The RTR Pilates Story: An Accidental Expansion
by Reina Offutt

RTR Pilates started as a single location in 2006 in the Potomac area of Washington, D.C. After 6 years, I began plans to expand into a second studio.

What I didn’t expect was to go from 1 to 3 studios in the course of seven months. That was…a bit of an accident.

2012 was an exciting year, to say the least!

An accidental opportunity

I wish I could say my expansion from 1 to 3 studios in just 7 months was a strategic decision thought out years in advance. In reality, it was more of an accidental opportunity. Because sometimes business is about seeing the potential and running with it.

Back in summer 2012, we were in the works to open our second location in Chevy Chase, in the shopping center above Whole Foods. I had 11 reformers purchased and set to arrive that September. The lease was signed and we were all set to move forward on the renovation process…or so we thought.

While we were working through the drawings and permitting process, it was determined that the plumbing for our studio would have to go through the ceiling above the meat department in Whole Foods. There was no way around it.

Obviously, Whole Foods was not thrilled.

As a result of the meat department/plumbing conflict, our renovations were put on hold while the landlord negotiated with Whole Foods. We soon found out that this would go on for a while. In the meantime, I still had 11 brand new reformers set to arrive, and no space in my house to put them.

So when it became apparent that the Whole Foods negotiations would take longer than we planned, I decided to pivot.

In August 2012, I decided to open a third studio.

The Palisades

I already knew that I wanted a third studio location in the Palisades to create the most convenient network of studio locations. After a bit of research, I approached the landlord of a shell commercial space that had formally been an H&R block. It was August, when half of D.C. went on vacation and no one got anything done. But I told the landlord that if we could finalize the lease negotiations in just 2 weeks, then I would take the space as-is.

Somehow, with a lot of elbow grease and persistence, it worked! Of course, we hadn’t prepared to pay rent on 3 studio locations. We negotiated 6 months of free rent for the Palisades location, which allowed us the grace period to set up the space and begin taking in revenue for the location, which could then be used to fund further renovations at the Chevy Chase location.

In what was a completely insane project timeline, we signed the lease, added a new coat of paint, slapped mirrors on the wall, installed our beautiful new reformers, and opened our Palisades location on September 6, 2012.

Chevy Chase

While we opened our Palisades studio, things finally began to move again in the Chevy Chase location in late fall 2012. Whole Foods agreed to let the plumbing go through the ceiling, but there were still a few speed bumps.

In order to move our plumbing through the ceiling, we had to drill through 3 feet of concrete and make sure that we wouldn’t hit any rebar or essential building elements. Unfortunately, in order to run the scans we needed, we had to bring a special x-ray into Whole Foods…and we couldn’t let anyone within 100 feet of it.

Now, during the holiday season, Whole Foods runs as a 24/7 operation, from accepting deliveries to stocking shelves. Understandably, Whole Foods did not want us to section off their entire meat department during the holidays.

As a result, we set up a time to scan the concrete ceiling after the holidays, on January 5. At 4:00am, with a hired security team (I wish I was joking).

But luckily, after an interesting all-nighter in the Whole Foods meat department, we were able to core drill through the concrete and get our plumbing in order.

Finally, in March 2013, more than 18 months after we negotiated the lease for our Chevy Chase location, we opened our third studio location.

Lessons learned

Opening our Palisades location was a bit of an accident. The Chevy Chase delay was a giant rock that landed in the middle of the path I planned for my business. But instead of slamming into the rock over and over again, I decided to go around it, and move forward on a slightly different road.

Hacking the learning curve

As a business owner, scaling from 1 to 3 studio locations came with a big learning curve. I went from being present at 1 location, 100% of the time, to splitting my attention across 3 locations. It wasn’t a straight line of success. At first, I felt spread thin.

In order to manage my business efficiently, I had to systemize the way I worked. As an engineer, I knew that systems and automation were key to increasing output. So, just like we focus on efficient systems in our classes, I created as many systems as possible in our studio operations.

To keep our reformers and studios running, we brought on Bill, our amazing handyman and unsung hero who cares for 58 reformers across our (now 5) studio locations.

To bring on the instructors we needed for all three studios, we created our in-house instructor training program, to foster expert instructors who were ready to hit the ground running.

In the end

Opening Palisades ended up being the best thing ever for RTR and its clients. We created a triangulated footprint in the area, which made our classes accessible and convenient for a wider client base. We were able to leverage the revenue from Palisades to fund the Chevy Chase renovation, and scale exponentially.

It served as a huge challenge and opportunity for me as a business owner, and I am so proud of how the team moved forward to make it happen. And of course, it was only possible because of our amazing community.

Here’s to finding new ways to navigate the challenges that comes your way, and making the most of every opportunity!