The Alimond Show

Alexandra Adams Owner & Instructor of Excel Pilates NoVA

March 28, 2024 Alimond Studio
The Alimond Show
Alexandra Adams Owner & Instructor of Excel Pilates NoVA
Show Notes Transcript Chapter Markers

Once a professional dancer, our guest today transformed her grace on stage into a thriving Pilates empire in Northern Virginia. As she shares her story with us, you'll be captivated by how her dedication to the art of movement led to the creation of a studio with a waitlist that spans half a decade. It's not just a tale of a business triumph; it's a heartening glimpse into the life of a woman who, despite the rigors of entrepreneurship, finds joy in being a wife, sister, and aunt. This episode is a rhythmic blend of professional insights and personal revelations, detailing the meticulous expansion from a humble basement to a bustling hub in McLean, and the strategic collaborations that have shaped a robust community around Excel Pilates Northern Virginia.

Embark on an auditory journey through the ebb and flow of a business that managed to not just survive but flourish in a post-pandemic world, where the shortage of skilled instructors only fueled a more personalized approach to Pilates. Our guest lays bare the industry challenges, including the dilution of the Pilates brand, yet keeps us anchored in the hopeful message that Pilates is a transformative practice for everyone. Whether you're a high school athlete or someone in their golden years, this episode underscores the inclusivity of Pilates and invites you to explore the potential of this practice to enhance your own life's rhythm.

Speaker 1:

So tell me about your business we're just mentioning at the Pilates Studio.

Speaker 2:

I have a Pilates Studio that I've had for 14 years now 10 years under the current brand that I'm in. So when I first opened it, it was a different location, different name, and then I rebranded to where I am now, which is Excel Pilates Northern Virginia, and where is that at In McLean Virginia.

Speaker 1:

Fun Now, what did you do before Pilates?

Speaker 2:

I used to be a professional dancer. I have been doing Pilates for over half my lifetime, so over 26 years, and I've been training to be a dancer, you know, since high school. So I knew that that was going to be my goal. But when you're a professional dancer, especially in this area, you need a second job. So Pilates, being a Pilates teacher to me seemed like a perfect fit. I could stay in shape. It wasn't waitressing or like bartending, which is what a lot of dancers do.

Speaker 1:

So Now, what type of?

Speaker 2:

dancing Modern dance, so like contemporary. Our director was a dancer with the Joffrey Ballet, if you've heard of that, yeah.

Speaker 1:

Okay, cool, very, very cool. And what are some of the biggest challenges you've had to overcome while building and growing your Pilates studio?

Speaker 2:

Oh, okay, really finding good instructors can be hard. I will say that has been especially challenging since the pandemic. I'm maybe you've heard a lot of people say this.

Speaker 1:

I was going to say that's like the number one thing I hear all the time.

Speaker 2:

Really hard to find sometimes people to work, but it was amazing. So my Pilates studio is we are one-on-one focused, so it's a very traditional Pilates studio in that Joe Pilates was a person and this is he looked at his method to be more one-on-one versus like the massive group classes that you see now. So we I've always had like a lot of clients and a big following, but especially during the pandemic at like boom because nobody wanted to go to a big class anymore. Right, so we were booming, but then I didn't have enough people working for me. But luckily now I have myself and two other teachers, so we're doing okay. But I would say that's like been the biggest challenge for me is to meet the demand. We've been on a waitlist basically for the past five years. I would say, oh my, yeah, that's great, it's great, it's a great problem, but I hate turning people away and so you look at your instructors and you're like, don't you dare quit, I know right.

Speaker 1:

No, do not quit.

Speaker 2:

They're going to know they're amazing and they work so hard and teaching Pilates. But really doing anything one-on-one is that's a lot Like one hour is really equal in my mind to like two or three hours of like a dust job answering emails or something like that. You really have to be on. So like a full-time Pilates teacher is not necessarily 40 hours a week. It's closer to like 25 or 30.

Speaker 1:

Yeah, In terms of like looking into the future. Have you considered opening up another studio or are you like no, no, no, this is good, Don't even say that, Right.

Speaker 2:

I go back and forth about that. Honestly, my studio's in McLean, but I live out in Ashburn, so I'd love to have something a little bit closer to home. I think both markets are really good. For Pilates, mclean is like a great market. I have a great location there. I go back and forth so I think where I'm at now is that I would really like to move into a bigger space and be able to accommodate more instructors and more clients at the same time. So it's still one-on-one training, but I'm working with you privately, and then we have somebody over there who's doing their own lesson. So I think that's my next step. I'd like to stay in McLean, and just a bigger, maybe more updated space is what I'm looking at.

Speaker 2:

Yeah fun, but we'll see.

Speaker 1:

So who are you outside of business and work?

Speaker 2:

Oh my goodness. Well, I'm a wife and a daughter and a sister and an aunt. I have a new nephew who is 17 months old.

Speaker 1:

Congratulations. He's so cute. Thank you.

Speaker 2:

So I love going out to eat, I love going to movies, I love going to wineries in this area, spending time outside and I just love being with my family.

Speaker 1:

Do you find most of your time is taken up by work or do you have a good, healthy balance?

Speaker 2:

Well, ups and downs, right Like it changes. I learned pretty early on. Well early on, like within the first three years of owning my business, it was just myself, I was doing everything. I didn't have any instructors working for me and I was teaching over 40 clients a week, like sometimes 10 or 11 in a day, which is insane. And so I burned out pretty quickly and I realized like I don't have a good work Life balance. I was newly married at the time. It was not a great situation, so I was able to scale back but like, for example, just hired somebody new, so then things ramp up a little bit more, right when you're trying to onboard somebody. So, yeah, it just kind of depends, but I try really hard to do my work at work and come home and just relax as much as I can. Yeah, which is it has its own challenges, Because when I'm one-on-one with a client I can't be answering emails and doing scheduling and that kind of thing. So it's a challenge.

Speaker 1:

It's been a nice balancing act. And I know you mentioned about, like you've got a good following and you've got a good client list. How did you get to that point?

Speaker 2:

Well, I actually had a lot of amazing opportunities that I think got me to that point. When I opened my first studio, it was on the campus of an all-girls school in McLean, the Madeira School, and I actually went there for high school, graduated from there, and they had reached out to me I mean, you know, almost 10 years later maybe to see if I would come back and teach Pilates as PE for the girls, which I was like why didn't we have that when I was there? That's amazing. So I was like, absolutely, but I would love to have my own private studio on the campus. So that worked out Now.

Speaker 1:

what gave you the knowledge to ask for that?

Speaker 2:

I don't know, because most people would just be like, yeah, sure, where's the room? Well, ok, so at the time I was living in Maryland, so it would be a move for me. Now my family is here, so it wasn't like I was moving somewhere totally unknown and of course, like I said, I went to school there, but it just there wasn't another option for me. I guess, like I had been thinking about this, I had retired from dancing and at 28. And I was thinking where do I wanna go next? And I knew I wanted to have my own studio. So it was like this is an opportunity and I know this campus, I know they have empty rooms that I can, like take over, and I was.

Speaker 2:

My first studio was in the basement of, I think, like at least an 80 year old building and 300 square feet. Tiny, so, but I was able to attract clients from the Madeira School community, so, whether it were, you know, alums or parents of, like, some of the students that I was teaching, like I had a, built it before I even opened the doors. I had 10 clients like the first week, which doesn't sound like a lot, but like it is huge for any business, yeah, and then it just kept building. So my Pilates training is I trained with Joseph Pilates's protege, so it's very authentic and it's unique to this area. There aren't a lot of people that have my training, so if someone is interested in really studying Pilates, they're gonna search me out most likely.

Speaker 2:

So then it was like I was getting those kinds of clients you know like, oh, there's this authentic Pilates studio. But then after four years it felt a little strange to have a business on a business. You know what I mean. Like it wasn't like I had to close my studio when the school was closed. It was just a strange situation. So then I started looking at Did you have to?

Speaker 1:

sorry to interrupt you. Did you have to pay rent for the space, or was that part of the negotiation?

Speaker 2:

So a little bit of both. So I did pay some rent but it wasn't what it would have been because of my teaching of the students. So it was a good starting off point. And yeah, at the time, like for a few months I was able to live with my parents and kind of like figure it out, but then, you know, moved out. So then I started looking at you know, bigger spaces and McLean and was like, oh my gosh, the leases are like insane, you know like. But took a leap and made it work and I'm still in the same location that I've been in now for 10 years, which I love. And so that's also when I rebranded my studio. So I was the Pilates Center at the Madeira School. Obviously that wouldn't work outside of the Madeira School, so I went to Excel Pilates, northern Virginia, and there's a story with that as well. So there are two other Excel studios. There is one in DC and one in Annapolis, and that's actually where I got.

Speaker 2:

A lot of my initial training was at these Excel studios. So when I was, you know, looking to rebrand, the two women, lisa McLaughlin and Carrie DeVivo that own those studios have been my mentors for a long time and it just kind of seemed like a natural thing. So it happened organically. We were having lunch and I was just like I wanna be a third Excel. They were like okay, you know, let's think about that.

Speaker 2:

So we have a really interesting setup in that we're all sister studios, so it's not a franchise. We're all individually owned. There's no finances exchanged or anything like that, so but we share like a mentorship, right, like we can all go to each other when we have questions about, you know, especially during COVID, like how are you handling COVID, how do you work Zoom, you know, like, so, like those kinds of things. These women have been in business for over 25 years, so anytime you know something comes up that I haven't experienced, I can ask them and then we all share a teacher training program together. So we you know somebody wants to become a Pilates teacher we train them. So that was. That's a really nice relationship in that I feel totally on my own, like I make my own policies, I make my own decisions about my business, but I have these you know trusted women that I can go to that are specifically in the Pilates realm. I have other you know women business owners that are friends as well that I talk to, so.

Speaker 1:

You guys could. I don't know if you already do this, but you could also like share cause. They're all local. You said DC and Annapolis, but I mean you could do like marketing campaigns together, the way franchises do For sure.

Speaker 2:

And we do do that specifically with our teacher training program Got it. I will say honestly, like You're already.

Speaker 1:

good, I'm kind of scaling back. I was gonna say you have, so you don't need to. That's right.

Speaker 2:

I don't have to and but I you know it's not. It's great, but I do. I really wanna grow. I'm very uncomfortable being like stagnant, so I'm like, okay, we gotta make moves on this.

Speaker 1:

Yeah, so we'll see who are you, so I know what you're talking about, who you're out of work, but like, who are you like as a person? Like, what type of music do you listen to?

Speaker 2:

I really like all I like, like good music, you know. So I like country, but then I like rock and roll. I love Frank Sinatra, Taylor Swift, garth Brooks, like Dave Matthews band, like these are all my favorite people, so it's like a whole genre, but I just, to me it's like good, you know, like it has a tune, I can dance to it. I'm very passionate about a song having lyrics Like I don't like just total instrumental, because that was my dance training and I love. I love being social, like I said, I love going out to eat, you know. So, yeah, all the things.

Speaker 1:

So I'm gonna I'm sorry, I'm gonna bounce back to like what are some of the things in your industry that, like you, despise?

Speaker 2:

Oh goodness. Okay, a few things. So the Pilates name is not trademarked, and it's actually a good thing. There was a big trademark lawsuit in the late 90s, 2000. And so it's a good thing that the Pilates name is not trademarked, because Pilates is out there, we can all teach Pilates, but it also means that somebody can be teaching water aerobics and call it Pilates.

Speaker 2:

And Pilates, like I said, was a person and he developed over 500 very specific exercises on very specific pieces of equipment, and that's what Pilates is. So there's kind of this, like like any industry, I guess there's been evolutions right Like I don't know, you've seen maybe solid core or there's something called the mega-former, these kind of like things that had taken the true Pilates and just kind of gone forward with it. And what frustrates me is I think that's all well and good and I'm happy that people exercise, but that's not what Joe created and I'm very passionate that I teach what Joe taught his students who have been my teachers. So that sometimes is frustrating and it's interesting too, like in the Pilates world. So when Mr Pilates came to New York, he was from Germany. He came to New York and he started his studio in mid 1920s in a building that had dance companies as well. So a lot of dancers became Pilates students. So that's where there's this kind of like.

Speaker 2:

You know, out there in the world people think Pilates is for dancers or just for women, and actually Mr Pilates was a boxer and he really invented Pilates for men, for boxing, so that they could be strong but agile. Right, they have to move. You know, you look at a boxer, they're like lean, they're not bulky, and so that drives me nuts when, like men just think it's for women or something like that. And I'm really lucky that well, I don't know if it's luck, but I'm really glad I have. I mean, I don't know, like maybe a third of our clients are male, which is pretty rare for the industry. But yeah, that's a misconception that is kind of my mission to eradicate. Yes, exactly Like if you're at a cocktail party with me and you ask me about, like, what I do, that's what I talk about.

Speaker 1:

Then I say next time you do a photo shoot over at your studio and you've got some male clients in there, you should have them, even if you just have them put on a box of gloves or something that's like an masculine.

Speaker 2:

Oh, I love that, yes.

Speaker 1:

I love that thing, yeah, and then you could get a piece of that for content or just start putting them out there.

Speaker 2:

Yes, I love that with the boxing. Yeah, that's great. The first photo shoot that I did, we used my husband. Yeah, and he was great. You know like he's doing pull-ups on the Cadillac, which is a piece of supplies equipment, but yeah that's good.

Speaker 1:

There we go, so in terms of so those are the things that you kind of irks you about the industry. I was going to ask about competition, but it doesn't really sound like that's a concern of yours.

Speaker 2:

It's not and I hope that doesn't come off as you know, but yeah.

Speaker 1:

I don't feel that way.

Speaker 2:

I think if I taught like these group math classes or something, I definitely would feel that way. But that is not our bread and butter, that's not my. I can do that, certainly, but it's not what I enjoy doing. So yeah, I'm just very confident in our one-on-one model.

Speaker 1:

I love that. So just to I know, you told me about, like, how you were always a dancer and then you were like, okay, well, I get a job.

Speaker 2:

I don't want to be a server, so let me teach Pilates.

Speaker 1:

But what made you want to become a dancer Like?

Speaker 2:

how did that all start? It was so funny. So my mom put me into dance at two when I was two years old, because I would not stop moving in my crib, apparently, and I think the pediatrician was like, put her in a creative movement class or something like that. My mom was also. She had some dance training, you know like she took ballet and she danced in college and then it just I never stopped, and then I think I just had a natural talent for it and so I mean, even in like fifth grade I knew that's what I was going to do.

Speaker 2:

So my entire high school career was dancing for four hours after school every weekend night, like six hours on Saturdays. And then I went to college. I went to a liberal arts school that had a conservatory type dance program, so Goucher College. It's in Towson, maryland. So it was the best of both worlds.

Speaker 2:

I got a liberal arts degree but I, you know, so I had to take English history, you know all those but I was taking, like dance classes, you know, eight hours a day. It was amazing. I got to take Pilates class for credit, which was very cool, and I think that, having been a serious dancer for that long of a time and obviously, like it's quite the time commitment. I learned a lot of time management and organizational skills that really have helped me in business. I have no formal business training. I you know I've learned on the job a lot over the past 14 years but I think that really made all the difference. Like you know, when you're not getting home until eight o'clock at night or something, you've got to figure out how to get your homework done, like what's the important thing to get done, how do you prioritize? And so I look back and I'm like, wow, that really helped. That was that's awesome.

Speaker 1:

So, like those sweatshirts that say like, does that like breathe, dance, sleep, dance yeah, that was me I had a whole sweatsuit.

Speaker 2:

That was that. Yeah, I did. We did all those like dance competitions that you see on like dance moms and that kind of thing. So how involved is your mom now? She passed away last month.

Speaker 1:

Oh my gosh, I am so sorry, that's okay. She's probably so proud, though, to have seen the journey.

Speaker 2:

Yes, for sure, and actually that's why, like I'm here today, I feel like I you know I was a little bit nervous sometime. I'm so passionate about my business. But I don't know, you know, it's scary to do something like this which might be out of my comfort zone, and I was like, no way, mom would totally want you to do that. She would love it. You know you'd be so excited to see it on Instagram. So that was my like. I was like, okay, of course I'm going to do it. Oh yeah, she was my biggest fan and she was my first Pilates student when I was training to teach. She was my practice student, which was hard at times. She was a great student, she was really good. But you know, I was like, no mom, why are you doing that? Like you know, I couldn't understand, and it's because I was not a good teacher at that time. You know, like I couldn't understand why she couldn't understand. But then we would go get our nails done afterwards, so it was great.

Speaker 1:

So she helped you become a better teacher as well.

Speaker 2:

For sure, absolutely, absolutely, yeah, so special yeah, thank you.

Speaker 1:

Well, if you could leave the audience with one message to the world, what would that message be? Oh, my goodness.

Speaker 2:

Go do Pilates. It is for everybody, and I mean everybody and everybody. I have students that range from high school to mid-80s and I've taught even older than that and from healthy to frail to multiple surgeries. I've helped people avoid surgeries. It's just don't be scared that it sounds like kind of a buzzword or it's something for, like, wealthy stay-at-home moms, because it is not. It's for everyone. So I want people to go out there and try it.

Speaker 1:

Go get your Pilates on. Yes for sure, please.

Speaker 2:

Thank you so much for being a guest. Thank you, this was lovely.

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