The 6 Biggest Challenges Yoga Studios Face Today
Experienced yoga studio owners share their top entrepreneurial struggles, how they overcame them, and what they learned over the years.
Yoga is a booming $16.8B industry in the US, up from $10B just three years ago. Most yogis have been practicing for five years or less which has significantly contributed to this explosive growth on mats across the country.
These stats would lead one to believe there is money to be made in the industry. And there is. But at the studio level, it is sometimes easier said than done.
Small business owners wear many hats and face a lot of challenges. Yoga studio owners are no exception. In addition to teaching classes, they clean and maintain the facilities, balance the books, market the business, network, and cultivate relationships. When they’re not working “in the business,” they’re working “on the business” — managing and building their teams and refining the overall operation.
I interviewed three experienced yoga studio owners to understand the challenges their businesses face and how they’re addressing them.
Meet the Studio Owners
- Role: Owner and Senior Instructor
- Studio: At Om Yoga
- Location: Concord, New Hampshire, USA
- Primary Style: Shakti Flow Yoga
- Role: Owner and Senior Instructor
- Studio: Bikram Yoga Nashua
- Location: Nashua, New Hampshire, USA
- Primary Style: Bikram Yoga
- Role: Former Owner and Senior Instructor
- Studio: Flowing Forms Yoga (closed)
- Location: Newport, New Hampshire, USA
- Primary Style: Vinyasa Flow Yoga
Top Business Challenges
The top six challenges these yoga studio owners face are:
- Competing with other facilities
- Attracting new students
- Retaining students
- Staying cash flow positive
- Finding good teachers
- Preserving the integrity of yoga
I’ll unpack each of these below.
Challenge #1: Competing with Other Facilities
All three studio owners cited competition to be their biggest challenge. Up here in New England, there’s a running joke that you don’t have to go very far before you see another Dunkin’ Donuts. Well, it’s like that for yoga studios in certain areas too.
The competition isn’t limited to other yoga studios. Yoga classes are also offered at select fitness centers, gyms, and meditation centers. In some areas, it’s literally possible to stand outside a yoga studio and see one or more competitors nearby.
Laura Richardson shared the situation for her studio:
“These days, boutique exercise places have become popular. Just in this plaza alone, where Bikram Yoga Nashua is, there is a yoga studio, an aerial yoga studio, a barre fitness studio, and a fencing studio. There’s just so much competition.”
Most yogis, 79% in fact, also practice other forms of exercise. Because of this, there may be an opportunity to team up with complementary fitness centers to help drive more traffic. For example, imagine a yoga studio teaming up with a boutique fitness center and offering referral discounts or opportunities to win a raffle if they have memberships at both facilities. As they say,
“If you can’t beat them, join them!”
Differentiating your yoga business is a critical step in keeping a toehold in the market.
Asa Dustin explained how his studio differentiates:
“Find your niche and offer something authentic and unique. We offer a challenging athletic style steeped deeply in the ancient wisdom of yoga. This is unique, and therefore even with the ubiquity of yoga, advanced practitioners have a place to come and play and feel part of something profound and transformational. Offering mantra and meditation, as well as asana, helps set us apart.”
Challenge #2: Attracting New Students
Converting prospects to customers is a challenge for any type of business, especially in a saturated market. How does a yoga studio owner do it?
Matching Your Offerings to Student Preferences
Joe Theriault used to own Flowing Forms Yoga in the small New Hampshire town of Newport. If you Google it, sadly you won’t get very far. He closed the doors after only about eighteen months.
Joe shared a key lesson from his experiences:
“I initially offered hot flow yoga classes and realized I had a lot of older students. I learned that they didn’t like hot yoga.”
Because of that insight, he added therapeutic and restorative classes without the heat that appealed more to that audience.
Do unto Others
Sometimes, getting back to basics is a differentiator in and of itself. Simply treating others as you would like to be treated; the Golden Rule. It can go a long way to making that all-important first impression.
Laura Richardson shared her experience visiting another yoga studio. When she arrived, she didn’t know anybody and the interaction with the teacher during the sign-in felt a bit stiff. Laura had to announce that it was her first time at the studio and inquired about signing a waiver. The unwelcoming vibe carried on to the other students who knew each other but didn’t acknowledge Laura. She felt ignored and left out.
Laura explained how that experience influenced her and her team’s approach:
“We want people to feel welcome. We try to make sure that when people come, they have a positive experience and want to return.”
Many studios offer trials at a reduced rate for new members. Laura used to offer a ten-day trial but found that it wasn’t working as well as she would have liked. Now Laura offers an intro special for thirty days which she says is having a positive effect.
Laura illustrated the situation as follows:
“People can try the classes more than once. Often people really struggle through the first or second experience, but with a full month of practice, there’s greater retention. There’s more time to make it a habit and get a feel for the studio.”
Addressing Low Attendance with Special Offers
Laura paid attention to her class attendance rates and decided to address one in particular:
“The Thursday 6:30 pm time slot was really slow. So, I started to offer a reduced drop-in rate, just for that class. The first time I did it, nineteen people dropped in, in addition to my regular students!”
Laura and Joe both found success with Facebook Pages and targeted Facebook ads. Laura frequently boosts ads from her studio’s Page and utilizes geo-targeting. Every time someone interacts by sharing, liking, or commenting, not only is Laura getting more eyes on the event she’s promoting, but she’s also increasing awareness of her studio in general.
Here’s an in-depth tutorial with helpful visuals to up your Facebook ad game:
How to grow your yoga studio’s presence on Facebook — even if you have a limited budget.tribegrow.com
Challenge #3: Student Retention
So, you’ve got them in the door — great! How do you keep them after their post-yoga practice Zen dissipates?
According to wellness business consultant and yoga teacher Andrew Tanner, to encourage retention, you want committed long-term clients. This means that you want drop-ins to feel uncomfortable about paying a higher price to the point where they voluntarily convert to a membership or class card. He urges not to undervalue the services you provide, citing burnout as a possible outcome.
Check out his full presentation here:
Laura explained that she tries several different things to keep people motivated:
“I have a 30-day challenge that I run twice a year for a reduced rate. We have music classes, guest teachers, Hot Pilates and even Glowga (glow-in-the-dark yoga with music) from time to time. The music classes are really popular because it changes things up and it’s not so monotonous. I had a student come to the studio who has been practicing for eight years and frequented another studio that doesn’t offer music. This student attended one of our music classes and told me, ‘Wow, that was the best class I’ve had in eight years!’”
Challenge #4: Staying Cash Flow Positive
All roads lead here. If you aren’t getting new students in the door or retaining current ones, your studio will fail. For any business, in the beginning, it’s fair to expect time for it to grow and profit. The problem is that many would-be yogipreneurs don’t run their studios as businesses.
You need to ask yourself:
What does “success” mean for you? Is it to break even? To profit? If you want to profit, how big of a profit margin do you need?
Hobby or Business?
If you watch ABC’s Shark Tank you’ll know that if a business isn’t making a profit after some period of time, it’s considered a hobby. If you’re trying to feed, house, and clothe a family (or even just yourself), you must find the right balance between good business sense and being of service to your local community.
In the eighteen months Flowing Forms Yoga existed, the business went from two co-owners down to an individual owner. The remaining proprietor, Joe Theriault, held a full-time job in addition to the studio and operated the studio in his “off” hours, using lunch breaks from his full-time job to teach yoga classes. In the end, it still wasn’t enough.
“I took money out of my personal account to pay for things, but I never paid myself. I paid the teachers, the bills, and overheads, but I never took anything.”
It’s not uncommon for new businesses to take a year or two to become profitable, so the fact that his studio neared breakeven during that time frame was a positive sign. However, he had to come to terms with the harsh reality of the situation:
“I knew it wasn’t going to make me the money that I needed to make me go where I wanted to go.”
It’s worth noting that Joe closed his studio because he was at a crossroads. At the same time, he was experiencing business challenges he also found true love. He decided to close the studio and move the one and a half hours drive away to be with her. But if true love didn’t enter the picture, would he have kept the studio open?
“I don’t know. It wasn’t until I closed it that I realized how much of an impact I made in a short amount of time. I got a lot of emails thanking me for what I brought to the community, and that was very rewarding. At the same time, it was a lot of effort with no financial reward.”
Challenge #5: Finding Good Teachers
It’s hardly possible to own a studio, run the business end of things, and teach all the classes by yourself. That’s a sure path to burnout. At some point, you’ll have to bring other teachers on.
You know from your experience as a student that the teacher sets the tone for the class. S/he can make or break the experience. It’s, therefore, critical to find teachers that will fit the culture of your studio and resonate positively with your students. But don’t stop there. Once you find them, treat them well, so they don’t leave you for the competition.
Laura Richardson advises:
“Make sure you've got great teachers that are loyal to you.”
Some studio owners offer teacher training courses not only as an added revenue stream but also to fill the yoga teacher pipeline.
Investing the time to train teachers could help secure the fate of your studio’s future in more ways than one. Asa Dustin explained:
“Training teachers, guiding pilgrimages to India, teaching Sanskrit, and introducing other teachers to my teachers all help cultivate good guides that can fill classes.”
Challenge #6: Preserving the Integrity of Yoga
For the more spiritually connected yoga styles, it can be difficult to infuse hard business practices.
Asa Dustin explained:
“I try not to spend too much money or time on promotions and let word of mouth and serendipity be my business model. I offer lots of barter and scholarships to make it accessible everyone.”
Asa opened At Om Yoga in 2002 and offers about eighteen classes per week. A statement on his website reads:
“No one will be turned away for lack of funds. Taking into account your financial comfort and the importance these yoga classes hold for you, we will be happy to talk with you about an appropriate fee.”
Perhaps the good karma of helping those who cannot afford the full cost at a particular moment in their life has longer term payoffs that aren’t immediately present on financial statements.
Owning and managing a yoga studio is a very challenging undertaking. Defining your goals up front will help guide you along the best path in achieving them — whether it is to teach as a hobby or build a thriving business.
Do you share any of these challenges? Have you experienced any not mentioned here? Leave a comment below to keep the conversation going.