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As a Foreign Service spouse and young mother with small children living in South America, Eurona found herself passing by a Pilates studio everyday while taking her son to school.  Having never taken a Pilates class, she was intrigued. When she visited the studio in person, however, the instructors initially tried to dissuade her from taking classes, as she wasn’t the same build as the other students. Eurona persisted anyway and fell in love with the practice. She had a dream that one day she would find a way to make Pilates an inclusive practice that would welcome all shapes and sizes of students.

With vision, a lot of hard work, and a little bit of serendipity, Eurona first became a certified pilates instructor and then she had the opportunity to open her own studio in Fairfax, Virginia. Inclusivity is one of the studio’s core principles, and Eurona has dedicated herself to welcoming all students who attend her classes.

In this interview, Eurona discusses:

  • how she adapted as a business owner/ fitness instructor during a time when COVID was forcing businesses to close their doors
  • her advice for success (hint: it’s as easy as owning a journal)
  • how society has affected female business owners’ perspective on their personal and monetary worth
  • her story of how saying yes to coffee changed her world as well as the world of Pilates

… and much more! Learn more about all that Epiphany Pilates has to offer here:

Music: “Higher Up” by Shane Ivers

Read the interview

Tanya: Welcome to the Embassy Wealth podcast. This is Tanya Salseth and today I am joined by Eurona Tilly, and Eurona is an incredible business woman and the owner of a Pilates studio in Fairfax, and she is joining us today from her studio and is here to talk about a lot of interesting things, but mostly about how she started as a foreign service spouse, discovered a passion of hers, and came back and made it into a really incredible business. Eurona, welcome to the show.

Eurona: Good. Thank you. Thank you very much for having me.

Tanya: We’re delighted to have you, and, uh, to start off, why don’t you tell us a little bit about your journey in terms of where it started? Like, how did this all come about? 

Eurona: Alright, so my journey into being a Pilates studio owner began, um, when we were posted in Asuncion in Paraguay. I had three young children in tow, my youngest had just been born and I had developed a little bit of postpartum depression. It was normal for me to sort of need to find my footing every time we went to a new post and my son was in preschool, which happened to be on the same street as a Pilates studio. 

So I would pass it every day, and honestly, I would look in the window and everyone looked so happy. One day, I decided, I dropped them off, and I decided to pull over and I walked in and that’s when the journey began.

Tanya: I love that. I love that, you know, you were overseas and I think it’s an experience that’s not really that uncommon, right, in the foreign service. I mean, and especially like being a mom with very little children, it’s kind of a stressful period in life, right. And the fact that you were curious and decided to wander in and see what happens after that…

I mean, amazing. I like how the story starts. So what happened next? So you go in because you know, people, people see things and they don’t necessarily go and start a business, right. So like tell us what happened next.

Eurona: Well, what happened next? Honestly, because when I walked in the studio, I was, at least, extremely overweight and not really what one would think of as a Pilates practitioner. Clearly the people in the studio had never worked with someone my size. So, um, what happened next honestly, was they tried to convince me that Pilates wasn’t for me.

Tanya: Oh, no.

Eurona: I know, and the more they tried to convince me, the more I became determined…

Tanya: Which I will say is a characteristic of a great business owner by the way, because we are very determined people. We will, we will just hang in there when everybody else is like, oh no, no, you can’t do that. You’d be like, okay, watch me. Watch me. Yeah. I love it, love it.

Eurona: I guess they wanted to, you know, get rid of me quickly cause they could see this was going on and on. And they said, okay, we’ll let you join if you buy this humongous package. So I said, okay, I whipped out my credit card and I bought this humongous package. And um, all the while thinking, oh my goodness, what have I just done?

And, um, I, you know, I started coming, we signed up and I fell in love with it. I could tell, like I said, it was a little bit of a struggle for my instructor at the time, but ultimately what ended up happening is she would teach me an exercise that wouldn’t quite work for my body, I would go home and dissect the exercise, come up with all sorts of modifications and different ways to approach the exercise.

Then I’d go back to the studio and I would teach my instructor how to teach me.

Tanya: Wow.

Eurona: Which was the beginning of, you know, me becoming a Pilates instructor and really falling in love with the work. So we did that for two years and, yeah, and you know, every night I’d come home with all of these thoughts, all these exercises, and I actually started a journal, um, sort of like a dream journal about where I wanted to go with Pilates. It seemed very far-fetched. Like, you know, I, my background is at the time I was a medical writer, an editor, so you know, the pharma side, medical side of things and then Pilates,

Tanya: Let’s still be health-related though, right? I mean,

Eurona: it is definitely helpful too, and now I can totally connect all the dots, but at the time I couldn’t really, so I started writing this journal and basically my goal was I wanted to create a studio where no one felt like I felt when I walked into that first studio.

Tanya: Right, excluded.

Eurona: Excluded.

Tanya: Yeah.

Eurona: And, it was basically, like I said, a dream journal and I kept that for years. Like one day when I have a studio, I’m going to do this and I’m going to do this.

Meanwhile, I made it my mission to explore every studio I possibly could. Right, and I’d see how they were doing it. And, you know, if it was good, I’d write it down. If it was bad, I’d write it down. So I had all of these notes from all of these experiences, and that is what, you know, ultimately became what we have today, Epiphany Pilates.

Tanya: Interesting. So like you were doing kind of like research and development on the product and when you say you, you,

Eurona: Yes.

Tanya: You try it out, a lot of places, I mean, was that just in Paraguay or what happened after you had to move? Did you like to try other studios? Did you compare different teachings? I mean, that process, what was it like for you?

Eurona: So, um, in Paraguay was pretty limited. I think where I was studying was the only place. Um, you know, certainly as we moved, I would try a studio or multiple, especially when we moved back to Northern Virginia. I tried, you know, as many studios as I could around us. Um, even now when we go on vacation, I always go to a studio.

I always, you know, like to scope out what they’re doing there.

Tanya: And I would imagine you don’t tell them that you have your own, you just kind of…

Eurona: Actually I do only, well, only because you know, I’m all about full disclosure. Um, and also, I don’t know, I find it I’ve had people come to my studio who were instructors and have studios and not say anything and I find it a little disingenuous, like, you know, tell me who you are. 

Tanya: Is it, is it normal though that people would tell you like, uh, what they do or is it just really kind of like instructors that like they would come in and say, oh, hey, I’m an instructor  just trying out your class.

Eurona: Yeah, I think it’s like, it’s like a professional courtesy,

Tanya: That makes sense. Okay.

Eurona: You know, I’m an instructor too, And you know, most instructors love taking other classes. We love being the client, the student, um,

Tanya: learn new things, right.

Eurona: exactly.

Tanya: Kind of flex outside of, you know, what your repertoire is and maybe, you know, take some new things to incorporate back into your own practice or your own studio. And do you find that maybe the more you do that, uh, it’s harder to find new things or are you always discovering new things when you go to other places in other studios?

Eurona: I’m always discovering new things, partly because really there is no end to where Pilates can go.

Tanya: Yeah.

Eurona: Um, you know, we call it a practice, a journey for a reason. So, you know, there’s always the opportunity to peel back another layer, to see it from another perspective, to add a different spin on it, a different twist on it that helps you, um, you know, evolve as a Pilates practitioner.

Tanya: Interesting. And, and so at what point did you make the leap from being a student to actually teaching? And then from teaching to actually opening your own studio? Talk to me a little bit about that journey.

Eurona: So I told you about the journal, alongside the journal, I started a little savings account because teacher training is very expensive. I think a lot of people don’t realize, you know, we’re talking thousands of dollars.

Tanya: Yeah. Several thousands of dollars.

Eurona: So, um, and you know, my kids were still relatively young. So time was also, you know, whether it was the money or the time, you know, I don’t know what..

Tanya: Yeah, there’s always a limit, right? There’s always a reason why it’s not a good time or, you know, you can’t do it, but that didn’t seem to stop you, it seems like.

Eurona: Well, I saved for a long time and, um, finally, figured out the program I wanted to study with and I applied to the program and was accepted and became sort of like, I used to tease them like, I’m your studio groupie. Like, you know, I was like all eights in that studio. Every moment that I could, I was in the studio sorta like a sponge learning everything and, um, shortly after I graduated or completed that program, I had met a woman who had a dance school in the area and we just started chatting and she mentioned that she would love to bring Pilates to her studio.

Tanya: Opportunity!

Eurona: If I would like to come as an independent contractor. So I did, I set up a little business and, um, you know, it did not go so well the first time. She, you know, had told me she was going to have all these people… and of course there were no people and I was scrambling and, you know, bringing best friends and children and husband and everybody come to this class so I won’t be teaching to an empty room…

Tanya: Oh,

Eurona: but it taught me, you know, every experience taught me something. A few months after that, I met another woman who had, um, a massage therapy business. And they used to have yoga and they were looking for a yoga instructor. And I said, well, I don’t teach yoga.

I teach Pilates and she said, okay, let’s give that a try. And then about two months of me doing that, she came up to me and said, “hey, Eurona. I’d love to take you out for coffee. Do you have time? Are you interested?” And I love coffee. So, you know, that’s a quick, yes.

Tanya: Didn’t have to twist your arm. Yeah.

Eurona: Did not have to twist my arm. So we went to Starbucks and she sat down and she said, I’m thinking about getting out and, uh, of my business and moving away.Um, would you like to take over my lease?

Tanya: Oh…wow.

Eurona: I know, and then like a million wheels started turning in my head and eventually I said yes. And, um, that’s really where I consider my business began because I took that over in June of 2014 and yeah.

Tanya: And honestly, you make it sound so easy. Like, oh, this, this woman invited me to coffee and she was like, hey, take over my lease… and you’re just like, okay! And I think, I think the reality is a bit more complex than that. So, I mean, you obviously had been thinking about this for several years, saving for and dreaming about it, planning for it, you know, opportunity.

I don’t even want to say it found you because I feel like people who make plans and prepare opportunity comes to them, it’s attracted to them. So it happened and you were in a position to take advantage of it, but there’s also a lot more behind, you know, how did you determine that it was going to be a good fit in terms of like profitability?

Like, was it a good location? Like how did you evaluate, you know, the amount of the lease that was being paid. Had you, had you studied at all in terms of, uh, like what other people were paying for leases or like, how did you evaluate it from a business perspective before you made that decision? Or, or was it just, this feels like the right thing to do and you just launched?

Eurona: I pretty much just launched. I’m pretty much  prayed that the parachute would open, um, and you know,

Tanya: Wow. So you didn’t run like any numbers at all? 

Eurona: I mean, I did run some basic numbers, you know, I, I knew how people were running studios. You know, I had a sense of, you know, what things should cost, um, you know, how much I should, um, you know, sell things for. But as far as commercial leases, that was my first introduction. My family has always had rental property…

Tanya: Ah, okay.

Eurona: Residential rental properties, and so I  thought I knew a lot because, you know, I’ve kind of grown up watching my mom and my grandparents and aunts and uncles. But, um, I did not realize at the time that residential was so different than commercial. 

Tanya: It’s very different. Oh, very different. Oh yes. Yeah. Residential is kind of much more straightforward, commercial, I mean, you really can negotiate all kinds of interesting things.

Eurona: But, um, and it’s so funny that you mentioned like opportunity sort of comes to you, um, because, you know, in steps, my score mentor, I had someone had told me about, you know, go on SBAs website and you can get the score mentor.

Tanya: Yes. I’ve had one too, actually. Yeah. So tell us a little bit about that because it’s actually a free resource that people can take advantage of.

Eurona: and I can’t believe people don’t take advantage of it more.

Tanya: Well, you gotta know about it first, right? I didn’t know. Someone told me.

Eurona: Yes. And I can’t even remember who told me but I went on there and I checked, I wanted to know more about commercial leases. Um, and I got a great mentor because she only had two and a half, three years left on the lease, so for me, I’m thinking, you know, if all goes wry, it’s only two and a half years, three years, you know, you know, being in the foreign service, we can do anything for three years. Right.

Tanya: Isn’t that the truth!

Eurona: So, um, but yeah, I was loving it. I mean, I was absolutely loving coming into the studio every day. So I wanted to learn more. I got a score mentor and I had written many, um, proposals, that was actually what my other career, my professional career, had segwayed into. So, and, you know, over the years I have actually become a pretty good writer.

Um, so, you know, Developing a business plan from that standpoint, it all made sense. It was sort of like responding to a, uh, RFP, uh, for a client of mine. And, he explained to me, um, you know, he actually gave me a spreadsheet template, like, you know how to know your numbers, projections. And he walked me through all of that.

He was very strict with me, which I loved at the time, you know, I would, you know, he’d send me back something to be all marked in red and I’d be like, oh, my gosh, this is horrible. I feel like I’m in school, but I learned so much. And now like, you know, knowing your numbers is everything.

Tanya: It really is. I mean, for business, I mean, it’s, it’s, it’s the first thing, because if you don’t have that, you really don’t have much else to be honest. Yeah, It’s true.

Eurona: Yeah, and like surviving the pandemic. If I can get like, kind of take it to that, like, you know, without knowing your numbers and, you know, we, in order to survive, you had to get really lean. And the only way to get really lean is, you know, where the numbers are. So..

Tanya: What did you do? Because we had the pandemic. I mean, anything in person was just hammered like any business, right? Like movie theaters, travel restaurants, including Pilates studios. So like what, what did you do? Did you go online? Like how’d you adapt and where did you cut from? Like must have been pretty nerve wracking as a business owner, I would think.

Eurona: I didn’t sleep for three days. I was in denial. I’m going to be honest. I was in denial.

Tanya: I think we all were, it was not just you.

Eurona: And you know, I remember the Wednesday before it all sorta kind of, you know, melted…

Tanya: crashing down.

Eurona: crashing down. I had a client, um, and we were, you know, we both have a medical background. My master’s is in microbiology and immunology and hers as an epidemiology. So we used to have great chats outside of Pilates. And she was like, no, you’re running, you’ve got to prepare for this thing, it’s coming. I’m like, nope, not gonna happen. You know, what, blah, blah, blah, blah. Um, but then that sort of planted the seed and then, you know, it just sort of snowballed.

And then I realized I’ve got to come up with a plan, like, if we, this is coming and we do shut down, you know, what am I going to do? So immediately I went online researching. I think we all discovered Zoom. I now discovered Zoom…

Tanya: For the first time. Yes.

Eurona: three days, like, and figuring out how to transition online.

So literally in three days, I set up a brand new virtual studio and, I rolled it out and that very next day, like Sunday, we locked our doors and we said, we’re not reopening for two weeks when this is over… ha ha ha.

Tanya: Oh boy. Well, none of it’s knew. I mean, there was no way, there was no way for you to know.

Eurona: And then Monday virtual classes started and people loved them. We lost members don’t get me wrong, but we had a dedicated team, our community who stood by us. Um, and they logged in every single day and I called it “Daily Dose Pilates” because as it dragged on, like you needed something.  I know…

Tanya: Yeah. Completely.

Eurona: I needed something to kind of not lose it. 

And, um, you know, we didn’t have no one really had Pilates equipment in their home. So basically every day I would come up with creative workouts that used things in your house. So, you know, I tell you to go get a scarf, go get an umbrella and laundry basket. And we have a workout all around these things. Um, and I did two, three classes every day, all by myself.

I, you know, I wrote the staff and I said, look, I don’t know where this is going. I’m not really sure if I’m going to be able to pay people. Um, Fortunately, several staff were like, nope, we love you Eurona, we love the studio. You can pay us when you get back on your feet, because we know you’re going to get back on your feet.

Um, and they worked and eventually they got on the schedule to kind of share some of the load and, um, that’s that’s how we survived. We actually still have virtual classes and we still have live classes..

Tanya: Oh, that’s amazing.

Eurona: in the studio.  Well, they’re all live, either live in the studio or live in person. Um, and people are begging us, please don’t ever get rid of virtual. We love it. We love being able to take you on vacation and you know, when we can’t go out, you know, we can just log in and you guys are there. So.

Tanya: I love that story. There’s, there’s a bunch of things I love about it, but I think, you know, hearing your story about how you started in Paraguay and, you know, going home and saying, well, these classes are not really suited for me. How can I adapt? Right. And then, so you adapted then and you continue to adapt even during the pandemic about like, okay, well, this can’t work in the same way that it’s been working.

So how else can I find? I think, you know, I think that speaks to your Testament as a, as a business owner about being resourceful and flexible and being able to turn on a dime and make a decision. You know, is crucial, not just for your business, but also for the people that, you know, you’re helping through this time and your clients and providing a service that honestly, the community probably really, really needed because I mean, goodness, it was not easy for any of us when it started and it, and it still isn’t in a number of ways.

Right? I mean, we’re, you know, I mean, we’re still kind of on the edges of it and we’re not past it and I’m not sure what point we’ll ever be, but I mean, what an amazing story. Uh, yeah, there’s, there’s, uh, there’s really a lot to love about it. And I think too, the other thing that’s really nice is that you didn’t overthink it in a way.

Cause I think a lot of people, when they’re trying to start a business or they’re trying to do it, they just get overwhelmed because they feel like there’s so much to know. Right. And you were just like, I’ve had this dream, this is an opportunity, I’m just going to do this thing and figure it out. Right?

No, I mean really. And that’s, and that’s what it takes. It’s just, you know, people get into this analysis paralysis where, whether it’s evaluating an investment or buying a rental property or, you know, um, trying something that’s out of their comfort zone or starting a new business. I mean, all of this, you know, there’s things that you don’t know and the fact that you were just like, well, I don’t know, but I’ll figure it out and just, you know, I love it.

Love the attitude. And I think also something important that you did was you got a mentor, right? Like Score, for those of you who haven’t heard of it before, um, is an organization of like retired business people who basically volunteered their time to help other budding business owners. Right, so I had a score mentor as well, um, in Arlington, Virginia, and, you know, he was great because he came from a very finance and, uh, you know, accounting background, which is so not me. Cause I think you’re on it. I’m a little bit more like you, like, I’m a dreamer. I want to have all these ideas and visions and he was like, Show me the numbers. Like why, why are you in like five different things at once? He’s like, you need to concentrate on one core business first and then branch off after you’ve mastered that.

I was like, well, that makes total logical sense. But so no, I, I love, I love the whole, you know, kind of journey and pathway that you’ve had. So. So now that, you know, I mean, you’ve, you’ve been running the studio since 2014. I mean, you’ve had probably all kinds of ups and downs as a business owner, things that you’ve had to figure out.

What kind of advice would you give to people who were thinking of maybe doing something similar?

Eurona: Um, great question. Um, well, one, you know, I always start with, write a business plan. Um, you know, I didn’t realize it at the time, but my little dream notebook was scaffolding for my business plan. Um, and then the other thing, you know, we touched upon it earlier, you got to know your numbers, right. You gotta know how much it’s gonna cost you to run your business and you gotta know how much revenue, um, you can bring in.

And, um, so those are the two things I find a lot of times, people are just like me, we have a dream, this is in regards to a Pilates studio, we’re going to out there and create this studio and then we don’t really realize that it’s a business. 

Tanya: Right, exactly. Exactly, yes.

Eurona: So, you know, we’re selling, we’re selling Pilates, just like, you know, our friend next door, you know, who’s selling empanadas or whatever, you know, you gotta treat it like a business and approach it like a business.

So that, that’s my best advice.

Tanya: And it’s true, cause I, I think a lot of people, you know, they’re extremely passionate about certain things and, and you have to combine the passion with sort of the level-headed logical number crunching, you know, research kind of that part of your brain to so left brain and right brain, you know, kind of the creativity and the passion, all of that with sort of the hard math and, you know, running all of that.

But I think it sounds like you’ve combined that really, really well. Right? I mean, do you find as a female business owner that, um, it’s different at all? I mean, I’d be curious to hear.

Eurona: It’s funny because, you know, I was just about to bring this up because I, a lot of times I find that female business owners, we undercut ourselves…

Tanya: In what way? Curious.

Eurona: especially when it comes to pricing. Um, I know that was probably my biggest mistake. Um, when I first kind of came out of the box, was I got my pricing wrong, right? After all those spreadsheets and everything I did, you know, I still got my pricing wrong.

Um, and I still, I had too many promotions, too many, you know, things that just weren’t revenue producing and because I never give up, I stuck with them too long. Um, so I, you know, as a female business owner, especially if you’re a Pilates instructor, I’m gonna tell you, you know, know your worth and charge what you are worth.

Tanya: Charge accordingly. Yep.

Eurona: Yes. And don’t think about today, think about five years from now, right? Even though you might be new in the business, you’re still giving a quality product and you know, you should be charging accordingly.

Tanya: And why do you think that that is specific, uh, issue for female business owners compared to men, any, any insights, because I think I’ve noticed it a little bit too, especially for like service-based industries, right? Like if you’re charging hourly or things like that, I do tend to find that women are maybe a little bit more modest in what they could charge.

I’m just curious if you have any insights into that.

Eurona: I mean, I think it’s societal. I mean, honestly, you know, we always talk about the pay gap between men and women and, um, you know, some of that, you know, I think outside of being a business owner, like we just don’t necessarily ask for the same salary, um, that our male counterparts are asking for and I feel like that kind of carries over as business owners as well.

We don’t have the same hourly rate and um, so I mean, honestly, I mean, I don’t know the magic answer, but I do think it’s societal. 

Tanya: And that women should put themselves out there more. Right.

Eurona: Yes. Exactly. Exactly.

Tanya: Wow. Um, it has been wonderful talking to you, Eurona And where can people find you at your Pilates studio? Where’s your studio located?

Eurona: So we’re located in the city of Fairfax on Main Street at the intersection with Main Street and Picket Roads or addresses 9416 Main Street in Fairfax.

Tanya: Awesome. Well, I actually would like to stop by, cause you’re not far from place. So I think I may come and take a class because, um, I actually really like Pilates. I just haven’t done it in years, but, um, I love, I love the fact that you have started a studio based on inclusivity, um, adapting to, you know, different things.

I think there’s some magic over there that I might like to experience myself. Um, you know, before we go, I’m just sort of curious how, how did being in the foreign service lifestyle contribute at all, or did it to this sort of a place where you’ve landed now, which is, as a, you know, business woman with a brick and mortar studio in Fairfax, Virginia.

I mean, how did that foreign service kind of contribute to that or shape anything? Or maybe it didn’t, I don’t know. I’m just curious.

Eurona: Well, I think, you know, within our family, we always tease that we are the masters of making lemonade out of lemons. Um, and, uh, you know, that adaptability is certainly, you know, you need that to survive in the foreign service, and you need that to survive as a business owner. Um, that is a skill that, you know, the foreign service has allowed me to sort of hone over the years.

Um, certainly, you know, when we were posted, I had time on my hands. Right? Which was nice. So I, you know, I had time to sort of sink and, and, um, really, you know, craft where one day I might want to go with my business. Um, so yeah, you know, I think, you know, just from my family’s perspective, it has been so rewarding for my children.

I know my husband has loved, loved his time as a foreign service officer. So, um, so yeah.

Tanya: We have loved having you on the show. Uh, and, uh, for those of you that are in the area in the DMV, please check out our studio in Fairfax, Eurona. Thanks so much.

Eurona: Thank you. It’s a pleasure.

Tanya: Likewise.