The business of yoga

YASHWANT SARAN, FOUNDER AND MANAGING DIRECTOR, 136.1 YOGA STUDIO
YASHWANT SARAN, FOUNDER AND MANAGING DIRECTOR, 136.1 YOGA STUDIO

Before setting up 136.1 Yoga Studio (136.1), its founder and managing director, Yashwant Saran, took a break from his professional stint of seven years in the fitness industry to spend time in almost 10 leading yoga ashrams and institutions throughout the country. Those 18 months helped in identifying the real USP for this Chennai-based yoga studio. Saran studied the market and came up with a model, which he believed, would be exactly what was needed. 

But the original idea to set up a fitness studio occurred to him when he realised that there was an unmet need in the fitness industry. Saran says, “The fitness or the wellness revolution that was happening in India was directly inspired by what was happening in the Western world.” Gyms were mushrooming here, aping the trend in the Western countries. But, while Indians took to fitness, the West took to yoga.  “That is when I realised that yoga, though intrinsically Indian, was more popular in the West than in its land of birth. Here, people were more interested in treadmills and spas,” recalls Saran. As a result, people were experiencing just one dimension of fitness which was purely at the physical level. What makes yoga very unique is the fact that whichever form or tradition you practice, yoga helps you connect on five dimensions – physical, emotional, psychological, mental and spiritual.  

Identifying this opportunity, Saran set up the first yoga studio in Ispahani Centre, Nungambakkam (Chennai), in 2010 under the parent company Roots Wellness Pvt. Ltd.  The second studio, a 3,700 square feet unit, was set up in July 2011 in Alwarpet (Chennai) with a different format; bigger in size and with multiple halls. Today, 136.1 has four operating centers – three in Chennai and one in Bengaluru – and two more in the pipeline – one each in Ahmedabad and Bengaluru. 

Zeroing in on options

When Saran was doing his research, he found that there were many myths that prevented people from accepting yoga. Youngsters felt that the way yoga was being taught then was too slow, preachy, old-school and fragmented. This apart, the whole ambience associated with the classes was not attractive. This led Saran to come up with three guidelines for his model – yoga will not be reinvented but be presented from a fresh perspective to a fresh pair of eyes.  Secondly, it will be a fusion of tradition and modernity without diluting the essence of purity and yogic wisdom. Finally, yoga will don a new look, while being hip and trendy. 

At 136.1, the different forms of yoga practiced are Satyananda yoga, Shivananda yoga, Mysore Ashtanga Vinyasa, Kaivalyadham style of yoga, Krishnamacharya Yoga Mandiram’s (KYM) lineage and power yoga. Apart from exemplary work in presenting yoga by these schools, the fact that its members wanted different things from yoga – fitness, meditation, breathing, relaxation, awareness – became pivotal in the selection of the model. “KYM is very popular when it comes to therapeutic yoga. Fitness freaks like Mysore Ashtanga style; someone who is cerebral likes the Satyananda yoga and those who like structure connect with the Shivananda yoga,” says Saran. Also, no matter what form of yoga one is practicing, the essence of its format is that there are classes on an hourly basis. 

Earlier, when someone had to practice yoga, they didn’t know where to go or how to begin. Today, 136.1 allows people to connect with a style of their choosing and comfort. “Due to this non-judgmental format, people became very regular,” states Saran. The coming together of different styles under one roof is the USP of the format, which addresses all the three corner stones of this model. 

Saran also wanted the studio to look hip and trendy which is how the name 136.1 came up. “The key decision that we made then was to select the right branding partner, 1pointsize, who played a very pivotal role in creating a unique identity or DNA then – right from name, logo selection, format of communication and communication plan,” explains Saran. The name was also apt because 136.1 stands for the frequency of om. While it sounds very modern, it is actually traditional as it is a tribute to om.  

Primarily, 136.1 has group classes which address the fitness element of yoga, but therapeutic yoga is where there is maximum value creation. In June, the company introduced eight therapeutic yoga modules– like yoga for sleep disorders, women’s health, obesity, diabetes, pain management, hypertension, thyroid, anxiety and stress.  

All in the process

136.1’s yoga studios were established with a vision of it being a pan-India brand.  Saran says, “There are many institutes and ashrams but they are all trusts. We are the only ones in this space to professionalise the system by taking the first step of being a private limited company.” 

Saran and the two co-founders of 136.1, Dr. Sheela Vishwanath and  Maitri Mehta, pooled in to set up the company with their internal resources. The authorised and paid up capital was Rs. 25 lakh. After starting the first centre, they started their second studio for which they borrowed additional capital, in the form of debt. The other studios, Adyar (Chennai) and Bengaluru, were set up from internal resources. Studios in Whitefield (Bengaluru) and Ahmedabad are likely to open soon.  Last year, the company rolled out its franchising initiative, which is called the FICO model – franchisees investment, company managed. 

During the first year (from November 2010 till March 2011) of its operation it clocked a turnover of Rs. 15 lakh. During 2011- 12, the revenue stood at Rs. 1.25 crore which doubled to Rs. 2.5 crore in FY13. It took 136.1 10 to 11 months to reach 1,000 members in its Ispahani and Alwarpet centres respectively. One of the major factors to the success of 136.1’s studios has been location. While choosing a location, the company prioritises convenience and ease for members. “When we choose a location we go into a neighbourhood which has a population of 50,000 to 60,000 and the studio should be within 10 minutes reach for them,” says Saran. He also adds, “We select locations in high streets as it has mature retail presence. It also addresses most of the retail consumer issues like parking.” Ninety per cent of its members come from a radius of 1.5 to 2 kilometres of the studio. 

Social media played a critical role during the studio’s early days as it leveraged on Facebook and very quickly had a large fan following. Initially, the member enrolment strategy at all studios was to create a buzz in the neighbourhood through marketing and branding innovation; that of bring in the first set of members who in turn get members for us. Over and above this, the company does a lot of special classes and workshops where it invites people of different age groups and demographics to experience its classes. 

Fighting the challenges

As far as costs go, 136.1’s biggest cost is towards its knowledge capital – teachers and the staff.  It spends 44 per cent to 50 per cent towards their salaries, 15 per cent towards rentals and close to 15 per cent towards administrative and operational expenses. Selection of the right teachers is very critical for the company. And it recruits teachers with three to four years experience in teaching any form of yoga and who are certified from a revered institute in the country. “We invest in very good teachers who in turn offer immense value for the members through their teachings and personal discipline,” says Saran. It currently has 48 teachers across all the four studios. And teacher selection is expected to be a big challenge in the future as they expand.   

In the years to come, finding the right location is going to be tough too. “Getting a good location like Alwarpet is not easy,” admits Saran. The minimum amount of space a studio needs is 3,000 square feet, which allows it to have multiple halls for group and therapeutic classes. In the next five years, 136.1 wants to open 136 studios. This number will be reached through a good mix of company owned and FICO studios. From Chennai and Bengaluru, 136.1 studios is looking to move to Ahmedabad, Hyderabad, Mumbai, New Delhi and Pune, in that order. Once the funding is in place, it will be ramping its capacity at a much faster pace. “We are in the process of raising funds and are in talks with some VC firms and PE firms which we hope to close in the next three to four months,” concludes Saran. 


Snapshot 

136.1 Yoga Studio

Founder:  Yashwant Saran, Dr. Sheela Vishwanath, Maitri Mehta

Year: 2010

City: Chennai

Revenue: Rs. 2.5 crore in FY13


 

Concept in brief: 

136.1 Yoga Studio is a pan-India chain of yoga studios which offers different forms of are yoga like Satyananda yoga, Shivananda yoga, Mysore Ashtanga Vinyasa, Kaivalyadham style of yoga, Krishnamacharya Yoga Mandiram’s lineage and power yoga. The studio was set up based on three guidelines – yoga will not be reinvented but be presented from a fresh pair of eyes to fresh pair of eyes.  Secondly, it will be a fusion of tradition and modernity without diluting the essence of purity and yogic wisdom. Thirdly, it will also make yoga look hip and trendy.   It is currently present in Chennai with three studios and Whitefield in Bengaluru. It currently has 48 teachers across all four studios. And in the next five years, 136.1 wants to open 136 studios. This number will be reached through a good mix of company owned and FICO studios. From Chennai and Bengaluru, 136.1 studios is looking to move to Ahmedabad, Hyderabad, Mumbai, New Delhi and Pune, in that order. It is in the process of raising funds and is in talks with some VC firms and PE firms.