Owner: Beth Shaw.
Company: YogaFit trains yoga instructors, entering into exclusive partnerships with yoga studios and health club chains, including Gold’s Gym, 24 Hour Fitness, Can Fit Pro, and Town Sports International, the holding company for New York Sports Club. Additionally, the company hosts fitness conferences, teacher training and retreats worldwide.
2011 Sales: $4.4 million.
Employees: Twelve at the company’s headquarters; 60 trainers (independent contractors).
Beth Shaw, 46, became interested in yoga after she moved from New York City to Los Angeles in 1989. While working in advertising sales for various magazines, she decided to get certified as an instructor and teach at fitness clubs as a hobby. When she did, she found that traditional methods of teaching yoga weren’t suited to the fitness club environment with its bright lights, cold rooms, and wide range of student flexibility levels.
So she developed her YogaFit teaching style with the goal of making yoga more accessible. Her innovations included adding moves like push-ups, sit-ups, squats and eliminating Sanskrit pose names and chanting. Ms. Shaw’s classes were popular, and in 1994, a health club approached her to open a yoga center on its premises — taking over a former golf room.
At a time when yoga classes were not yet ubiquitous at health clubs, Ms. Shaw began to promote yoga to the fitness industry, writing articles for fitness-related trade magazines. The positive responses led her to incorporate YogaFit in 1997 and to introduce the company’s first training session that year.
Since then, Ms. Shaw said, YogaFit has become the largest yoga school in North America and has trained some 200,000 instructors worldwide. Additionally, in 2011, she opened YogaFit Canada, a separate entity based in Toronto. Although YogaFit’s offices are in Torrance, Calif. Ms. Shaw is frequently in New York City.
She said Yoga Fit faces several challenges. Annual sales are down from a high of $5 million in 2009, a drop she attributes partly to a more crowded market and partly to the company’s unprofitable merchandise division, which she plans to cut back.
In 1998, when Ms. Shaw opened a YogaFit studio, which has since closed and is no longer a part of her business model, she sold clothing branded with the company name and logo. She said it was a great way to build local awareness. But gradually YogaFit began expanding into non-branded clothing, like cargo pants and T-shirts. “I tried to get a collection together for retail and that hasn’t worked out so well,” said Ms. Shaw. She added that that aspect of the business “started to take a big hit when the economy tanked, which is when we launched our high-end line.”
Ms. Shaw said she has since realized that Yoga Fit is not in the fashion business. “I can make a lot more revenue doing what we do best, and that’s education — you can’t do everything.”
Going forward, Ms. Shaw would like to sell only a streamlined selection of branded clothing (YogaFit also carries lines of CDs, DVDs, and accessories, which it will continue to offer). “Most of our sales happen at our trainings or conferences, and people want branded stuff,” she said.
She would also like to find a licensing partner to manufacture and sell her merchandise. Recalling an order of bodysuits that arrived from China with “holes in all the wrong places,” she said she would happily settle for a percentage of sales in exchange for getting out of the apparel business.
But for now, about $500,000 worth of Yoga Fit’s unsold merchandise is taking up 2,500-square-feet of warehouse space. She said the clothing has been going back and forth to conferences and trainings. “At some point, a pair of tights that cost me $10 has now probably cost me $20,” she said.
Her options are to sell the garments to a jobber — someone who buys for discount stores such as T.J.Maxx or Winners — for $3 a piece, a big loss, or to continue having Web site fire sales and lugging the clothing to conferences and trainings. She is leaning toward the first option. “At some point you have to cut your losses and just move on,” she said.