How do you breathe life into a new yoga studio? Business and life coach Jeff Vilensky gets up front and personal with YoGanesh Founder Norma Kerner on BlogTalkRadio. Listen to the full interview here (at 35:00).
J: You’re on fun to Fortune Entrepreneur Success Stories with Coach Jeff, I’m here with Norma – tell us about your business!
Norma: Our name is YoGanesh Yoga, and we have various teachers, different types of yoga, we’re open 7 days a week, so that’s a challenge right there!
Jeff: 24/7 for you, I’m sure? Do you have a tag line, or what’s the description of your business or the mission behind YoGanesh?
Norma: Our tag line was “Remove Your Obstacles” but I think it wasn’t clear enough for people. So I’m thinking of changing it to “Your Yoga Home” because my initial idea was to feel like you were having yoga at home with your friends.
Jeff: Great, great – one of the things there is the freedom to change your tag line, I know a lot of entrepreneurs when they start off, they spend so much time on their tagline, branding, and one-sentence description, and it sounds like it’s evolving for you. “You Yoga Home” is very clear, it’s about yoga, and it’s about home. I know from the mission on your site, you describe it as being in a comfortable environment and feeling like it’s home, so say more about that.
Norma: I just want people to feel safe – New York is such a crazy place – people are always thanking me for creating this sanctuary for them. They can leave their crazy jobs and come here and feel like they’re part of something bigger – a yoga community, basically.
Jeff: You walk in and it’s like aaah, familiar faces, and it takes you away from the craziness of New York, especially now with the challenge of getting around in this weather, with snow piles … so you opened in …
Jeff: So you’re in that 3-4 year period, getting into your groove, finding out what works and what doesn’t … so what’s the fun part for you? What’s the joy and the satisfaction?
Norma: My satisfaction is knowing that I’m making a difference in people’s lives. We have a lot of interesting people who come here like opera singers and actors – I’m living vicariously through them. Every day is different, even though I’m basically doing the same job, because of the different people who come in. People who just walk in the door to look at our space and comment on things – it’s always interesting for me.
Jeff: So it’s the people, in New York you get to meet so many different people from different backgrounds … what’s the common thing that brings them to you – what are they looking for?
Norma: They’re looking for good teachers and a clean, comfortable cosy space they can practice in.
Jeff: As business owners we wear so many different hats – what’s your favorite hat to wear?
Norma: Just meeting all these interesting people and making them feel welcome. Before I opened my studio I went to other studios to see how I was welcomed and I have to say I was not very welcome in many places, they don’t even look at you, they don’t care about you. Me, I like to think I’m the mother, I want to know what they’re doing, and ask them if they liked the classes. A lot of places I went to didn’t even ask me anything before or after class. I think it’s important to know who you’re marketing to, who your clients are.
Jeff: You’ve touched on a huge point: see what the competition are offering, and most important, what they’re not offering. Which is going to be your competitive edge and your niche. Go out to your competitors and see what they’re lacking that you can bring to your business. A lot of people overlook that. It really helps you to define what you want to bring to the table. I imagine you went to those places, didn’t get a warm and fuzzy feeling, didn’t feel very welcome, didn’t seem like anyone cared, and this is supposed to be yoga!
Norma: Exactly. It was really frightening when I had that type of reception. It was like, hand over your money and bye, see ya…
Jeff: Like, gimme your money, namaste! Really good insight there.
Norma: Tells you what you want and what you don’t want out of your business, you see the kinds of things people are doing that you may not want to re-create in your place, also seeing how they’re set up on a day to day basis …
Jeff: You also mentioned great teachers. So you are not alone, you have a team, tell us what great teachers mean.
Norma: Great teachers are people who make connections with the students and make them want to come back again. They have good training, and they become their friends as well as their teachers. And different types of teachers with different trainings – a person might be older and want a different type of teacher, sometimes they connect with one person but not the other. It’s good to have variety.
Jeff: That’s so important when you’re building a team … A lot of solo practitioners out there look for clones of themselves, which is great but when you’re looking to make connections with different people, you’re looking for quality but also for people who can appeal to different demographics, different styles …
Norma: Sometimes you don’t make a connection with a particular person – it’s not that that person is a bad teacher. And each studio has a different vibe. Some are geared towards much young people, or older people, I have a mix of teachers who give enough variations for all those people, because our classes are all levels.
Jeff: It’s like, what is that vibe you want to bring?
Norma: Maybe it’s a hippie vibe! That old fashioned yoga where it’s about the people and not making a buck. Of course I want to make money too, but that’s never been my goal in life. I feel like I help people, having my studio here, and they’re always thanking me, and that makes me feel really good. One girl told me she was able to get a job because she was such a nervous wreck going to job interviews, she couldn’t get a job. After coming here for a couple of months she calmed down enough, to have a real interview, and get a job. That really warms my heart. She was here in tears and I’m like, holy mackerel. You don’t realize how much you touch people.
Jeff: Stuff like that is why you get up every day and continue to work in the business, because you made a big difference in her life, and her future, it’s not just a yoga class. So, tell us how you got started, and was important to get off the ground and move forward. I know you came from a corporate background?
Norma: I was in a corporate background for about 22 years, my boss called me in and said he was letting me go, he didn’t want to pay my health insurance which is obviously a big chunk of change, it was a big wake up call for me because I was thinking about a change – I’d finished my yoga teacher training while I was still at that job. I felt it was a sign from the universe saying OK, time to do something else. I think that’s what happens to people, you stay in jobs where you’re comfortable, maybe you have a great salary, or health insurance and you don’t want to let go of that – they’re obviously great perks to have, but you spend your life in something you don’t really want to do, in a job that’s meaningless. So I think it’s important for people to take that leap, and do something else to grow your life.
Jeff; What I love about that story is the alignment of the stars. Some people would knee jerk react and go get another job. Instead of “I just finished my teacher training, I ‘m out of work, maybe this is a sign.” Being aware and steppng back, rather than reacting is wonderful – having that awareness and creating something. So once you had that awareness, how did you manifest your first location?
Norma: My yoga teacher was helping me at the time, and there was a possibility that he was going to be my [business] partner, so we went forward as if he was, so helped me find space, and was guiding me as he’d had his own yoga studio previously. I had friends who were eco-contractors – it’s good to have friends with skills. So we found this rickety place, in Chelsea. We tried to keep it as eco friendly as possible – we had clay walls, eco friendly paint, repurposed materials. I brought a lot of things from home, which is why I spoke of making it a home with friends, I brought a lot of furniture from my house … one of the mistakes I made is to sign a short [3 year] lease. It affects your credit, and after our lease expired, they were knocking the building down, and we’d spent all this money. So here we’re starting over at our new place and it’s like, deja vu. We have a 10-year lease now.
Jeff: Sometimes in the beginning it’s hard to make the commitment because you’re questioning, is this entity going to last …
Norma: Exactly, which is what I was thinking, what if this doesn’t happen, am I making a mistake? Of course when you’re a new business person you make fifty million mistakes. One of my friends said, “it doesn’t matter how much money you’ve lost because basically you’ve earned an MBA. So if this business goes down, you’ll know for the next one all things not to do. And you will have gotten this wealth of information about how to start a business, and how to continue a thriving business.
Jeff: We’re always learning. Oh, and I loved seeing you with the mask and big sledgehammer on your website!
Norma: I had to get my hands dirty …
Jeff: Truly a labor of love … now I want to touch on the fortunes of business; many people often look at the money, how much money are we gonna make? You and I see things differently – helping people, creating something for people, and then the fortune will follow. Fortune sometimes comes in the independence of having your own business; fame, wealth, relationships, I think some of the fortune is in the stories you hear, like your student who learned to relax for interviews and get a job … what are some of the other fortunes that have come from your efforts?
Norma: Money is not always a big thing in yoga; unless you have the superstar trainers in your place you’re not always going to make the big bucks …
Jeff: Certainly independence, in that you’re not working for someone else?
Norma: This is true, I make my own hours, which means I’m here most of the time (chuckles). You work for yourself, you make your own decisions, if you make a mistake you can’t fire yourself … and being control of most things … things like the space, teachers leaving at the drop of a hat (because they’re independent contractors). if they find a better place they can always go there. I’ve been lucky, teachers walk out the door saying how much they love our students, and they say they feel different here from some of the other studios they work at. It’s very gratifying.
Jeff: What support did you get in creating the business and as you move along? Did you have mentors? Hire a coach? Family and friends, books etc?
Norma: I had help from my yoga teacher who had business, but because you’re trying to create something different … I get a lot of support from students, and our eco-contractors, they did a lot of stuff for free. Even when we had to move, a lot of our students showed up to help move, cleaning, moving stuff, painting.
Jeff: True community! Also, I’m impressed by the transparency of your website, where you show construction photos and really putting it out there; it makes it very personal, showing the story behind how it manifested … So what are some of the learnings you can share with entrepreneurs who might want to create their own yoga or fitness space?
Norma: I’d say the first thing to do is sign up for the MindBody training – it’s a program used by just about every yoga studio, gym, spa, fitness studio etc. A huge mistake I made was not signing up for it at the start because it was a lot of money, and that was an obstacle for me – but they help you with you marketing and so many things you wouldn’t even think about. I’m planning to sign up next year – one woman had done it 12 years in a row, because every year they bring something new to the table.
Also, having enough money. If you think you’re going to spend $25,000 on a business, you better set aside double that – or at least have a little cushion of money you can count on. because things don’t always work out they way you think they will.
One of the MAJOR things is having a good website, and a marketing budget. We had a free website when we started and people couldn’t even find us in our own zip code – it was really bad. So for that, get professional help whenever you can afford it, because it doesn’t matter how great your business is if people can’t find you …
Jeff: Great. Now you talked about eco contractors … I believe this is interesting to people who want to do things in their spaces that are more in tune with the environment. Tell us about that.
Norma: My friend Jeff and his partner Daniel have a company called Sacred Spaces. They try to use materials that are good for the environment, which is in keeping with the yoga spirit. There’s a place down the road where you can buy pigments so Jeff made the paint from scratch. So we have eco-friendly paint, [non-toxic clay walls], and instead of using polyurethane on the floor, we sanded it and used a soy-based product…
Jeff: Thank you for sharing that. Norma how do people find you – online, offline?
Norma: We’re located at 208 W29th St at 7th Ave, our website is yoganesh.net.