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How Brooklyn Entrepreneur Marisa Fuller Brought Studio Pilates From Australia to the U.S.

How Brooklyn Entrepreneur Marisa Fuller Brought Studio Pilates From Australia to the U.S.

Studio Pilates, a burgeoning Australian boutique fitness brand, uses digital technology to make the in-class experience better for members

Marisa Fuller will soon celebrate the grand opening of her third Pilates franchise location, an impressive feat for someone who made her debut in the boutique fitness space without any prior experience during a global pandemic.

This Saturday, Studio Pilates, an Australian brand offering tech-forward Pilates classes, opens its newest spot in the Brooklyn neighborhood of Cobble Hill. It will mark Studio Pilates’ fifth location in the U.S., three of which are owned by Fuller.

Fuller long believed she’d be running her own Pilates studios one day, it was just a question of timing. During a 20-year career in advertising sales, Fuller fell in love with Pilates – and boutique fitness in general – as a way to unwind from a stressful job.

“In the back of my mind, I always said, ‘I want to be able to do this when the time is right,’” she says.

That time came when a pair of unfortunate life events pushed Fuller into action. Several years ago, she tested positive for BRCA1, a gene mutation that makes one more likely to develop breast cancer. After that, in 2018, Fuller went through a divorce, which led her to reassess.

Studio Pilates
credit: Studio Pilates

“I’m sitting in my half-empty apartment, crying over myself, and I realized, ‘I’m the only one that’s going to be able to make myself happy,’” she says. “What is that? It was boutique fitness and Pilates.”

Fuller immediately got to work on making her dream a reality. She spoke with a few different franchise operators before meeting Studio Pilates founders Jade and Tanya Winter while the Australians were vacationing in New York. The sides formed a quick connection, and the conversations soon got serious.

In 2019, Fuller signed a franchise agreement to open Studio Pilates’ first U.S. location.

“Their passion for community was at the forefront of the conversation,” Fuller recalls of her meeting with the Winters. “That was something I always felt boutique fitness studios gave me when I needed that outlet from those stressful days in advertising sales. People knew me, they knew what was going on in my life.”

Another reason Fuller chose Studio Pilates was the Australian brand’s emphasis on using digital technology to make the in-class experience better for members.

“Studio Pilates is unique in the fact that we have digital screens demonstrating all the moves that are happening in the workout,” Fuller explains. “It frees the instructor’s time to give a lot of personalized attention to every single client in the room. That’s something that’s never been done in the Pilates world.”

Members can use the digital screens for guidance to make sure they don’t get lost or sidetracked during the 40-minute Pilates sessions. The screens also help reinforce proper form, which helps reduce the risk of injury.

“Usually by the second class, clients say, ‘This is amazing. I can never go back to another type of Pilates studio because I was always so lost,’” Fuller says.

Despite signing the franchise agreement in 2019, Fuller couldn’t open her first Studio Pilates location until January 2021 due to the pandemic.

It was a trying time, but she never thought about giving up.

“I stuck with the studio because I had the whole Studio Pilates family behind me and because it was my dream,” she says. “I can’t emphasize that enough, it was truly my dream.”

Fuller opened the studio, in Brooklyn’s South Slope neighborhood, with a full set of COVID-related safety precautions in place, including using only 6 of the 14 reformers in the studio to maintain social distancing.

Business has been booming at the South Slope location since then, as Fuller and the Studio Pilates corporate team have beefed up their marketing efforts and as word of mouth spreads.

“There’s like 30 new faces every week that come through the doors,” Fuller says. “It’s mind-blowing.”

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credit: Studio Pilates

Fuller then opened her second Studio Pilates location in Wilmington, North Carolina, so she could spend more time with her parents, who had moved to the coastal town.

Bolstered by the experience of setting up shop in a new city, Fuller is now spearheading Studio Pilates’ expansion efforts in the U.S., speaking with potential franchisees about the benefits of joining up.

The Australian brand currently has five U.S. locations, with a pair of studios in Louisville, Kentucky, in addition to the ones Fuller owns in Brooklyn and North Carolina. More locations are coming soon, including one that’s set to open in Superior, Colorado. Studio Pilates also is in talks to bring locations to Texas and Washington D.C.

As for her advice to would-be franchisees looking to get into the boutique fitness space, Fuller encourages people to follow their dreams, but also be realistic.

“Everyone has passion, but you shouldn’t just open a franchise because it sounds great,” Fuller explains. “Do your research. Know your competitors and understand how you’re different from them. Understand the neighborhood you might be going into.’”

Ahead of Saturday’s grand opening in Cobble Hill, Fuller reflects that it’s been challenging to run her own Pilates franchises, but worth it.

“It might be cliche, but the most rewarding thing is hearing my clients tell me, ‘Thank you for being here, you’ve really created something truly special,’ or, ‘My body has never felt this strong, I no longer have to go to a chiropractor.’”

“That’s all I can ever ask for in this business,” she says.

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