Hello! Who are you and what business did you start?
Hi, I’m McKenna Rowe, and manage Chakra5, a mobile wellness team that does yoga/meditation/pilates classes, vegan cooking classes and sound baths on demand. We’ve been working on location and by appointment with various businesses, schools and organizations throughout greater Los Angeles since 2012.
I think what distinguishes us is that we are a smaller, “boutique” company that can readily respond to client needs week to week and customize the experience them. Everyone on the team is also older and more experienced in working with a diverse group of yoga practitioners of different levels and body types. We have a unique way of connecting with people and making them feel comfortable, safe and welcome in our classes.
We work with digital/tech companies, high schools, law firms, real estate firms, car dealerships, clothing companies, architecture firms...you name it! We also partner with companies to put on special events, like corporate retreats on the beach, or wellness events open the public, like the Bimbo Global Energy 10K at LA Live or the New Balance Girls Night Out for the Disneyland Half Marathon.
When I first started the business I had one or two monthly clients and was bringing in a few hundred dollars in revenue. As I began to work a lot more on our SEO and content marketing (especially told from our customers’ point of view), interest in our company began to grow. Now we bring in ~6K/month and get new weekly inquiries all the time. I’ve had to double the size of my team since we started.
What's your backstory and how did you come up with the idea?
After working for many years at a tech firm where I was often logging 70 hour weeks, I decided to take a sabbatical to study yoga.
You can really spin your mind up doing too much thinking sometimes. Get out and DO something...even if its a baby step towards your dream.
I received my registered yoga teacher training in 2009. I fell in love with yoga and started teaching pop up yoga classes around downtown LA, at places like the Fashion Institute, residential buildings, and art spaces, sometimes with a live musician accompanying.
I earned a little bit of press/PR for these popups (remember this was long before “beer yoga”, “goat yoga”, etc) I convinced myself the next step was to open a studio. I still don’t know how I pulled it off, but I gathered up my savings/retirement and a small business loan and opened up a fun and funky little studio in East Hollywood, on a second floor historical building in Los Angeles.
There we built an amazing community of great teachers, musicians, volunteers, and customers (who leaned more towards the starving artist vein). Our biggest hits were our monthly full moon sound baths and our Thursday night yoga class with live DJs.
What I discovered very quickly is that the expenses were far outpacing our income. We tried looking into creating additional sources of revenue or renting the space for film shoots or other events, but it wasn’t working out.
We were still suffering from the tail end of the 2009 recession as well and in a low-income neighborhood. I discovered from my teachers at other “indie” studios that many of those other studios had some source of funding coming from celebrities or wealthy spouses.
I saw a dark future ahead of me of going into massive debt and having to set up some kind of factory for churning out teaching trainings every few months (which is how many studios survive...by charging $4000/head).
I decided to close down my physical yoga studio at the end of the year while I still had some money in the bank to make sure every teacher was paid what they were owed, every bill was zeroed out, and any customers with memberships were refunded.
Everyone was so supportive and compassionate and grateful to have had the experience.
I perfected an approach and process with that first client that was the basis for how we do things now: how do we handle scheduling, billing, client follow-ups? What are the terms of our operating agreement and how teachers should conduct themselves? How do we pay teachers? What are the different types of services, class lengths, prices we offer?
I did a lot of research and talked to teachers about their experiences with “corporate fitness” companies. By looking at things a lot from the teacher and clients’ POV, I knew I had to set up an approach that would retain both clients and teachers.
Take us through the process of launching the business.
I got my first client about five years ago. They found me by searching for “yoga in Los Angeles”. We did still have a strong web presence and our site said that we could offer “corporate yoga”.
It wasn’t something I was aggressively marketing quite yet, as I was still recovering from shutting down the physical location and reintegrating into the tech workforce.
Get yourself healthy and happy first and foremost.
As far as the launch, I had already launched a blog about yoga in 2010.
Having some content and SEO out there to incubate for a while was very helpful in getting a strong online presence.
There is so much more I could be doing in that realm! Since the website to support marketing the physical studio was more or less a good basis to start with, I just updated everything to describe how we would do business in a “mobile capacity” once we shut our doors and pivoted to being a mobile team.
I really tried to think about everything from the client’s point of view. Not everyone can afford (time or money-wise) to do a full hour of yoga. How could I make class options more modular to work for different situations? How much do I need to charge in order to make our prices competitive but also compensate the teachers properly and make them want to stay on the team?
I know from my teachers who worked for other “corporate fitness” companies that the companies often gouge their clients and don’t pay the teachers very much. I’m sure their overhead is much more than mine, but I also know that a lot of teachers just bail out on working for those companies as they didn’t feel they were fairly paid for the work they did. Not a single teacher has every left my team unless they moved out of Los Angeles.
Again, as we began to grow our client base through SEO, content marketing, PR and general word of mouth, I perfected more and more of the details of how we do business and expanded beyond yoga into also offering healthy cooking classes.
One of my first clients is still a client to this day: Hankey Investment Company in mid-Wilshire. It helps to have an HR director who is very engaged in wellness from the start, as my contact there is. Together we perfected the program for employees in terms of day of the week, time, recurrence, and mixing things up with “hot yoga” classes, healthy cooking classes and even Sound baths.
Hankey has been so collaborative in trying out new approaches and wellness modalities. The benefits they have witnessed their company experience over the years inspired them to even build an onsite gym with a yoga room.
They even purchased their own company-branded mats and yoga gear that they keep onsite for their employees. Hankey is the dream client and I wish all our clients could embrace yoga in the same way as a permanent part of their company culture.
Getting the company set up
My company is a registered business in Los Angeles, and it is also an LLC.
I do my due diligence in reporting revenue and paying taxes. My overhead is very low compared to the physical studio! But I’ve managed to keep it well under $100/month for internet hosting costs, occasional paid online advertising, marketing swag, etc.
I use as many free tools as I can for managing the business, such as Google Apps, Paypal, and my personal time. The real “cost” of doing business is more my personal time to reach out to new business leads, write content, tweak SEO and handle billing and scheduling.
Occasionally my costs may go up to $150 if I do extra things like pay a personal assistant through Task Rabbit to research potential new client leads (they put together a spreadsheet of leads for me along with a contact person to reach out to).
Since launch, what has worked to attract and retain customers?
For retaining customers, I follow up with them a lot to find out what is working or not working.
We send out surveys. We brainstorm different ideas and fun approaches to wellness...or even different times of day or days of the week than what was originally scheduled end up working better for the employees. For example, one of our clients promotes April as a wellness month.
During April they will add on a few extra yoga classes that are more “fitness” oriented and are themed “hot yoga” (we just crank up the heat in the room). I try to match the appropriate teacher to the appropriate client in terms of energy and personality.
I think we also provide reliability and consistency. We rarely have missed a class. Since we have a team, if someone is sick or out of town I can always schedule a sub to handle the assignment that day. Not only are our prices very competitive but our clients tend to get very attached to the teachers. A relationship of trust with that teacher is built week to week, and that’s the most important thing.
We have had customers that only did a one-time event with us...but I keep touching base with them to remind them we’re here or have new services...some of them eventually convert to regulars!
One teacher and I recently celebrated our client who only did classes with us about four times a year in 2018 finally deciding to become a regular in 2019! And some companies just don’t think they have the budget to continue with classes. Our prices are so low that to me, it’s really more about their company priorities than high cost. You have to expect that some clients will come and go in the business. We have a lot of one-time events we do on a regular basis that I think tend to make up for those down periods.
As for attracting customers, most of our leads come from our web presence...we advertise first-time client discounts on social and paid media, and have a good amount of PR and content we publish about client success stories and yoga trends in general. I think the concept of yoga on location, on demand, is just something that is much more pervasive now culturally than it was when we started. So people are literally getting online and looking for “mobile yoga”.
I try to generate several blog posts a month (these usually tie into our regular eNewsletter) and I use some Wordpress plugins to help me analyze how rich with SEO terms my posts and overall site are. SEO and content marketing are a never-ending art/science. If I had more time, I would ideally be spending a LOT more time on this!
How are you doing today and what does the future look like?
Today we bring in about 6K/ month and have around half a dozen regular weekly clients along with a lot of one-time events/classes each month. My only costs are for web hosting and marketing (as mentioned I try to keep under $100 monthly) and paying the teachers.
The teachers receive most of the class revenue and I take a commission. We do earn some extra on occasion by selling our customer's yoga gear from our gear partner, Kulae.com. We only have several thousand followers on social (twitter/FB/IG) an about a thousand subscribers to our mailing list. I was really late to the game with Instagram...I think that’s the most important social platform now for yoga.
This is something we need to work on, but it would ideally be handled by hiring someone. I’m still on the fence about hiring a PT social media manager...maybe after we get a couple more clients!
Through starting the business, have you learned anything particularly helpful or advantageous?
Get yourself healthy and happy FIRST and FOREMOST.
Keep in mind that I work full time in the digital industry, so I’m not living off my business full time yet. There are pros and cons to this. The cons are that I don’t have as much time and energy to fully pursue new business and do marketing and grow the company. The pros are that I already earn a good living, so I’m starting from a place of good mental health and having my personal affairs in order.
That means I’m in the right mindset to make a good judgment call for the business. I can tell if a potential client might be problematic. I know when a teacher is going to be reliable and a good fit for the team.
When I ran the physical studio, I was there all the time and very burned out...always worried about how I would get in enough money to not only keep the studio going but pay my own rent. It was not a good place to be psychologically and sometimes I made desperate decisions.
Now I can enjoy Chakra 5 as a fun and profitable “side hustle”. I think that relaxed, non-pushy vibe comes through to new clients as well.
What platform/tools do you use for your business?
I’m looking into an online platform for collecting signed liability waivers online. We teach very safe classes, but it’s hard to get all the teachers at all the assignments to consistently have students sign printed waivers.
What have been the most influential books, podcasts, or other resources?
I honestly have to say our feedback from our clients is what motivates me.
When they say they are losing weight or got rid of back pain and can’t wait for their yoga classes every week...that it made us want to keep doing what we’re doing!
I also love seeing that there are so many people coming out and doing what we do...yoga is being offered now at libraries, pet adoption centers, museums...the old paradigm of the traditional yoga studio is starting to break down.
SO many people don’t want to fight traffic and hunt for parking … or they can’t afford $25 classes...or they feel uncomfortable in a community that tends to be more white and affluent.
As for a podcast, I have been thinking about producing one myself--a good model would be the way that Trader Joe’s has been approaching their podcast. My podcast would be similar in that it would talk about the history of our company, interview teachers and customers, and talk about general yoga trends right now.
Again, my challenge is finding the time to do all these things! I often dream that maybe I can semi-retire and devote more time to marketing the business.
Advice for other entrepreneurs who want to get started or are just starting out?
You can really spin your mind up doing too much thinking sometimes. Get out and DO something...even if its a baby step towards your dream.
I started out with my mobile yoga concept by just doing my pop up classes. Just getting into the motion and into the flow somehow is the best way to start.
Are you looking to hire for certain positions right now?
If someone thinks they can make a real difference with say, 4 hours of work a week on social...give me a call!
Where can we go to learn more?
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