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.


About Joslyn Hamilton

Joslyn Hamilton is a freelance writer living in beautiful Marin County, California. She is one of the co-founders of Recovering Yogi and also launched Creative Truth or Dare. Joslyn has an imaginary spice + skincare line called SimpleBasic. She is a functioning craftaholic and counts hiking, cooking, reading and rabid tweeting among her many chaste vices. Reach her directly at [email protected]


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.

  5. Brian says:

    I read this and had an Aha moment.

  6. My secret is out.

  7. 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.

  8. 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.

    Posting to Elephant Yoga on Facebook and Twitter.

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  9. 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

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

  11. Not at all! In fact, I'd say that running a financially successful yoga studio is extremely ethical because it allows the students to keep coming back without fear of their studio shutting down.

  12. 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.

  13. Linda-Sama says:

    "Starting with the 10-day vipassana mauna challenge"

    you got it….that'll wean out the posers…..;)

  14. Just posted to "Popular Lately" on the Elephant Yoga homepage.

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  15. Nancy says:

    been there, done that 🙂

  16. 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!

  17. annieory says:

    I think that's what she was saying…

  18. Yogini5 says:

    You are so right.

    "Not only make someone feel a part of a community, but be allowed to not be a part of the drama. "

    Not to create drama either. That starts with having manners as a teacher, not relying solely on speaking your truth.
    I noticed particularly one young yoga master "spoke his truth", competitively, to young adult men and middle aged women in particular, provoking argument. Way to teach the yoga sutras. (And keep your customer happy at the same time?)

    Yes, "customer" .. as long so you're going to charge … for a SERVICE.

    And as far as the studio owner not practicing yoga, I was always wondering about that lady at another studio I went to and did like. Never has time or inclination for a yoga class … well, the place is undergoing a sea change now, and there will be a new yoga master there, who is half her age … would that magically break the long dry spell of no yoga?

    Ironically, the non-yoga-practicing studio owner is surprisingly home-practitioner friendly (to me, the primarily home practitioner)–probably because she is not convoluting her mind and body into ways to retain students based on creating physical and psychological dependency on the studio classes.

    I figured out how not to be dependent on the studio and advance and get results, anyway. The non-yoga practicing studio owner may as well be running a bookstore (yes, I get many yoga lessons from books!). Part of that yoga venue IS a big bookstore!!

    Of course, if you intend to take ten times the number or dollar value of classes than I do, perhaps, as a student you'd want the owner practicing; even sometimes practicing along with you (which could make for a richer practice in class …)

  19. 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:)

  20. Charlotte says:

    I'm so glad to hear about your studio. If I were to open a space, this is how I would like to do it. That way teachers will always be paid fairly and everyone has an equal stake. I have always taught independently out of a rented space, and I love the freedom–and lack of political intrigue–that goes with it. I taught out of a Unitarian Church for 25 years, and because they are starting a major remodel I recently moved to a beautiful martial arts studio. I love the freedom of this model and am glad to hear that your collective is working out.

  21. Charlotte says:

    I also love that you intentionally accept no more than 12 students.

  22. 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?

  23. 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.

  24. 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

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

  26. […] 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 […]

  27. Jenifer says:

    After having many similar experiences to which you allude, I decided it was time for "Fair Trade Yoga." It was time that teachers could earn a living doing what they do.

    If you'd like to chat about how I set up the business model and how I crunched out the numbers, contact me through our web site. I love to talk business. 🙂

  28. ARCreated says:

    OMG I Love this model…I recently became partner in a studio — I think I'm the A to the B 🙂 BUT regardless I did not set things up from the beginning and I think this model is amazing.

  29. ARCreated says:

    w/a caveat…not all classes are about teacher walking around…and sometimes I'd rather be packed in that not get to take my class.

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  32. 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….