Yoga Businesses: Finding an Entrepreneurial Balance
Yoga is often associated with balance, mindfulness and inner peace. Those aren't easy things to accomplish while you're dealing with the stress and chaos of running a small business. But as these six entrepreneurs in the yoga market can attest, it's entirely possible. Here are their inspiring stories.
Chakra 5 Yoga
McKenna Rowe opened her first yoga-based business in Los Angeles in 2011. Her studio grew out of a desire to help her clientele and spend her career working in a positive environment. Unfortunately, excessive real estate costs, insurance expenses, and so on became too much to manage. That's when she realized she needed to make a change.
That's when she came up with the idea to bring yoga to the client, rather than the client to a conventional studio. Thus Chakra 5 Yoga was born. Rowe offers mobile yoga classes on location, scheduling appointments for companies that want to offer their employees the benefit of work-day yoga.
"I love making people feel better. I've seen how transformative yoga is for mental, physical and spiritual health, both as a student and as a teacher," Rowe said. "All you have to do is do it -- regularly."
Chakra 5 aims to make that consistency easier by bringing the instructor to the student. And as a business model, it's far more lightweight than maintaining a studio. There's no real estate overhead and the operation is light on staff. It also helps Rowe tailor her services to better suit her clients' specific needs.
"[Because we're mobile,] people don't have to fight LA traffic or find parking to make it to a class at a physical yoga studio. They can bond with coworkers or colleagues in a yoga class right in their office," Rowe said. "We provide a situation that is more inclusive and "democratic", especially for people who are intimidated to walk into a yoga studio."
And after all, there's no escaping that L.A. traffic either coming or going; so you might as well have a bit of yoga available to unwind after facing carmageddon. [See Related Story: Closing My Yoga Studio Helped Me Launch a Better Business Model]
Jeff Krasno and Sean Hoess founded the Wanderlust Festival in 2008 after noting a lack of large-scale music gatherings for the yoga community. A hybrid celebration of music and movement, Wanderlust is part music fest and part yoga immersion, allowing yogis to practice with renowned instructors such as Jonny Kest and Shiva Rea in tranquil settings while enjoying live performances by familiar bands. Since its conception, Wanderlust has grown by leaps and bounds.
Hoess credited Wanderlust’s popularity to grassroots marketing, direct outreach, and its symbiotic relationships with yoga studios.
“In year one, we had less than $30,000 to market the event, so we developed a database of literally every yoga studio within 200 miles of Wanderlust California [held in North Lake Tahoe]and then got on the phones,” recalled Hoess.
The pair offered free tickets, group sales discounts and cross-promotion tools to studios online and in e-mails, in exchange for their display of signage and flyers promoting the event. Hoess and Krasno also invited the larger studios in California to "name" various areas at the festival where classes are held, and send their top instructors to teach. While Hoess admitted that the process was extremely time-consuming, he said it was worth every minute to help build the credibility in the yoga community that Wanderlust enjoys today.
One of the great ironies of running a yoga business may lie in the audience itself. While it offers a passionate, involved consumer base that most small businesses only dream of, it also violates the age-old axiom about keeping business and personal interests separate since most yoga business owners are also practitioners themselves.
Regardless of how large a yoga business might become, Hoess advised fellow entrepreneurs to maintain the passion for the practice that its students share and expect. “When [business] gets beyond the personal to general marketing, I've observed that many yoga businesses fall short. You can see this in things like graphic design, which often falls into a 'typical yoga' look and feel, clunky websites, poorly designed e-mails, the use (or lack thereof) of social media, and other issues,” said Hoess. “Yoga entrepreneurs need to figure out what they want to do, then figure out what makes them different from everyone else -- and show it.”
In addition to music festivals, Wanderlust offers events, products and expert advice for a healthier, more peaceful way of living: what they call "finding your True North."
While many yogi entrepreneurs begin as students and evolve into the business, Dean Jerrehian, founder and CEO of Jade Yoga, maker of environmentally friendly yoga mats, towels and blocks, took the opposite path. At the start of 2000, Jerrehian was in the business of natural rubber rug pads. A chance encounter with a yogi who said that existing yoga mats made of PVC (polyvinyl chloride) material lacked proper slip resistance inspired Jerrehian to turn his rug pads into yoga mats. The mats, which were the first natural rubber yoga mats, were well-received in the yoga community. It was only after that time that Jerrehian began to realize the wellness benefits of yoga.
Jerrehian said one of the great benefits of being a yoga entrepreneur is the nature of the industry itself.
Being in the yoga world where people are so balanced, peaceful and giving has actually brought more balance to my life," Jerrehian said. "Yes, we are here to make profits, but there is no question that we can do good and do well at the same time – especially where your audience really cares." The disposition of his clientele has created the success of his eco-friendly yoga mats and his “Buy a Mat, Plant a Tree” program which funds the planting of a tree for each mat purchased.
“Being health and environmentally conscious,” yogis recognize the value of quality and sustainable products,” Jerrehian said. While some might mistake the yoga industry as being too “serene” for business success, Jerrehian has found the converse to be true.
"I used to think that being calm, relaxed and easygoing might reduce my effectiveness in business, but I now think the opposite is true," he said. "Nothing diffuses any situation better than calm and it is much easier to ‘get to yes,’ which is ultimately what every business transaction is about.”
Blissoma by Iriestar
Julie Longyear is a self-described “lifestyle businessperson,” has always believed in integrating her business pursuits and spiritual beliefs. That philosophy guided her to start Irie Star in 2001 directly out of college. The company introduced its Blissoma Yoga Mat Cleanser in 2005. Along with a network of studio customers, single location specialty boutiques and estheticians, Blissoma Mat Cleanser is sold in select Whole Foods Markets.
The strong spiritual-based beliefs Longyear holds have been reinforced with yoga, and have been crucial in helping her stand her moral ground in the business world.
She has been asked to “sacrifice our morals regarding the use of organics in order to achieve a better price point for large businesses. We said no. I just don't produce products that don't represent my values. I can't live with the burden on my conscience, nor can I just produce something strictly for the marketing value of it,” Longyear said.
Perhaps the greatest lesson Longyear has learned from her yoga business is to focus less on riches and more on the intrinsic rewards. “'Get rich quick' was never on the list. The money is just a means to keep going,” she said. “I won't mind if eventually things are a little more comfortable, but I think discomfort often helps produce growth. I try to view the sand I'm currently chewing on as the source of my future pearls."
Today, the line has expanded from the genesis of mat cleanser to include a variety of vegetarian and organic skin care and body products, from lip elixir to stress relief serum.
Columbus & Company Consulting
Even the most well-intentioned yoga businesses owners can use guidance in the form of best practices. That’s what makes Tracy Columbus, a lifestyle, branding and strategic marketing consultant, serving the entertainment and yoga industry, a valuable asset. Based in Los Angeles, Columbus observed that the yoga studio population had taken on a consumer shift in the early 1990s.
“Yoga had gone mainstream and the new yoga devotee was more likely to be a stressed-out business person in search of a place to unfurl — and willing to pay for it,” said Columbus.
While there are millions of business consultants who can advise on growth and operational models for small business, Columbus is “focused on traditional bottom-line goals while concurrently serving the authentic needs of this discerning consumer.”
She guides her clients though the strategies, partnerships, marketing activities and products that will serve their overarching objectives, while assuring that all those ventures maintain rooted in the beliefs of the yoga lifestyle community.
“Yoga in America has become a business. That is neither good nor bad, it just is,” Columbus said. “Business is business. It requires income to create good outcomes.”
Columbus advises other yoga entrepreneurs to be honest about what they want from their work and focus on leading instead of following.
“Take the time to innovate and bring to fruition a brand that can sustain the test of time and circumstance,” she said.
In 2009, Linden Schaffer was leading distribution for a multi-million dollar fashion shoe brand. Traveling the globe and struggling to find time for yoga led her to create Pravassa, a New York City-based retreat planning company that brings teachers and students together for healthy retreats.
Schaffer said that by serving a niche within the travel market, Pravassa has found particular marketing value through its blog, which reviews classes around the world. That in turn, creates valuable buzz and viral activity, when reviewed instructors share the blog with their students.
Schaffer’s greatest advice to yoga entrepreneurs is to be involved in the yoga community. Develop relationships with instructors, studio owners and students to hear what they like and what is missing from their practice or studio space.
Schaffer also credited yoga’s calming benefits as integral to how she approaches her business dealings.
“This alone has helped me as a business person in the way I react to people and their ideas or questions. I am able to stop and think before I react to anything. Yoga helps me gather my thoughts and present my ideas in a positive non-confrontational way. Yoga also teaches you to see the good in everyone,” Schaffer said.
Additional reporting by Stephanie Taylor Christensen. Some source interviews were conducted for a previous version of this article.