach a great class.

How was training your staff? How was your experience? Has it been hard or easy?

Louise: It’s been relatively easy. The reason why is because two of my instructors actually started with me as participants, so they knew the philosophy of my business and the good feeling that they had as a participant. 

So, it was really easy for them to do their qualification and understand what I wanted from them as an instructor. They almost wanted to give back. They’ve got so much out of it themselves that they just want to share that pilates feels really good and can help your body feel better.

I don’t know whether I was lucky with that or perhaps it’s just that energy that I gave out of, “This is what we’re about. This is what makes us different because we actually care about someone’s experience.” 

Kristy: I imagine these instructors are generally working part-time. Do they work another job or do they only want to work part-time?

Louise: Yeah. They only want to work part-time. A few of them do teach for someone else in other locations, and that’s absolutely fine. None of them have some sort of main job in an office or something like that, they’re purely pilates instructors.

Kristy: Do you offer them an incentive or a commission for converting a prospect?  

Louise: No. I don’t because I pay them better than what anyone else would in my area. They’re on a higher rate of pay, which they’re all really happy with. In the UK, you have sort of, “What you get paid in London and what you get paid everywhere else.” 

I pay a London rate because I believe in them and I think that they’re amazing. They deserve that and they’re really happy with getting that higher rate, and then just going the extra mile. 

I pay a London rate because I believe in them and I think that they’re amazing. They deserve that and they’re really happy with getting that higher rate, and then just going the extra mile. 

Kristy: That always helps.

Louise: They also get a really nice Christmas present as well. 

Kristy: These four instructors you have, two of them are past students. So far, you haven’t had any concerns about them showing up late, having a poor class, or maybe they’re just not the sales type. They’re teaching a great class, but just can’t really do it on the sales side. Have you had any of those issues?

Louise: I have actually. I had one instructor that just wasn’t right for my business. They didn’t sort of share the philosophy. I know they weren’t doing the sales part at the end because we weren’t converting anybody in that particular class. So, they were replaced.

Kristy: That makes sense. So, it sounds like it does happen because I think that is the reality for most places in the world. But, you were keeping a conversion rate per instructor and were able to pinpoint either not selling or not trying.

Louise: Absolutely. To be fair, some of the instructors do the selling a lot more naturally than others. So, you will see a couple of them have a higher rate of conversions than others. Then, there’s others that are really great at the actual content of their class.

The beautiful thing is that the members get to come to any class they like. They experience lots of different instructors and get a real flavor of all of this. 

Kristy: So, you have these instructors. On the customer service side, most people are still used to sometimes making a phone call. Does she/he answer those calls or emails?

Louise: I have a lovely lady who I call my client care manager. To be honest, we don’t get a lot of phone calls. We mainly get contacted via email or the Facebook page. The Facebook page is hugely active, and that’s where all my marketing is as well. The majority of people contact us by email or text.

It makes it a lot easier because, interestingly, my client care manager doesn’t live in North Wales. She lives right at the other end of the country south of London. She’s remote, but she just logs in to everything about three times a day, and stays on business. 

Kristy: That’s helpful that they can be remote.

Stay tuned for the Part 2 of this interview with Louise!

Louise Clancy

Facebook: Louise Clancy Pilates
Website: Louise Clancy

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