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The Power of Perseverance
Two USC alumnae finally make their dream of opening a business a reality
By David Donovan, Commercial Services Manager

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How long would you hang onto the idea of owning your own business, even in the face of daunting challenges and a series of life changes, both for you and your business partner?  For two USC alumnae, the answer turned out to be longer than even they thought.

Around May 2009, we first met with two women who had the idea to go into business and open a Pilates studio together.  USC alumnae Kimi Evans and Yoko (Kobayashi) Druten filled out a huge pile of Small Business Administration (SBA) loan documents together, successfully made it through underwriting, had their loan approved by the SBA, and were ready to go when the lease for the location they had selected for their studio in Westwood unexpectedly fell through around August 2009.  With their dream of opening a studio back at square one until they could find a new location, life went on.

Since then, both ladies have undergone a few major life changes: Kimi moved south and accepted a full-time job as the San Diego 6 News weathercaster, and Yoko got married!  But the search for adequate space for their Pilates studio continued off and on.  They finally found a new spot, changed their name to Pilates Plus Pacific Beach, and proudly opened their doors on November 1, 2010, around seventeen months after their odyssey began.  I recently asked Kimi and Yoko to reflect on their journey and the process they went through:

What was your inspiration to open up your own business?
YOKO:  Growing up, I watched my parents run their own business, and I saw the struggles and rewards of being one's own boss.  I knew that one day, I would want to have my own business as well.  One day, my long-time friend, Kimi, was raving about SPX Pilates Plus and convinced me to attend a class. After just one session, I fell in love with the workout. It was fun, upbeat because it's to music, and it works! Within just a few weeks, I felt toned and energized. I knew I wanted to bring this workout to others, and that I had found the business I wanted to own.

KIMI:  Struggling with a back injury, I was looking for a workout that would help strengthen my core and back.  When I discovered Pilates Plus, I decided I wanted to be an instructor.  Then, I thought, "Why don't I just open a studio of my own?"  I've always wanted to open my own business, so it seemed like the perfect fit.  After putting a business plan together, going through a couple of potential partners, and getting started with the plans of purchasing the rights to open a studio, I took a couple of friends (including Yoko) to one of the classes to get their opinion on the workout.  After the class, Yoko asked if I had ever considered taking on a partner.  The rest is history!

Did you have an official plan going into the process?
Kimi had already begun the process. She had done a lot of research regarding the licensing and business plan prior to me joining in on this venture. She had spoken with a few other potential business partners and was even considering opening on her own. Things didn't work out with the other partners (luckily for me!) and then she took me to that fateful first class. Fast forward almost 2 years, and here we are!

What do you offer that others don’t?
Pilates Plus Pacific Beach offers SPX Pilates, which isn't your typical style of pilates. Traditional pilates is generally done one-on-one with an instructor; SPX Pilates classes are taught in a group setting, and to energy-pumping music. It was developed by Sebastien Lagree, trainer to celebrities such as Brooke Burke and Nicole Kidman, and is performed on a Proformer machine. SPX Pilates incorporates pilates, cardio and strength training, using key elements (slow and controlled movement, constant tension, working muscle to "failure," and high intensity) to achieve the desired results. Classes are high energy, motivating, and it offers something completely new and unique.

What made you think your business would be viable in this economy?
Traditional pilates costs anywhere from $50 to $120 for one session. Since we offer memberships in a class format, we are able to offer SPX Pilates at a fraction of the cost of traditional pilates. We also know that if we have a good product, there will be a demand. Furthermore, no matter who you are, you want to feel good about yourself. That is something that Pilates Plus PB can offer. Come in and try it. We guarantee that you'll get hooked!

Who is your customer base and how do you reach them?  What is your marketing strategy?
We have clients who are students, young professionals, moms/dads and retirees. You don't have to be an athlete to enjoy the workout. We certainly weren't! If we can do it, anyone can. As for marketing...we have tried to utilize the internet, TV news, word of mouth, and have been getting involved in the local community.  We met with a fitness-marketing specialist and have tried to come up with very creative ways to reach our target audience.  We offer incentives for our clients (referral fees), do co-promotions with local businesses, and create a fun, social environment so everyone enjoys being at the studio.

Since the SBA process took longer than expected, how did you fund your start up?
We both used money from our savings and tried to be smart about our purchases.  We bought things on sale, used coupons, did studio improvements ourselves (such as painting, cleaning, etc.) Our biggest expense was buying the 10 Proformer machines. Unfortunately, we didn't find any coupons for those!

What was your launch plan like?  How did you bring your service to market? 
We promoted our business with an online deal prior to opening.  We advertised our business on the local TV station Kimi works for by bringing in Sebastien Lagree (founder of SPX Fitness) and letting the viewers know about the online deal.  We were on the news two days in a row and sold 73 packages via the online deal.  We then did another online deal a week later and sold another 110 packages.

How are things going so far?  Any measures of success?
It's amazing to see that we are filling classes in just the 3rd week of business and are getting lots of positive feedback from clients. We don't expect to cover our costs right away, but we are already bringing in more than half of our operating expenses (in the 3rd week).  We are excited about what the future may hold!

What advice would you give to someone who wants to start their own business?
Roll with the punches! Even when you are 100% sure that something is going to turn out a certain way, it sometimes doesn't.  Life can throw you an unexpected curveball at times, so you just have to go with it. You may have to go with Plan B, C...or Z.  Regardless, things have a way of working themselves out for the best.  And expect to spend much more money than you planned for.  We spent money on what was most important.  The rest (furniture, etc.) can always be upgraded later.  And good people are priceless!  We have wonderful people working for us.  When we started out, we never expected to open the business in San Diego, but so far it seems to have been a great decision!
Finally, thank you USC Credit Union for believing in our dream and staying with us through this long journey!  Your patience and desire to help us kept us going.  We are both so grateful for our USC educations and how the USC family continues to support us.  Thank you and Fight On!

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