Stott Pilates celebrates 20th anniversary, holds "world's largest Pilates class"


This is a good news, bad news story: Twenty-plus years ago professional dancer Moira Stott hurt her foot. Yup, bad news.

No longer able to dance, she was introduced to Pilates for training. Soon, she started teaching it, developing a business by the late '80s with husband Lindsay Merrithew.

Here's where the good news starts: Two decades later, the pair is not only still preaching the practice of Pilates but has also developed a global fitness business based out of their Toronto headquarters, taking the Pilates training to a broader fitness audience. Although known for years in the instructor and trainer world, Stott Pilates ( has also developed a selection of training kits and DVDs for the consumer.

"We always felt there was an opportunity when we were looking around our one-bedroom apartment and using a piece of (Pilates) equipment for a dining room table," Lindsay told SNEWS®. "And we still think there is a nice chapter that hasn't been written."

To commemorate its 20th anniversary, Stott Pilates on Aug. 16 held what it called the "world's largest Pilates class" with 623 people attending the event at the 15th annual Can-Fit-Pro conference in Toronto. So far, the class is an unofficial world record; according to Guinness World Records, a total of 500 participants were required to break the record, with all participants performing the exercises simultaneously for a minimum of 10 minutes.

In the last decade, Pilates has seen huge growth from its roots as a dancer's training secret. Today, the practice has spread to people seeking better fitness, strength and poise. The Sporting Goods Manufacturers Association reports that 10.7 million people in North America participate in some form of Pilates.

Today, the company has a large office and global staff -- and Moira doesn't teach all the classes anymore -- but the biggest change the two note is the consumer's growth in awareness of a healthy lifestyle.

Lindsay said there is a large audience and it continues to grow, which "plays well into what we do."

One turning point for the company's success was the settlement of a class-action lawsuit in fall 2000 with the New York court agreeing with defendants that "Pilates" was a generic term for a type of exercise, just like yoga or aerobics was, and could not therefore be trademarked, as a teacher had attempted to do. The Pilates method was first developed by German immigrant Joseph H. Pilates and brought to the United States in the 1920s. It wasn't until the 1990s that it began to gain popularity outside of its world of dancers and performing artists. Using low-tech but effective sliding platforms, tables, chairs, springs for resistance, loops and metal bands all invented by Mr. Pilates, its reputation for great conditioning of the torso, back and abdominals spread.

For years, companies like Stott had to avoid the use of the word "Pilates," with Stott referring to itself as "Stott Conditioning" to avoid the legal mire.

With a focus on teaching teachers for years, the company began in the late '90s to publish educational DVDs, and in 2007 had 52 to its credit. The retail market is one where the company has only dabbled -- mostly with the DVDs and its kits -- but it could be one of many markets the company will consider to continue its growth.

"When you think of the next chapter of Pilates, it's becoming a more competitive arena," Lindsay said, "and the leaders of the Pilates companies will have to focus on marketing to other areas" such as military, retail and universities. Although like yoga, "Pilates" is now known to a large part of the population as a workout, "the good news is, you're in a place like Wal-Mart; and the bad news is, you're in a place like Wal-Mart," he added.

Nevertheless, the future is still bright since Pilates is a method for which students need instruction and education.

"We want to sell equipment," Lindsay added, "but we want to do it responsibly."

SNEWS® View: Like yoga there are not specialty "Pilates stores" one can go to for equipment, kits, accessories and DVDs, leaving practitioners to find their equipment in other places. With the right connections to Pilates studios and clubs, specialty fitness stores could find a new audience with the right marketing.



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