Nancy Hodari, founder of Equilibrium Studio in Bloomfield Hills, Michigan, has been an inspiring entrepreneur since I met her in 2000. I had registered for my Pilates certification courses and came to her looking for a studio internship. Immediately, I knew she was extremely smart and knowledgeable about business, a dedicated and clear leader, and a dynamic force in the world I wanted so much to be part of.
Fast forward 12 years. Over the past few summers I’ve traveled back to Michigan to guest teach STOTT PILATES workshops. Nancy is still an inspiration. It’s amazing to see how her studio has evolved over the last 15 years! I recently sat down with her to ask her a few questions about studio ownership and the challenges of being an entrepreneur.
HOLLY: What year did you open Equilibrium Studio?
Nancy: It was 1996.
HOLLY: Wow. Does it feel like it’s been more than 20 years?
Nancy: “Growing” a business is like raising children in that sometimes it is painfully slow and easy to feel in a quagmire, but then the years fly by almost without noticing!
Holly: Why did you open the studio?
Nancy: When I was practicing law I had a nerve injury that led to surgery and walking with a brace. I found one Pilates teacher in Ann Arbor and one in New York who helped me work on balance, gait, core strength, and I was hooked on Pilates. Knowing full well that Michigan would not miss another attorney, I embraced the idea of bringing a Pilates training studio to Michigan and sharing the profound results that Pilates had provided me with others.
HOLLY: I certainly have years that have felt impossibly hard but somehow still manage to get to the next year. Have any hard years? Did you worry how you were going to keep it all going?
Nancy: I’ve had a few really challenging years:
First was early on. I only had two instructors and one had visa problems so was forced to leave the country.
The second was when my business partner decided that she needed to leave the business, which was extremely difficult and painful to “buy” her out.
And most recently in 2008 the economy tanked. Teachers left the state because their husbands lost their jobs and clients were leaving Michigan. I didn’t have teachers or clients to replace them.
Holly: I absolutely can relate to all three of these challenges! I have had them all as well – first business partnership buy-out, than economic downturn, and most recently critical instructors leaving Bay Area because of the cost of living increase.
HOLLY: What qualities do you think a studio owner must have in order to have longevity like you?
Nancy: A studio owner must have a passion for their business, coupled with the acceptance that due to the size of our business, every aspect of the business comes under their quality control. If the toilet breaks, it’s still my problem. If our computers need replacing it’s my problem etc. If marketing decisions need to be made, it’s still me that makes them. Etc etc etc.
Holly: Yes. That is so true. The ability to be available to the studio needs is essential.
I think what’s so challenging about what you describe is that it is 24-hours a day, 365 days per year. Often when making decisions, I realize I’m not an expert at everything. I find myself doing as much research as I can and then making the best decision I can because the decision must be made. But do wish I had more of a team that could help me make decisions because obviously I don’t know everything.
Holly: What are the biggest challenges you’ve faced as a female owner of a small business?
Nancy: By nature women are nurturing and emotional. This can get in the way of making tough decisions. My nature is to want everyone to be happy. However, that is not the main goal of running a small business. Sometimes you must make decisions that people do not like but are right for the business.
I also find it difficult to balance my studio family and work obligations, along with the needs of my actual family at home. When I opened Equilibrium, I had a husband and four children at home.
Holly: One of the coolest aspects of owning a Pilates studio is that the community at the studio become so strong. It really is like a family! But it is impressive to me that you were able to get started with four kids at home!
Holly: In what ways do you think being a female in this industry has helped or hindered your success as a small business owner?
Nancy: I really have not experienced any discrimination, I’m sure due to the nature of the fitness business. Many boutique studios in my area are owned by women but I don’t think women support each other as much as they should. I think as women we hold a profound fear of failure. So every business is perceived as a competitor instead of a colleague. I have never heard a male business owner say “I can’t believe he’s opening his law office next to mine,” or his restaurant, or gas station etc. Yet I consistently see women treat other business owners as the enemy.
Holly: I feel in San Francisco I don’t get taken seriously as an entrepreneur because I have a small fitness business versus a start-up. If I had opened a start-up, regardless of my success or failure, I would be perceived as a female force in the business world. I think here it feels like the perception is that I “hobby” at business.
Holly: What are the three most important business-related things you wish you knew before opening a studio?
- How to read a balance sheet.
- How to accurately plan for all expenses-expected and other.
- How to determine which investments in the studio were the most important.
Holly: These are all essential. I’m going to hit you up for a follow-up post “How-to” each of these things 🙂
Holly: What has been the most unexpected aspect of owning a business?
Nancy: When I opened there were no Pilates teachers in Michigan. For several years I lived with the fear of not having enough teachers. The good news is that the core group of instructors have stayed all these years and we now have 25 instructors.
Holly: What are the 5 biggest time-suckers that you encounter every week?
Nancy: The five biggest time-suckers are email, email, email, email, and email.
I’ve tried different strategies for time management such as not looking at email until 3pm so that I set the agenda for my day and am not simply responding to emails. I’m still working on finding a strategy that works for me.
Holly: What would you consider to be your greatest successes?
Nancy: The greatest success has been my ability to stay relevant by being open to change, and by acknowledging that I can’t sit back and coast. I feel driven to invest in my business and to find ways to reach more people and expand on our mission.
Holly: You’re so right. Change is absolutely the only way to survive. Often my clients say, “You just rebuilt your website,” or “why did you move the equipment” or “Why did you change the class description.” It is so hard to stay in the game and at the top. It means constant reevaluation. I don’t think I’ve ever felt like I got the formula and just needed to execute it indefinitely.
Holly: Would you do it again?
Nancy: I would do it again – absolutely! Yes, I have enjoyed most of it.
Holly: Well I for one would not be where I am today if it weren’t for Equilibrium! It gave me such a strong foundation and launch pad for my career.
Thank you Nancy for sharing your experience with us! I’ve learned so much from you over the years.