Interested in starting your own entrepreneurial journey in health and fitness but unsure what to expect? Then read up on our interview with Kayla Sarian, Owner of Retro Pilates, located in Philadelphia, PA, USA.

What's your business, and who are your customers?

Retro Pilates is a group reformer Pilates studio in Fishtown! We have state-of-the-art Allegro-2 reformers that help shape, sculpt, and strengthen from the inside out. You will tone and tighten while simultaneously finding core stability, balance, flexibility, postural awareness, and overall confidence. Our "retro" theme goes far beyond our eggshell chairs, groovy throw-back tunes, and vinyl records on the wall. Our aesthetic is like working out in an art gallery, and 'Retro' is a whole, authentic lifestyle. Our clients come from all walks of life! Most are young professionals, entrepreneurs, and artists, some are athletes, and some are further along in life, but we all enjoy the benefits of mindful movement!

Tell us about yourself

Originally from the west coast, I moved to Philly on a whim to introduce Pilates to a new community that might really appreciate our friendly, group fitness approach and fun retro vibes. I had been teaching in L.A. for the previous ten years and wanted a change of atmosphere. As an actress and dancer who loves actual season changes, I thought the Philly/NYC area seemed like the best place to venture off to and begin my career as a small business owner. I didn't have any friends or family in the area, nor did I know a single business contact, and I had left my entire client base in California. I just trusted my intuition. As my favorite musician, Bob Dylan, once said, "When you've got nothin', you've got nothing to lose."

I arrived in Philly two weeks before the official Covid quarantine and was locked down with no physical property to begin classes, and like the rest of the world - my prospects were looking grim. However, my work ethic and optimism kept hope alive, and I fought through tears and immense doubt, praying to see better days! It was a struggle, and I had begun to question if this was the right place and time after all. But I held strong in my conviction that my gut instincts were leading me down the right path. Alas, when businesses started opening up, and restrictions lightened, I made myself known in the neighborhood. I went out and made friends in parks and at local bars and restaurants (Philly folk are a lot friendlier than their reputation would have one believe)!

I had searched for the right studio space for a whole year. No one felt comfortable leasing spaces to fitness-based businesses because of the lingering fear and uncertainty that was the backdrop of our society post-pandemic. It was a long, grueling search to no avail. Until one fortunate day a full year later. Another woman-owned small business owner that I happened to have coffee with decided to circle back around to me and asked if I was still looking for a space, to which I answered an exasperated "YES!" She had another business that she wanted to focus on, so she passed off the remainder of her lease to me at the studio space in Fishtown. It was as if the stars had aligned!

As I'd hoped, the community of supportive business owners and entrepreneurs helped get the word out. I quickly made friends who helped me paint, hang art, and promote. One year into business, we won the Best of Philly award and was featured on the news. It has been a long road but incredibly fulfilling. It is my mission to inspire people. I live to help people feel (and look) stronger. I strive to help them find happiness, even if it's just 50 minutes a day.

What's your biggest accomplishment as a business owner?

My biggest accomplishment as a business owner is the incredible growth of the business from the first year to the second. We are already making plans to expand the studio space to accommodate the high demand for our services!

What's one of the hardest things that comes with being a business owner?

One of the hardest things that comes with being a business owner (aside from filling all roles when necessary) is learning to slow down and take a break. When you love and care for your business and clients like family, it's hard to put the phone down, close the laptop, and just be more present.

What are the top tips you'd give to anyone looking to start, run and grow a business today?

  1. Be persistent! You will get a lot of "no's" before you get a "yes."
  2. Be resourceful and resilient. Sometimes business will be slow, or your finances might feel dangerous and precarious, but you can't be discouraged. You must build relationships, don't be ashamed to ask for help, and look for organizations that offer grants.
  3. Trust your instincts. If it feels right, it most likely is!

Where can people find you and your business?


If you like what you've read here and have your own story as a solo or small business entrepreneur that you'd like to share, then please answer these interview questions. We'd love to feature your journey on these pages.

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