‘I needed a point of difference’: Carla Sconce looks to franchise her one-of-a-kind Sydney Pilates studio

When people go to Carla Sconce’s HIIT Pilates classes, they walk out feeling shattered – but the furthest thing from broken.

“They’ll feel exhausted, but the adrenalin rush will always make them feel better,” Sconce said.

“And I think that is the best thing ever.”

Sconce opened her first HIIT Pilates studio in July 2020, a fitness class fusion of reformer Pilates, high intensity interval training (HIIT) and strength.

In the last three years, she has opened three studios across Sydney and has a team of 23 instructors. She also runs a reformer teacher training academy for new  instructors. Now, following her success, she is looking at franchising her business.

“I believe so much in what we offer,” she says.

“At this stage, we really are the only reformer studio to combine PT-style high intensity interval training and reformer Pilates. And I think that format is really successful.”

But despite her success, Sconce didn’t aspire to be in the fitness industry. In fact, in her early twenties, you would have found her in New York City, interning at a bridal magazine, aspiring to become a magazine editor.

When she returned to Australia in 2009, she found there were limited editorial roles and moved into the events space. It was here that she learned all about project management and business.

When she became a mum, however, it became clear that event management wasn’t a career mapped out for work-life balance. And it wasn’t something she was passionate about.

So in 2013, after the birth of her second child, Sconce underwent formal training to become a Pilates instructor which laid the groundwork for her trajectory into business ownership.

Being a Pilates instructor was brilliant for the first five or six years, Sconce says. It helped her manage competing priorities with her kids in daycare. Ultimately though, she knew there was more in store.

“I’ve always been an ambitious person – and doing that just wasn’t enough for me”, she explains.

Sconce dreamed of opening her own pilates studio, and in October 2019, she finally decided to make that dream a reality. But she also knew she needed something to stand out in a saturated market.

“There were a lot of reformer studios out there – and I needed a point of difference,” Sconce says.

Reflecting on her time working in different studios, many of her students would love coming to her pilates classes, but said they missed cardio and strength- based exercises.

That was how HIIT Pilates came to be.

“I created a 50-minute class – because we’re all time poor, let’s be honest – where students get their cardio and they get their strength training and they also get the full body benefits of reformer Pilates,” she says.

“I also wanted it to be a place where people can come every day of the week and not burn out.”

Sconce created four types of HIIT pilates classes for her studio. All classes are a full-body workout, with the signature Sweat, Strength and Synergy classes starting with 12 minutes of HIIT followed by an athletic flow on the reformer. Her Stretch classes challenge students with 30 minutes of reformer pilates and end with an indulgent 20 minutes of stretching on and off the reformer, to complement the workout.

To ensure good form and avoid injuries, the HIIT exercises for the class are displayed on TV screens. That way, the instructors can be on the floor, helping students perform the moves correctly and instruct modifications for individual students. The reformer sequence however is led by the instructor, so each class is different and the workouts are never boring.

Unlike other studios, Sconce’s has no beginner, intermediate or advanced classes. It’s a “baptism of fire” for some, she says, but for good reason.

“Our classes are hard, and I want them to be hard”.

“I find that if you do levelled classes, the wrong people go to them. People stay in beginner classes for far longer than they need to, and people go to advanced classes well before they’re ready for it.

“There’s also this expectation that a beginner class is going to be easy, and I just don’t think any class needs to be easy.”

But the path hasn’t always been smooth for Sconce. Following the success of opening her first studio in Rosebery in 2020, she decided to open a second studio in St Leonards in May 2021.

Eight weeks later, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, she was forced to close for four months.

Sconce wasted no time in forming a solution and finding a new passion in the process. During the 2021 NSW lockdown, she wrote a national-accredited teacher training course for reformer Pilates and began training future Pilates instructors in February 2022.

“I’ve actually realised that’s my new passion and where I want to invest my time – teaching people to become instructors,” she says.

In August last year, Sconce opened up her third studio in Waterloo. Despite her ambition for more, she realised in order to grow, she needs to franchise.

“I would love to see more studios all over the place, but realistically, and for my family’s sake, I can’t be owning and managing them all,” she says.

Luckily, Sconce has around six instructors in her team of 23 who are keen to open up their own HIIT Pilates studios. To keep up the pace she wants for the growth of her business, she has decided to franchise HIIT Pilates.

“The franchise model is really good for someone who wants to have their own business and wants to be their own boss, but doesn’t want to have to come up with the ideas all the time,” she says.

“But I can. I love coming up with the ideas. I love that creative process.”

Sconce has been a success in entrepreneurship, building a work-life balance and growing her business. But at the heart of it, she is simply passionate about what she does.

“I love seeing the lightbulb moment, the ‘aha’ moment in students. You see their face when they’re feeling their body move in a way they had never done before,” she says.

“Teaching fills my cup. When I’m having a shit day, and I go into the studio and I teach a class, I will feel 100% better afterwards. It’s my happy place.”