Yoga Journal Live: ‘Be prepared for the hard’ in opening your own yoga studio

Thinking about opening your own yoga studio? Get a pro's take on the top hurdles to overcome and tips to stay strong in the early going.
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SNEWS attended the Yoga Journal Live conference in Estes Park, Colo., Sept. 14-21, 2014, and throughout the next few weeks, we’ll bring you coverage from the event with news, education and trends from one of specialty retail’s fast-growing sectors.

Before plunging into the ownership of a yoga studio, longtime yogini and former studio owner Gina Caputo recommends you know why you want to open a yoga studio. Seems like a simple question to consider, and a rather obvious one, but she stresses the issue.

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“This is key, because ultimately the answer to this question will sustain you through what is not a very easy business to be in. You’ll be exhausted, working way too much and this is what you return to,” she said. “It can’t be because ‘this town needs one.’ That’s totally legitimate, but I’d have to say, friend to friend, that’s not enough to sustain you when it gets really hard.”

Part of a Yoga Journal Live all-day workshop on The Business of Yoga, Caputo’s course, “Yoga 101,” provided real-world tips about beginning a studio.

And considering Caputo’s credentials, it’s clear she knows what she’s talking about. The yogini helped start the massive yoga center Sacred Movement, now Exhale Spa, in the heart of yoga’s homeland, California. She then uprooted and headed to America’s heartland, where she opened up a “gorgeous!” studio that took years for the small town’s citizens to recognize for what it was. She now lives in Boulder, Colo., where she runs teacher trainings and teaches at Yoga Pod.

Once the “why to open a studio” question has been answered, Caputo recommends determining a focus and establishing a clear identity, rather than attempting to be all things to all people. Figure out what your “special twist” will be, taking into account the demographics of the surrounding community since “teaching in the suburbs is very different from having a studio downtown.” Then write out a realistic one-year, five-year and 10-year vision.

Most of Caputo’s tips were direct to say the least: “You’ve got to be ready for at least three years to totally suck. When you’re three years in and you haven’t taken a paycheck yet, you’re going to have to be really connected with that ‘why.’”

She adds that it’s important to have a realistic view of the time and energy this ambition will take.

“It really is a 24/7 deal,” she said. “You’re ‘the one’ all the time. Be prepared for the hard.”

Inner research
Deciding to open a yoga studio involves considerable “inner research,” Caputo notes. Identify your personal strengths, gifts and natural talents, and then bring in staff and teachers whose skills compliment those abilities.

Again, Caputo’s bluntness took center stage. “Yoga teachers don't usually make the best business people. Some of the best partnerships I’ve see are these very passionate yoga teachers with a nerd bucket, someone who is not really that interested in the leadership and charisma part. They’re behind the scenes making sure the quarterly taxes get paid,” she said.

Inner research also should include assessing personal communication skills, recognizing the significant time and energy commitment of the job (and the impact on family life) and understanding that teaching time is minimal while administration duties take up the lion’s share of the day. Unlike yoga teachers, the studio owner must organize the class schedule, teaching schedule, payroll and social media, to name just a few. “It’s not dropping in and teaching two classes,” Caputo said. “It’s all damn day.”

Outer research
In addition to looking inward, Caputo advises looking outward, which includes understanding the “current yoga studio landscape,’ the vibe, offerings, focus and target customer of other studios in the area. Figure out “what would make someone stop going to where they’re going and come to your place,” she said. “Or [determine] what would be the thing that would push someone that doesn’t practice into your place.”

Take care when choosing a location, ideally setting up the studio near places students like to go before and after a class, e.g. a juice bar or coffee shop. Beware of the strip mall, she warns. And make sure the space has commercial grade toilets: “That’s a big one.”

Also, have a clear financial picture and source of funding, whether it’s a rich uncle or a small business loan. Taking on investors is another possibility, but remember that those who put money in will likely want a say in the direction of the business. If their sentiments don’t match up to yours, especially if they’re business people only looking at the bottom line, tension may arise.

When it comes to building community, Caputo recommends clearly presenting the studio’s identity and brand. Develop an online presence with a website and consistent social media posts from both the studio and its teachers. Also, participate in local events to bring awareness to yoga and by default, your studio.

When it comes to promoting that vision, don’t let a fear of self-aggrandizement get in the way, she warns. Rather, think of it as doing a service to the community by letting it know exactly what your studio is about.

“Owning a studio is just as much a business as owning a natural foods store or any other thing that is a business,” Caputo said. “Promotion is important. It’s about clarity: ‘Just so you know, this is what we’re into here.’”

--Courtney Holden

To boost your business acumen in person, check out the next Yoga Journal Live conference, which will feature a similar Business of Yoga daylong workshop.

>> Hollywood, Fl., Nov. 13-17, 2014

>> San Francisco, Calif., Jan. 15-19, 2015

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