Finding Balance and Success , Part One

May 10, 2008

You just finished an intense yoga class, and your body feels beautifully relaxed. It melts into savasana, and you hope the same will be true for your mind, but you can’t stop thinking about that mile-long to-do list on your desk: Review the Pilates equipment budget, check inventory in the retail kiosk, plan the monthly staff meeting. And that’s just the top of the list!

During the past few years, the mind-body industry has developed and expanded rapidly, inspiring many new yoga, Pilates, Gyrotonic® and integrated fitness studios to open. This trend has also prompted many traditional facilities to add a mix of mind-body classes to existing group programs. With so many choices available to consumers, mind-body studio owners and program managers must differentiate themselves and offer something unique. Although the increasing popularity of mind-body disciplines has created a niche market for specialized studios, effectively managing and differentiating one of these businesses requires something beyond basic knowledge of specific disciplines.   

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. The following tips will help you find balance and keep your business flowing.

Administrative (Keeping the Doors Open)
Topping the to-do list: all things financial. People drawn to mind-body disciplines tend to be “people” people, not number crunchers. Planning for income and expenses; setting revenue goals and tracking sales; budgeting and paying bills; filing taxes and balancing the books—it’s enough to make your head spin. It can also make or break your business.

“Stay on top of your business on a daily basis,” recommends June Kahn, an industry veteran who has more than 15 years of  management experience. Kahn stresses the importance of creating sales goals and helping staff take a vested interest in achieving them. Track the numbers daily, share them with your staff as appropriate, encourage them to be responsible for the numbers when possible, and know the details of your financials at all times, she advises.

Next on the list: inventory control. Know your inventory at all times, whether that means toilet paper, cleaning supplies, food and beverages, or retail goods. Inventory wastes money if it sits on a shelf unused for lengthy periods of time, but shortages can also lead to lost revenue. Track inventory daily and keep a written log.   

Other logistical tasks can be costly if not handled properly and in a timely manner. These include administrative tasks such as answering mail, voice mail and e-mail; computer and phone system upkeep; website updating; and client tracking systems. Regularly check these off the list in order to keep your business running smoothly. To avoid getting too wrapped up in administrative duties, establish a daily routine for managing your to-do list but don’t lose sight of the future. “Write a business plan that focuses 5-10 years down the line so that you have your goals and aspirations written out,” suggests Danita Chandler, Pilates teacher and owner and manager of Portland Pilates Studio in Lake Oswego, Oregon. Having a long-term vision will remind you why you’re there and save you from getting too caught up in the daily grind.

Staffing (All About People)
Your staff members may quite possibly be your most valuable asset. Make time for them every day and value them appropriately. Put them on your to-do list. “You can never invest too much in your staff,” says Bryan Alexander, PhD, who owns and manages Momentum Studio, a Pilates, Gyrotonic, Gyrokinesis® and Feldenkrais® studio in Albuquerque, New Mexico. “At the end of the day, they deliver your services, and therefore you have more customer satisfaction. You may have to turn away clients to have the time to work with staff, but you’ll be repaid tenfold.”

Take the time to train staff to serve clients the way you want them to be served. As Desiree Bartlett, MS, CPT, creator of the 360 Yoga Mat and former fitness studio owner, puts it, “Make sure that everyone who walks into the studio is greeted in a warm way. For some people, mind-body is a stretch; others feel like a fish in water. But the first introduction to the discipline is when they walk into the studio, not into the class.”

Kahn’s motto is “Hire it, train it, maintain it,” and she says that “in an interview, if I feel that someone would be welcome in my home for dinner, I want them on my staff.” She believes that the keys to success are creating a supportive environment for staff and hiring passionate people. “Offer continuing education, believe in your people, and allow and help them to keep up with their education,” she says. As the mind-body realm develops, new approaches and improved knowledge become available all the time. If you help your staff continue to learn, everyone benefits.

Develop your team by connecting with the right people. This requires constant networking. Chandler built an ideal staff through her connections. “I handpicked teachers to mentor and train, because I wanted good, quality people with varying backgrounds. It’s important to have harmony among staff, because we’re teaching harmony with the body.” The people on Chandler’s staff are purposely varied in age and background, with a triathlete, a rock climber, a nurse, a nutritionist and a sign language interpreter among them.

Alexander also finds individuals skilled in other disciplines and related professions. “I look for cross-qualified people,” he says. “[This business is] about helping people meet their goals, and the more tools you have in your toolbox, the more effective you will be. I want instructors who can collaborate and work in complementary ways.” Although instructors will likely be the first people you want to hire, consider employing people in other roles as well. Bartlett recommends hiring a fitness enthusiast who can connect with both instructors and clients to work at your service desk and sell your studio experience. An administrative assistant or bookkeeper will also lighten the load, allowing you to focus on more important things. If extra help seems financially out of reach, consider trading instruction for the services you need. Remember the value of your own time!

One of the biggest challenges for mind-body managers is trying to wear too many hats. Wellness professionals aren’t accountants or attorneys or graphic designers and shouldn’t try to be. Nicola Conraths-Lange, MA, who owns and manages Pilates Space in Ann Arbor, Michigan, has professionals from other industries on her staff. “I don’t use all of them all of the time, but they’re there as a safety net because they help with time-consuming tasks,” she says. “It’s important to find people who understand your business and what you’re doing in it.” That goes for accountants and graphic designers as well as instructors.

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.

Look for part two of this article in the June issue of Inner IDEA Body-Mind-Spirit Review.

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