Ten years ago, Vanessa Lee took a risk: She invested $10,000 on yoga mats, bags, and blocks, plus T-shirts and hand towels bearing her studio’s logo. That risk paid off: At One Yoga now sells $1 million a year in yoga clothing, props, jewelry, and lifestyle items at boutiques in its Scottsdale and Phoenix studios.
It’s not an effortless task, however. To keep the retail machine primed, Lee spends about 20 hours a week overseeing the boutiques, following trends, buying new products, and tracking inventory.
Lee’s success is not the norm. While retail contributes almost half of At One’s revenues, retail usually makes up a smaller percentage of most yoga businesses—about 10 to 20 percent of overall sales at studios that sell products, says Beverley Murphy, a former studio owner and a consultant to MindBody, Inc., which is a provider of business management software for yoga studios and spas. “In some rare situations, where the owner has a retail background or the studio is a storefront on street level, retail sales can make up to 70 percent of the studio’s gross revenue,” Murphy says.
Despite hard economic times, yoga practitioners plan to spend more on yoga classes, clothing, and accessories this year. According to Yoga Journal’s most recent Yoga in America survey, American yogis are spending $5.7 billion a year on yoga classes and products, almost double the amount in the previous survey, completed in 2004. By offering products your students want, you can boost your business, especially if you understand your customers and know what they want to buy. But beware: A retail venture can be a money-losing, energy-sucking drain if you don’t pay attention to business fundamentals. To succeed in a retail operation, do your homework to know what customers will want to buy, keep abreast of trends, price your products right, and keep the inventory moving.
The First Steps
Before putting your efforts into retail, study your students. Notice what they use and what they wear. Do they ask you for recommendations about props or want to know where you buy your yoga clothes? If so, they may be happy to buy from you.
The first risk lies in what you choose to buy, Lee says. “If that initial investment doesn’t move at all, you’re stuck.” When products do sell, you need to reinvest at least half of the money in restocking or refreshing your inventory.
Strategies for Success
Start small and follow some basic rules of thumb if you choose to test retail items at your business:
Go with the basics. Lee recommends starting with the basics: mats, blocks, and nonskid towels. “People either forget them or want your recommendation on which to buy,” she says. “Having that kind of staple is easy money.” Even small studios or private teachers can test the retail waters with a small investment.
Brand yourself. Branding is a great way to start your retail business. Produce shirts with your studio’s label or a logo or slogan. “People are excited to announce to the world that they’re doing yoga,” Lee says.
Set the right price. Initially, clothing is marked up at least double. Lee recommends doubling and adding $1. Murphy says marking up 2.1 to 2.3 times the wholesale price is becoming common. If you get products at a lower cost by buying in bulk, you can still keep the retail price higher, increasing your profit margin. Books and CDs, which are harder to sell, have a lower markup, Murphy says, and are riskier investments.
Stand out from the pack. If you try to sell yoga clothes that students can buy more cheaply at the Gap, or common books that they can pick up at a local bookstore or on Amazon, you’ll lose money, Murphy says. The trick is to learn what will strike your clients as unique. “Have a good eye as a buyer,” Murphy says, “and see what students and clients are wearing.” Then look for products that are similar to but not duplicates of what buyers can find elsewhere.
Keep abreast of trends. Evolution Yoga’s storefront in an upscale Ohio mall is expanding into fair-trade, organic, and eco-friendly products. “It’s a yoga-inspired store with lots of things that are green,” says owner Sandy Gross. Her “eco-chic” focus appeals to not only to yoga students but to many customers from the mall who want organic jeans, dresses, and other fashions.
Keep things moving. Produce weekly or monthly sales reports. If something isn’t selling, don’t be afraid to discount it heavily. “At 50 percent off, you’re getting your money back,” Murphy says. In fact, Lee encourages discounting one or two items every month, to draw in customers. And if something still doesn’t sell, donate it and take the loss. People are more likely to buy when the inventory is fresh, she says.
Invest in displays. Make the lighting right. Adding a mirror will double your sales, Lee says. You can even think of employees as part of the display. People want to emulate their teacher or people who work at the studio, so by encouraging staff to wear the clothes you sell, you create a demand.
Pay attention to customers. “Customer service in the stores is huge,” Lee says. “Train your staff to be helpful and to know the products.”
Stay on top of inventory. You can do this by hand or by investing in a system from a vendor, such as MindBody, that will automate the process. Using a label printer and an inventory gun saves time with pricing and scanning inventory, and the system runs reports.
Consider selling online. E-commerce can be a nice revenue generator if you have something unique to sell. “I’ve seen clients who do really well with homegrown DVDs, podcasts, and self-published books,” Murphy says. “It’s a yoga product you can’t buy anywhere else.” And since the sales are made online, the products can appeal to consumers anywhere in the world.
Learn to be firm about deadlines. Don’t accept late orders—in fact, Murphy suggests putting a cancel date on purchase orders. You want to avoid getting a seasonal shipment at the end of the season, when you’ll have to sell the items at a discount.
Don’t order too much. Find vendors who will accept small orders. Some will even allow returns.
Students want to take their yoga experience with them, Lee says. And studios and teachers can help them—and make money—by offering clothing, music, candles, and other yoga paraphernalia.
“People want to take a tangible piece of their experience home with
them to keep that feeling going,” she says. “Also, hopefully the experience was
very positive and people like to associate themselves with that—almost to advertise their association with something healthy and wonderful, to let the world know that they are making good choices in their like and that they are part of something positive.”