Brains Trust

From missing the mark to making a mark

- April 9, 2019 4 MIN READ

When my Pilates business thrived, I saw an opportunity to expand with related fitness brands. Here’s why it didn’t work out writes Aaron Smith, Founder of KX Pilates

Confession time: I’m a former personal trainer, but I knew not long after I started that the personal training industry in Australia was quite saturated and I was keen to explore other fitness options. I was in my twenties at the time so I decided to head overseas and spent a number of years travelling and trialling before I came across a dynamic style of pilates in London which just blew me away. I was inspired to create my own pilates workout, which I called KX, and soon after I was launching studios in Melbourne.

The business thrived and we soon moved into franchising the pilates brand. As a business owner with big ideas I am always looking at ’what’s next’ and at this point in time I was sure that expanding into yoga, barre and cycle studios was the right thing to do. After all, I had successfully moved from personal training to pilates so I had the confidence that this would also be a success. Unfortunately it didn’t quite work out that way but I did learn some key things along the way.

1. Innovate deep, not wide

Innovating outside of your speciality can be dangerous. While I strongly believe in innovation, there’s no guarantee every idea will turn into a good business decision.  This is what happened with our expansion into other fitness offers. KX Pilates was doing well so we decided to try other fitness areas, all at their inception under the KX brand, with similar marketing initiatives and similar looking studios.

But it turns out we’d strayed too far out of our lane and into areas I was just not passionate enough about: we were foremost a specialist pilates brand and we had to innovate as a pilates brand, not under a fitness umbrella. The time it takes for you to innovate within your lane and focus on your speciality is more worthwhile than going outside and trying to do it under a different offering. Since then we’ve developed improvements to the workout and will be introducing custom equipment over the next few months.

2. Listen to your people

It’s common as a new business owner to channel all your energy into a venture. At the beginning you’re likely to be doing most things on your own, so you’re going 100 miles an hour and want to conquer the world. Unfortunately, this can breed impatience, which leads to bad decisions.

Trying to expand into other fitness offerings was one of those decisions. I didn’t really stop to think of what it would mean for our core brand and in hindsight didn’t spend enough time considering the various outcomes and checking to see if we had the right processes and systems in place.

Since then I’ve surrounded myself with some great people – including my wife Andi – who will temper this impatience and help me think more clearly about the franchise. Make sure you’re supported by people who can give you that clarity, whether it’s a business partner, mentor, CEO or someone else who genuinely has your back. Sometimes you need to stop being stubborn, have an open mind and listen. You need these people in your business and you also need to be smart enough to recognise that sometimes they might just know better!

3. Learn from mistakes

No one likes to make mistakes but in business this is sometimes the fastest way to learn. The key is to have enough humility to identify the true cause of failure and avoid doing it again.

In 2010 when I started KX Pilates I opened the doors to my first studio, but on day one no one walked in. It turned out I hadn’t given enough thought to the strategy behind how to build awareness and acquire customers. That was a big wake-up call: knowing fitness and having an idea was one thing, but actually understanding marketing and selling was another. I quickly found a brand expert who helped me truly define what the KX brand stood for and how to translate that into an experience, a lesson that recently saw us open our 50th studio and expand into SE Asia.

4. Don’t dwell on lost potential

When I reflect on the costly exercise of trying to expand, of course I wonder if all that energy, time and focus has held us back from opening 100 studios or being across a few more international locations.

However, thinking about what might have been doesn’t really help us move forward so I’ve learnt to focus on the lessons learnt and take that forward into the future of the franchise. That means concentrating on our speciality, pilates, and constantly re-invigorating and re-motivating the team to continuously be better, because so many people, from franchises to staff, rely on us to keep the wheels turning. In early 2017 I rebranded all of these fitness offerings and either sold part or all of them off. After bringing in passionate hard working people and a new brand image to reflect what that fitness offering is about, it’s funny how they have succeeded in their own right.

5. Focus on your strengths

Do I regret trying new fitness offerings? While there was certainly an opportunity cost to the failed experiment, perhaps I needed to do it to realise our strength is pilates and that’s why it will be our focus going forward.

It also showed me some of my weaknesses and proved that I need to slow down and not just follow any big shiny thing in front of me. Being able to learn from that is my strength, with the added bonus that I now know who to listen to when new ideas get thrown into the mix.

Trying something different can be punishing if it doesn’t work out, but the lessons that come from mistakes are invaluable in their own way. Stumbling has made me determined more than ever to succeed, and in many ways that’s the grit that shapes the pearl in business. My franchise is definitely healthier for it.

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