Fueled by an astonishing growth in demand, the last decade have seen the rampant proliferation of yoga studios. Many teachers, seeking to create their own island in the sand, jumped into the world of studio ownership. And with huge demand for great yoga but little supply, it wasn’t that hard to get by. However, while the little guys had flexibility, speed and a genuine interest to serve the community on their side, it was only a matter of time until the big guys began to take notice. Now nearly every health club in the country has a yoga program and many have better-developed programs and bigger studio space than the majority of independent studios.
As human beings, yogis and teachers, we say, “wonderful!” The more yoga, the better. But as current or aspiring studio owners, we are faced with the challenge of responding to a changing marketplace. While many studio owners are adapting, surviving and thriving, many are also finding themselves increasingly up against a wall. This is less of an issue in newer markets, but in mature or even saturated markets, the life of a yoga studio owner
is a challenging one. In light of this evolving market dynamic, now might be a good time to think a bit out of the box and explore the concepts of differentiation and alternative yoga business
formats for next-generation studios.Differentiation
What makes your studio or prospective studio different from any other yoga offering around? It’s a simple question that many small business owners have a great deal of difficulty answering. The problem is, if you can’t answer it, how can you expect your prospective students to answer it? In order to stand out not only from other yoga studios, but also health clubs, you need to be able to clearly explain how you are different from them and why you’re more appealing. Taking a few minutes (or hours) to sit down and write out what makes your studio or future studio different from everything around it can be a great exercise in solidifying the purpose and future direction of your yoga business.
If you are having trouble answering this question and your studio is struggling, now you know one of the big reasons why. If you cannot answer it and your studio is OK, you still need to work it out, because as soon as your market gets more competitive, and it will, the non-differentiated offerings will be the first to go! If you are planning on opening a new studio, differentiating yourself will be critical to your success. One of the main points of distinction might be you, the heart and sould of your studio. But if that is the major difference between your studio and the others in your market, understand that a key to your studio’s success will be your ever-presence, and that is a large burden to bear over time. You might want to explore your choices further.Alternative Studio Formats
Beyond the quest to differentiate, a second major challenge to the traditional, full-time studio model is optimizing space utilization. In plain English, you pay to use your space 24/7. But outside of a limited number of peak hours, it is either slow or just plain empty. So what can you do to get those down-time hours working for you?
Some owners try to pack every time slot with what end up being basically similar classes. But that often dilutes classes across the board, making a handful of students happy, but upsetting teachers by thinning out their potential for larger classes. Others try to appeal to different populations, like kids and seniors, and bring in specialized programming to increase the flow of off-time customers. While doing this can bring in significant revenue, it might also significantly change the overall energy, brand or management burden of the studio. You could end up making more money and using your space more effectively, but enjoying what you do less. And when you’re in the business of personal energy, that’s a big problem. However if you like the new energy and are willing to take on the added management effort, great! It can be an effective way to take your business up a notch.
One interesting alternative studio-model based on space-sharing might be a win-win for you and other potential space owners, though it might also require you to shelf the ego a bit in the name of bringing great yoga to the community. The basic idea is that you share a space on a long-term, committed basis, with a complementary business or businesses and pay only for the times that you utilize. A great example of how this might work would be sharing space with a kid’s activity studio.
Most studios that offer kid’s activities, including martial arts, movement and dance, are very busy during the week between two and five and on Saturday mornings. Outside of those peak kids hours, they are often empty or closed. These class times tend to complement the scheduling needs of adult yoga students very well. Most yoga studios are busiest at lunchtime, from 5-9 in the evening, sometimes in the early morning and often all day on the weekends.
So, why not think about renting blocks of time from an existing kid’s activity studio and branding yourself as Such & Such Yoga at So & So Dance? Of course, you’d want to choose a place with a nice, clean environment, a stable operating history, a compatible owner and adequate facilities for you to hold class and store props. But operating your studio this way might accomplish many, if not all, of your goals while avoiding a lot of the hassles and responsibilities of a full-time space. And because it’s in the host studio’s interest to have you succeed, they’ll likely allow you to establish a branded presence in the facility with signs and materials.
So in this scenario, you only pay for the time you use; you don’t have to worry about maintenance, high, fixed rent, utilities, space-utilization, repairs, long-term leases, big-deposits and seasonal changes in business. And, the kid’s studio is happy because they have your rent to offset their full-time lease expense. There might also be significant marketing benefits for both businesses as clients of one business are exposed to the services of the other every week. While this is an appealing “transitional strategy” for an existing studio owner looking to survive, it can also be a great, low-cost way to launch a new studio, build a brand, work on your points of differentiation and buy a little time to see if you really want to jump into a full-time space.
The single biggest criticism I’ve wagered against this approach is “you lose the ability to create a very special, high-touch, spiritual environment that you control and cultivate without interference”. Yes, maybe you can’t paint it the colors you want, decorate with your special style or burn the incense you want, but the reality is, 90% of a studio’s vibe comes, first and foremost, from the people who run, lead and inhabit it.
With the evolution of mega-studios and national brands, we are in danger of forgetting this critical fact. Show me a blank, white room staffed by a director with a spirit the size of Texas and teachers who consistently change people’s lives and I’ll show you a plain, white room that generates more soul, loyalty, energy and revenue than any glitzed-out mega-studio with a pure-business leader and a less-gifted staff. The heart and soul of any studio is its people, not its amenities. Lose sight of that and the game is over.
So, as you explore a move into the quickly evolving world of studio ownership, think about what you really want from your studio. Be honest about where your talents, interests and challenges lie, set aside your ego, (yes, we all have them, even after years of practice!) and open your mind to potentially different ways of accomplishing your vision. Think out of the box and, if it sounds right, maybe even think about sharing a box with someone else.