Escape the Norm and Find an Online Studio Scheduler You Actually Love

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Note from Kaleen:  Katie is one of my dearest friends, whom I met while working at Balanced Body.  She is outgoing, loud-mouthed, smart and an awesome Pilates instructor who has her own busy studio.  I help her with her website and graphic design, and since she raves about Tula so much I asked her to write something for you guys.  I hope you enjoy!

By Katie Prior of Pilates Heartcore, Rancho Cordova, Ca.

In the world today, there are a lot of choices out there for us.  Hundreds of resturaunts, multiple coffee shops and clothing stores galore.  And if you cannot find what you need in a physical store, then you just go online.  Or these days, you go online first and nix the stores all together.  There are so many choices that oftentimes it can be overwhelming.  Too many decisions can make a person confused.

This is also true when there is a lack of choices.  If you only have one or two choices you just hope that they are going to deliver what you need.  Due to the small market that Pilates occupies, we as Pilates professionals aren’t always given many choices when it comes to our career needs or studio operation requirements.  For training you often have to travel to a far away location in order to attend, and for equipment there are really only three quality brands to pick from and.  Plus, you can search long and hard and not find qualified instructors to hire for your studio.  It’s tough!

This is especially true when it comes to scheduling and software.  Who is the first company that comes to mind when I say Online Studio Scheduler?  MindBody right?  Across the board, it’s MindBody.  It’s the largest company in the realm of fitness studio software systems.  And yes, it is impressive that they have grown along with an industry that is gaining quite a bit of traction and notoriety in our world today.  But does that make them the best?  Are they the superior choice for what your Pilates studio needs?

I have a unique position on this.  My day job for the last 3 years has been in Customer Service of a major Pilates equipment company.  On any given day I talk to between 10 and 20 Pilates instructors and studio owners.  In order to help them analyze their studio equipment needs, we talk.  We talk about the size of their space, how many clients they see, where they are located, what classes they want to teach or add, how their website is looking and working and what software they use for their schedule and payments.  Most say MindBody.  So I ask why MindBody?  And typically the answer is: Because everyone else does.

I never hear anyone say they use Mindbody because it’s the best!

Listen, we are all busy.  Pilates instructors and studio owners don’t have time to spend hours digging online for other options.  Sometimes, it’s just easier to go with what is right there in front of us.  It doesn’t matter if it is more expensive, less user friendly, harder to set up, harder to use, isn’t pretty, they haven’t heard glowing reviews about it and it captures your clients as its own leads.  It’s there and known, so people use it.

After years of hearing my peers complain about MindBody, when it was time to open my studio I realized I had to find an alternative.  I am here to tell you that I spent hours doing research on scheduling systems.  HOURS!

Little tidbit about me:  I am SUPER anal and obsessive when it comes to this sort of thing.  I’m the kind of person who will research something to death, then mull it over and over and over in my head, lay in bed running circles around it mentally, and make people listen to me while I talk it to death before making a decision.  I want to make sure I have exhausted my options (and the ears of my husband) before I decide which path to take.   In this case, I knew I didn’t want to use MindBody so I purposely set out to find a better option.

I did my homework and tried out 2-week free demos for three different services.  I tested them with clients, tried to integrate them with my website, and compared features I knew to be critical to my business success.  After all this testing, the service I decided on was Tula Software.

Tula isn’t a huge corporation.  They are a small company that started when the founder’s wife opened up a Yoga studio.  When they weren’t happy with the options out there for software, they decided to make their own.  The result is a web-based software system that takes just minutes to set up for your studio, and even less time for your clients to make an account and register for classes.  There are custom iPhone apps, a find-a-sub feature, electronic waivers, website widgets, multiple permission levels for your teachers, online payment and registration and no contract required.  They can also migrate your data over from your current software, so switching your service provider is easy.

One of my favorite things about Tula is that they match the color of your website in their website widgets so the scheduling and payment functions are seamless!  No bouncing clients off your page to a boring-a$$ white MindBody schedule.  You can have a hot pink and black schedule!!!

You are probably thinking, WHAT?!?  Oh yes, people, options galore.  Freedom to be freaky.  Freedom to jump in your app, make a change in less than 2 minutes, jump out, and carry on with your life.  Who doesn’t want that?  And they are about half the price of MindBody.  HALF!

Plus, if you do get stuck on something and refuse to read their easy-to-find-and-understand Users Guide and frantically email them IN ALL CAPS (hey, I was freaking out!), the owner is one of the guys who gets back to you in less than 10 minutes every time you have a question. This company is amazing. Simply amazing.

Tula isn’t paying me to tell you this.  Nope.  Tula didn’t ask me to talk about them on Instagram or Facebook.  They don’t even have an affiliate program, so I don’t get anything if you go sign up after reading this.  I am just one of those people who, when I find an amazing frozen yogurt place, will be like DUDE I found this amazing frozen yogurt place, you have to try it!!!!  I have a big mouth and I like to share good stuff.  I love when people share with me what they like and what works for them.  So now I’m sharing Tula with you.  Tula works.

If you want to see Tula in action you can visit my studio’s website at www.getheartcore.com .  Just try not to drool on my website, ‘cause you can have that too– it was done by my lovely lady friend here at The Fit Reformer.

Want to find out more about Tula?  Check out these links:

tula mockup 1-min

What riding my bike taught me about the difficulties of Pilates equipment maintenance

KaleenStudioTips

A couple of weeks ago my boyfriend and I went cycling through wine country in Dahlonega, Georgia.  We stayed in a cool container cabin at the Hiker Hostel, visited a few wineries, and cycled 32 miles and climbed 2500 feet.  Whew!  My quads were bricks!

About 3/4 of the way through our ride, almost to our last winery, I was cursing my bike.  My fitness.  The hills.  You name it.  And every time my bike took 5 seconds (yes, 5 whole seconds!) to shift gears while climbing, boy was I furious!  That’s like 4 or 5 more pedals at an effort that I didn’t want to be at!   It was the straw that broke the camels back.

The thing is, around town I don’t mind that my bike doesn’t shift right away.  However, on these short, everyday trips, I’m only riding for 10-20 minutes at a time and there aren’t such steep hills.   I simply think of my bike as a mode of transportation, not an object to love.

I use my bike all the time, but I’m not really interested in working on it.

So I don’t.  And as a result, it frustrates me when I absolutely need it the most.

While I was riding, I was chastising myself.  Why didn’t I just YouTube how to adjust my shifting?  Why didn’t I take the time to fix it?

Actually sitting down and adjusting the tension on the cables so it will shift smoother is actually pretty easy.  It takes 5-10 minutes, maybe, and provides a much more user friendly and enjoyable ride.  But, I hadn’t taken the time to be proactive and learn how to prevent it or fix it until after it caused me a bunch of heartache.

Pilates equipment maintenance is the same.  It’s easy to ignore it.  The machines function fairly well, and over time you grow used to the quirks and bumps and little squeaks that develop.

What I want my clients and the Pilates industry to realize is that, someday, your un-maintained Pilates apparatus will fail you.

In the cycling world, you can turn to YouTube for literally thousands of video tutorials on how to maintain and repair your bike, no matter what size, style manufacturer it is.  Or, if you don’t want to work on your bike yourself, you can pay to take your bike to a professional and get a tune-up at a local bike shop.

As the Pilates industry grows, the need for this support network does too!  Your Pilates equipment facilitates the teaching of your method, and unsafe, inefficient and noisy equipment detracts from that experience.

We want people to fall in love with Pilates and what it can do for their lives.  Don’t let sub-par equipment performance detract from the head-over-heels feeling.  Just like riding a poorly-maintained bike can turn you off of bike riding, a poorly-maintained Reformer, Cadillac or chair can turn you off of Pilates.

To help grow the Pilates industry, I want to create the same on-going equipment support opportunities for Pilates equipment owners that bike riders have.

First, we need education for equipment owners.  I can’t tell you how many studios I visit or instructors I talk to that think their equipment doesn’t need regular care beyond wiping the upholstery between clients.  It’s not their fault… the industry just doesn’t stress the importance of safe and effective equipment.  Maintenance of Pilates equipment needs to be as natural as an oil change on your car.

Second, we need expert service-providers to turn to for on-site maintenance and repairs.  I serve the Southern US and Northern California.  The Pilates Guy is in the LA Area.  The Pilates Engineer is in New York.  And the Pilates Doctor is in Colorado.   These are my colleagues who work specifically on Pilates Equipment.  Unfortunately, I’m not sure the Pilates industry will exactly copy the bike shop model and create such an abundance of local repair shops.  This situation is quite unlucky for those studios who aren’t near these four US locations.

Third, we need an online resource for Pilates equipment owners to learn about caring for their equipment themselves, independent of the major manufacturers and easy for non-technical people to understand.  This will give studios the option to do it themselves, no matter what their budget, location or technical ability and desire.  It will provide reviews and advice for every major brand of equipment to give Pilates professionals the chance to make educated buying decisions.  Most importantly, it will be another way to keep Pilates studios in peak shape to help attract new clients and retain existing ones.

During that bike trip I got a taste of what it’s like to be a consumer who uses a machine yet doesn’t maintain or repair it, even though it’s a simple fix.  I had learned to live with the sub-par performance of my bike, and it bit me in the butt at the time I asked just a little bit more from it.  Luckily, there are tons of resources out there for bike owners and I can teach myself how to fix it myself.

Now, it’s time to create those same resources for you, my beloved Pilates instructors and studio owners, to grow our awesome community.

If you’d like to help me create resources and grow this corner of the Pilates industry, please consider taking 3 minutes out of your day to fill out this survey.  It will only be live until April 11th, 2016.  As a thank you, I will email you a copy of my four-page Ultimate DIY Maintenance Guide.

Thanks for your help!

How to create and actually perform an equipment maintenance routine

KaleenStudioTips

Pilates equipment maintenance is an easy subject to gloss over in the grand scheme of running a successful business.  Everyone knows they should be doing it, but few do.  It’s like cleaning your house or maintaining your car.  The average person knows there are basic schedules and tasks they should do, but they often put them off until it’s really necessary.  It’s too easy for other tasks (often more fun or seemingly important tasks!) to get in the way.

Sometimes I go into a studio and it is immediately evident that I’m working with someone who is Type-A about everything (seriously, everything).  Their laundry room at home is impeccable, I’m sure.  Dirty clothes sorted by color and type, special hanging racks for air dry only clothes, every drawer and basket labeled.  Nothing overflowing from its place or casually set aside in the heat of the moment.

In their studio, they aren’t really sure about what kind of maintenance they should be doing, but in the meantime they want everything to look and feel great so they clean like they’d clean their house.  No dust, no dirt, no hair, no debris, no grime.

For these people, my job is to make small tweaks.  Give them a few extra tools to make them confident in their existing habits, and effective with the few special techniques that will really make their studio shine.

But for the other 95% of my clients, regular maintenance falls by the wayside.  Not for lack of knowledge or desire, but the realities of running a business simply get in the way.  Then, the task snowballs, growing in size and scope until instead of just one hour of easy tasks, it requires several hours of troubleshooting.  Not. Fun.

I’ve been there.

We all know that regular care for our Pilates equipment is essential to a long life.  You may have even picked up a few tips here and there on my instagram, facebook, or #StudioTips blog.  But now you need to figure out how in the heck to fit in one more hour of unglamorous work to your already packed and probably pretty great life.

Your goal is to have safe, functional Pilates equipment that will last as long as you need it to.  (I work on twenty year old equipment very often, so it is not crazy to think your equipment can last your whole career!)

Here are some tips I’ve picked up from studios around the country backed by research.  After all, change is hard!

Make small changes

Instead of saying, “I’m going to add one hour of maintenance to my schedule every Friday afternoon,” Think in baby steps.  “After my last client on Friday I will wipe all the Reformer rails,” is a much smaller and more specific target to achieve, making success much more likely.   Linking new habits one at a time to existing habits is a great way to start.

Plan to fail

You probably won’t be able to check off your weekly maintenance every week, or your quarterly routine exactly on time every time.  So, instead of saying, “What the hell” and thinking you can just pick it up again next week, figure out where your plan went wrong.

If, on Friday afternoon you are just exhausted and ready to go home so you don’t want to take the 15 minutes to clean the rails on each Reformer because Netflix is calling your name, try cleaning the rails at the beginning of your day on Fridays.  Or, at lunch on another day of the week.  Make it easy to avoid excuses.

Another great way to prevent yourself from avoiding the small, easy tasks like lubricating a noisy hinge is to keep your maintenance supplies together in an easily accessible place.  If you don’t, hunting down the right tool for the job will be more effort than actually fixing the problem, making it easier to put off a simple task.

Spread the responsibility

If you work in a larger studio with multiple instructors, try assigning each instructor one task or piece of equipment.  If John knows he is responsible for the Wall Towers, and Lisa is in charge of the Reformers, you are breaking down the large task into smaller, more manageable chunks.

Get creative with your staff and think of ways to incentivize this un-glamorous task by setting goals and recognizing great work.  If your staff consistently performs the weekly and quarterly tasks for a year, throw a studio party or  give everyone an extra vacation day.  Have a bulletin board with space to post flattering comments from clients, like, “The Push-Through Bar was so quiet today!” or “Your studio is so clean!”  Or, add a space on your current employee recognition system that allows others your staff to praise their peers not only for customer service but for studio care.

Find a way to make sure equipment maintenance is seen as a normal and integral part of the studio’s success.

Additionally, some studios will train a student of theirs and trade Pilates sessions for regular maintenance work.  One hour of work for one hour of group class.  Or, two hours of maintenance work for a Private session.  The availability of your student and how much you value a regular routine should influence the agreement you make.

Track your progress

Without a way to easily track your habits, it is easy to convince yourself that you are more consistent than you actually are!   Having to make choices (or dig deep into your memory to try and remember when you did what) depletes your willpower.  Having a calendar with an easy-to-follow checklist not only helps you recall the activities, but actually reduces the burden on the brain and gives you a little psychological lift!

This is why I created my Equipment Maintenance Log.  It’s the only planner made specifically for Pilates studios to track their equipment and maintenance routines.  Never forget when you last changed a spring or did a safety inspection again!

Do you have any other tips or tricks for keeping your maintenance routine?  Tell me about them in the comments below!

The Number 1 missed question on my Maintenance Quiz

KaleenStudioTips

Before you read the rest of this post, take a minute to go take the maintenance quiz.  It’s quick, free and I need some more data to make any sort of statistical analysis!

Go ahead, I’ll wait.

……..

…………..

……..

Thanks!!  Now that you have done that, we can talk about some of the answers I’ve see submitted.

Before we start, I want to note that at the time of this post I had only 9 surveys submitted, so let’s consider these preliminary results.

The first question on the quiz asks, “How often do you clean your Reformer rails?”  And it’s first for a reason: I find that the condition and cleanliness of my client’s Reformer rails are the best indication of the overall health of their studio equipment.  When the rails are dry and dust free, it is apparent that the owner and his/her staff spend some time regularly getting up close and personal with some cleaning supplies and their equipment.

Not only is the condition of the rails an indicator for the overall state of the apparatus, but it also helps keep your Reformer running smoothly much longer.  You’ve heard me harp on this before: all that dirt and debris gets into the wheels and makes them grindy and go “bump bump bump” as the carriage rolls.  UGH!

Total number of people who answered this correctly: 22%.

I find it even more interesting, though, that 33% answered that they NEVER clean their rails.  I hope that will change after seeing the results of their quiz.

The rest of the quiz revealed even more data:

  • Hardly anyone keeps a maintenance log, regularly tightens nuts and bolts, or knows what to use to eliminate noises in moving parts
  • Most people know where their original tools are that came with their equipment (put them to use, guys!)
  • An equally high percentage of people use an appropriate cleaner… basically anything except for heavily concentrated essential oil and water mixtures, or Lysol wipes.  Good job guys!
  • And, to my great pleasure, everyone except for one person indicated they wanted to learn more about maintenance! Yippee!

mockup smallTo help those of you who aren’t sure how to take care of your equipment and keep a log, I’m debuting a new product at POT Phoenix: Studio Equipment Maintenance Log.  This bound book will be a beautiful and super handy addition to your studio.

It features:

  • Four pages of maintenance how-to guides
  • Weekly and quarterly checklists
  • Over 30 individual apparatus log sheets to track observations, repairs and upgrades

You can Pre-order it here.  I’ll have some for sale POT Phoenix and shipping them to everyone else on April 16, 2016!

While you wait, go wipe down your Reformer rails!

Don’t Be Afraid of the Nuts and Bolts: Easy Equipment Maintenance for Pilates Instructors

KaleenStudioTips

I’ve been published!  It’s an honor to be featured in one of Brett Miller’s Pilates Intel newsletters.  The subject: learning how to take care of your own Pilates equipment!  Here’s an excerpt.

One of the first things the professor in my college Introduction to Engineering course told the class was that that no mechanical invention is truly unique. Everything we make or work on as engineers already exists somewhere in nature. Most notably, the human body.

My education as a maker and an engineer has been a long and incredibly fun one. I love figuring things out. The challenge of understanding all the parts to make the contraption smoother, faster, stronger, quieter, or better drives me. The use of my body and brain to create is addicting. It’s where I find my “flow.”

I imagine you feel similarly as a Pilates instructor, analyzing body movement and reworking components to make it function properly. Just like a mechanical engineer might work on a car engine, a Pilates instructor works on the human body.

To get started, here is a quick list of things you should be doing regularly to keep your equipment healthy:

To read the full article, subscribe to Brett’s newsletter, here.

New Equipment vs. Refurbishing Old Equipment

KaleenStudioTips

Some of you are looking to add equipment to your studio.  Or, you are looking to replace your current equipment.  How do you know whether to buy new from the manufacturer or scour craigslist and ebay for used equipment?  Is your older equipment worth refurbishing?

Owning high quality equipment from Gratz, Balanced Body or Peak is a great investment, as it retains its value and relative condition over time.  Consider that if you closed your studio tomorrow, your client list would be hard to sell.  But, your equipment would be worth quite a lot.

Here are a few questions to ask yourself when you are considering adding or starting your stable.

Do you own your current equipment?

Basically, the goal here is to own your equipment.

Scenario: Borrowed Equipment

  • If you are borrowing the equipment and do not have to pay for maintenance, then by all means, string that awesome deal out!  Just be prepared for the day that the deal ends.
  • If you are borrowing the equipment and have to pay for maintenance, you are probably still in an okay position.  Especially if there is no room for more equipment and you share the space with the equipment owner (i.e. another instructor is letting you use their equipment).
  • If you are borrowing the equipment, have to pay for maintenance, are not sharing the equipment with its owner, have to deal with a crappy “lender” that puts a strain on your relationship, and/or you are planning to teach Pilates long-term, I strongly suggest discussing financing with your manufacturer or credit card company to purchase your own equipment.

Scenario: Leased Equipment

  • I can’t really fathom why you might want to lease equipment, except if it is only a short period of time and you don’t want to deal with the hassle of selling it when you are through.

Scenario: Financed Equipment

  • If you are still making payments on new equipment, I hope your equipment will be five years old or younger when you finally own it.  In which case, good job!
  • If you are financing used equipment through a private party (or “renting” their equipment) for more than five years, CAREFUL!  The value of used equipment can be over-stated in these deals and it may be better to finance new equipment in the long run.  Be sure you explore all your options before agreeing to pay for someone else’s old equipment.

Scenario: You don’t own any equipment yet

  • If you are looking to open a small studio or home studio, bolster your patience and set up some alerts for equipment on ebay and craigslist.  Be sure to include cities within a 5 hour or so radius, because even driving to get used equipment can be worth it.
  • If you are opening a large studio with more than two or three Reformers, check out what the manufacturers can offer you in terms of discounts and financing.  It’s nice to have uniform equipment personalized to your space, brand new, and under warranty.
  • If you are opening a large studio, ask around at other local studios to see if any of them know someone else in the business who is looking to sell their studio equipment.  Often there are successful studios who want to upgrade, or studios who are closing that don’t know what to do with their old equipment or how to advertise it.  Make your interest known and a sweet deal might land in your lap.

Are you ready to take care of your equipment as it ages?

I feel as if I’m about to adopt out a new puppy.  But, you’ve heard me harp on this before.  Once you buy your equipment your work is not done!  Regular cleaning, tune-ups and replacement parts are required!  Be sure to budget for new springs (yes, all of them!) every two years.  Upholstery and foam every 6-8.  Wheels and ropes every 5.  And off-hand squeak, creak, noise and sticky maintenance as it comes up.  Plus, the time to wipe the rails every week and do periodic safety checks.

Do you know how to value used equipment?

A lot of you want to buy used equipment.  Those deals you see on Craigslist are tempting, and usually in great condition… they’re probably for sale because they didn’t get used enough!  A lot of the time you are not just saving money by not paying sales tax or shipping, but also a slightly depreciated value.

Here is what you should expect to pay for used equipment less than 10 years old:

  • Wood Studio Reformer: $1500-2500
  • Wood Studio Reformer w/Tower: $3000-4000
  • Allegro Reformer: $2000
  • Allegro Reformer w/Tower: $3000
  • Allegro 2 Reformer: $3000
  • Combo Chair: $800
  • Reformer-Trapeze Combo: $4500
  • Cadillac: $2500
  • Gratz Reformer: $3500

Think similar prices for Peak and Stott equipment.

When you start seeing equipment that is more than 10 years old, like some wood studio Reformers and Allegros, go with caution.  These are not worth the same as those examples I’ve listed above.

  • >10 year old Wood Studio Reformer: $1500
  • >10 year old Allegro Reformer: $1200
  • >10 year old Allegro Reformer w/Tower: $1600

As with any purchase, these prices are ballpark for used equipment which has been gently used and well cared for.  Sometimes you will see equipment new in box (NIB) or less than a year old.  Expect to pay close to the full sale price on these items, minus sales tax and shipping, of course.  That can save you over $500 alone!

Which upgrades are necessary?

If you see any of these signs on used equipment, be aware that you should replace them once you get it home.

  • Wheels haven’t been replaced in more than 5 years (regardless of amount of use, the wheel bearings develop flat spots which cause a bump-bump-bump when you roll the carriage)
  • Ropes that are fuzzy, thick and stiff around the pulley.
  • Balanced Body Reformers with pulleys that are only silver and white.  New pulleys should be red, black, white and some silver.
  • Major upholstery knicks, scrapes or cuts.
  • Major foam deformation where knees go.
  • Any frayed rope, loops or other webbing that is load bearing.
  • Springs, unless a receipt is shown for purchase <2 years ago.
  • Footbar padding where heels are placed during footwork.

Replacing these things when you get home by ordering through the manufacturer can make your equipment look and feel brand new.

Are there any deal breakers to look for when buying used equipment?

  • If the Reformer appears dirty, as in black dust on the rails and dirt on the frame PROCEED WITH CAUTION.  This is an indication of how the equipment was treated and you probably don’t want to take one home that has been abused.  It can be a treasure trove of unknown issues that are difficult to diagnose and fix because the Reformer was not cared for.
  • Don’t bother paying for shipping for used equipment across the US.  Be sure you can test the equipment before you buy it.
  • Bring a friend and a truck to pick up the equipment.  It’s heavy, large, and despite some of my Instagram posts, not easily disassembled.  Most of the time these aren’t able to be disassembled to fit in a car or SUV at all.
  • You may have heard that Balanced Body has a lifetime warranty on their equipment.  This is not true.  They have a lifetime warranty on their wooden frames, but if they are sold, transported or otherwise mistreated then that warranty is void.  Don’t count on making a warranty claim on equipment you purchased used.  But do count on this equipment to last you a long time.  With proper care, of course.

Which brand should I buy?

  • One of the larger manufacturers like Gratz, Peak, Stott and Balanced Body are my recommendations.
  • If you are a student, buy something similar to what your instructor has you work out on.
  • If you are a teacher, most new instructors buy what they were taught on.  However, it is not hard to make the switch to a new manufacturer if you are drawn to the other style or customer service experience.
  • I do not recommend mixing brands (or even models) in your group classes.  For example, teaching someone on a Balanced Body Clinical Reformer and someone else on a Classic Reformer can be tricky, much less a Balanced Body and a Gratz machine.

How do I plan my space?

If you need help planning your space and equipment needs beyond what Pinterest can provide, shoot me an email and we can talk about what it right for you.

How do I find used equipment?

Need some assistance finding used equipment in your area?  I can set up email alerts and help you determine if the machines you are looking at are priced correctly and a good investment.  I’m here to help!

The truth about essential oils and your Pilates equipment

KaleenStudioTips

One of the big surprises for my clients is that your Pilates equipment manufacturer probably doesn’t recommend cleaning vinyl with essential oils.  While a diluted solution of tea tree oil is the inherent choice for many studio owners, the major vinyl manufacturers (Naugahyde and Boltaflex) don’t recommend it.

What the manufacturers say

Shari Berkowitz published a handy guide to Equipment TLC in 2012 (click here) and Balanced Body, Gratz, Basil and Peak representatives all recommend a mild soap and water solution.  Stott actually recommends using tea tree oil (I’m not sure why, I can’t get any information on who their vinyl comes from).

Naugahyde recommends a 10% liquid soap and water solution for light soiling, and a 10% bleach/90% water solution for tough stains.  You can read their care guide, here.

Each manufacturer has a recommendation on their website.  It is important to note that if you are attempting to make a warranty claim on your vinyl or foam, cleaning the vinyl with tea tree oil or a harsh solution as contraindicated by their recommendation can void your warranty.

Balanced Body says:

Cleaning. You can extend the life of upholstery by keeping it clean and free of dirt, oil and perspiration. After each use, wipe down the upholstery with a solution of mild soap and water. Then wipe it down with clean water and dry with a soft towel.

Disinfecting. Equipment upholstery is coated with BeautyGard®, which offers antibacterial protection. If you want additional disinfection, Balanced Body offers Balanced Body CleanTM disinfecting solution. Use of any other solution (especially those containing essential oils) will shorten the life of some equipment and is not recommended.

Stott Pilates (Merrithew) says:

Wipe vinyl surfaces with a mixture of water and tea tree oil, a natural disinfectant. Add 1tsp of tea tree oil to a 1L or 1qt spray bottle of water. A mixture of mild soap and water may be used to remove more persistent dirt. Ensure cleaner does not leave an oily residue, or make surfaces slippery.

Peak says:

A daily routine of wiping down your vinyl upholstery after use with a mild cleaning solution that does not contain silicone is recommended. A dilute solution of mild soap in water can be used to clean not only the upholstery, but the wood, aluminum rails, chromed and galvanized steel poles, and carriage riding wheels (basically anything other than the ropes and/or leather straps). Wipe with a cloth dampened with plain water and dry after cleaning.

Gratz says:

A solution of 1 part household liquid dish soap abd 10 parts (1:10) water should remove most soiling. The soap should not saturate the upholstery. Do no use Tea Tree, Peppermint, or etc. on the upholstery. This will dry out the upholstery and cause it to crack and split.

What’s the catch?

I have many clients who swear by a diluted solution of Tea Tree Oil and water.  They’ve used it for years with no issues, and are happy with the scent and cleaning ability.

I find it important to note this for my clients because it can be a very personal and difficult decision to make.  There are so many scents and chemicals out there, how do you make the best choice?  It can be overwhelming.

Some Options

A good option is Balanced Body Clean.  I played a central role in testing it prior to its launch in 2015, and love how it reacted to all surface finishes in the Balanced Body equipment lineup.

I’ve repeated tests along the same lines I performed at Balanced Body on vinyl here in The Fit Reformer office.  The picture above shows all the vinyl samples.  Aside from the extreme curliness of the tea tree oil sample, all of the samples look great and show no signs of damage or color fade.

Here’s a list of the solutions I tested:

I would recommend any of them, though I personally prefer The Honest Company’s Multi-Surface Cleaner.

What to avoid

The only solutions I recommend against are wipes like Lysol Disinfecting Wipes and solutions like Windex.  If your vinyl feels sticky and looks like it has a layer of grime on it, then it’s probably not a great idea to use.

To condition, or not to condition?

Some manufacturers or upholstery experts might recommend a vinyl conditioner, like Lexol 1215.  Your equipment does not need this!  Your equipment is designed to last many years, and realistically the foam should wear out far sooner than the vinyl, if cared for properly.

 

Why your studio’s ambient environment matters

KaleenStudioTips

After just 5 months in the deep South, the black bolts on my Reformer are rusting!  Luckily, the parts shown in the image above aren’t load bearing, but it is kind of gross and is indicative of the humidity’s effect on your equipment.

While I worked at Balanced Body, I heard about studios on the coast experiencing rust on bolts, springs and tower tubes fairly often.  Many people didn’t believe that, even indoors, their equipment is sensitive to the ambient environment.

How does it happen?

Rust develops when iron comes into contact with oxygen and water.  There are many types of coatings that help prevent rust from forming.  Chrome plating, zinc plating, and bluing are some forms.  Plus, metal alloys like Stainless Steel are inherently rust resistant.

Unfortunately, black oxide bolts like the ones pictured above, are coated for aesthetic purposes only and have very little resistance to rust.

What to do about it

If you want to use the same hardware:

  1. Remove and clean the bolts, nuts or any other rusting pieces with a cloth, steel wool, or wire brush.  Remove as much rust as possible because if you seal rust in it can still spread.
  2. Coat the hardware with Boeshield T-9* to keep it from rusting.
  3. Reinstall the hardware.

Alternatively, you can replace all your black hardware with stainless steel or zinc plated bolts from a hardware store.  But, this would be time intensive to sort out which types of bolts, thread pitches and lengths you’d need for everything.

(I will explain how to remove rust from tower tubes in another post.)

Pro tip: Many DIY magazines and online sources recommend clear nail polish as a sealant for rust-prone parts.  Yes, it can help slow the spread of rust and you often already have it around your house BUT sealing the rust in before you clean it won’t stop it from spreading.  Also, coating your parts with nail polish will gum up the threads and make them hard to remove again, so I recommend not using this method for rust prevention.

boeshield t-9

*Boeshield was developed by The Boeing Company for lubrication and protection of aircraft components.

The truth about Spring Lifespans

KaleenStudioTips

Every client I visit asks if they really need to replace their springs every two years.  My short answer: Yes.

Here is what the major manufacturers say:

From Gratz…

The average life of a Gratz Reformer spring is 18 to 24 months if you use your equipment daily or continuously. If the springs show any sign of wear or emit any unusual sounds, then they should be replaced immediately.

From Balanced Body…

All Balanced Body springs should be replaced at least every two years. Certain environments and usages can shorten the expected life of the springs and you may need to replace the springs more frequently. Therefore, it is very important to inspect springs on a regular basis since worn or old springs lose resilience and may break during use.

From Peak…

We strongly advise establishing a routine program to monitor springs as well as replacing any spring in continuous daily use for over 24 months (or sooner in a high use facility). Any spring that exhibits early signs of fatigue (i.e. separation in coils, even if slight) must be replaced immediately.

From Stott…

Replace springs every 24 months, or as needed within that period if deformation occurs.

So, why do I have springs in my studio that seem fine after 10 years?  I get asked.  First, I explain that springs do break.

Yes, springs break.

They break when it’s really inconvenient and often dangerous.  While I worked at Balanced Body I heard about lawsuits every once in a while.  But, the manufacturers are good at covering their liability with fine print and specific questions, so they leave you vulnerable.

Since I’ve been in the field visiting my own clients, I realized there are many more spring breakages that go unreported.

Don’t be one of those people, and keep your clients safe, your assets covered, and your legal hassle low.

Second, I explain that there are many studios with old springs who have never had a problem.  There is no exact science on springs… how they age depends on how often they are used, how far they are extended each use, what the ambient environment is like, how much lotions and oils they come in contact with, and so on.  Sometimes, they last much longer than two years with no apparent problems.

While not all spring breakages can be predicted, there are signs you can look for when the springs start to degrade.

  • Gaps between coils
  • Rust or oxidation on the surface of the coils
  • Kinks or waves in the body of the coils

Run your hand lightly down the body of the spring.  Does it feel straight?  Or do you feel waves?  Definitely change your springs as soon as you feel or see any of these defects.

Be sure to check the springs UNDER the Reformer carriages!  That is often where I find the most damaged parts.

IMG_20150925_170947IMG_20150922_103721006

20151014_110647

20151029_134258 Even if you just bought your equipment, it is important to think about when you are going to change your springs next.  Why?  Because they are expensive!

To replace one reformer’s worth of springs, here is what it costs at each manufacturer.  (Think more for Cadillac or Tower springs!)

Balanced Body: $100 (5 springs)

Stott: $300 (5 springs)

Gratz: $150 (4 springs)

Peak: $150 (5 springs)

If you budget for maintenance costs from the beginning, replacing your springs every two years shouldn’t be a big shock to your budget.

My advice: Replace your springs every 2 years (or sooner if needed).

Leather Strap Care

KaleenStudioTips

Your leather straps originate from Latigo straps found in ranching.  And just like any leather used on the ranch, they need to be cleaned and oiled regularly to keep them soft, supple and strong.

See the cracks in this photo?  That’s from years of neglecting the leather straps.  Eventually, the straps will break at those cracked locations.

To prevent this and keep your straps comfortably supple, use Saddle Soap (link, here) on a quarterly basis.