SO MANY YOGA TEACHERS DREAM of having their own space. A space to teach classes all day and welcome in joyful, excited, dedicated students who are happy to pay whatever the membership costs. The dream – as most are – is an illusion. For all the joys associated with running a studio, there is a long list of upfront costs as well as ongoing costs and issues, some foreseeable and others not.
Unless your budget is enormous and unbounded, there’s a need to take on multiple specialist roles yourself. This means negotiating a sale or lease, building and updating a website, marketing via traditional methods and social media, selling memberships, cleaning, hiring and managing staff and organising permits, insurance and registrations as required.
Tania Perry, a yoga teacher for over 15 years, recently opened Humble Warrior Yoga studio in Abbotsford, Melbourne. The prospect of owning a studio had always lingered in her mind, having run classes to a regular group of 10 in her home studio. “I had thought about it, but always said that I wouldn’t open a space in Melbourne. With a new studio popping up every week, I felt that the market was saturated.
In 2017, Tania ran an event at the studio in Abbotsford, Melbourne, which turned out to be fortuitous. Tania began teaching in the space and after a couple of years, the opportunity came up to buy the studio.
Tania wasn’t entirely new to the yoga business, having worked for various studios from the initial set-up phase to taking part making decisions around budgets, scheduling, workshops and training. Before making her decision to buy the business, she relied upon expert advice from trusted teachers though to expert legal advice and followed all due processes that is involved when buying any business.“I went in eyes wide open,” she admits. “Having worked in studios for two years I was well aware of the challenges. There so many hoops and hurdles and did test my resolve, it wasn’t easy,” she added.
To a much greater degree than a gym, opening a yoga business must consider the values and principles of the practice and the community. “Yoga is a niche market. First and foremost the space has to be right aesthetically. You have to decide your point of difference and for me it is important to be authentic. Yoga is not just about fitness and exercise, it is an all-encompassing form of exercise, mind, body and spirit. I wanted to create a community, not just a place where people go, sweat and leave. I want to know people’s names, I want to know their lives, Yoga is about community, it is more personal and personalised. It is not just a business, it is family.”
In addition to asthetics and authenticity, when opening a new yoga studio you need to be aware of your competition within the same location. Michelle Baldw is the owner of Hot Yoga Studio Coolangatta and has been operating her studio for over 11 years and knows only too well the trials and tribulations of starting a yoga studio in today’s market. “In the past two years I have seen many studios close, with most studios lasting between one and five years, max.” Baldwin says the competition amongst studios in the same location is a real problem for many yoga studios. “With the popularity of yoga, we have new challenges to deal with each year, from IP theft, teacher trainers trying to open nearby, economy ups and downs and the rising price of running a studio, the reality is it is just too hard for many studios to continue.”
“To a much greater degree than a gym, a yoga business must consider the values and principles of the practice and the community.”
It is a common practice now for yoga studios to implement a non-compete clause for their teachers to sign which can be a safeguard for them if teachers decide to move on and open a studio within a certain radius of the studio they were employed. The sad reality is that there are some unethical teachers out there that do not comply by these arrangements and take students and revenue with them.
So how do you make it work? Mandy Scotney, manager of Sydney based studio BodyMindLife, says, “Running a yoga business is a very different experience to being a yoga teacher or just loving the practice. One of the reasons BodyMindLife has grown from one to four studios across Sydney is because we’ve created a team with a very different set of skills. We all love what we do but we also understand that we each have strengths in certain areas - from operations through to marketing. It’s classic advice but is really important - don’t try to do everything alone.”
For Scotney, the challenge was taking the existing model and being adaptable to what clients wanted and expected from BodyMindLife. “Know who you are and what sets you apart but be prepared to change,” she advises. “BodyMindLife started out as a Bikram Yoga studio more than 15 years ago. We’ve since evolved and become a studio that offers Vinyasa flow and Yin, as well as reformer Pilates and meditation.
It’s so important to listen to your students and understand what they need, and how they want to practice.”
Marketing and communications are key to raising awareness of new and existing studios, while also posing a challenge to new owners with little experience in balancing books, handling advertising or creating a digital identity for business. “Be as good a business person as you are a yogi!” Scotney says. “Work on your business skills and financials as much as you work on your handstand.”
For Tania Perry, timetabling has been the most time-consuming challenge and one that many new studio owners are confronted by. “It is trial and error. I have added some morning classes, changed the names of classes, Power Flow is now Prana Flow. I have added some, then taken them off when numbers have been low. We looked at our flow of students and found that Monday night is the busiest week night, both slow flow and Yin usually hit double figures (10 plus).
Other studio owners have said it’s a hard slog to break even in the first few months and even years. Many have also said they don’t pay themselves for months while establishing the business. Tania adds “ I have not drawn a wage yet, so I’m currently living off my savings. We are just breaking even, but this business was already up and running and I am teaching most of the classes. If I was being paid we would be running at a loss. Rent is the biggest expense, then wages, so I had to rationalise and let go of a few staff.
The most important advice Scotney has for new studio owners is to ensure the business demands don’t impact negatively on their health and wellbeing. “Make time for self-care. The demands of running a business are much greater than simply teaching yoga. Keep up your own practice.” ■