Successful, ethical yoga studio owners versus crackpots.

Via Joslyn Hamilton
on Jun 14, 2011
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One of the biggest incorrect assumptions in the yoga world is the following:

“I love yoga and/or teaching yoga. Therefore, I should open a yoga studio.”

Cuz, being a good teacher and possessing a deep and abiding understanding of the timeless art of yoga — those things have anything to do with running a profitable business?

Sadly, this misperception has proven itself wrong more times than not. I’ve never owned a yoga studio, but over my 10+ years of managing yoga studios that other people owned in San Francisco and beyond (and also teaching and practicing at them), I got a somewhat harrowing look at what goes on behind the scenes. Here are some observations I have made, and most of these examples are based on more than one of the studio owners I’ve met.

Note: I’ve also met a few successful and ethical studio owners. Just a few.

Successful and ethical studio owners:

Run their yoga studio like a business. They start with a little thing called a business plan — which they adhere to as closely as possible — and they base their class prices and teacher pay not just on what the market demands but on what their budget will allow.

Crackpot studio owners:

Rely on something they call “intuition,” which I suspect is actually just laziness. They make up numbers as they go along, try to gouge the competition with their pricing, and then underpay their teachers to make up the difference. Instead of cutting costs by teaching more classes themselves and managing their own studio, they underpay teachers and desk staff and therefore deal with constant turnover.

Successful and ethical studio owners:

Forecast their costs and projected revenue over the course of a year, and then plan accordingly.

Crackpot studio owners:

Sell a whole bunch of crazy-cheap annual unlimited passes when they need a quick influx of cash, and then when that runs out, take primetime classes away from their best and most loyal students and replace them with novice teachers willing to teach 18-20 classes a week for dirt cheap. Guess who suffers? The loyal experienced teachers who worked hard to build those class numbers and then suddenly get their schedules/pay cut in half. And the students who just committed to a yearlong membership so they could practice with their favorite teachers. Suckas!

Successful and ethical studio owners:

Know that they can supplement their revenue by selling ethically-sourced yoga clothes at standard markup. Yogis love their outfits and they are so “present” that they basically live for instant gratification.

Crackpot studio owners:

Fill up their entire boutique (aka the back closet) with some ugly-ass tie-dyed bullshit cuz they struck up a convo at a recent Moedown with the hippie who owns the line. Nobody buys it. It turns into cleaning rags. Then they buy more of the same. See comment above about “intuition.”

Successful and ethical studio owners:

Under dire economic circumstances, will thoughtfully have one-on-ones with teachers and ask them to please give up a class or two to make room for newer teachers willing to be paid less, at least until the studio economics right themselves.

Crackpot studio owners:

Just plunge ahead and change the class schedule on the internet, hoping that word will filter back to the teacher through a student and they won’t show up to teach the class. (I have a yoga teacher friend who this actually happened to recently. He was talking to a student after class on Monday, and she said, “It’s a pity you aren’t teaching that Tuesday morning class anymore.” He was like, “Wah?”)

Successful and ethical studio owners:

Pay their teachers according to a fair and equitable system. Teachers with more experience and consistently higher class numbers get paid more. Duh.

Crackpot studio owners:

Strike random deals with different teachers so that everyone is paranoid about how much everyone else is making, and no one is really getting paid fairly or enough.

Successful and ethical studio owners:

Are always at their studio, taking classes, talking to students, making sure things are running smoothly, pitching in to help when needed. Know how to do everything in the studio — from fixing plumbing to troubleshooting software to actually teaching a class once in a while.

Crackpot studio owners:

Phone it in. Pay the desk girl $12 an hour (no health insurance — who needs it when you have unlimited yoga?) but expect her to be on call 24/7. Never actually practice. Tell everyone they have a chronic illness/injury that keeps them from working fulltime, but are constantly spotted smoking and drinking in public.

Successful and ethical studio owners:

Lead by example.

Crackpot studio owners:

Point fingers and assign blame.



33 Responses to “Successful, ethical yoga studio owners versus crackpots.”

  1. laurie says:

    This should be manadtory reading for all studio owners.

  2. Don says:

    Great article, Joslyn! Successful businesses and ethics are not mutually exclusive.

  3. Linda-Sama says:

    right on!

    I could write a book on crazy studio owners…..

  4. I'd argue that a well-run, ethical studio that has soul will attract a core of loyal students — not the other way around. Provide the product… the customers will follow.

    • Misa Derhy says:

      I don t have personal experience as owner, but yes as a student. The place with the soul…I will always go, no matter what:)

  5. Brian says:

    I read this and had an Aha moment.

  6. Tom M says:

    I can think of another one.

    An ethical owner asks a teacher if they would like to have live music in their class and gets the teacher on board in advance so they can plan around this special auditory treat.

    An unethical one schedules a live performer for a class and the teacher doesn't find out until they show up to teach. And the performer sucks.

    • That is the worst! Unexpected live music and partner yoga are the two biggest scourges of a yoga class, in my opinion. If I wanted live music I'd go to a rock concert! I go to yoga for some P&Q.

      • Charlotte says:

        A studio owner once double-booked a kirtan in a large space I'd reserved for a workshop months before. She neglected to tell me about the change until I arrived to teach a sizable number of preregistered students, and put my workshop into an adjacent space 1/4 the size of the room I'd booked. We barely had room to move. For two hours the kirtan group rehearsed and sound checked at full volume to the point that I had to yell over the music.

        • Yogini5 says:

          I take it you were not teaching some kick-butt power yoga asana class, in which case the situation would probably have been reversed … and maybe STILL no room to move in the big space … lol

  7. tanya lee markul says:

    Thanks for this Joslyn! Glad to have you here. As I was reading this article I started to think, wow, how can these crackpot yoga studios be helped? How can they get the information they need to run things more optimally for themselves and for their students? And then I got to the last part – 'lead by example.' Says it all. Thank you.

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  8. Linda-Sama says:

    "how can these crackpot yoga studios be helped? "

    by applying to be on Bravo's new reality show "Sama's Yoga Studio Takeover."

    kicking asana and taking names….:D:D:D:D

  9. Just posted to "Featured Today" on the Elephant Yoga homepage.

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  11. Nancy says:

    been there, done that 🙂

  12. Nikki says:

    I’m opening a studio NOW, so this was awesome and timely! I’ve had to heal from my own exposure to more than one ‘crackpot’ studio owner, to use your term, and have consciously begun my business with integrity and abundance as pillars of our mission. I believe in honoring teachers and students and wholeheartedly continue to think of myself as student, as I’ve watched owners have ego take over as they get lost in being ‘above’ those who grow in their spaces. So relieved and pleased this elephant in the room of yoga is being exposed. I have said and I mean this: I would rather financially fail with integrity for the hearts who come into our hippie haven happy space than sell out or become spiritually lost. Excellent article! Light and love!

  13. Charlotte says:

    Here's another one, Joslyn:

    Ethical studio: An ethical studio will limit the size of their classes to fit the space, so that teachers–who should presumably know how to look at bodies to determine whether or not a student needs help–can keep an eye on everyone and attend to each student in the class.

    Crackpot: A crackpot studio will pack as many people in to the space, mat to mat. I recently spoke to a studio owner who reported that they had fit 70 people into a 1,200-square-foot space. How can people move? And how can a teacher possibly walk through the room and see what's going on?

  14. […] Successful, ethical yoga studio owners versus crackpots. […]

  15. […] who defy every eyeball-rolling stereotype I recently wrote about in my Elephant Journal piece “Successful, ethical yoga studio owners versus crackpots.” I begged Charles — a bona fide writer — to send us something. Thankfully, he obliged. He’s […]

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  18. mary says:

    thank you for this….so fitting as i'm dealing with exactly that crackpot studio owner right now…and even heard a few of those things come out of her mouth….

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