where’s the money?

YogaDork blogged that Lulu-NO THICK GIRLS ALLOWED-lemon had their best ever financial quarter. The company “plans to open 30 new showrooms and up to 15 new stores this year” Lulu-NO FAT BOTTOM GIRLS HERE-lemon said that “net revenues for the quarter ended May 2 were $138.3 million…” and “ended the quarter with $173.6 million in cash and cash equivalents compared with $59.3 million at the end of the first quarter of fiscal 2009.”

That’s a lot of clothes. That’s some serious coin.

Yoga Journal has always told us that there are millions of yoga practitioners in the United States spending millions of dollars on yoga paraphernalia, teacher trainings, you name it. Speaking only about teacher trainings, we all know that they can start around $2,000 (that’s an inexpensive one) and go well beyond $10,000. Sarah Powers started the Insight Yoga Institute and while the training sounds absolutely wonderful, it costs approximately $15,000.00 to complete.

Sarah, along with other teachers, also started the philanthropic Metta Journeys which travels to Rwanda and benefits Women for Women International. The Rwanda trip costs $5,745 with a $1,000 donation to Women for Women International. The cost does not include airfare and depending on where you live in the United States it could cost you $2,000 to fly to Africa.

Of course we have all seen the ads in yoga magazines for all types of yoga retreats taught by people you’ve never heard of and you can google “yoga retreats” and find literally hundreds all over the world. My teacher in Chicago is offering a yoga vacation in Italy costing $1,340-$1,880; a 10 day yoga vacation to Peru costing $3,140-$3,950; and his 19th yoga vacation in Mexico for $1,700-$2,800.00. None of his trips include airfare and as far as I know, he has never had to cancel a trip due to a lack of students.

(And yes I know I have just given everyone free advertising; would that I get the same from someone for my yoga endeavors.)

My question is: where’s the money?

In other words, who is going on all these trips to all these places for yoga?

The reason I ask is that I have an opportunity to teach in Bali for 10 days, two classes a day. If only 6 people came I would get my lodging and airfare paid for. If 7+ people came I would get paid a certain amount per person. It’s a legitimate offer from a reputable person and it sounds totally sweet, doesn’t it?

So why am I not foaming at the mouth with delight?

Because the last time I taught overseas not one person from the United States signed up for what I offered.

You may remember my Africa trip, my yin-yang yoga weekend with a seva component:

“The cost of the retreat was $1,108.00 and I was taking $108 from each westerner for the Seva Foundation. It was hoped that the founders of the clinic, Dr. Paul Courtright and Dr. Susan Lewallen, would be able to give us a tour of the facility. I thought it was a win-win situation for everyone involved…yoga + meditation + buddhadharma + seva under the African sky.

But no one signed up.

At least no one from the West. I sent my announcement to over 100 people around the United States, advertised it on Facebook and Twitter, and put an ad in a Chicagoland yoga magazine that has a circulation of over 20,000. The Seva Foundation put an announcement on their website’s home page. But not one person showed any interest in spite of the charitable component of the retreat.”

That’s why I am not jumping for joy at this latest offer for me to teach overseas. My Africa weekend was not that expensive relatively speaking because it included everything: yoga plus lodging and food and I told people where to get discounted flights to Tanzania.

The Bali retreat organizer has a client database of over 1,000 people but I hesitate to spend any money on advertising (i.e., another $500 ad in the local yoga magazine) because frankly, what happened last time (or should I say did not happen) felt like a kick in the teeth (and this is the first time I’m saying it out loud.) I advertised to literally over 20,000 people via print ad, my business newsletter, and of course social networking, but zilch. I can understand no one wanting to fly to Africa. What I don’t get is not one person expressing one iota of interest.

I believe that even in a bad economy there are people with disposable income. They’re spending it on $100 yoga pants. Obviously. Just ask Lulu.

I understand how someone with children can’t take off for 10 days, but I also know people (including teachers) who can’t commit to a weekend of yoga in their own backyard. For the most part, people who do yoga (and this includes teachers) tell me that any type of yoga trip is too expensive for them even in the United States. “It’s the economy,” stupid.

Maybe the lack of response to my thing was because I live in the Midwest, not the trendiest part of the country even if it is Chicago. Maybe it’s because I don’t do the fancy arm balances or kick someone’s yoga butt and that’s what people want. Maybe I really don’t have anything to offer.

So I ask again: where all the yoga peeps with money that I keep hearing about? Who is going on all these retreats?

Someone is because I see photos of lots of smiling faces at Kripalu or Omega or Esalen or Land of the Medicine Buddha or (fill in the blank.) I don’t see a dearth of people here.

Where’s the yoga money?

15 thoughts on “where’s the money?

  1. My first thought on reading this post stems from my years working in marketing (blech). And that is around number of people marketed to (believe it or not 20,000 is probably not enough – depending on WHERE you are advertising) and also niche markets.

    Obviously the people going on all of these retreats have money (or they do a lot of saving like me), but where do they hang out? What do they read? How do you get their attention? Sometimes blanket marketing is the way to go – i.e. if you want X number of customers, you need to advertise to Y number of people. And usually Y = a MUCH higher number than expected.

    Then there's the niche concept – those more likely to be interested and able to afford it. Where are the people who do yoga hanging out? They buy Lulu clothes regularly, but when (where is obviously covered)? They probably read Yoga Journal but what else do they read? Answers to these questions can help you decide when and where to get your advertising out there.

    There are expensive and inexpensive ways of marketing. Print media ads are expensive because hardly anyone is advertising that way any more. So they charge more.

    Over here, I know people get the word out among their network of yoga teacher friends and schools. That's to start with. But I've yet to worry about yoga event marketing, so I'm not really an expert.

    Look, all that aside, I just want to say – don't let one failed marketing attempt stop you from trying again!

    Bali is a different kettle of fish compared to Africa. It's warm, friendly and exotic. People like the idea of travelling there. Flights there aren't so expensive and there's a thriving international yoga community there. Plus, your friend has a database of 1000 people!

    If you were going to do it, you should advertise in Australia and New Zealand. Also talk to Yoga Gypsy about East Timor and surrounding areas because they are REALLY close.

    Basically, you should give it a go, I say. If this is what you want to do, don't let one false start make you hesitate. After all, your Africa retreat was well attended in the end, just not by the people you expected…

    Shanti xo

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  2. People who are willing to spend $100 on Lululemon pants and thousands of dollars on retreats are likely to want to go to Bali, but not Africa. Just a thought.

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  3. I understand your point, christunity, but I am not arguing about whether X place is better than Y place….I am wondering about the economics since most people I know always say “it's the economy” that depends how they spend their yoga dollars.

    if few people have money for a retreat that costs X amt. of $$, then who's going to these things?

    also, I DO know that, believe it or not, there are more yoga happenings in Africa, especially Zanzibar, than one might think.

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  4. In this opportunity, are you responsible for attracting/bringing all your own students? or do the bali spirit festival organizers advertise your class and sign folks up as well? Are you asking 'where the money is?” because you need to find those people and get them to sign up? Sorry – I don't know how these things work! I've taken courses at Omega, and they certainly seem to do all the advertising for the instructors, so that seems different. Of course traveling internationally is a whole other animal as well. I wish I had clear suggestions/ideas for you, but I hope you aren't too discouraged by the one experience – and if this Bali opportunity ignites your passions, I'd at least try putting out the feelers via your social networks. that costs you nothing and you can see where it leads… wishing you the best!

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  5. thanks, karin!

    actually it's NOT the Bali Spirit Fest where I have been asked to teach. I just used that as an example of an event where there seemingly is no shortage of people.

    yes, the person organizing this will advertise on their end but I also need to get the word out. I thought I did a good job of it for Africa, but apparently not. there is only so much one can do via print ads and social networking and whatever.

    but as I titled this post, yes, I DO want to know who is doing all these trainings and retreats if the excuse given NOT to do them is the economy. where ARE all the yoga people with money who can afford these things. apparently not where I live in the Chicago area.

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  6. Ah, it definitely isn't lack of interest on my part…your retreats sound amazing! I don't want to spend a lot of money on a fancy retreat and travel to get there. I would rather spend that money on a trip with my husband; something we could both do and be interested in. Plus, to me, it isn't so much the cost of the retreats that is expensive, but the TIME it takes to get there and be there. I scrimped and saved my yoga coins for a year to attend a retreat in my own back yard at Feathered Pipe (plus, I received a scholarship from the Foundation, and I live close enough that I can do a work exchange there). I don't have to add four days onto the trip just for travel.

    With all of that said, if you could “beam me up, Scottie” to Bali…I would love to do it!!

    As for all the people who have the time and money for such retreats, I don't know who they are or where they are. They definitely aren't my students!

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  7. “As for all the people who have the time and money for such retreats, I don't know who they are or where they are. They definitely aren't my students!”

    that's exactly my question!

    Check out the link I posted on the bali spirit fest. no shortage of people there.

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  8. My impression from talking to yoga teacher friends here in Colorado is that one has to have a very specific niche in order to make these things work. Established teachers here seem who have a following take small groups of students somewhere close and warm (e.g. Costa Rica, Mexico – beach) each winter and rely on repeat attendees. A couple of others have very specific training/styles that aren't common (e.g. my Viniyoga friend, who's done both the yoga and therapy TTs- an uncommon and exceedingly expensive certification).

    Agreeing I guess with Svasti yes sadly but truly marketing and branding often seem to be key – be it Anusara, Insight Yoga, Viniyoga – heck even Tias Little, who on more than one occasion said yoga is too profound and vast to be branded, now has branding (Prajna Yoga – me no like….).

    Everyone I've met who leads retreats regularly lives in a place where they have a thriving local student base that are also the core attendees at their retreats. Obviously that's a whole lot easier living in a place like Portland, Boulder or Berkeley than it is in the midwest, though clearly Chicago is happening. A lot of the programs I've seen lately are yoga +: e.g. yoga and birding (in Yelapa – very cool), yoga and sea kayaking, etc. People have really limited vacation time and money and retreats that cater to that seem to work. Americans are generally pretty timid travelers: Mexico, Costa Rica, maybe Italy or France once in a blue moon, but with some of the least vacation time in the world trips to Asia are very rare. Just getting to and from and getting over the jet lag eats up the better part of a week, and that's half of most people's annual time off. It's no accident you see almost entirely Europeans and Aussies at retreats in Asia.

    Teacher trainings are another thing entirely, and when it comes to things like Sarah's 15K training I'm as mystified as you are. What a great program to do, but how does one ever get a return on the investment financially? I know way too many people with PhD's in Buddhist studies or advanced yoga training driving cabs or working in restaurants with huge debts to pay off. Most of the teachers I know who are thriving are married to/living with partners with “real” jobs making the big bucks. Clearly “star” teachers (one or more YJ covers required, books and/or DVDs in wide circulation) can make great money, but truly fabulous teachers I know in Boulder with decades of experience live very close to the poverty line and depend on the rec. center and health clubs for steady income. Very sad.

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  9. Okay, I understand your position and here's my two cents and I'm not lecturing the blog owner, this is just my limited experience 🙂

    1) We host retreats outside the US, the teachers come with their own students who see it as an opportunity to get away and still practice, these do best in the winter, everyone wants to get out. The teacher has a reputation, we (host facility) have a reputation – together it works although in recent times numbers have dropped and teachers are sometimes just breaking even.

    The key for us is size – anything more than 18-20 is too big – we focus on small, intimate retreats and it is priced accordingly by the teacher so that they cover their costs etc.

    What also helps is that these teachers have a dedicated core group of folks who do the advertising through word of mouth, in addition to the international retreats, the teachers also do a couple week long retreats locally and regionally in addition to this annual international one.

    This gives people a chance to experience the beauty of an intensive closer to home and builds the 'client base' (blech).

    It is then not much of a stretch for those people to imagine how much nicer it would be to do this great thing in a really cool place and even if they can't make it to pass that message on to their more well off friends… in theory. Also making something an annual event gives people something to look forward to or save up for which brings me to…

    2) I save for two years to go on retreat, I usually know who I am going to study with and base my travel schedule around my teacher's schedule. I am unlikely to book a retreat with someone that I have never taken a class with, it's a huge deal for me not just a nice yoga holiday and unless I feel some cosmic kick from the universe in a particular teacher's direction, it's not going to happen.

    As I don't live in North America, I volunteered at yoga conferences for two years just to have a cheap way to explore the wider yoga world when I realised I was looking for something more than was offered by my original lineage. Some people who I had really liked the sound of just didn't click with me in class, someone I had never heard of ended up becoming my main teacher.

    There is so much that goes into making a connection that sparks. Today, there is one person that I have never met that I would probably still do a retreat with if I lived in the US. The reason I would consider this, despite never formally taken a class with her, is because of I've listened to her in interviews and seen videos of her class online. Our styles click, her voice doesn't drive me batty, it may sound shallow but there is something deeper there too…

    So that's my 2 cents, sorry to be so longwinded. I don't know much about marketing or anything like that but I do think that in these tricky economic times, people are less likely to be really adventurous. Expensive yoga pants are a lot less risky than a retreat and might be some people's big yoga investment for the year.

    Audio and video content also gives people an opportunity to connect with your unique style. I'm terrified of the idea of someone filming me teach but if I was trying to market a retreat, I would be very tempted to try making a little viral video taster to lure in some of those Spirit Fest folks.

    Namaste.

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