Friday, September 16, 2011

Legal and Financial

This should have been the first post. Really it should have. Because before you can get a commercial real estate agent, before you can choose an architect, before you can do ANYTHING, you need a company, and you need some money.

You have to come up with a name. Do not choose your company name to be "Bikram Yoga (insert name of city here)" Bikram doesn't want you to do that, and besides, it is simply better for a wide variety of reasons to have a company name that is unique. So, pick something, anything. We chose a name that has special meaning to me and to Bill, and confuses most everyone else on the planet: Extra Feinschmecker, LLC.

We also chose to be an LLC. Talk to a financial expert to understand your options for organization creation - you can be an LLC, a corporation, a partnership (or LLP) or a sole proprietorship. Your finance person can help you to decide. We did the paperwork through They were REALLY helpful and very easy and I would recommend them, especially if this is your first time forming a company. They provide support to all 50 states, and they will walk you through the process. If you have an accountant, that person can probably do the same thing for you, but because we were in Texas, I was from California, and we were registering in Alabama, it was just easier to go through Legal Zoom. We also used them to create our DBA. BUT we have since re-registered with the state and eliminated the LZ annual fee to be the person to take the company's mail. LZ can explain all that.

If you are married, like I am, and your spouse is a business partner, but not YET a certified Bikram yoga instructor (somebody has to make money in this family, and it ain't me yet!), you can be the only manager named in an LLC. Since we are married, the company automatically is owned by him too, but we are satisfying the rule that states that only certified teachers are owners. Bill will get there soon, just not yet. If you are not yet married, and you have a business partner, well, then you have to figure that one out for yourself.

Then we created a DBA (Doing Business As). This is the name that you will have on your checks, on your door, on your business cards. We chose "Bikram Hot Yoga Mobile." This was recommended to us by wonderful friends in the Bikram world as the "Hot Yoga" in the name will allow us to be included when someone googles, "hot yoga" instead of Bikram. Frankly, the Bikram name is completely unknown down here in the south, but people might know what hot yoga is. It was a smart decision.

Do your DBA before you open your bank account. I didn't and our checks have only the Extra Feinschmecker name on them, and so for every check I write, I have to add "Bikram Hot Yoga Mobile" on it. Pain in the you know what. If you do the DBA first, you can add that name to your checks. But if you open your checking account before the DBA, that's okay, just bring the paperwork in, because you will be depositing checks written as Bikram Hot Yoga and you don't want to hold up the line trying to explain why those checks go into an account with a different name.

Make sure you file all the appropriate information with the state. Bikram Yoga is a service and thus does not require sales tax be paid to the state, city, county etc, but any product that you sell, like water, clothing, electrolytes will require you to collect and pay sales tax. In Alabama, our sales tax is 10% (yikes!!), but that is divided up between a lot of organizations. When we first started, I went to the government offices and had the clerk there help me fill out all the paperwork. Even still, I ended up having to pay a $100 fine for making a mistake initially. Moral is, make sure you are paying your taxes correctly and thoroughly.

Make sure you get a resale certificate. You can take this document to Sam's club and register as a wholesaler and then buy, sans tax, your water and other items that you plan to sell. You will also need this number/certificate to register with your wholesale vendors (Shakti, yogitoes, etc). We are very honest about this. A lot of people load up their carts at Sam's with personal items, toilet paper, computers and TV's, and they don't pay sales tax. I don't think that's right, so we only utilize the sales tax benefit on the items that we will re-sell (and collect tax on then).
Bank account. We were blessed enough to have the money we needed to do our own buildout, so we did not need to have a top notch business plan or raise money (we did, however create an internal document that was really helpful). We are SO LUCKY!!! Good luck with that. Unfortunately I can offer you no guidance on how to beg, borrow or steal money, but I can say that in these times, finances are tight. We spent a lot of money to bring yoga to this town, but we are confident we will, eventually, in the future make it back and then some. But it will be a while.

Our one year anniversary is in October, and although we are covering all of our costs, we haven't yet made a profit. Meaning, all I have been paid so far is less than $5. On two occasions, I took money from the cash register to go across the street and get an ice cream cone. Some say that it's sweet payment! But even better than that, I have also been paid the satisfaction of knowing we are healing bodies. The money will come!

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Designing and Building a Studio

The information and advice I put down here is based on my 9-month travel across the US visiting a variety of Bikram Yoga studios and learning everything I could about building, operating and teaching at a Bikram Yoga Studio. It is also based on our own experience creating and now operating a studio for one year. Other people may have other advice, or design their studio a different way. This is just how we did it. And we have been told ours is the one of the best studios around - in regards to design and room operation.


Even if you know your city like the back of your hand, get yourself a really good commercial real estate agent. We were lucky enough to find one who has bull dog determination and she was able to negotiate for things that we did not even know to ask for. Your agent will be able to provide you with very specific demographic information in the area, and although the swanky shopping area looked really good to us, the demographics showed that the surrounding area did not have the population we needed to support a studio. Our agent found us a building that was perfect – it had no interior supporting structures (meaning no columns in the practice room – this is HUGE), it had a lot of existing material that we could re-purpose for our own needs (like toilets, doors and lights), lots of parking (no parking is a show stopper) and the location was perfect.

Now, there are two ways to go with location. Actually three. The first is to buy a building or land and build to suit. If you have a LOT of cash (or access to money), this can be a great way to go, especially if this is a second career. Because when you are ready to retire, you can sell the yoga business and hold on to the building and charge rent! But know that you will be responsible for maintenance and a lot of up front costs. The second is to lease an existing building and build to suit. This is what we did. We paid for the entire construction, but we got a HUGE discount on monthly rent. We had about $300k upfront costs, but our monthly nut is pretty reasonable. The third option is to work with a new development and have them pay for most of the buildout. Your rent will probably be higher (You will always pay for the buildout cost in the end, know that), but you will have less up front costs to manage. If you do option 2 or 3, make sure in the lease you indicate that the heater, humidifier, mirrors and anything else that you can negotiate for (and that you pay for) is chattel; meaning, you can take it with you when you vacate the property.

When you negotiate for the lease, make sure you consider the CAM (common area maintenance) fees. Although your rent might be stable for 5 or 7 years, your CAM fees can fluctuate wildly, especially if you are the only tenant in a large strip mall. Usually the CAM is shared by all tenants, but if all the other tenants move out, you’re holding the bill for snow removal, lawn maintenance, taxes and insurance. So, look closely at that.

We got a 5-year lease. We wanted a 7-year lease, but we got a lower rent for less time. If you have a common utility meter (we started out with that, but they converted to separate because they could see huge problems thanks to our constantly pointing it out), make sure you establish a good way to split costs.

We had an unoccupied restaurant next to us and I had them put in the lease that they would not rent to a deep fried restaurant. They took it out of the lease, claiming they were assuredly do their best to rent to an upscale, healthy business. We got a deep fried place next door. Now they have been very kind, but the stink of deep fried food is not exactly what you want when you come out of yoga. And BE CAREFUL where you put your ventilation. Luckily we situated our vents as far away from the restaurant as we could, but every now and then, when I open the damper, the scent of fried shrimp can come wafting into the practice room. Damper is immediately closed.

Your real estate agent costs you nothing – she will help you for a full year after you lease to solve any problems with the landlord, and if you’re lucky, she will practice your yoga (give her a six-month unlimited package).

Then find yourself a really great architect and contractor. You can use some people in the Bikram Yoga industry, and that may be great for you. We chose to go local in order to have contacts for maintenance and warranty work. It totally paid off. Our heater went on the fritz just last week over the Labor Day weekend, and we got the machine serviced for free. We interviewed 3 architects, and we chose the woman who did the original work on the building before we moved in (it used to be a grocery store). We could see that she had built a beautiful structure before, and frankly, she listened the most to the vision we wanted to create and she understood what we wanted to do. She built some amazing plans, and really pushed the engineers hard when they either over designed or under designed the room. She had a lot of experience, and she knew the local laws and was able to make a few shortcuts that saved us a lot of money. She also understood that we wanted something beautiful, but that would last and require not a ton of effort to keep clean. So she designed it that way.

We also interviewed 3 contractors and chose the one that could get the work done faster than the others (they were also the least expensive). It ended up taking four weeks longer to build out, but other studio owners tell me that that is pretty good – other studios have gone 4-5 months over schedule.

Oh - and the best help around? A good partner. My husband is a CPA - he is our company's CFO and general sanity checker. His support and balance is invaluable. If your spouse is not your business partner, talk to Lisa Ingle. She and Steve have the best partnership I have seen and they make it look easy. But they have a fabulous strategy that works.

So that’s the first installment – get good help. Next will be the list of must have’s in design.

Sunday, September 4, 2011

Some thoughts on making the most of your training

Written for our very own Teddy, but if you are preparing for training and this helps you, again, have at it!!

You are about to embark on an amazing journey and have a life-changing experience. Here are some things to think about to make the most of your training:

  1. DRAMA – you will encounter people who are very burdened with drama. If it’s at all possible, bless them and be on your way. The time it takes to be involved with drama is time that could be much better spent learning the dialogue, learning about yourself, learning from Bikram, sleeping. And if you feel the need to engage in drama of any kind, take the opportunity to let it go.

  1. TEACHERS – for every person who gets on the podium to teach a class, whether it’s Bikram himself, Emmy, Rajashree or the dozens of visiting teachers, take time afterward to note what you liked about his/her class, what you disliked about the class, what you can take with you as you develop as a teacher yourself and what you reject. Seriously – jot down some notes.
  1. YOUR PRACTICE – You are not there to impress anyone with your standing bow. You job is to suffer so that you can understand how to extend compassion when you get up on the podium. Your practice will go to shit. Don’t worry about it – it will come back after training. Just do the best you can and try the right way. Bikram will yell at you (if you are lucky), and that’s okay – that means he cares. And he will call you out if you are being lazy – but he will show you amazing compassion if you are in pain. He can tell the difference.
  1. ISSUES IN THE TISSUES – Chances are, emotional/psychological stuff will come up – and there will very possibly be a time when you break down, either in posture clinic, or in the practice room. That’s okay, go with it! I purged a lot of sorrow from my body in the practice room – I cried, I wailed and nobody cared. Well, everybody cared - they cared enough to allow me to have the experience and not stop it. I hope you get the same experience.
  1. POSTURE CLINICS - You will get some amazingly accurate feedback, and you will get some feedback that will leave you scratching your head. Don’t worry about it – they are critiquing you based on a moment in time and their feedback may or may not reflect how you really are. So as you progress in posture clinic, have a personal goal every time you get up to deliver a posture. Whether it’s to be louder, to get the dialogue 100% correct, to channel nerves into positive energy, to get up first, to get up last, to have fun. Whatever the goal is, have it established in advanced and make note of how well you achieved your goal. Then use those results to identify your goal for the next posture.
  1. LIVE IN THE MOMENT – You will be pushed so far beyond your daily challenges, and that is a huge gift. If, in week one, you say to yourself, “I can’t do this for nine weeks,” that’s GREAT! Because you will learn that you can’t think of nine weeks without going insane, then you won’t be able to think about one week, then you won’t be able to think of the next posture and THEN you will figure out that you don’t have to! All you have to think about is whether you can do the pose you’re supposed to do right now, and if you can’t, that’s okay, but then ask yourself again – “can I do this?” And if you can, get up and do it! Don’t worry about ANYTHING but the moment you are in. Then you’ll learn to live like that all the time and it’s so incredibly freeing.
  1. THINK LIKE A TEACHER – Immediately start putting yourself in the mindset of a Bikram Yoga Teacher. You are no longer a student (except that we are all always students); your time at training should be used to consider how you can utilize the information you learn to help others – not just yourself. Sure, if Emmy can help you to improve a posture that you are having trouble with, then by all means, take her help! But remember HOW she helped you and think about HOW you can use the same information as a teacher.
  1. DIALOGUE. DIALOGUE. DIALOGUE. You are going to hear some crazy stuff, and there will be people there who will try to convince you that at some point you can lose the dialogue and teach an equally (or better) class using your own words. It’s tempting, but don’t believe them. The dialogue is a poem, a meditation and you will see the power of it as soon as you get on the podium.
  1. STAY IN THE BUBBLE – As much as you might want to contact your friends at home, keep your phone on, go check out LA, do your best to refrain. Just stay in the yoga bubble – you will never have this opportunity again and the more you immerse yourself in it, the more you will get out of it. You may not think so at the time, but trust me on this.
  1. YOU ARE NOT SPECIAL – By this I mean that you should not expect special treatment of any kind. And believe me, you will not get it. And that’s a gift too. Your job over the next nine weeks is to follow the rules, and if you break the rules, pay the consequences with pleasure. Consider it an opportunity to absolutely, completely let go of your ego and just do it. Hold on to your self-confidence, but let go of your ego.
  1. TAKE CARE OF YOURSELF – Stay hydrated, keep your electrolytes up. If you are in major pain, take motrin (or whatever) before you go to sleep, but NEVER before class. Eat well, eat PROTEIN, listen to your body and eat as well as you can.
  1. CONNECT WITH KEY TEACHERS – You will find some teachers that will speak to your heart. You will say to yourself, “You are my person.” When you find that person (or persons), make sure to introduce yourself to him or her. Say something that will allow them to remember you later. Then follow up after training and tell him or her that they made an impression.
  1. BE KIND TO THE STAFF – These guys are working for FREE and they often get less sleep than you do. If they are short with you, have compassion. They are having to ensure that 400 people are having their intended experience, and they are taking care of Bikram too. Believe me, they probably won't show it, but they are suffering as much as you are. Just in a different way.
  1. TRUST THE PROCESS – They will tell you this so much you’ll want to throw up on it. But it’s true; this process works. It seems wacky and strange at the time, but it works. So utilize it and give in to it.
  1. MAKE FRIENDS AND HAVE FUN – You will meet people from all over the world who are just as passionate about the yoga as you are and you can make friends for life. Many of the people from my training found their life mate – what a wonderful thing! Maybe you’ll have the same experience, wouldn’t that be great? But no matter what, know that the time will pass quickly. Savor every moment, even the really hard ones. You’ll never have an experience like this again.

Finally, know that we are rooting for you! There are a lot of people who are cheering you on, who are providing support to you and sending you strength and happiness and health. Breathe it in!!