Ever since she was a young girl, Kelly Snailum has loved being fit. How many 15-year-old girls ask their parents for a gym membership for Christmas?
For Snailum that gym membership was the start of a life-long commitment to fitness that eventually led to her opening Remedy Pilates & Barre in Scottsdale in 2008.
In 2018 she opened a second Remedy studio in Arcadia. Snailum jokes that she’s not a traditional businesswoman. She said she signed her first lease before she even got a loan to buy the expensive Reformer Pilates machines that are de rigueur for any high-level studio in the Valley.
But as anyone who has ever booked a class at a Remedy studio will tell you, Snailum has succeeded in filling her studios with loyal clients and highly-trained instructors.
She’s also weathered two of the most significant recessions in recent history. Snailum opened her Scottsdale studio just as the Great Recession kicked in, when the Phoenix area lost thousands of jobs and home values plummeted by $100,000 in many cases. Just as business was picking up at her second studio in Arcadia the pandemic struck, leaving Snailum with two empty studios and more importantly, 28 instructors who had just lost their livelihoods.
Snailum said starting small in 2008 helped her survive The Great Recession. She got a $75,000 loan from her mother to open a 1,000-square-foot space, which thanks to the recession turned out to be a great deal.
“We decided that our approach would be that we wouldn’t bite off more than we could chew,” said Snailum, who started with three teachers and four Pilates machines.
She spent $32,000 on equipment and decided to pay herself as a teacher, instead of as an owner.
“It was slow going as far as building the business but it was consistently growing from day one. We were never in the red,” she said.
By the time she opened her second studio in Arcadia in 2018, Snailum was reporting income for that year of $417,000 and a net profit of $53,750.
Snailum has also been able to develop a secondary revenue stream through teacher training. Teacher training takes place twice a year and the curriculum costs $5,200. Snailum said the training offers two benefits; she gets to pick the best graduates from the program for her studios and it offers a revenue cushion.
“It’s a nice little chunk of income that gets us through our slower summers and then gets us through our slower winter months. So, it’s nice to have that intermittent burst of income,” Snailum said, adding that all profit is reinvested in the business. She calls it her “nest egg,” and it means she’s never had to take out a loan after opening her business.
That “nest egg” also helped Snailum nearly two years ago when the pandemic struck not long after she had invested $48,000 in equipment to open her Arcadia studio in 2018. Business at the Arcadia studio grew slowly at first, but by February 2020 classes were filling up.
In Scottsdale, early booking was required for nearly all classes. Snaillum said 2020 was a lot different than 2008.
“The experience of COVID-19 was very different from my experience of 2008. In 2008 I didn’t really know any different. We were starting with nothing and building to something when I had never had a deficit or gone on the red before, so it was a huge learning curve for me,” Snailum said.
Snailum said her main concern was for her instructors, who are all independent contractors and, don’t get paid if they are not teaching. She said “she put her thinking cap on,” and pivoted to remote classes. She set up private classes following COVID-19 protocols and invested heavily in technology such as iPads.
Because of that, Snailum said her business didn’t have a huge revenue drop even though profits were down. With protocols in place, Snailum said many of her instructors were able to continue with their classes and she was even able to continue with her teacher training, using the technology she had invested in.
“We got really creative and did the better part of the entire training virtually, which was challenging, but it actually turned out to be an amazing group of teachers,” she said.
Snailum said it was important to continue the training because she relies on instructors for her business to succeed. Pilates has grown rapidly in popularity over the past decade with corporate Pilates franchises opening all over the Valley.
Snailum said having a loyal group of instructors has helped her survive.
“I treat my independent contractors like they are part of my business, they are heavily involved in running the studio business,” she said. “So, their loyalty and their commitment is reflected in the ways things came around. If I hadn’t taken care of them during such a hard time they would probably all gone to work somewhere like a big gym or somewhere they could have been supported in different ways.”
Snailum said her strategy has worked with projected revenue for this year at $600,000.
Snailum said most of her business is generated through referrals and while “social media is important for our image,” it doesn’t play a big role in her bottom line. More important, she said, is having a good lawyer when you start a business, and making sure that everyone knows their responsibilities.
As an independent business owner with money in the bank, she said it can be tempting to pay yourself a bonus, but she said surviving two recessions has taught her never to touch her capital.
“You need to keep that money in the bank, because you never know what is going to happen, you just never know what the world is going to bring so you want to be able to sustain yourself for the months that may be hard,” Snailum said.
Editor's Note: James Teeple is an adjunct professor of Journalism at ASU's Cronkite School, and is currently enrolled in Cronkite's mid-career MMC program.
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