From pastry chef to studio owner and Founder of the celebrity-approved workout technique ‘The Model Method‘, Hollie Grant’s refreshing approach to fitness has propelled her to super-trainer status.
The anti-diet advocate might have fallen serendipitously into the world of Pilates following a case of extreme burnout caused by the fast-paced world of cheffing, but what started as a stop-gap has grown into a well-oiled business encompassing an online wellness programme, successful cookbook, cult podcast series and two PilatesPT fitness studios in Fulham and inside London’s prestigious Mandarin Oriental Hyde Park.
Having created an authentic brand that cuts through the noise surrounding diet culture, body image and women’s insecurities, Grant has forged a genuine connection with women by helping them to better understand their bodies in terms of how they perform, not look. The brand’s regularly waitlisted classes speak to Grant’s ability to provide a supportive, yet results-driven method.
In fact, Grant’s science-based workout principles, combining elements of Pilates and HIIT, and her team of highly qualified instructors, who provide a personalised training method that guides clients to stronger, healthier and happier bodies has even won her the title of ‘Best Pilates Gym In London’, according to Tatler.
With plans to scale the business further, Grant’s incredible journey is far from over. Here the 32-year-old opens up to Welltodo about potential projects, looking beyond London and why she’s ready to get back in touch with her mission of making a real change in the wellness industry………
On falling in love with Pilates……
After university, I became a pastry chef which is something I’d always wanted to do. I was working for someone that I’d always wanted to work for, so from a career perspective I couldn’t have been in a better place, but after the first year, I realised I had really bad depression. I was struggling to get up in the morning and the job was absolute hell.
It got so bad that I got up one morning and decided to leave. I didn’t even work my notice. The thought of going back into the kitchen filled me with dread, so a friend of mine suggested I work in a Pilates studio that needed a receptionist, whilst I got my head together.
I instantly fell in love with it. I loved that Pilates was all about how your body functioned and about performance rather than about burning loads of calories and losing weight, it just felt like it was a really positive form of exercise.
On spotting a gap in the market……
I was training all these women and seeing that Pilates was making them strong, but I could see that something was missing. A lot of them were coming to my classes and not doing anything else, which meant they were missing out on the cardio side of exercise, so I thought is there a way of combining these two things? Can I keep them coming to me and enjoying the class but give them everything they need from a fitness point of view? So I created a hybrid of Pilates and high-intensity interval training.
I worked out a formula of how we could fit it into one class, I started testing it on clients and it just worked instantly – that’s when I knew I was onto something good, and it went from there.
On letting your passion guide you……
When I think back, it seems like it all just happened so easily. I’ve always been really open about the fact I wasn’t necessarily an entrepreneur or thinking that I wanted a huge business, it all just happened organically.
It came about from me moving from teaching clients in the gaps between my classes in one studio to opening up my own studio and that was purely down to the fact I was experiencing so much demand.
For me, there’s always been a passion in my belly and that means that I don’t ever want to stop. I want to get as many women as possible into training that’s safe, good and positive, so there’s never been a doubt in my mind.
On developing a strong brand voice……
I wouldn’t say the fitness industry is saturated but it is very competitive, so the thing that sets us apart from other studios is our message. The more we can get that across to people the better.
The fitness industry can be incredibly intimidating, because of that, for us it’s important that our brand has a clear voice so people know what to expect. We want our customers to know how we’re going to be talking to them in the studio, what the studio will look like and that we’re going to support them. That has also driven the type of clients that we get which is also important to me as I want to be able to enjoy what I do, as well as being successful.
On scaling the business beyond the studios……
I wanted our digital offering to be as close to what we do at the studio as possible, which is to personalise absolutely everything. I tried to find a way of doing an online plan where we could personalise it for the customer in front of us and so that’s what we created.
We’ve basically taken all of the elements we offer in the studio and have managed to put them into an online platform. The feedback has been really positive and because it’s so personalised it’s meant we’ve been able to retain more clients.
Our hope is that by the time anyone has finished the programme they have a different relationship with their body and exercise.
On the importance of taking a step back……
About two years ago the studio was the busiest it had ever been, I was working there five days a week training ten clients a day and if I’m completely honest I was almost at the point of burning out. Suddenly we lost my husband’s mother in a car accident and we made the decision to move out of London, which changed the business overnight.
I went from being there all the time and being the one that all the clients knew, to being there two days a week. That was a tricky point as I wasn’t sure whether we would make enough profit or if my clients would be willing to train with other instructors.
Although it was the worst thing that has ever happened to us, it allowed me to gain distance from the business in order to start developing it. I couldn’t see the wood for the trees while I was teaching 10 classes a day, so having to take time out meant I managed to write a book and finalise the online plan.
I think it’s really difficult as an owner-operator to realise that you have to take a step back but it’s been one of the best things I’ve ever done.
On investing in your staff……
I’ve been so lucky with my instructors, our staff turnover is almost zero. A lot of our instructors have been with us for 3-4 years and have grown with the business. In fact, when we opened up our second studio at the Mandarin Oriental they increased their availability so that they could work in both. I genuinely believe that’s because I understand what it’s like to be on the other side when the owner doesn’t know you from Adam and doesn’t understand good instructors bring in more money.
I invest in my instructors’ training, make sure they’re happy and talk to them about what they could be doing to develop. I constantly work on how I can turn them into replicas of me so that there is very little difference between a client coming to me and someone else.
If all of your instructors other than their personalities are exactly the same then you open yourself up to much more income because clients will come to everybody rather than one instructor once a week.
On navigating unexpected challenges……
We were at the Mandarin Oriental for a little while before we had to close due to a fire in the hotel. It’s definitely been a bump in the road but these things happen.
Luckily because our Parsons Green studio is so busy it hasn’t destroyed the business, so we just have to wait until it reopens.
If it was our own property that would have absolutely changed the business, but because it is within an established company with a lot of money behind it that’s made things much safer for us.
The other benefit of being within a company like the Mandarin Oriental is that it has over 100 properties around the world, so opportunities have arisen out of that. I’ve been over to Malaysia to the Mandarin Oriental Kuala Lumpur to teach events and our concept is one that’s easily scalable within the company.
On expanding into new markets and propositions……
The online side of the business is definitely going to be growing with a potential new offering, but I can’t give too much of that away yet.
Ideally, I would also like to keep expanding the studios. They’re a proven model in London, but now we live in Oxford it’s very tempting to look at this area because I feel like London is getting saturated.
So I think slowly and cautiously without the need for investors we will keep expanding one studio at a time. Plus, there’s definitely the consideration of growing within the Mandarin Oriental Hotel Group.
For me personally, a lot of my energy has been in growing the business over the last 8 years, so now slowly as we add more people that can help to take some of the weight off me I want to start getting into more of my own passion projects. These will focus on redefining how exercise is represented in the media and look at making a real change in the wellness industry.