At The Corner Of Passion & Hot Yoga
Blog post from December 1st, 2015
The calendar says it’s our 5 year anniversary. Really, the story starts way before that.
Kerri and I moved back to Grand Rapids on December 31, 2009. Picture a big ol’ moving van hauling ass on 294 in Chicago just before midnight. We stopped for gas in New Buffalo and realized it had just turned 2010. New year, new beginning. We had no idea exactly 11 months later we would be opening a hot yoga studio in Eastown.
Kerri had practiced yoga for years, most recently at a fabulous hot studio in Madison, WI called Inner Fire. Settling in Grand Rapids, one of the first priorities was finding a decent hot yoga studio to call home. Unfortunately for her, hot yoga didn’t exist in Grand Rapids.
So, after a weekend intensive with Baron Baptiste in March 2010, Kerri approached me (your humble writer) and said the words I think we should open a hot yoga studio. Keep in mind this is early 2010. Grand Rapids was in the throes of the housing recession, and surveying the local yoga market revealed an average class size of about 5-10 students.
Regardless, we pushed ahead and spent the next months writing ideas down on scraps of paper, looking for space, building a website and Kerri continued to train her ass off with Baron. We settled on our space in Eastown after a lengthy search, even though at the time Eastown was struggling economically.
Our building sat empty save one other tenant. The old Fifth Third Bank building (now Eastown Vet Clinic) was abandoned with weeds growing everywhere. The Kingsley Building (now Terra, etc) was a boarded up mess. Eastown was jacked, Grand Rapids was still dealing with the recession, the yoga market nearly an afterthought…it was a terrible time to open a business.
Still we persevered. As we got closer to fall, Kerri was invited to teach at the Eastown Street Fair in September 2010. It seemed like a good opportunity to get out and meet the local GR yoga community. As it went, Kerri made her teaching debut in Grand Rapids on a tiny side street in Eastown to a group of about 8 people doing sun salutations…in an absolute downpour.
When the teacher before her finished Kerri stepped up and introduced herself. Hi, I’m Kerri from a soon-to-open yoga studio called The Funky Buddha. So far, so good. Next she said Let’s pick up the pace a little bit! They looked at her like she was crazy.
This was the yoga market we found in 2010. We decided to change the rules.
Since opening in December, 2010 we’ve become one of the most popular yoga studios in the country. With 3 beautiful locations and over 105 classes a week, 6 consecutive Best of Grand Rapids awards from MLive and Grand Rapids Magazine, a feature in Yoga Journal, a 40 Under 40 award by the Grand Rapids Business Journal, cover stories in numerous publications and the pleasure to serve 25,000 different individuals over our 5 years in West Michigan, we suspect changing the rules was worth the effort.
Our Story of Success
But our story begs a question or two. Based on the conditions I described prior to The Funky Buddha opening, how the hell did our success ever happen? How did a mid-sized market – punch drunk from recession with a bent towards conservatism – embrace a hot yoga studio named The Funky Buddha?
To me the only way to make sense of it is to describe the values that have guided us to this day. First, we wanted to create a place that was fun. Yoga…fun? Blasphemy, I know.
We also wanted to make it accessible to all types of people, not just long time yogis. This one has gotten us lots of criticism over the years, but I’m proud to look at the sheer diversity of students that practice with us and set the criticism aside.
We’ve helped turn a MASSIVE number of people on to yoga, people that likely would have never stepped foot in to a yoga studio. Our studios hum with the excitement and energy that comes from people exploring something brand new, fun and really challenging. We heart this. It’s made the criticism worth it.
Over the years I’ve met a number of studio owners. Most utilize independent contractors for teaching staff and volunteer or part-time help for desk support. They all have similar quality and reliability issues. It’s why most yoga studios don’t make a long term impact in their communities and why most studio owners want to pull their hair out…there’s a serious lack of professionalism in the yoga world.
We took a novel approach from the beginning. We would hire our staff members as actual employees, pay them a living wage, provide significant training and feedback as well as great benefits and clear expectations. We now have a team of over 70 employees, many of whom work at the Funky Buddha as their primary occupation, and are dedicated to our team and mission. This allows us to focus on continuously improving the quality and professionalism of our staff and the experience of our customers and students. Yes, we heart quality too.
Both Kerri and I are certain our current staff represents the highest of quality in the history of The Funky Buddha. The results show for themselves. We just experienced our most attended month of all time and our community of members is at the highest level in our history.
This doesn’t happen by accident. It happens by willingness and a lot of plain ol’ hard work, which is why the most important thing we can say is THANK YOU to all of our current staff members. We are crazy grateful for the work you do every day. We heart our team.
Finally, none of this story happens without you, our students and customers. Thank you for showing up, for caring about your own growth, for breathing deep and for moving and sweating with us. As you know, progress takes a hell of a lot of practice.
Thank you for sharing your progress with us. Thank you for helping us change the rules for good. We’re inspired by you and the stories you’ve shared. We are humbled.
To the next 5 years,