You’ve heard the old adage that, at least in real estate, location is everything. There is a more apropos saying when starting a yoga studio, though: success is a journey, not a destination. Indeed, whether you sink or swim will likely depend less on the amount of foot traffic passing your studio than on your ability to understand and relate to your neighborhood of choice. In the words of Baron Baptiste, owner of the Baptiste Power Yoga Institute studios in Cambridge and Boston, "You can make a studio work anywhere, as long as you’re conscious about the way you’re presenting it."
A good starting point is deciding whether you want to set up shop in a city or in its outskirts. When it comes to suburban areas, the most important rule is simply to stick to the most centralized location you can find. You want to make yourself as available to as many localities and potential students as possible.
Urban environments, in the experience of Baptiste—who has owned five different studios around the country at one point or another--"are all pretty comparable," though he adds that "some neighborhoods, like those with fitness clubs and health food stores, work much better than others," since their residents probably care about their wellness.
A couple of things to keep in mind when going the urban route: marketing will be easier; making parking available to your students will not. "Our urban business is 85 percent word-of-mouth," says Baptiste. "In a more rural area, I’d have to work much harder on promotion and getting the word out to let people know we exist."
Meanwhile, Clayton Horton, the founder of Greenpath Yoga in San Francisco, says that years spent teaching at San Francisco yoga studios that have no parking have taught him not to do without it at his own business. "When parking is a hassle, it’s just one more reason for someone to decide not to go to class." Horton says that a four-story parking lot around the corner from where Greenpath now sits largely drove his decision to rent the space.
Once you decide whether to stick to the city or venture father afield, it’s time to focus on what the buildings you're considering have to offer. Horton fell in love with a south-facing window that allows the sun to shine in and keep Greenpath bright and warm. He was also pleased to learn that the building’s owner did not mind if Horton ripped out the space’s carpeting--in fact, the owner imports hardwood flooring, which Horton insisted on for better ventilation. Says Horton, "It’s never nice to walk into a studio that smells like a wet dog, and the reality is that carpet holds odors, wetness, and bacteria." (His new floor cost only $3,000, thanks to a steep discount from his building owner and the fact that he installed it himself. Covering 700 square feet, the size of Greenpath, would normally cost $10,000, including materials and labor.)
Be careful not to encroach on the territory of a studio offering the same types of services and classes. Obviously, such close competition might make it tougher for you to attract and retain students. Unless you’re a cutthroat businessperson, you might end up regretting it on a personal level, too. "I’d been looking all over San Francisco," remembers Horton. "Lots of spaces became available after the dot-com crash, but I picked this area"--Lombard street, a busy thoroughfare located in the city’s posh Marina district--"because there were no Ashtanga studios nearby.”" That was key, says Horton, because "I didn’t necessarily want to step on anyone’s toes. I wouldn’t have felt comfortable about that at all."
Finally, finding a spot that doesn’t require a long commute can also make a positive impact on your life. Jonathan Fields, a corporate lawyer-turned-yoga teacher and owner of two-year-old Sonic Yoga in Manhattan, says he'd investigated buildings all around New York and hadn’t found the right space when he noticed an available studio four blocks from where he lives. "I had a newborn daughter at the time and I remember thinking, ‘This is too good to be true,'" he recalls now. Thankfully for him, it wasn’t.
Constance Loizos is a San Francisco-based writer whose work has appeared in more than a dozen magazines, including Inc., Fast Company, and San Francisco Magazine. She is currently writing a book about businesswomen.