To Sell a Center

abhyasa-1.jpg
 

After nine years of owning and operating a yoga center in one of the most popular neighborhoods on the planet, I was approached by a broker inquiring if I was interested in selling my business. Nine months later, I closed on a deal and handed over the keys. What I have learned in the process has given me new perspective on why owners sell and how easily it can tarnish the hearts of teachers.

I opened my place with a heavy amount of hubris and an immature sense of principle. I decided to name the center with a Sanskrit word because I specifically wanted it to be intimidating. I was interested in serious practitioners. I remember thinking that if someone was turned off by the name because it was weird then all the better, they can take classes at the gym. I had absolutely no sense of myself opening a business. It was all about having a space to teach. The commercial lease that started it all was just a formality.

The first couple of years were a blast. The neighborhood was a thriving artist haven and it was fun to develop systems and policies of my own design. The decisions I was making were not at all efficient or based on smart business, I just did what was easiest and felt right to me. Everything went through the lens of what I thought was best for the yoga I wanted to teach. And it was successful. Enough money was coming in and it grew with the neighborhood year after year.

Having the center provided me the resources to solidify what I was doing as a teacher in ways that would have been impossible otherwise but, eventually, I had to admit that it was a business.

Two years after opening the center, my wife and I had our first child. I had just started to offer teacher training and it became clear that the program was essential to being able to support my budding family. I never paid myself as a teacher. I just took whatever was left after paying the rent, utilities, and teachers. Somewhere around year five is when I first started to take a harder look at numbers.

The yoga was happening much as I had envisioned. There were fantastic new teachers being born and a wonderful community of practitioners formed. But It became clear that I was not making any money off the classes. They were just barely paying for expenses. My livelihood was being entirely made off the teacher training. And depending on how many people participated, my financial year soared or crashed. By the time I was seven years in, the center was at its peak. The place was firing on all cylinders. The training program was well attended. I was riding high, we got pregnant again, and I just let the center ride on its laurels.

When my second daughter turned one and I had started to emerge from the haze of her infancy, the center had taken a downward turn. I knew that I had neglected the business. So I made some changes. I shortened classes and added another style, which I had sworn I never would.  And the numbers did turn around some. But frankly, I had taken on a fair amount of debt to make up for earlier shortfalls.  And I was so overtaxed with parenting, teaching, and managerial responsibilities that there was just nothing left to put into running a business. That's when the business broker showed up out of nowhere.

When selling a yoga center, what is actually for sale?

The first potential buyers that the broker brought to me were not yoga people. They were interested in buying a business, could have been a coffee shop or a yoga center, it was all the same. They would ask me: "So, how many memberships do you have?" I would answer: "None. I don't believe in them." A quick look at the books would reveal what I already knew to be true, that there was no profit without the training program. And without me there was no training program. There was no branded style or content to sell. So, after a number of failed meetings, I determined it wasn't happening and announced that I would close at the end of the year.

Several months went by. I also had to move my family out of the neighborhood to a more affordable situation. After making up my mind that I wasn’t going to continue the center, and moving out of the neighborhood, the burden of the center began feeling exponentially more overwhelming. Then, that broker showed up again. This time, he had a buyer who owned a yoga center elsewhere and was looking to expand.

The new potential proprietor didn't care about me or my training program. It was just about the location. I had developed such good will with the landlord after the better part of a decade that when I told him I was thinking of selling he was super supportive. Turned out that my lower-than-market-value lease in a coveted neighborhood was the one thing I had to sell. The catch was that the new proprietor’s plans for the center were in sharp contrast to the mission it had been operating under. I opened the center as an alternative to the very thing that will be replacing it.

As much as the center exists in my heart as a special place that transformed me and the lives of so many others, it is also just a lease on a commercial space.

Often, yoga centers close in unceremonious ways. Fact is, when owners have gotten to the point where they decide to close, it's usually at a point where they are barely hanging on. That is why all that crappy stuff happens when teachers don't get paid and the doors get locked with no notice. Sometimes, the burden becomes too great and folks have no other choice but to cut and run. This is particularly hard for teachers, who after years of investing time and energy, are left holding the proverbial bag, or having to negotiate new and less friendly terms.

For myself, the years of being so completely overloaded, of taking on more and more without making space for it, finally caught up with me. I knew that I had to let the center go when my health and personal life began to fail. I started to realize that the friendship and shared experience that I cherished so much, and that created the magic of the center, had been compromised somewhere along the way. I will greatly miss the home I made for yoga. I can only trust that all it afforded will remain a legacy of progression and growth.

8 Comments

J. Brown

J. Brown is a yoga teacher, writer, and founder of Abhyasa Yoga Center in Brooklyn, New York. A teacher for 15 years, he is known for his pragmatic approach to teaching personal, breath-centered therapeutic yoga that adapt to individual needs. His writing has been featured in Yoga Therapy Today, the International Journal of Yoga Therapy, Elephant Journal and Yogadork.

Strung Out in the Attention Economy

Strung Out in the Attention Economy

Something has happened to the way I see myself in relationship to time, and the amount of life that is being spent behind a screen. For a while, I had a handle on my use of technology and my digital life seemed empowering and mind-expanding. But, of late, things seem to devolve easily into a grey zone of succumbing to the more manipulative aspects of our systems and the mentalities that govern them.

Read More

My Body is Not a Machine

My Body is Not a Machine

In the post-lineage void of the current yoga scene, conversations around safety and improving the quality of yoga teacher-training often turn to biomechanics for solutions. However, replacing one arbitrary imposition on our bodies with another does not address the real issues. Fostering safer spaces for practice, or creating any sort of positive change in our bodies, will likely require new understanding based on a broader range of possibilities.

Read More

I Love Yoga and Hate Everything About It

I Love Yoga and Hate Everything About It

Pop culture continues to enjoy a glossy-eyed love affair with yoga. But many long-time practitioners and professionals are discovering that, somewhere along their journey over the last decade or so, either yoga or they have changed. As once die-hard yogis attempt to discern what, if anything, of their practice has stood up against the test of time, their relationship to yoga needs to be allowed to evolve or it's best to part ways.

Read More

Yoga Journal Exit Stage Right

Yoga Journal Exit Stage Right

Yoga Journal has announced that it is doing a "reset" on all of its annual conferences. There will be no more Yoga Journal Conferences for the rest of 2017 while they attempt to re-imagine the model and figure out a way to make them relevant and profitable again. For those who are invested in the yoga profession, it’s not clear whether the crumbling of this institution is a canary in a coal mine or a crow outside our window.

Read More

Getting Off the Crack

Getting Off the Crack

For a long time, I relished the way I could “crack” my back and neck. Just the right turn of my torso would send a ripple of clicks and releases along my spine. My idea about it was that those cracks were “unsticking” the gears of my body-machine. But there was also an underlying pattern playing itself out. Those cracks were a symbol of sorts, they represented all the breakthroughs I had accomplished through my years of diligent practice.

Read More

Keep On Rockin' in the Real World

Keep On Rockin' in the Real World

I grew up in the eighties. My folks moved from NY to Los Angeles and settled into the comfort of a big house, two-car garage, and three kids. We were never in want for money. My dad made millions as the vice president of a huge construction firm. I was raised to believe that there was no limit to what I could attain. The milieu of my childhood is best exemplified by a t-shirt that hung in my dad’s closet...

Read More

I Teach Yoga

I Teach Yoga

A number of long-time yoga teachers are deciding to stop referring to what they teach as yoga. In the past, the term yoga represented a freedom to explore and discover truths outside western cultural norms. Now that yoga has largely become a western cultural norm, fueled by the advertising prowess of a multi-billion dollar industry and challenged by scholars, public perception has been shaped to make yoga seem limiting.

Read More

Abundance Mentality and Yoga Careers

Abundance Mentality and Yoga Careers

Continuing education for yoga teachers is in high demand since the proliferation of yoga teacher training certification has reached epic proportions. More than just a knowledge of yoga, or adjunct skills for teaching, these offerings often purport to give practical career advice that will help graduates succeed financially. Unfortunately, business advice for “yogapreneurs” is often grossly misguided.

Read More

Incredible Shrinking Yoga Class

Incredible Shrinking Yoga Class

In the last twenty years, yoga in the west has gone from a guru-driven model to a market-driven model. Decisions still often come from atop a pyramid. But now, the directives are based more on aggregated data than on the presumed authority of an ancient wisdom. One small manifestation of this turn can be found in the way that yoga classes have gotten progressively shorter. Questions regarding old models and industry mores ...

Read More