From a car crash, to physiotherapy, to starting a business – all in the space of a year. Perhaps not the path taken by most entrepreneurs, but that’s how Jo Mathews began TenPilates after meeting David Higgins when he became her trainer in a rehabilitation gym.
TenPilates came about due to a “happy accident”, in the words of Jo, co-founder of the business. She says: “The opportunity for Ten came about via a rash decision from a young lady to do a U-turn on the north circular and write my car off with me in it… I ended up with a fractured coccyx, rotated pelvis and whiplash. I ended up at a rehabilitation gym, where I met David, my future business partner.” Jo worked with David at the gym for a year and during this time the idea for TenPilates came about.
TenPilates offers classes in Dynamic Reformer Pilates at three studios in West London and one in Moscow. Dynamic Reformer Pilates is a more intense style than traditional Pilates, and is designed for weight loss, as well as to improve posture and muscle tone. The technique uses Reformer equipment – machines that allow the muscles to work harder than they would in a standard Pilates class. Additionally, the company offers various cardio activities and personal training.
The main issues Jo and David had in starting a business consisted of finance, property and people.
They found no banks were interested in lending to the business during its start-up phase – Jo cites one of the worst points about working for yourself as being “Their [the banks'] total lack of support for small business and the hoops you have to go through to gain any credit at all”.
When seeking their first premises, Jo discovered that finding the right location took longer than expected – and then having to deal with all the administration that came with it meant a total of around nine months before they found a venue they were happy with.
Jo says that, although TenPilates has an excellent team and are lucky enough to have a good rate of staff retention, they have to work hard to maintain this – one of their biggest challenges is actually getting the right team in place and encouraging them to stay.
Jo has a strong background in marketing, having been head of marketing at Habitat in the past. She found her background to be incredibly helpful in starting TenPilates – “Understanding the importance of brand and the discipline of marketing and PR really helped us hit the ground running. We very quickly identified what we wanted Ten to be like, from its culture and behaviours, right through to the customer experience. ”
She does point out that it wasn’t all about having worked in marketing in the past – her experience had also provided her with transferable skills such as strategy, planning and project management. Jo comments: “For anyone running their own business, it’s important to identify your skill set.”
Why does it work?
Neither Jo nor David had any previous experience of running a business. “We just took a leap of faith,” says Jo. They found that competition was not much of an issue, despite there being numerous gyms in London offering Pilates classes. “We are clearly differentiated from gyms – we are pay-as-you-go and Dynamic Reformer Pilates specific. However, the number of Dynamic Reformer studios is growing rapidly.” Jo predicts that Ten will be able to maintain its competitive advantage against other studios and continue to grow as long as it remains innovative and consistent with its values. She believes that TenPilates works due to the business’ strong focus on their customers’ experience at the gym. They ensure that all staff members attend at least one class so that they fully understand what the service provides in order to understand customer requirements
On top of their three West London studios and a studio in Moscow, TenPilates will open a fourth London venue in June 2011 and aim to open a new Moscow studio by the end of 2011. Jo says she does not currently have any other business ventures planned – “Ten takes all my focus and it is growing rapidly so needs consistent support.”
While Jo loves several aspects of working for herself, such as being able to start something from just an idea, she says the worst point is her decisions now affecting so many people, having grown TenPilates from six to 45 staff.
She would advise would-be entrepreneurs to understand their own motivations for wanting to work for themselves – “It’s not an easy option – it’s a way of life, not a job.” She also warns business owners to be tenacious, commenting: “Be prepared to eat, sleep and breathe it.”
She says that three of the most important things in running a business are knowing your strengths and weaknesses, surrounding yourself with a good team and having absolute belief in your business. “I really didn’t think Ten would fail. I may not have imagined it would be this successful, this quickly but I completely believed it could work.”