Manduka’s mantra: Grow the business by remaining true to the joy of the experience

While yoga is a practice that focuses more on the spiritual than the consumer world, Manduka has discovered it’s also a technical physical discipline.
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While yoga is a practice that focuses more on the spiritual than the consumer world, it’s also a technical physical discipline. Just like cycling or skiing, the gear can make a difference.

California-based yoga brand Manduka answered that need in 1997, when it began producing technical yoga mats. It seemed an odd proposition at a time, when mats were cheap and cut out of PVC in the back of yoga studios, but that paradigm was soon to change.

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“Manduka was the first brand to bring a technical yoga product to market,” said CEO Sky Meltzer, explaining how a technical mat can stop slipping, ease stress on the body, remain durable and simply allow a practitioner to focus on the experience of yoga rather than the mat. “People thought our founder Peter Sterios was out of his mind with a $100 dollar, 8-pound yoga mat, but he brought those mats to highly influential teachers.”

Manduka filled a need and the yoga mat changed forever. But the brand never lost site of its prime directive, “to create a more joyful experience,” a mantra that Metler applies to how the brand has managed to succeed in a now-very competitive market. And succeed it has — since Metzler came on board from the investment banking world, as CEO in 2008, Manduka has expanded into a wider range of products and grown 45 percent year-over-year.

It’s also one of an increasing number of yoga brands making inroads with specialty outdoor retailers.

“We have grown by supplying the most innovative eco-friendly products,” Metzler said. “We are a grassroots brand and we have focused on what we do best, which is making great product, engaging our core customers and providing great customer service. Teachers and studios are our number one customers. We always keep them in mind because they are the ones that inspire product development and give feedback. Our great customer service let’s them know that product is available as soon as they need it. It comes down to really listening.”

The brand’s most recent response is LiveON, a family-focused collection that launched in mid April. LiveON champions Manduka’s commitment to sustainability — the new slip-on sandals, kids yoga mats, and bright-colored adult mats are 100 percent reclaimable and recyclable thanks to a partnership with green manufacturer PLUSfoam. They also appeal to more entry-level and budget conscious consumers. The LiveON Mat rings up at MSRP $48-$58. That price point puts green product in front of consumers who are new to the practice.

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“Our products are highly technical and we need to be able to communicate the breadth of that performance to a new customer,” Metzler said. “There are a lot of commoditized yoga products out there and we need to educate those customers on our feature set.”

One key to that education has been working with studio managers who understand why Manduka’s products improve the yoga experience as well as continuing to understand how the yoga customer lives.

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“They love to travel. They love adventure. They love to be outside. They continually want to expand their yoga education. They love to connect at festivals,” he explained. “Again, as long as we stay authentic and listen to them, we can build strong relationships with them.”

—Doug Schnitzspahn

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