Saturday, June 9, 2012

If You Build It, They Will Come

While yoga to Americans is somewhat of a new-age movement, the philosophies that govern it are thousands of years old. The principles and spirit of Bikram originated in India, where spiritualism comes slowly, gently. This is the exact same pace at which Bikram manages his franchise business.

With only one person managing the application process globally, and all decisions on who can open a franchise and where, still governed by Bikram alone, you can imagine the back log created. Make no mistake, Bikram likes it that way. Since he's already achieved fame and fortune and has mastered the art of work hard/play hard, it's no wonder he shoots for quality, not quantity. Again, a very Eastern way of approaching life.

As Americans, we want it all now, yesterday and that's just not Bikram's style. So with the gauntlet thrown, the rules are as follows....

- You must teach for 6 months and have 75 classes under your belt before you can contact headquarters about opening a franchise.
- Location requests can take a few weeks for Bikram to approve. 
- He will not let you open too close to another Bikram studio (unless it's your own).
- You have six months to find a space and go to lease in your market, otherwise the territory goes to the next teacher in queue who's looking to open.
- Bikram collects a monthly licensing fee of up to $500 to use his name/logo.

There are a ton of other logistic requirements that all take place in a very specific order, as mandated by Boss. Is that really the right approach in this fast-growing, yoga-conscious marketplace? 

I worry for  Bikram's franchise stability given all the "illegal" (non-Bikram hot yoga) studios popping up everywhere you turn, here and abroad. It is my strong opinion that he will ultimately not be able to afford to fight all the copy-cats without an expansive, in-house legal department. Not to mention, his brand is not used consistently enough to foster Bikram loyalty. The main reason, is that people are having extremely different experiences from studio to studio. Some are hot, some are not, some smell like B.O., some smell like artificial creamsicle (UES), some have hard wood floors, some have Flotex carpet, and the physical variances go on and on. If the dialogue is the same, why not put forth more effort behind the franchise to make the user experience the same. SEX SELLS and Bikram knows that first hand. After all he's the one who taught us "no money, no honey!" 

The two owners of existing franchises that lectured - Lisa Johnson and Jodie Peterson - seem to have it all. According to Jodie, if we just "remember our students' names and trust Bikram's guidance through the process," everything else will fall into place. Most studios that got their start 10+ years ago, seem to have a huge advantage over the newcomers to the market (and I'm sure they must have felt the same about their predecessors). Maybe I'm biased as I've got my sights set on opening in two very popular markets, which are already saturated with yoga and notorious for "red tape" and anti-competition mentalities.

The biggest change, as of late, is the one-time franchise fee that Bikram now requires for all new owners to pay. This amount was not disclosed to us, but I hear it's in the $10K range. I picked up a few other pearls of wisdom, when it comes to owning a studio. It's definitely a business that never sleeps. It's the business of saving lives, the job I always wanted to have. If it's not taken as seriously as it sounds, it will fail. There is really no easy way in, although I always manage to have a few legs up on the process, which I cannot share publicly. 

Bottom line when it comes to opening a Bikram franchise - Go big or go home. Size does matter; the studio must be at least 3,000sf. All the answers to our business and logistical questions can be found in the dialogue. If we can convince our students to move with Love, we will see Green.

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