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Yoga Corporate: What’s Happening To The Small Yoga Studios?

in Business of Yoga, YD News


If you can’t beat ’em, buy ’em? As yoga continues to grow, so does the number of yoga-offering venues, but how many of them will soon be owned by the same corporate companies?

Though more people are practicing yoga, ironically, the yoga studio business is not exactly a hot venture (except for maybe the hot studios – see CorePower), and it’s usually the “mom and pop” spaces that end up struggling, or closing just as quickly as another new one opens. Or…being bought up by a bigger corporation like YogaWorks, which is what happened to San Francisco’s Yoga Tree and their nine studios, and most recently Back Bay Yoga Studio and Sweat and Soul Yoga in the Boston area.

With the latest Mass. acquisitions, YogaWorks brings their total count of yoga studios to 40 across the country. “We really believe that we do a good job of integration and bringing in other studios,” YogaWorks chief executive Phil Swain the Boston Globe. Acquisitions “let us pick up a lot of teachers, students, and existing studios in the market,” he said. (40 is a LOT, but they’re still not caught up to their biggest competitor, CorePower Yoga, who have 104 studios as of September 2014.)

YogaWorks is owned by Great Hill Partners, a Boston-based private equity firm who bought them last year from Cambridge, Mass.-based venture capital firm Highland Capital Partners for about $45 million, according to the Wall Street Journal. So, yeah, it’s a very corporate company with a very corporate responsibility to keep growing and adding value – yay, capitalism. (We’ll note that being bought out is not always a bad thing but we counter that with, is corporate-owned yoga a good thing? We don’t have the answer but it’s something to think about.)

So what happens to the little guy? They become podcast stars! Kidding. Or we might be prophets, because Back Bay Yoga’s Ryan Cunningham may have a bright future ahead of him in internet radio. In this latest podcast from Brooklyn’s own J. Brown – also a studio-owner navigating its unreliable landscape – Cunningham gets to share his story of he started practicing yoga as well as the struggles and risks of not only being an “indie” yoga studio owner but also an indie yoga teacher today – another group enjoying a skyrocket rise.

Podcast description:

J sits down with the former manager of BackBay Yoga Boston, Ryan Cunningham, to discuss how he got to yoga, became the manager of BackBay, and the surprising announcement that Yoga Works bought the center three days before J got there to teach workshops. They also discuss the realities of conducting yoga teacher training, the role it plays in a yoga education, and the dawning realities that independent yoga teachers and centers are facing.

Click here to listen or head over to J. Brown’s blog.

As for YogaWorks, they’re still making plans for further expansion. Stay tuned.

image via rady.ucsd.edu



23 comments… add one
  • S.

    Thanks for bringing this up YD! It seems the trend now is “quantity instead of quality.” It is sad how now Yoga is synonymous with “workout” and now the gym management mentality is the dominating source of information for those new to Yoga. Have you seen Yoga Journal lately? Yoga is getting diluted more and more with every selfie post, weekend teacher training, and Corepower Yoga popping up next to the studio that has been there since the 80s. Most don’t even realize that the is a Patanjali Yoga Sutra, nonetheless what meaning it is trying to convey. Very sad time for Yoga.

  • Donna Brooks

    You bring up a very good point. There is a new app at the iTunes store for independent yoga instructors and students to find each other. It’s called iNeedJa. It also works for exercise, tutors, and other disciplines, basically mine, body, and soul. Take a look at it. I think it’s a great idea.

  • You bring up some really interesting points here. Yoga is so much more than a fitness craze adopted by mega-gyms and corporate companies trying to cash in. It is a lifestyle choice and as the ‘little guys’ are the ones respecting the practice of yoga, they are the ones who should in turn be respected. Thank you for sharing your opinions!

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  • ED

    And moving down the East Coast:

    “A growing California yoga company has established its presence in Baltimore with the acquisition of Charm City Yoga and its seven Baltimore-area locations.

    Charm City Yoga and YogaWorks announced the deal last week. Terms were not disclosed.

    The transition, which will involve new signage and other changes, will be handled “mindfully,” said YogaWorks CEO Phil Swain. Kim Manfredi, who founded the business in Baltimore in 2000 with Chris Blades, is expected to continue with the company, he said.

    “Nobody’s taking down signs and throwing them up overnight,” he said. “It will all be done very mindfully.” http://www.baltimoresun.com/business/bs-bz-yogaworks-20151102-story.html

    *No knock on Manfredi and Blades, they knew what they were creating when they started out. “Spiritual materialism as practice”, yoga as business, “classes” are the multi-level marketing tool for more YTT students and workshop junkies. Skip the yamas-niyamas go for market dominance, build a brand, sell your “vision”. It’s how we do it here. Shanti, shanti.

  • David

    To be fair, Kim is an amazing teacher and a super dedicated practitioner. I was bummed to hear that Charm City was sold to YogaWorks, but I don’t think that Kim can be reduced to a greedy multi-level marketer.

  • IMHO

    Many phenomenal yoga instructors work for YogaWorks, CorePowerYoga and other chains, which have high teaching standards, and which also offer classes and workshops other than asana. Don’t believe they have high standards? Offer to demo for them.

    Charm City Yoga’s Kim and Chris are perfect examples of “mom and pop” who understand both the quality and business aspects of yoga, so they should be rewarded for their decade+ of blood, sweat and tears. Their sale to YogaWorks won’t change the quality.

    I’ve taken classes at YogaWorks, CorePowerYoga, Charm City Yoga and dozens of “mom and pop” studios around the country. I hope chain studio detractors have done the same before expressing an opinion.

    Don’t like what’s happening in the yoga business? Create your own studio. I did.

    • S.

      Corepower has high teaching standards? I just about fell out of my chair.

  • Dwayne

    Interesting to read about this trend. It must be a big-city phenomenon. Living in the hinterlands (biggest yoga studios a significant drive away in the Mid-Hudson Valley), I don’t expect to see any such takeovers.
    I’m not ready to condemn the takeovers. Won’t it eventually come down to quality of instruction? If people like the teaching, they’ll go; otherwise they’ll gravitate to teaching they prefer, be the studios big or small.

    • Sometimes you don’t know what you like til you get it. So many will get what is given and not know any better. Being in India at the moment and trying “Indian Yoga” for first time even as a long time practitioner and visitor of the motherland, I was blown away by what I found in a small unknown but popular yoga teacher. It’s completely different. And it’s all about the yoga. Not the teacher, although he is held in utmost respect called sir even by those elder to him, not about the space, and not about the clothes. They do the yoga. Roll up the mat and leave it’s done. No frills and no big deal but lots of thrills. The most exciting yoga I’ve ever done. And in one hour. Real yoga. Maybe it’ll one day come to the West.

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  • This is a really thought-provoking post. With yoga becoming more popular, it’s almost impossible for it to not become commercialized and the market be saturated at the same time. There are so many yoga studios in just my neighborhood compared to a few years ago, it’s crazy! However, I think as long as smaller studios maintain their integrity and stay true to their values (a.k.a. not giving in to big corporate giants!), there’s nothing wrong with the boost in popularity. 🙂

  • This really seems to be the unavoidable fate of not just yoga studios but pretty much every type of small business nowadays. One business becomes particularly successful and buys out all the other ones, and then you just have the one huge one.

    • It is sad to see, but it’s not necessarily a bad thing. If the “big guy” provides a quality product or service, then I don’t think there’s really any harm (except for the failed small businesses, but that’s just part of the entrepreneurial game!)

  • Some really good points shared in your article – thank you.
    One of my students has suggested that we come up with a list of all the ‘backyard/home-based yoga studios’ in our area and share this information around, get more people on board the small yoga class/yoga studio bandwagon. She, like others in my maximum 5 people class, only come to a yoga/meditation class because of the small numbers, homely environment and the interaction only a small class can have. But yes, sustainability is always a concern with such small classes!

  • I’ve seen quite a few small yoga studios close. Running a yoga studio is just like any other business, the demand has to be there and it has to be run efficiently and smartly, otherwise doors will shutter. I find that some studio owners don’t have the passion or the time to work on stuff like marketing, accounting, sales (increasing memberships), customer service etc. – part of the guts of the business.

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  • It is really a sad phenomenon. I think that many people see this and there is not a sense of being a great service provider for generations to come, it’s more a sense of how can I build my business as quick as I can so the “big boys” can buy me out for more.

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