Moving abroad, Pilates studio closing, upgrading apparatus, apparatus unused and gathering dust, ex-showroom or ex-exhibition are all headlines on adverts or reasons given for owners selling their Pilates Kit. In this blog, Chris Onslow takes a closer look at the advantages and disadvantages to consider when buying a second-hand bargain.

Buying pre-owned Pilates apparatus may make marginal commercial sense but it has definite risks

Pilates Apparatus holds high second-hand value and the majority of the depreciation is in the first year after purchase. It is unusual if you can find well cared for Pilates machines, even older apparatus needing new consumable parts, at half price or less unless it has upholstery in very poor condition – given the cost of refurbishing all other parts is proportionately low. 

On a Pilates reformer or Cadillac replacement springs, ropes clips, or rollers will typically cost as little as 10% – 15% of the new price of the kit. Therefore a seller is usually able to sell apparatus in good condition having replaced worn parts at between 60% and 65% of the price of a new reformer. Given that prices of apparatus increase over the years, this can mean little or no depreciation from the price the seller originally purchased at if it is several years old.

On the face of it, buying pre-owned Pilates equipment can make commercial sense provided the main structure of the machine is in sound condition and the upholstery still has life.  However, buying second-hand machinery is not risk-free! One of your main considerations buying second-hand should be assessing the value of a warranty on your kit.

Align-Pilates C2 Pro RC Pilates reformer with female model
Jess Ellmer UK’s Movement & Wellness Coach and Align-Pilates Brand Partner demoing the C2 Pro RC reformer

Even though a second-hand equipment seller may tell you otherwise – seldom do manufacturers honour the warranty on Pilates Apparatus beyond the original owner  

For some manufacturers ‘limited lifetime warranties’ are advertised.     Whilst problems with frames are few and far between these do, from time to time, occur and replacing the frame of your machine is often a large cost in relation to the cost of a new reformer when paying for the labour to strip down the machine to replace the frame and then rebuild it again. 

Therefore in your mind, you should think of a warranty as having significant financial value.

Manufacturers typically will only offer their warranty to the customer named on the original invoice they hold.  As a result of this, no matter how new the machine is, second-hand machines are usually sold with no warranty –  whatever the seller tells you or advertises to the contrary.

Unlike buying a newish second-hand car on the private market;  where the warranty on the car is transferrable,  you risk substantial costs with a Pilates machine, if a manufacturing fault compromises an expensive part of your machine.

Those purchasers wanting to buy a pre-used machine, but at the same time minimise their risk of an expensive manufacturing fault, should focus on purchasing directly from the manufacturer.   

Most manufacturers or their distributors, from time to time, renew their showroom pieces or are keen to sell on the kit they take to exhibitions, which are normally sold with full manufacturer’s warranty. This is why most of the depreciation on a new purchase occurs at the time of purchase. Having said earlier, a seller can still expect to sell an older Pilates machine for 60% – 65% of the new price,  a private studio or person selling a nearly new machine without warranty is lucky to find a sensible well-informed buyer who will pay more than 70% of the new price. This means buying second-hand in many cases may allow you as the purchaser to sell-on your machine some years later with little or no loss of value.

Are spare parts and accessories still available or compatible with the bargain you want to buy?

The very fact that older apparatus can last for decades and can still look great does not mean wear and tear parts and standard accessories will be available from the manufacturer when you need them. Nor that the manufacturer will still be in business. You should do your homework before purchasing a second-hand machine – even if the item looks like a total bargain. The reason for a 50%+ discounted could be due to the issue of not being able to get spare parts for the machine, or the manufacturer has announced a machine has been substantially upgraded and key parts of the new machine are no longer compatible with the old range. 

A quick phone call to the manufacturer to ask some key questions may tell you if the machine being sold at a bargain price, really is a bargain!

Shipping a second-hand machine may cost £200.00 more than shipping a new machine to the same address

When you purchase a new Pilates machine it will normally arrive to you, with some assembly required, on a single or often double pallet in purpose-made cartons lined with protective materials, factory designed, to protect the kit. I know of nobody who keeps this packaging on delivery.  The kit is built and when a seller offers you it second-hand they will virtually always ask for a price that does not include the cost of delivery to you.

Out of its packaging, a Pilates machine is bulky, awkward to carry/transport, and very vulnerable to damage.   

Unless you own a suitably sized vehicle (a Pilates Chair or Ladder Barrel will typically fit into an estate car boot space with back seats folded –  but a Cadillac or reformer will often require disassembly and then carriage in a long-wheelbase vehicle) – you are likely to need to pay for a dedicated courier delivery.   

Manufacturers negotiate deals with freight companies to deliver their pallets with properly packed machines – £50.00 for a single pallet and £100.00 for a double pallet are typical prices in 2020 for a negotiated price with a manufacturer.  The agreement involves a forklift truck at the manufacturers depot lifting the pallet onto the lorry and a single driver using a ‘pump truck’ to wheel it off at the other end.   

When you come to negotiate a price with a courier to ship your pre-owned purchase: which is not in any packaging you may well find pallet companies refusing to take the order and then need to arrange a two-man team with a dedicated van to collect and deliver your machine.  

It is not unusual to see quotations of £200.00 – £400.00 in the UK – dependent on distance to be travelled for the movement of second-hand machines. If we take a middle figure of £300.00 compared to £100.00 for a new machine – the £200.00 different may represent as much as 30% – 50% of the saving that you initially made buying a pre-owned machine compared with a new one.

Align-Pilates Delivery Van

Buying a different brand for a new machine may be far savvier than making a 40% saving on your second-hand purchase from a more expensive brand.

Unless the brand name on your Pilates Kit is more important than its comparative quality – it would pay you to avoid buying brands with a high carbon footprint, accumulated freight, and import duties!

The purchase cost of apparatus from some Pilates brands does not reflect the manufacturing cost and instead, the selling price is set by the manufacturer falsely high to reflect the brand position in the market, or accumulated costs from moving kit all around the world before the final sale.

Similar to clothing or sports accessories, two brands of apparatus manufacturer may both manufacture to a similar specification with similar costs, but one may decide to adopt a different sales strategy and price point to the other for in effect the same quality and functionality. It is a fact that most Pilates machines with metal frames are either built-in Asia, or metal parts are purchased in Asia and assembled elsewhere. 

In the case of the main USA and Canadian brands – who assemble apparatus in their own market and export from there – this can mean apparatus (or its main components) have first shipped from China to USA – with associated freight and import duty before being warehoused in the USA with costs and then shipped-on to a warehouse in mainland Europe or Australasia, etc. with more shipping costs and import duty before finding their way to the end-user with additional shipping costs.

In markets like Europe, Australasia, Asia etc. we see USA and Canadian imports selling 50% to 100% more in price than brands of similar quality and initial costs made in theAsia but shipped directly to the country of sale – with a lower carbon footprint and accumulated freight/duty cost.

Unless the brand name is so important to you in your purchase decision that you ignore similarity in quality, it is a fact many purchasers of second-hand apparatus originating from US Suppliers are buying second-hand without any warranty more expensively than they could be buying brand new apparatus from a more local company of similar quality.

Buying an expensive Brand second-hand but at a great price without accessories may cost more in the long run.

Buying Secondhand without a bundle of accessories you need included may add up to £1500 more than necessary later on.

If you are buying, second-hand, a Pilates machine at a bargain price; which is not being sold with accessories which you need to buy new later may be a costly mistake. For example, consider a Pilates Tower for a reformer, the difference in price between two brands for something of equal quality may be as much as £900,00. Then add the difference for a jump board, platform extender, mattress converter and the total difference between two similar quality brands may approach £1,500 – this is potentially two-thirds of the price of a brand new commercial Reformer from a local manufacturer.     

In Conclusion

If you genuinely cannot afford to buy new, buying secondhand may be your best option, in which case buying direct from a locally based manufacturer an ex-exhibition or ex-showroom Pilates reformer with full warranty, a known price for delivery organised and insured by the seller may represent excellent value and provide you with a machine which depreciates very little over the remainder of its working life.

If you live outside the USA, the very best bargain will probably be to purchase an ex-exhibition or ex-showroom apparatus from a non-US or Canadian brand where the new price of the kit is already substantially better value for similar quality than US brands.

Buying a second-hand machine without warranty where you are paying for collection and delivery yourself without a substantial discount may not be the bargain it initially seems to be, particularly if there is damage to upholstery or difficulty in guaranteeing supply of springs, ropes and other wear and tear parts or standard accessories for that machine in years to come.

Beware of offers that appear too good to be true! The second-hand market for commercial Pilates Studio equipment is typically a seller’s market with high second-hand prices compared to many other products – investigate carefully the reasons for exceptional bargains of 50% or more before buying!! 

About the author

Chris Onslow is a Specialist Pilates Business Consultant who not only has owned and operated Pilates Studios in the UK but has been involved in the sales and distribution of new and second-hand Pilates Apparatus such as Balanced Body, Stott Pilates, and Align-Pilates.  Chris owns Mbodies Training Academy and has been involved in Pilates and Fitness Instructor Training with brands like Pro Active Health, Stott Pilates, YMCA Fit, Active Training, Pilates Solutions and latterly Mbodies training Academy over the past 20 years.