Since launching in 2010, KX Pilates has become one of the fastest growing service business in Australia, delivering revenues of almost $3 million in the past financial year, franchising its operations across Victoria, and now expanding into Western Australia and Sydney. In less than four years, KX Group has become reputable presence in the Melbourne fitness market, even winning the hearts of celebrities like singer, actress and X Factor Judge Natalie Bassingthwaite as well as radio news presenter and The Project host Carrie Bickmore. Last Saturday, KX Pilates (now KX Group) won Best Service Business of the Year at The Entourage’s Australian Startup Awards. So it all seems to be picture perfect for this business, but it wasn’t an overnight success.
In early 2010, after two years as the Head Trainer at Bootcamp Pilates in London’s West End, Aaron Smith returned home realising Australia’s fitness industry was missing something – High Performance Pilates. Although he had no experience in business, six months later, Smith decided to take a leap and open his first studio in Malvern, Victoria. His business is the first in Australia to offer High Performance Pilates.
Inspired by Japanese philosophy, Smith decided to name his business KX Pilates. Japanese for ‘change for the better’, the Kaizen Experience (or KX) is a philosophy that focuses on small and ongoing improvement. This reflects the purpose of KX Pilates – to make the local fitness industry better.
But how is High Performance Pilates different to traditional Pilates?
The traditional Pilates method was pioneered by Joseph Hubertus Pilates in the 1920s. It has since become a popular exercise system not only for people who want to achieve a lean physique, but also those seeking an antidote to modern day stressors and physical injuries. The traditional Pilates method targets key postural muscles, builds strength from the inside out, and brings the body into the correct alignment through controlled yet flowing movements.
Over the past decade or two, in typical postmodern style, fitness professionals have hybridised the Pilates method to include cardio and other fitness fundamentals. The yoga mat is swapped with a reformer machine; and the new method fuses the core strengthening elements of traditional Pilates with circuit, resistance and endurance training. KX Pilates describes this method as the “most innovative and intensive approach to full body conditioning”.
After one year in operation, Smith realised his business was highly scalable. He was quick to expand his operations to include a mix of wholly-owned, part-owned and franchised studios across Victoria. KX Pilates is available now in 11 locations across Victoria; and Smith is in the process of securing one more site in his home state, as well as two in Western Australia. He is currently living in Sydney preparing to launch his Surry Hills studio in September, making that a total of 15 locations by the end of 2014.
The go-getter that he is, Smith wasn’t content with KX Pilates simply having a presence in multiple locations. In 2012, he launched KX Retreats, a health and well-being programme that takes clients to Bali. This was the first step towards achieving Smith’s dream of diversifying his product offering. In 2013 the company surpassed the $1 million annual turnover mark and continued to respond to consumer demand by expanding the offering to include KX Barre and KX Yoga.
There’s a common understanding that all entrepreneurs have to be kickarse salespeople. But when asked about how he goes about selling, Smith said he’s never really had to sell and that KX gained traction organically.
But surely there is something people are attracted to? Smith said people love what KX offers. It’s an alternative to going to the gym at a time when more and more Australians are looking for flexible, less structured ways of staying fit.
When Smith talks about his business, he does so with fervour. It’s clear his self-belief is strong, and that would certainly have played its part when franchising his business and bringing on new staff. He even goes so far as to say that if you’re in business and not having fun, no matter how much money you earn, you are failing.
It is clear that Smith also pays careful attention to customer service and satisfaction. He said that it’s important to maintain a fun, lively atmosphere – especially in a fitness environment. This makes sense given the number of people that lose motivation to exercise due to the stench of ‘boring’ that can have an overwhelming presence in a gym.
At KX, it’s always ‘go, go, go!’ with fast beat music, quick changeovers between exercises and energetic staff. Although this may all sound exhausting, KX staff make sure to have a smile on their dial.
For Smith, the journey from inception to growth has been a challenging one, which is why Smith is dialling it down this year and focusing on a slightly slower expansion path. This gives him more time to spend with his life partner Andi Fiorenza, who recently left her marketing management role at BMW to work full time in the business, leading KX’s marketing as well as its franchise operations system and training.
KX Group’s growth, however fast or slow, is certainly one to keep an eye on. These guys may have been under the media radar, but they are onto something.