Congrats – you’ve had your epiphany and you’ve figured it out! You struggled, anticipated and deliberated. But you have now found it. It is your dharma. It is your absolute calling. You wonder why the universe waited so long to tell you, but you feel at peace that it has happened now.
YOU will open a yoga studio of your own.
You can now sense the perfect space – how the layout will appeal to your senses and inspire your students, how the windows will allow in just the right mixture of manicured light, how the serenity of the space will empower your students beyond anything else they have experienced. You will create an aura above all others. Yours will be an exalted space. You start to channel Kevin Costner in “Field of Dreams” – “If you build it, they will come”…
And Now the Reality
Dreaming is critical; it will get you over the rough patches. And feeling as if you have found your true calling is also very special. But there are a number of things to think about when you first make the decision to open a studio in order to be sure that you are on a solid foundation and not on one of quicksand.
Owning a studio is about running a business. First and foremost. It doesn’t mean you can’t play by your own rules. Your measure of success need not be sucking every last dollar out of the pockets of your customers (most businesses that do that don’t last very long anyway). What it boils down to is this: you are offering a service in exchange for compensation. Beyond providing a service, you are providing an experience. But in order to ensure that you can keep providing that experience, you need to make sure you are setting yourself up for success. You can, and should, stack as many odds in your favor as possible.
I don’t think Sun-Tzu gets quoted in the yoga world very much. But it doesn’t mean that we can’t learn anything from his teachings. “Every battle is won before it is fought.” Nothing can replace preparedness. Do yourself the favor and prepare. Get as ready as you can for what is ahead. Even big companies get business launches wrong without doing the right homework. There is a famous story of Chevrolet launching their Nova car in Latin American markets; nobody pointed out that “no va” in Spanish means “doesn’t go” – great name for a car right?
Why Should People Come to Practice With You?
What is it that makes you unique? How will you differentiate yourself amongst other yoga studios? Why should someone come to you? These are the questions that every consumer grapples with sub-consciously. Every leading brand has something that makes them unique. There is a reason for people to come to your studio. It is critical that you define this for yourself and your studio.
Learn About Your Market
By this we don’t mean the yoga trends overall or within your specific tradition. Think about the locality where you would most likely open your studio. Run a demographic profile. Sometimes this can be purchased, but I think it is much more meaningful to do this on your own. Print out the area you have in mind from Google Maps. Drive or walk through neighborhoods. Do it during several different times of day. Whom do you see? What is the profile? What shops/stores/office buildings are nearby? Choice of yoga studio for practitioners is predominantly a local decision. You should find out whom your locals are. How many are already practicing yoga? Are you likely to convert more?
Which Yoga Studios Are Around You?
Pull out that Google map again. Identify every yoga studio within a twenty-minute travel distance to the location you have in mind. A general rule of thumb is that people will devote a third of the time of the length of a leisure activity to travel to it. So, you are looking at about twenty minutes. This is both an opportunity and your competition.
Rational planning would suggest that you carve out an area that is equidistant from every other studio in order to carve out your territory. In actuality, that isn’t always the case. Ever notice in large cities how there are “districts”? New York has a theatre district, a diamond district, a financial district. In LA there is the garment district, the toy district and a flower district. Doesn’t that seem nuts? All of that competition one on top of the other? The reason it works is that people know to come to that area for that type of good or service. Additionally, information flow is pretty instantaneous. But most importantly, you have a chance to directly differentiate yourself. What would be the harm of establishing a Vinyasa-focused studio next to an Ashtanga Shala? Or a Bikram studio wedged in between them? Especially if those studios have been there awhile and have been successful, perhaps they have gotten some of the other elements right.
It is also important to understand which studios would be directly competitive to you. List those that are in the twenty-minute radius. Determine the number of teachers they have, get their class schedule, their Facebook likes, their Twitter following and any other publicly available information that can help you triangulate the number of students they have. While this may seem anti-yogic, the reality is you are being thoughtful and mindful. Learning that your competitors have too many students to service is meaningful information. Conversely, realizing that they have too little is also significant. Track the studios over time. Are their class offerings and schedule expanding or contracting? Is the number of teachers growing or decreasing? These will all be relevant clues about how the area is trending.
Do you know what kind of yogis are in your area?
What style do they practice? Is there demand for what you are planning on offering? Where do they currently practice? Why do they go there? What is the likelihood they will switch? It’s important to meet and interact with yogis in your target area to get a feel for what your eventual student population would look like. Often times the responses to these questions can be great clues in terms of how you can modify your approach to appeal more directly to your potential audience. You may hear “I love Wonderful-Teacher-Yoga-Studio, but it isn’t so clean” or “Immaculate-Studio is great but they won’t let me keep my mat there.”
Many studio owners who have run successful operations for years thrive with the work they do. And now that you have made the decision, you should strive to be one of them. But you must keep in mind that there are a number that don’t make it. In order to stack the odds in your favor, be smart, be diligent and do your homework before committing major dollars towards the project. It could make the difference between having a successful studio and having to shut one down.
Aseem Giri is CEO of KharmaKhare, Inc., a provider of yoga mats made 100% from recycled rubber tires. His prior experience includes private equity investing, investment banking and managing companies. His passion for yoga was sparked as a direct result of seeking a way to find balance and equipose; it gets fed every time he steps on a mat. His ambition is to be fluent in Ashtanga and the man at the center of a five-person AcroYoga pose.