HCM People
Aaron Smith

‘KX’ stands for ‘the Kaizen Experience’, which means ‘change for the better’ in Japanese. It’s a philosophy that focuses on continuous improvement. We’re always seeking to improve, not only as a company but as individuals


Tell us about your background?
I’ve always been passionate about health and fitness and graduated from university with a science degree with a double major in physiology and pharmacology. In my early twenties I also studied to become a personal trainer as I was passionate about helping people change their lives and reach their full potential.

A few years into my PT career I realised that the industry in Australia was saturated and I wanted more, so I headed to the USA where I was not disappointed.

As an avid snowboarder I ended up in the Vail Valley, Colorado, working as a personal trainer and snowshoe instructor at the illustrious Beaver Creek Ski Resort, before travelling around the USA and the UK, where I tried out as many different fitness offerings as I could in search of something new and exciting.

How did you come up with the concept for KX Pilates?
While I was in London I came across a style of dynamic pilates and immediately fell in love with the high performance element of this method.

I was familiar with pilates, but at that stage in the Australian market it was being bolted on to every physio clinic as a rehab pilates offering. But this pilates studio was different, and this method of training was different, so eventually I decided that I wanted to bring my own version back to Australia.

I returned to Australia in 2009 with a great idea but sadly, $20,000 in debt. I put together a business plan and pitched it to my father. Thankfully, he saw my passion and drive to succeed and agreed to be guarantor on a AU$120,000. bank loan. I opened my first studio in Melbourne in February 2010.

Tell us about the KX Pilates concept
KX is a fast-paced, high-intensity, body-toning workout in just 50 minutes, fusing elements of traditional reformer pilates with a cardio and endurance workout. We see ourselves as being in the boutique fitness industry and are Australia’s largest pilates franchise group.

We offer small group sessions with a maximum of 12 to 14 people per class and run up to 70 classes a week in each studio.

Our personalised, boutique fitness experience helps people feel as though they belong to a community and feel connected with their fellow 'KXers'.

The KX Pilates method minimises box and spring changes to optimise time and performance. If the box is placed on the reformer bed, it will usually stay there for at least half the class. KX Pilates is big on compound muscle groups, not isolation exercises, and being fast-paced, doubles as a cardio workout.

We're not just a fitness studio. We change lives through changing bodies and changing minds.

How did you decide on the name KX?
KX stands for 'the Kaizen experience'. Kaizen means 'change for the better' in Japanese, and the Kaizen experience is a philosophy that focuses on ‘continuous improvement’. Kaizen was not only a philosophy that defined who we were perfectly, it also defined who I was personally and still am today. We are always seeking to improve, not only as a company, but as individuals in everyday life.

How did customers take to the concept when you first launched?
I was so excited in the lead up to the launch of the studio that I totally forgot about one of the most important things in business – marketing! I had a great looking studio and I was all ready to go but then no one turned up.

I hadn’t given any thought as to 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.

Revenue was slow to build, and for the first 12 to 18 months, I paid myself AU$200 a week, working from dawn until late at night every day. I was still living at home with my parents and driving my dad’s car. The first twelve months were very hard. The entrepreneurial journey can be very lonely, especially when you’re starting out and all your friends are going out and socialising and you’re working day and night to make your dream a reality.

Mum was helping me wash the towels and Dad stayed up to meet me when I got home, to be there for me when I wanted to quit.

How has the brand evolved and grown since you started?
We opened six studios in our first three years before I started franchising in 2013 and we've scaled from there.

There are now more than 65 studios across Australia and one in Jakarta, Indonesia.

Today KX Pilates has a dedicated, fully accredited KX Academy, which is a seven-week training course, only provided to trainers who will work for our company. It holds our IP internally in the company, which is a main point of difference.

Why did you decide to go down the franchise route?
For me, it was and still is a way to share the KX experience all around Australia and beyond. If I hadn’t franchised KX, I may have stopped at 10 studios. Financially, it would’ve been a quicker way to make money, but for me it was about exposing the KX experience to as many people as possible around Australia – and now beyond.

Franchising also works really well for our business. Trainers and clients grow to love KX so much that ultimately, they want a KX studio of their own. Our boutique fitness studios have a low financial barrier to entry compared to other franchised businesses, so it just made business sense to assist people to join our brand and become bigger and more successful together, instead of pushing them away and ultimately turning them into competition.

Trainers are amazing ambassadors for the brand and we can teach them everything they need to know about running and starting a business.

Tell us about your expansion overseas
The whole intention of KX Pilates’ growth plan is to cultivate our philosophy of small and ongoing improvement. We’ve been careful not to saturate the market so we can maintain the brand’s exclusivity and boutique nature, as well as keeping quality and consistency intact.

International growth has begun with the first studio opening its doors in Jakarta, Indonesia in 2018. We’re currently working on a China joint venture deal and other markets are set to come into play once we gain traction in China.

Singapore, New Zealand and the USA are all on the radar and it’ll only be a matter of time until we look beyond.

You stepped down as CEO at the end of 2018. What is your involvement now?
My goal was to take the business to 50 studios, and we reached that milestone in 2018. We were growing quite substantially and I just needed to press pause. The business needed someone who could manage and grow the current network to 150 studios in Australia.

With Selina Bridge, our new CEO, I just knew that she was the perfect candidate to lead our company into the next stage of growth and beyond. Coming from a declining franchise brand, she had a lot of experience with tough conversations and uncomfortable situations – and still people stuck by her. Give her a growing brand and the potential is endless.

I’ve got a classic entrepreneur's mindset. I’m still passionate about the company and the founder’s role. I travel to every state each year, spreading the founder’s ‘fairy dust’.

My focus is now on community, innovation within the KX businesses and focusing on the grassroots.

There’s a lot of competition in fitness and pilates, so we have to be constantly asking ourselves what experience we are delivering, what we can offer that no other brand is offering, and what we can do to strengthen our IP.

What are the goals for KX?
We're launching between 10 and 12 KX studios every year in Australia. As well as Indonesia, we're also looking to expand into other markets, as mentioned.

Before the pandemic, I spent a lot of my time travelling to find out more about these markets, so that when we make the decision to expand, we do it knowing that we’ve done our homework and have confidence in its ability to succeed.

Are you working on any other projects?
Along with starting to plan for international growth, we’ve also spent over a year working on creating our own customised KX pilates machines and a range of other fitness equipment.

I believe this will not only help us to stay competitive, but also help us with continued revenue growth.

How is KX Pilates dealing with the COVID-19 situation?
We had to close all 67 studios across the country and quickly pivot in order to support our franchisees and keep the business going.

We provided free access and premium access, which includes at-home workouts, training and education videos for AU$20 per week through our app.

We were also renting out our proprietary machines through the studio owners to help them cover costs while the studios were closed and in addition, offering training for studio owners through our app.

The mental wellbeing of our studio owners and trainers is paramount. We have an emotion coach on hand to conduct regular sessions and our business advisor has posted training videos for our studio owners to help guide them through these uncertain times. We set up a KX Champions page on Facebook where our trainers keep each other entertained with fitness challenges, recipes and other fun things that can be done at home.

‘KX’ stands for ‘the Kaizen Experience’, which means ‘change for the better’ in Japanese
KX is a fast-paced, high-intensity, body-toning workout taking 50 minutes
During the COVID-19 lockdowns, KX has been renting out its reformer beds
 


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SELECTED ISSUE
Health Club Management
2020 issue 5

View issue contents

Leisure Management - Aaron Smith

HCM People

Aaron Smith


‘KX’ stands for ‘the Kaizen Experience’, which means ‘change for the better’ in Japanese. It’s a philosophy that focuses on continuous improvement. We’re always seeking to improve, not only as a company but as individuals

Aaron Smith founded KX Pilates in Melbourne, Australia after experiencing dynamic pilates in London
‘KX’ stands for ‘the Kaizen Experience’, which means ‘change for the better’ in Japanese
KX is a fast-paced, high-intensity, body-toning workout taking 50 minutes
During the COVID-19 lockdowns, KX has been renting out its reformer beds

Tell us about your background?
I’ve always been passionate about health and fitness and graduated from university with a science degree with a double major in physiology and pharmacology. In my early twenties I also studied to become a personal trainer as I was passionate about helping people change their lives and reach their full potential.

A few years into my PT career I realised that the industry in Australia was saturated and I wanted more, so I headed to the USA where I was not disappointed.

As an avid snowboarder I ended up in the Vail Valley, Colorado, working as a personal trainer and snowshoe instructor at the illustrious Beaver Creek Ski Resort, before travelling around the USA and the UK, where I tried out as many different fitness offerings as I could in search of something new and exciting.

How did you come up with the concept for KX Pilates?
While I was in London I came across a style of dynamic pilates and immediately fell in love with the high performance element of this method.

I was familiar with pilates, but at that stage in the Australian market it was being bolted on to every physio clinic as a rehab pilates offering. But this pilates studio was different, and this method of training was different, so eventually I decided that I wanted to bring my own version back to Australia.

I returned to Australia in 2009 with a great idea but sadly, $20,000 in debt. I put together a business plan and pitched it to my father. Thankfully, he saw my passion and drive to succeed and agreed to be guarantor on a AU$120,000. bank loan. I opened my first studio in Melbourne in February 2010.

Tell us about the KX Pilates concept
KX is a fast-paced, high-intensity, body-toning workout in just 50 minutes, fusing elements of traditional reformer pilates with a cardio and endurance workout. We see ourselves as being in the boutique fitness industry and are Australia’s largest pilates franchise group.

We offer small group sessions with a maximum of 12 to 14 people per class and run up to 70 classes a week in each studio.

Our personalised, boutique fitness experience helps people feel as though they belong to a community and feel connected with their fellow 'KXers'.

The KX Pilates method minimises box and spring changes to optimise time and performance. If the box is placed on the reformer bed, it will usually stay there for at least half the class. KX Pilates is big on compound muscle groups, not isolation exercises, and being fast-paced, doubles as a cardio workout.

We're not just a fitness studio. We change lives through changing bodies and changing minds.

How did you decide on the name KX?
KX stands for 'the Kaizen experience'. Kaizen means 'change for the better' in Japanese, and the Kaizen experience is a philosophy that focuses on ‘continuous improvement’. Kaizen was not only a philosophy that defined who we were perfectly, it also defined who I was personally and still am today. We are always seeking to improve, not only as a company, but as individuals in everyday life.

How did customers take to the concept when you first launched?
I was so excited in the lead up to the launch of the studio that I totally forgot about one of the most important things in business – marketing! I had a great looking studio and I was all ready to go but then no one turned up.

I hadn’t given any thought as to 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.

Revenue was slow to build, and for the first 12 to 18 months, I paid myself AU$200 a week, working from dawn until late at night every day. I was still living at home with my parents and driving my dad’s car. The first twelve months were very hard. The entrepreneurial journey can be very lonely, especially when you’re starting out and all your friends are going out and socialising and you’re working day and night to make your dream a reality.

Mum was helping me wash the towels and Dad stayed up to meet me when I got home, to be there for me when I wanted to quit.

How has the brand evolved and grown since you started?
We opened six studios in our first three years before I started franchising in 2013 and we've scaled from there.

There are now more than 65 studios across Australia and one in Jakarta, Indonesia.

Today KX Pilates has a dedicated, fully accredited KX Academy, which is a seven-week training course, only provided to trainers who will work for our company. It holds our IP internally in the company, which is a main point of difference.

Why did you decide to go down the franchise route?
For me, it was and still is a way to share the KX experience all around Australia and beyond. If I hadn’t franchised KX, I may have stopped at 10 studios. Financially, it would’ve been a quicker way to make money, but for me it was about exposing the KX experience to as many people as possible around Australia – and now beyond.

Franchising also works really well for our business. Trainers and clients grow to love KX so much that ultimately, they want a KX studio of their own. Our boutique fitness studios have a low financial barrier to entry compared to other franchised businesses, so it just made business sense to assist people to join our brand and become bigger and more successful together, instead of pushing them away and ultimately turning them into competition.

Trainers are amazing ambassadors for the brand and we can teach them everything they need to know about running and starting a business.

Tell us about your expansion overseas
The whole intention of KX Pilates’ growth plan is to cultivate our philosophy of small and ongoing improvement. We’ve been careful not to saturate the market so we can maintain the brand’s exclusivity and boutique nature, as well as keeping quality and consistency intact.

International growth has begun with the first studio opening its doors in Jakarta, Indonesia in 2018. We’re currently working on a China joint venture deal and other markets are set to come into play once we gain traction in China.

Singapore, New Zealand and the USA are all on the radar and it’ll only be a matter of time until we look beyond.

You stepped down as CEO at the end of 2018. What is your involvement now?
My goal was to take the business to 50 studios, and we reached that milestone in 2018. We were growing quite substantially and I just needed to press pause. The business needed someone who could manage and grow the current network to 150 studios in Australia.

With Selina Bridge, our new CEO, I just knew that she was the perfect candidate to lead our company into the next stage of growth and beyond. Coming from a declining franchise brand, she had a lot of experience with tough conversations and uncomfortable situations – and still people stuck by her. Give her a growing brand and the potential is endless.

I’ve got a classic entrepreneur's mindset. I’m still passionate about the company and the founder’s role. I travel to every state each year, spreading the founder’s ‘fairy dust’.

My focus is now on community, innovation within the KX businesses and focusing on the grassroots.

There’s a lot of competition in fitness and pilates, so we have to be constantly asking ourselves what experience we are delivering, what we can offer that no other brand is offering, and what we can do to strengthen our IP.

What are the goals for KX?
We're launching between 10 and 12 KX studios every year in Australia. As well as Indonesia, we're also looking to expand into other markets, as mentioned.

Before the pandemic, I spent a lot of my time travelling to find out more about these markets, so that when we make the decision to expand, we do it knowing that we’ve done our homework and have confidence in its ability to succeed.

Are you working on any other projects?
Along with starting to plan for international growth, we’ve also spent over a year working on creating our own customised KX pilates machines and a range of other fitness equipment.

I believe this will not only help us to stay competitive, but also help us with continued revenue growth.

How is KX Pilates dealing with the COVID-19 situation?
We had to close all 67 studios across the country and quickly pivot in order to support our franchisees and keep the business going.

We provided free access and premium access, which includes at-home workouts, training and education videos for AU$20 per week through our app.

We were also renting out our proprietary machines through the studio owners to help them cover costs while the studios were closed and in addition, offering training for studio owners through our app.

The mental wellbeing of our studio owners and trainers is paramount. We have an emotion coach on hand to conduct regular sessions and our business advisor has posted training videos for our studio owners to help guide them through these uncertain times. We set up a KX Champions page on Facebook where our trainers keep each other entertained with fitness challenges, recipes and other fun things that can be done at home.


Originally published in Health Club Management 2020 issue 5

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