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.