Santa Monica’s eclectic Main Street sits just steps from the Pacific Ocean. On a normal day, the mile-long stretch bustles with a mix of local residents and tourists enjoying the many coffee shops, boutiques, vegan-fare and salons that line the street. On Sundays, residents flock to the farmer’s market at Heritage Square, which features live music and a wide variety of foods sourced from California farmers.
This is where YogaWorks, a Santa Monica-based yoga studio chain and retailer, calls home. Founded in 1987 by yoga practitioner Maty Ezraty, the company’s headquarters sits on Main Street, serving as the home-base for all operations company-wide.
“We have a very casual environment with open cubicles and energetic, passionate people,” described Rosanna McCollough, the president and COO of YogaWorks. “It has a vibrant, community feeling — it’s not corporate at all. It’s very humble and modest in its structure. But what makes us unique are the people here who are all unified by the mission to promote yoga.”
YogaWorks’ core purpose is to honor and support each student’s search for personal growth and physical and mental well-being. It seeks to accomplish this by offering world-class teachers at more than 50 studios in the U.S., a premier yoga teacher-training program, workshops, retreats and virtual on-demand yoga through MyYogaWorks.com.
But, the company wasn’t always the yoga giant it is today. The first YogaWorks location opened just minutes from the current headquarters, on Montana Avenue. Growth came slowly until 2005, when YogaWorks’ co-founders sold the company to Highland Capital Partners. Under the global venture capital firm’s ownership, YogaWorks grew to 27 locations across four markets: Los Angeles, Northern California, Orange County and New York.
Phil Swain, a YogaWorks advisory board member who previously served as CEO, was recruited by Highland Capital Partners in 2005 to assist in growing the chain, in addition to establishing a sales and marketing team. “This was really the second wave for the company, when we expanded and started to build out the business model,” he said.
YogaWorks’ business model is membership based, which allows students to pay a monthly fee for access to a wide variety of yoga and fitness classes taught by highly-trained teachers. All teachers are required to have a minimum of 500 hours of YogaAlliance Certification.
YogaWorks was the first to pioneer the membership model in yoga, drawing inspiration from the health club industry, where customers can come as often as they like.
“I think what’s great about the membership model is what we hear from our customers,” said McCollough. “Those people who really want to commit to a practice [say that] having a membership gives them unlimited access to achieving their goals. It’s a great motivator, and it’s a great value.”
The second turning point for YogaWorks came in 2014, when Great Hill Partners, a Boston-based private equity firm, acquired the company. It was during this acquisition that McCollough was recruited to help drive operational excellence and increase the number of studios. “Last year, when I joined, we were at 28 studios,” she recalled. “Today we are at more than 50 through acquisitions and new builds.”
Acquisitions are possible because YogaWorks offers an eclectic mix of classes, catering specifically to the communities in which it resides. This opens up possibilities in terms of the type of areas in which YogaWorks can expand and brands it can acquire. “Our DNA is an eclectic style,” she explained. “We are not a cookie-cutter approach to yoga. We are a local concept, unified by a national commitment to safe, quality teaching in clean, pleasant environments.”
This non-cookie cutter approach came into play in July 2015, when YogaWorks completed one of its biggest acquisitions to date. Yoga Tree, a seven-location studio chain, greatly increased YogaWorks’ reach into the lucrative Bay Area market as a result of the purchase.
“When we looked at Yoga Tree, not only did they have a wonderful footprint, they had a wonderful, eclectic mix of teachers and styles, and we thought that would be a great blending of the two brands,” continued McCollough. “Because that’s what we believe in — is doing whatever the customer wants.”
This mindset comes into play in how YogaWorks’ studios are run. The locations are unified by offering the highest-quality teaching and premier customer service, packaged together in a clean studio environment. But, there is freedom within that framework. McCollough explained managers execute from a local level, creating their own class schedules, picking which yoga styles to offer, and gathering feedback from students first-hand.
“While we are one of the largest chains of yoga studios, we believe our strength is running studios from a local perspective so that the programming and atmosphere of a studio is reflective of the community it serves,” said McCollough.
Back on Main Street in Santa Monica, the YogaWorks team is seeking to expand students’ yoga practice beyond the local perspective through MyYogaWorks.com, an online yoga platform with more than 950 on-demand classes. The videos are filmed onsite at the company’s studios, and can be streamed from anywhere ($15 per month for non-members; $5 per month for members).
“I can remember a board meeting about 3 years ago, when we were told we better get into the [on-demand video] space,” recalled Swain. “We were actually talking to YogaGlo at one point about potentially using them as a platform for our teacher training, and other things. Then the board said, ‘Why would we do that? We should do our own,’ and the team just went after it. We’ve got all the teachers, we’ve got all the talent, we’ve got the studio right there at the office — so it was a strategic decision, and it was a good one.”
Subscribers to MyYogaWorks.com can search videos by style, specific teacher, duration, most popular videos and more. In addition to offering students easy access to quality programming, the platform serves as an advertisement for YogaWorks’ talented teachers, who are some of the best in the business.
In fact, in a recent study by Sonima that profiled the “Top 100 Most Influential Yoga Teachers in America” for 2016, 15 had ties to YogaWorks, and an additional 20 or more had been featured in YogaWorks’ studios, workshops or other events.
“We don’t really hype our teacher training, but the truth is we have over 10,000 graduates through our program,” said McCollough. “Ten thousand graduates in 25 years, across 50 different countries, is an amazing foundation to continue our growth.”
And growth, said McCollough, will be top of mind for the company in the coming months. “Our biggest challenge right now, and it’s something Phil and I spend hours doing, is trying to figure out which markets we want to go into next,” she said. “There are so many options and so many great cities around the country that picking our next location is one of the most time consuming and challenging strategic issues that we face.”
As the team at YogaWorks corporate ponder where to expand to next from their seats in Santa Monica — the roots of the budding company — the decision will be made carefully. “It’s not just building the studio or the market,” said McCollough. “It is a long-term commitment to that community. We don’t go into anything without firmly believing we’re going to be there for 10 to 20 years. That’s how serious that decision is.”