Finding Balance and Success , Part Two

As a studio manager or owner, the daily challenges you face are typical of any small business and yet particular to the wellness industry. While great plans and a passion for mind-body experiences may unlock your studio doors, the challenges don’t end when the grand-opening signs come down. In the first part of this two-part series on how to find balance in your mind-body business, we reviewed administrative and staffing issues. This article explores maintenance and marketing.

Maintenance (Cleaning House)
When planning for maintenance, consider the safety and comfort of your participants. Include the following in your schedule and budgeting: cleanliness and upkeep, supply and amenity inventory, preventive maintenance, general repairs and potential safety hazards. Don’t forget to think about both interior and exterior maintenance. Even if you lease a space and don’t have direct responsibility for exterior areas, you still have a responsibility to your participants who use them.

Depending on what work is needed, some tasks will be completed by in-house staff, some by contractors and some by the property owner’s maintenance staff. Some can even be shared among instructors. “Regular equipment maintenance is part of the instructors’ responsibilities,” says Bryan Alexander, PhD, who owns and manages Momentum Studio, a Pilates, Gyrotonic, Gyrokinesis® and Feldenkrais® studio in Albuquerque, New Mexico. Maintenance issues have financial and legal implications in that they can be costly to complete but even more costly if not completed. Ignoring maintenance issues can lead to expensive repairs or even legal battles that result from negligence to maintain a safe environment.

Complete basic cleaning and equipment checks daily, weekly and monthly, depending on how much the facility is used. “Complete basic cleaning after every class and beware of allergies,” Desiree Bartlett, MS, CPT, creator of the 360 Yoga Mat and former fitness studio owner, suggests. “Use organic or natural cleaners when possible. They’re environmentally friendly, fit with the genre and are easier on members.”

“I at least [use a] Swiffer® [sweeper] and check the bathroom daily,” says Nicola Conraths-Lange, MA, who owns and manages Pilates Space in Ann Arbor, Michigan “In the bathroom, I check for sanitary things but also hand cream and [add] cosmetic supplies that make people feel pampered.” Perform annual or biannual facility inspections with the property owner, and follow industry standards and guidelines for maintenance. The Pilates Method Alliance, the American College of Sports Medicine and other industry organizations publish maintenance resources.

Also keep a written record of all inspections and work completed, no matter how small. If you touch up paint, record who did it, when and where. If you change a light bulb, record it. If you perform preventive maintenance on equipment, record that too. Tracking maintenance will help keep it under control and protect you in case of legal troubles. 

Marketing 101 (The Basics)   
Every decision made about a business affects it from a marketing perspective, yet many mind-body business managers never even put marketing on their to-do lists. “Marketing” commonly refers to the way the “four p’s” (product, place, price and promotion) mix to create an image and position a business in the marketplace. On a basic level, product simply means the actual services provided: yoga classes, Pilates instruction, retail goods and whatever else the business provides. Place refers to the actual location of the business—the facility and the geographic location, including the colors on the walls, the music, the brightness of the lights, the scents in the studio, the arrangement of goods in the retail area, the appearance of the service desk and all other aspects of the physical location. Pricing strategies establish a perception of value, in that people believe they pay for what they get. Pricing positions a business in relationship to the competition. Promotion encompasses advertising, public relations and other tactics used to garner attention, including common marketing materials such as websites, paid advertisements and brochures, as well as media coverage and event appearances.

Everything about a mind-body business contributes to its marketing efforts. When a business is financially stable and inventory is under control, clients will interpret the business differently than they would if the business were struggling with administrative tasks—although patrons might not see that struggle, they’d feel it. The same goes for maintenance and liability issues. If clients see that the facility is clean, light bulbs have been changed, extra toilet paper is available and liability forms are required of all clients, they feel that the business is well managed and that they can find balance there.

Marketing Applied (Taking Action)
“Marketing is like boiling a kettle of water. It takes time,” says Danita Chandler, Pilates teacher and owner and manager of Portland Pilates Studio in Lake Oswego, Oregon. Put marketing on your list, and allow your efforts time to grow.

Develop a Mission Statement. Think about your purpose and your calling, and establish your business goals. Then write down your mission statement for yourself, your employees and your clients to see every day. Make decisions from a marketing perspective and with a clear understanding of your client base. Peggy Prieshoff, owner of Peggy’s YogaSpirit in Goshen, Indiana, stresses the importance of knowing your clients. “Ask yourself where in the community your students are. Are they artists, natural-food enthusiasts? I used to think dancers would be a great client base, but they tend to have enough to do with their own class schedules and rehearsals and are low on funds.”

Define Your Product Based on Your Mission Statement. Consider the services you will offer. You may want to do more than just provide instruction in a mind-body discipline. Prieshoff recommends an eclectic mix. “Offer more than one genre,” she says. “Think about massage, health food cooking classes or kickboxing. Pilates is a great addition, but also consider a fusion [option] such as Piloga or PiYo™.” Consider shortening some of your offerings to 30 minutes. “Some folks just don’t want to commit an hour of their life before they’re sure this will benefit them.”

Do Retail Right. A merchandise area can be a significant profit center and a good way to provide a service. Carefully investigate the type of items your customers truly want. “Don’t tie up a lot of money in expensive, top-of-the-line retail such as clothing, incense, creams or CDs unless you’ve purchased them cheap,” says Prieshoff. Bartlett says she has seen retail net many thousands monthly for businesses who know what to offer and how to market it.

Assess Your Schedule. It represents a significant part of your product. “We have a base of seven to 10 classes per week that don’t change,” says June Kahn, an industry veteran who has more than 15 years of  management experience. “They’re drop-in classes geared toward an intermediate level. Then we offer special workshops that run 4 weeks, either once or twice a week, and focus on golf, skiing, pre- and postnatal, teens, couples or whatever.”

Stimulate the Senses. Your studio should emit the exact tone you want in every aspect of its physical existence—colors, lighting, sounds and scents. A clean, well-maintained facility also sends a message to clients about your respect for them, your staff and the surroundings. Spend time researching color psychology and aromatherapy, and consider hiring a feng shui expert to consult on design choices. Remember that the equipment you choose, your furniture and all other objects in your space reflect your image. “We have a serenity and an environment that differ from a gym or home studio,” says Alexander.

Price It Right. When establishing pricing strategies, use industry standards and rates in your area. Decide if you want to be most or least expensive or somewhere in between. Your decision will impact the position of your business. Complete market research every 6 months to assess how businesses in your area have adapted their pricing; also stay on top of your own strategies. In her small, close-knit community, Conraths-Lange works with other Pilates studios to keep pricing at the same level.

Consider “Perceived Value.”  If you want to use punch cards or some sort of tracking method that alters pricing or rewards participants, consider how it may affect the perceived value of your product from a marketing perspective. Look beyond the numbers to the impression it makes. The reward tactic works for some, but not for others. Prieshoff has found it effective. “I offer ‘Bring a friend, get a free class’ punch cards with ‘Buy five and get the sixth one free.’ While you may be tempted to use a larger number, people don’t like to commit until they get to know you. Also, a punch card system enables clients to come to classes that are convenient for them, rather than coming on a set schedule.”

Have a Promotional Presence. All promotional efforts should be designed specifically for your clientele. Word-of-mouth advertising may be your best tool, but it shouldn’t be your only one. You absolutely should have a presence on the Web. In a technology-driven society, it’s the first place people look for everything. “Use Craigslist or MySpace if you have a low budget,” Bartlett suggests; both of these are free to post to and to read. Develop in-house marketing materials, such as brochures for potential clients and fliers about upcoming events for current participants. Advertise in local publications, make appearances at local health fairs or other events, and work with a public relations professional to get quality media coverage.

Differentiation (The Last Piece to the Marketing Puzzle)
The keys to both the success of your business and an effective marketing plan may lie in how you differentiate yourself from others. You compete with similar businesses, so you must offer something unique to set yourself apart and claim your share of the market. With a mind-body studio, it may be difficult to differentiate yourself through pricing or promotional strategies. But you can establish yourself through product and place. “I focus on services for lower-back injuries and dancers,” says Conraths-Lange. “Others in our area focus on fitness, cycling or prenatal. We all kind of work together in our area to offer different things and specialize.”

“We have classes for teens marketed at the local high schools, classes for kids marketed through a local parents’ organization, classes for Parkinson’s patients from a local teaching hospital and classes at the community college—we get out in the community,” says Chandler.

Bartlett recommends uniqueness. “Have a hook, one thing that stands out, [something] you can back up with creative programming. Offer classes like hip-hop yoga, yoga-dance fusion or yoga by candlelight—not for all your classes, but for some.”

Balance (The Final Word in Mind-Body)
Your mind-body studio needs your full attention most of the time, but if you follow these tips and build a stronger, smarter business, you will find time to practice what you teach. Put yourself on your to-do list and make time to stay balanced. “Have clear boundaries with your time off,” says Bartlett. “Too many managers burn out because they cover in a pinch or work on the weekend ‘just this once.’ Because it’s a service industry, people tend to be natural caregivers and want to give more of themselves.”

Without taking care of yourself, how can you take care of your clients, your employees and your business? Don’t lose sight of the passion for mind-body fitness that got you where you are. Maintain balance in your own life.

Laura A. Davis, MA, has worked in the fitness industry since 1995. She’s served in many roles, from personal fitness trainer and group fitness instructor to program director and assistant general manager. She holds an undergraduate degree in journalism and a graduate degree in sports and fitness management. Contact her at laura.davis@alumni.utexas.net.

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