Building My Dream Studio – A Year in Review

Kim Paxton, The Pilates Studio Blackwood, Adelaide, SA

Kim Paxton, The Pilates Studio Blackwood, Adelaide, SA

I’m the kind of person that checks out the Commercial Real Estate website just for fun and I can’t pass by a ‘for lease’ sign without dreaming of the possibilities of opening a studio in a new location.

So about 16 months ago, when I came across a listing for a new development just a few hundred metres from my current location I jumped at the chance to learn more. The area that I live and work in, the Adelaide foothills is a beautiful area, but the commercial area is incredibly dated – (time warp: circa 1993), so a new development in the area was bound to garner interest with the local community and bring a fresh feel to the area. I had been at my existing location for 9 years and I was starting to feel that I wasn’t challenging myself enough, so I took this as a sign it was time for a change.

After a couple of months of negotiating the lease terms, I signed the lease before they broke ground on the new development and waited eagerly for it to be ready to move into. As most building projects go these days the build went overtime by at least 6 months. Luckily I was on a month to month agreement with my current landlord that made it easy to give them enough notice when it was time to move and not having a set time for moving, this reduced a great deal of stress.

Upscaling the studio was going to demand an increase in clients as the rent and outgoings were substantially more than what I was currently paying, but the foot traffic was considerably higher and the space itself offered more opportunities for growth (3 zoned spaces instead of 1) I had to make sure (as much as you can when taking a calculated risk) that the numbers and the amount of growth I needed was realistic.

The new studio is about 25% bigger than my original studio and we designed it to offer multiple classes and sessions working together simultaneously. We can now comfortably offer 2 classes and a private session concurrently (as well as our new Gyrotonic tower). In the fitout we negotiated a glass wall in the middle of the studio to divide the Reformers from the Towers/Chairs. The wall has provided great sound insulation – so a class on one side does not disturb a class on the other while still providing the light to come through on the floor to ceiling windows on one side of the studio.

Last week, we finally opened our doors to our new, custom built dream studio. I am ecstatic with the outcome. but it didn’t come without a considerable amount of stress at times – the building going over time (and not having a clear idea of when we could start fitout), council issues (be sure to submit council approvals as early as possible – we didn’t do this early enough and it set us back timewise) amongst other issues that arose during the year.

Although there were many hard earned lessons along the way. There were a few areas that worked well, especially when I engaged the right people and having the time to strategize on growth was also a blessing in disguise.

Upscaling the studio was going to demand an increase in clients as the rent and outgoings were substantially more than what I was currently paying, but the foot traffic was considerably higher and the space itself offered more opportunities for growth (3 zoned spaces instead of 1) I had to make sure (as much as you can when taking a calculated risk) that the numbers and the amount of growth I needed was realistic.

If you find yourself in a similar position, ready for change and to upscale your studio, here are my recommendations for navigating the challenges:

Negotiate the lease terms and fit-out and make sure you know exactly what you are getting into with the contract
I took my time making sure that I was entering into a contract that allowed the business to grow into the future – this meant negotiating the rent but also the fit out – I ensured the floors, partition wall, painting and kitchenette was included. I read the lengthy lease several times to make sure I understood my commitments and took it to a lawyer on a couple of occasions to have my questions answered.

Engage an Interior Designer
In the beginning, I used the space planner, provided by Balanced Body to see how the equipment would fit into the space. Because I had signed early, I was able to stipulate the minimum square meterage I needed. It became apparent that in order to do it right, engaging an Interior designer would save a lot of headaches and money, as well as making sure the look that I was going for was ‘on brand’

I wanted a space that was open, light and allowed the ‘eyes to rest’ and the client to feel like they were stepping into a space where they could leave their day behind them. The place we spent the most money was on creating custom built cabinetry, a front desk and reception seating area. Removing visual clutter and putting all props in cabinets has helped to create this effect as well as softer tones that complement the blues/greys of the upholstery and the aluminum frame of the Reformers.

We also added a small retail section for clothing – this is an interesting experiment, time will tell if this was a profitable move. At this point I am happy to break even to have this as an added area of interest in the studio and I think it adds to the ‘luxe’ aspect of the space.

We are lucky to be on the 2nd floor with a sweeping view across Blackwood, indirect lighting and floor to ceiling windows through the length of the space to enjoy the light and views. It really is a beautiful, quiet building with enough privacy to allow my clients to enjoy their sessions.

Ensure you have the staff to grow before you need them
Having time to watch the building going up gave me the opportunity to train my new teachers to the point where I could increase my classes and sessions over the course of the year leading up to the move. We offer a comprehensive Teacher training that I’ve developed over the past few years. From this, I was able to find three committed, amazing teachers that have grown in leaps and bounds in the past year. I would not have been able to take this on without being able to trust my staff were along for the ride with me.

With my teachers gaining confidence, I was able to take more time to work on business development while they took on some of my teaching schedule.

Invest in yourself with Coaching
Having business coaching through 2024 was integral to building my confidence. Having someone in my corner goes a long way in creating a mindset for success and to allay any doubts that I had (there were many!).

My husband is a carpenter, so he liaised extensively with the builders and the landlord in the beginning stages. This freed up time for me to be able to strategise on the future growth of the business and continue to build my clientele.

Refresh your brand
It was also a good time to consider a brand refresh because I was having to redo signage and printed collateral. I have had the same logo for 9 years and a website that was looking a little dated, this gave me time to consider my messaging and look. Because I had engaged an interior designer, I knew the colours I wanted in the studio so I utilised these in the new logo and website (FYI – I moved from Wix to SquareSpace which was a good move, the functionality and organisation of SquareSpace is much easier to navigate).

In the first week of opening, we had a photo shoot so we could have professional photos for social media and the website from the get-go.

Build anticipation
I only revealed my plans to move in the last couple of months of the fit out. I wanted to build anticipation with my clients so by letting people know too early, this excitement would have fizzled.

I was very careful to reveal only small parts of the studio to keep up the mystery and add excitement in my social media posts and newsletters I also created a dedicated lead page that offered new client Intro deals and started building a newsletter list that I periodically emailed to announce developments.

Low cost Marketing efforts
Most of my marketing efforts went into building the new website – our virtual ‘front door’ This included a complete redesign of the logo, brand look and colours and a distilling down of the content from the previous site (I could still afford to simplify further)

  • I had postcards designed and then wrote handwritten messages for old clients of the studio inviting them back – I attached a QR code that went to a landing page in the website to offer them a discounted private session or free group class to get back into the studio
  • I created cards for local shops around the neighbourhood to introduce ourselves and offer a discount code (again through a QR and Landing page)
  • I dabbled with facebook ads – but in honesty, the leads here were not high quality – I think this would have been a good avenue if I had employed a professional to create ads so depending on how things go, I may look into this in the future.
  • I emailed my newsletter list. I wish that I had nurtured this list a little more over the years so the leads were ‘warmer’ this would have increased engagement.
  • Word of mouth referrals increased during this time as my clients were excited to introduce their friends and family members to our new dream studio.

See your studio as an investment
We were ready to put money into the studio to ensure we created the feel that we wanted. We are so glad we did (even though we will be paying it back for some time!) because the space has a luxe, open and calm vibe that clients are loving. We could have saved a lot on storage and cabinetry but having the ability to have a spot for everything is worth it and the first impression is so important when you’re setting the tone for your brand.

It’s early days, but I’m happy to report that the response to the new studio has been very encouraging, our existing classes are filling up and we are about to add more to the schedule. We have had increased foot traffic and more inquiries through people walking by (being on the 2nd floor means we don’t get ‘tire kickers’ – the people that come up to check us out are genuinely interested in Pilates and Gyrotonic).

I am so pleased with how things have turned out, from the response I’m getting from my current clients and the new clients coming in. It’s been quite the year to be ready for it all, but I don’t regret taking the leap of faith and investing in the business to see it grow into the future.


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