New Equipment vs. Refurbishing Old Equipment

Some of you are looking to add equipment to your studio.  Or, you are looking to replace your current equipment.  How do you know whether to buy new from the manufacturer or scour craigslist and ebay for used equipment?  Is your older equipment worth refurbishing?

Owning high quality equipment from Gratz, Balanced Body or Peak is a great investment, as it retains its value and relative condition over time.  Consider that if you closed your studio tomorrow, your client list would be hard to sell.  But, your equipment would be worth quite a lot.

Here are a few questions to ask yourself when you are considering adding or starting your stable.

Do you own your current equipment?

Basically, the goal here is to own your equipment.

Scenario: Borrowed Equipment

  • If you are borrowing the equipment and do not have to pay for maintenance, then by all means, string that awesome deal out!  Just be prepared for the day that the deal ends.
  • If you are borrowing the equipment and have to pay for maintenance, you are probably still in an okay position.  Especially if there is no room for more equipment and you share the space with the equipment owner (i.e. another instructor is letting you use their equipment).
  • If you are borrowing the equipment, have to pay for maintenance, are not sharing the equipment with its owner, have to deal with a crappy “lender” that puts a strain on your relationship, and/or you are planning to teach Pilates long-term, I strongly suggest discussing financing with your manufacturer or credit card company to purchase your own equipment.

Scenario: Leased Equipment

  • I can’t really fathom why you might want to lease equipment, except if it is only a short period of time and you don’t want to deal with the hassle of selling it when you are through.

Scenario: Financed Equipment

  • If you are still making payments on new equipment, I hope your equipment will be five years old or younger when you finally own it.  In which case, good job!
  • If you are financing used equipment through a private party (or “renting” their equipment) for more than five years, CAREFUL!  The value of used equipment can be over-stated in these deals and it may be better to finance new equipment in the long run.  Be sure you explore all your options before agreeing to pay for someone else’s old equipment.

Scenario: You don’t own any equipment yet

  • If you are looking to open a small studio or home studio, bolster your patience and set up some alerts for equipment on ebay and craigslist.  Be sure to include cities within a 5 hour or so radius, because even driving to get used equipment can be worth it.
  • If you are opening a large studio with more than two or three Reformers, check out what the manufacturers can offer you in terms of discounts and financing.  It’s nice to have uniform equipment personalized to your space, brand new, and under warranty.
  • If you are opening a large studio, ask around at other local studios to see if any of them know someone else in the business who is looking to sell their studio equipment.  Often there are successful studios who want to upgrade, or studios who are closing that don’t know what to do with their old equipment or how to advertise it.  Make your interest known and a sweet deal might land in your lap.

Are you ready to take care of your equipment as it ages?

I feel as if I’m about to adopt out a new puppy.  But, you’ve heard me harp on this before.  Once you buy your equipment your work is not done!  Regular cleaning, tune-ups and replacement parts are required!  Be sure to budget for new springs (yes, all of them!) every two years.  Upholstery and foam every 6-8.  Wheels and ropes every 5.  And off-hand squeak, creak, noise and sticky maintenance as it comes up.  Plus, the time to wipe the rails every week and do periodic safety checks.

Do you know how to value used equipment?

A lot of you want to buy used equipment.  Those deals you see on Craigslist are tempting, and usually in great condition… they’re probably for sale because they didn’t get used enough!  A lot of the time you are not just saving money by not paying sales tax or shipping, but also a slightly depreciated value.

Here is what you should expect to pay for used equipment less than 10 years old:

  • Wood Studio Reformer: $1500-2500
  • Wood Studio Reformer w/Tower: $3000-4000
  • Allegro Reformer: $2000
  • Allegro Reformer w/Tower: $3000
  • Allegro 2 Reformer: $3000
  • Combo Chair: $800
  • Reformer-Trapeze Combo: $4500
  • Cadillac: $2500
  • Gratz Reformer: $3500

Think similar prices for Peak and Stott equipment.

When you start seeing equipment that is more than 10 years old, like some wood studio Reformers and Allegros, go with caution.  These are not worth the same as those examples I’ve listed above.

  • >10 year old Wood Studio Reformer: $1500
  • >10 year old Allegro Reformer: $1200
  • >10 year old Allegro Reformer w/Tower: $1600

As with any purchase, these prices are ballpark for used equipment which has been gently used and well cared for.  Sometimes you will see equipment new in box (NIB) or less than a year old.  Expect to pay close to the full sale price on these items, minus sales tax and shipping, of course.  That can save you over $500 alone!

Which upgrades are necessary?

If you see any of these signs on used equipment, be aware that you should replace them once you get it home.

  • Wheels haven’t been replaced in more than 5 years (regardless of amount of use, the wheel bearings develop flat spots which cause a bump-bump-bump when you roll the carriage)
  • Ropes that are fuzzy, thick and stiff around the pulley.
  • Balanced Body Reformers with pulleys that are only silver and white.  New pulleys should be red, black, white and some silver.
  • Major upholstery knicks, scrapes or cuts.
  • Major foam deformation where knees go.
  • Any frayed rope, loops or other webbing that is load bearing.
  • Springs, unless a receipt is shown for purchase <2 years ago.
  • Footbar padding where heels are placed during footwork.

Replacing these things when you get home by ordering through the manufacturer can make your equipment look and feel brand new.

Are there any deal breakers to look for when buying used equipment?

  • If the Reformer appears dirty, as in black dust on the rails and dirt on the frame PROCEED WITH CAUTION.  This is an indication of how the equipment was treated and you probably don’t want to take one home that has been abused.  It can be a treasure trove of unknown issues that are difficult to diagnose and fix because the Reformer was not cared for.
  • Don’t bother paying for shipping for used equipment across the US.  Be sure you can test the equipment before you buy it.
  • Bring a friend and a truck to pick up the equipment.  It’s heavy, large, and despite some of my Instagram posts, not easily disassembled.  Most of the time these aren’t able to be disassembled to fit in a car or SUV at all.
  • You may have heard that Balanced Body has a lifetime warranty on their equipment.  This is not true.  They have a lifetime warranty on their wooden frames, but if they are sold, transported or otherwise mistreated then that warranty is void.  Don’t count on making a warranty claim on equipment you purchased used.  But do count on this equipment to last you a long time.  With proper care, of course.

Which brand should I buy?

  • One of the larger manufacturers like Gratz, Peak, Stott and Balanced Body are my recommendations.
  • If you are a student, buy something similar to what your instructor has you work out on.
  • If you are a teacher, most new instructors buy what they were taught on.  However, it is not hard to make the switch to a new manufacturer if you are drawn to the other style or customer service experience.
  • I do not recommend mixing brands (or even models) in your group classes.  For example, teaching someone on a Balanced Body Clinical Reformer and someone else on a Classic Reformer can be tricky, much less a Balanced Body and a Gratz machine.

How do I plan my space?

If you need help planning your space and equipment needs beyond what Pinterest can provide, shoot me an email and we can talk about what it right for you.

How do I find used equipment?

Need some assistance finding used equipment in your area?  I can set up email alerts and help you determine if the machines you are looking at are priced correctly and a good investment.  I’m here to help!

The truth about essential oils and your Pilates equipment

One of the big surprises for my clients is that your Pilates equipment manufacturer probably doesn’t recommend cleaning vinyl with essential oils.  While a diluted solution of tea tree oil is the inherent choice for many studio owners, the major vinyl manufacturers (Naugahyde and Boltaflex) don’t recommend it.

What the manufacturers say

Shari Berkowitz published a handy guide to Equipment TLC in 2012 (click here) and Balanced Body, Gratz, Basil and Peak representatives all recommend a mild soap and water solution.  Stott actually recommends using tea tree oil (I’m not sure why, I can’t get any information on who their vinyl comes from).

Naugahyde recommends a 10% liquid soap and water solution for light soiling, and a 10% bleach/90% water solution for tough stains.  You can read their care guide, here.

Each manufacturer has a recommendation on their website.  It is important to note that if you are attempting to make a warranty claim on your vinyl or foam, cleaning the vinyl with tea tree oil or a harsh solution as contraindicated by their recommendation can void your warranty.

Balanced Body says:

Cleaning. You can extend the life of upholstery by keeping it clean and free of dirt, oil and perspiration. After each use, wipe down the upholstery with a solution of mild soap and water. Then wipe it down with clean water and dry with a soft towel.

Disinfecting. Equipment upholstery is coated with BeautyGard®, which offers antibacterial protection. If you want additional disinfection, Balanced Body offers Balanced Body CleanTM disinfecting solution. Use of any other solution (especially those containing essential oils) will shorten the life of some equipment and is not recommended.

Stott Pilates (Merrithew) says:

Wipe vinyl surfaces with a mixture of water and tea tree oil, a natural disinfectant. Add 1tsp of tea tree oil to a 1L or 1qt spray bottle of water. A mixture of mild soap and water may be used to remove more persistent dirt. Ensure cleaner does not leave an oily residue, or make surfaces slippery.

Peak says:

A daily routine of wiping down your vinyl upholstery after use with a mild cleaning solution that does not contain silicone is recommended. A dilute solution of mild soap in water can be used to clean not only the upholstery, but the wood, aluminum rails, chromed and galvanized steel poles, and carriage riding wheels (basically anything other than the ropes and/or leather straps). Wipe with a cloth dampened with plain water and dry after cleaning.

Gratz says:

A solution of 1 part household liquid dish soap abd 10 parts (1:10) water should remove most soiling. The soap should not saturate the upholstery. Do no use Tea Tree, Peppermint, or etc. on the upholstery. This will dry out the upholstery and cause it to crack and split.

What’s the catch?

I have many clients who swear by a diluted solution of Tea Tree Oil and water.  They’ve used it for years with no issues, and are happy with the scent and cleaning ability.

I find it important to note this for my clients because it can be a very personal and difficult decision to make.  There are so many scents and chemicals out there, how do you make the best choice?  It can be overwhelming.

Some Options

A good option is Balanced Body Clean.  I played a central role in testing it prior to its launch in 2015, and love how it reacted to all surface finishes in the Balanced Body equipment lineup.

I’ve repeated tests along the same lines I performed at Balanced Body on vinyl here in The Fit Reformer office.  The picture above shows all the vinyl samples.  Aside from the extreme curliness of the tea tree oil sample, all of the samples look great and show no signs of damage or color fade.

Here’s a list of the solutions I tested:

I would recommend any of them, though I personally prefer The Honest Company’s Multi-Surface Cleaner.

What to avoid

The only solutions I recommend against are wipes like Lysol Disinfecting Wipes and solutions like Windex.  If your vinyl feels sticky and looks like it has a layer of grime on it, then it’s probably not a great idea to use.

To condition, or not to condition?

Some manufacturers or upholstery experts might recommend a vinyl conditioner, like Lexol 1215.  Your equipment does not need this!  Your equipment is designed to last many years, and realistically the foam should wear out far sooner than the vinyl, if cared for properly.


Why your studio’s ambient environment matters

After just 5 months in the deep South, the black bolts on my Reformer are rusting!  Luckily, the parts shown in the image above aren’t load bearing, but it is kind of gross and is indicative of the humidity’s effect on your equipment.

While I worked at Balanced Body, I heard about studios on the coast experiencing rust on bolts, springs and tower tubes fairly often.  Many people didn’t believe that, even indoors, their equipment is sensitive to the ambient environment.

How does it happen?

Rust develops when iron comes into contact with oxygen and water.  There are many types of coatings that help prevent rust from forming.  Chrome plating, zinc plating, and bluing are some forms.  Plus, metal alloys like Stainless Steel are inherently rust resistant.

Unfortunately, black oxide bolts like the ones pictured above, are coated for aesthetic purposes only and have very little resistance to rust.

What to do about it

If you want to use the same hardware:

  1. Remove and clean the bolts, nuts or any other rusting pieces with a cloth, steel wool, or wire brush.  Remove as much rust as possible because if you seal rust in it can still spread.
  2. Coat the hardware with Boeshield T-9* to keep it from rusting.
  3. Reinstall the hardware.

Alternatively, you can replace all your black hardware with stainless steel or zinc plated bolts from a hardware store.  But, this would be time intensive to sort out which types of bolts, thread pitches and lengths you’d need for everything.

(I will explain how to remove rust from tower tubes in another post.)

Pro tip: Many DIY magazines and online sources recommend clear nail polish as a sealant for rust-prone parts.  Yes, it can help slow the spread of rust and you often already have it around your house BUT sealing the rust in before you clean it won’t stop it from spreading.  Also, coating your parts with nail polish will gum up the threads and make them hard to remove again, so I recommend not using this method for rust prevention.

boeshield t-9

*Boeshield was developed by The Boeing Company for lubrication and protection of aircraft components.

The truth about Spring Lifespans

Every client I visit asks if they really need to replace their springs every two years.  My short answer: Yes.

Here is what the major manufacturers say:

From Gratz…

The average life of a Gratz Reformer spring is 18 to 24 months if you use your equipment daily or continuously. If the springs show any sign of wear or emit any unusual sounds, then they should be replaced immediately.

From Balanced Body…

All Balanced Body springs should be replaced at least every two years. Certain environments and usages can shorten the expected life of the springs and you may need to replace the springs more frequently. Therefore, it is very important to inspect springs on a regular basis since worn or old springs lose resilience and may break during use.

From Peak…

We strongly advise establishing a routine program to monitor springs as well as replacing any spring in continuous daily use for over 24 months (or sooner in a high use facility). Any spring that exhibits early signs of fatigue (i.e. separation in coils, even if slight) must be replaced immediately.

From Stott…

Replace springs every 24 months, or as needed within that period if deformation occurs.

So, why do I have springs in my studio that seem fine after 10 years?  I get asked.  First, I explain that springs do break.

Yes, springs break.

They break when it’s really inconvenient and often dangerous.  While I worked at Balanced Body I heard about lawsuits every once in a while.  But, the manufacturers are good at covering their liability with fine print and specific questions, so they leave you vulnerable.

Since I’ve been in the field visiting my own clients, I realized there are many more spring breakages that go unreported.

Don’t be one of those people, and keep your clients safe, your assets covered, and your legal hassle low.

Second, I explain that there are many studios with old springs who have never had a problem.  There is no exact science on springs… how they age depends on how often they are used, how far they are extended each use, what the ambient environment is like, how much lotions and oils they come in contact with, and so on.  Sometimes, they last much longer than two years with no apparent problems.

While not all spring breakages can be predicted, there are signs you can look for when the springs start to degrade.

  • Gaps between coils
  • Rust or oxidation on the surface of the coils
  • Kinks or waves in the body of the coils

Run your hand lightly down the body of the spring.  Does it feel straight?  Or do you feel waves?  Definitely change your springs as soon as you feel or see any of these defects.

Be sure to check the springs UNDER the Reformer carriages!  That is often where I find the most damaged parts.



20151029_134258 Even if you just bought your equipment, it is important to think about when you are going to change your springs next.  Why?  Because they are expensive!

To replace one reformer’s worth of springs, here is what it costs at each manufacturer.  (Think more for Cadillac or Tower springs!)

Balanced Body: $100 (5 springs)

Stott: $300 (5 springs)

Gratz: $150 (4 springs)

Peak: $150 (5 springs)

If you budget for maintenance costs from the beginning, replacing your springs every two years shouldn’t be a big shock to your budget.

My advice: Replace your springs every 2 years (or sooner if needed).