Private Time: Just as Pilates has branched into one-on-one training, yoga also is entering that realm, but the benefits come more in retention than in added revenue.
At Equinox, yoga is so popular that all new Equinox clubs include a yoga studio. But the studios aren't just for yoga classes. A growing number of yoga participants are requesting one-on-one instruction, and they are willing to pay prices similar to those the company asks of personal training clients — $95 per 60-minute session.
"Yoga is definitely a value add," says Carol Espel, national director of group fitness and Pilates at New York-based Equinox. "There are quite a few people interested in the one-on-one yoga, and there is no overhead expense for the club."
Americans spend $5.7 billion a year on yoga classes and products, according to Yoga Journal's "Yoga in America" study. This represents an 87 percent increase in just four years. In an economy in which many people have seen financial instability, club owners may be able to benefit financially by tapping into markets like yoga, where spending is still on the rise.
In addition to spending growth, an untapped market for yoga practitioners exists. Of non-yoga practitioners, 18.3 million Americans say they are "very interested" or "extremely interested" in yoga, according to the survey. That number represents more people than are currently doing yoga at home or in a club.
Offering one-on-one yoga instruction in addition to increasing the number of yoga classes provides New York-based Equinox with a strong selling point, which is important when marketing its clubs in Dallas, Chicago and the big metropolitan areas of the East and West Coasts.
Even if only a few clients a week meet one-on-one with an instructor, others may start paying membership dues just because of this offering, Espel says.
"We position it as a value-add and another way to differentiate," she says. "It may not be the most profitable, but it adds to your brand."
Other club owners also see the value in private yoga instruction. They see one-on-one yoga lessons as an avenue to help current members who are yoga practitioners and to attract non-yoga practitioners to the club environment, thus providing additional revenue in a tight economy.
At Somafit, Washington, DC, a handful of clients pay extra for one-on-one yoga instruction.
"It isn't advertised, and we still get calls for it," says Mandi Davidson, the group fitness coordinator at Somafit.
One-on-One Leads to Group
Despite the calls for one-on-one instruction at Somafit, most of their members still take group yoga classes. But the goal of participating in group classes may be what drives some members to take private lessons, according to Nielle Arnold, director of CorePower Yoga, a 6,200-square-foot yoga studio in Edina, MN.
"A private lesson is an option for someone whose goal is to participate in group classes, but they want to get a head start on understanding the movements before they rush into a group setting," says Arnold, who does not do much advertising of private lessons. Still, she is considering putting the option on the company's Web site.
One-on-one is sometimes the most effective and only way to expose clients to a type of fitness they aren't familiar with, much like people who prefer to exercise with a personal trainer before attending group fitness classes. Because of body image or confidence issues, people may hesitate to go to a group yoga class if they perceive that, comparatively, everyone will be fitter, stronger and more flexible, she says.
Providing private yoga lessons also is a way to begin a relationship with a client, according to Arnold, who teaches five group classes each week in addition to running the facility. Even if students take only two or three private lessons, they are more likely to sign up as members of a club to take group classes after developing a one-on-one relationship with a teacher from that club, she says.
Current members also take advantage of private yoga lessons, often to help alleviate stress. Personalized yoga lessons that teach stress reduction techniques, like meditation and breathing, are often worth the investment for people who never would have spent money on personal training, especially with the stress of the current economy.
"When the focus is how do I get to a place of well-being, it is less a focus for affordability but more about health," says Denise Elizondo, who teaches three group yoga classes a week and about five private yoga lessons weekly at VIDA Fitness in Washington, DC.
Elizondo says that yoga class participation increases when stress levels increase.
"[Yoga clients] are asking, 'How do I deal with this? How do I cope?'" she says.
Elizondo, who has been a yoga practitioner for 12 years and a teacher for three years, says that a client's question about coping with stress is best addressed in a private yoga lesson. In a one-on-one yoga setting, a client can share true concerns about health and wellness. The client can talk about specific work or family stresses when connecting with a teacher in an intimate environment. This, in turn, allows the teacher to provide tools like personal meditation or stretches that are customized to that individual's needs.
Although some clients come to private lessons to cope with stress, others choose a private lesson to deepen their current yoga practice by improving alignment, learning more complicated postures or recovering from an injury.
Elizondo's private yoga client base developed and has grown through her interaction in group classes. At the end of each class, she announces the availability of one-on-one classes. She may also suggest private sessions to clients who frequently stay after class with questions about the postures.
Not a Fit
Gina Berta, owner of Breathe Fitness Studio, says that private yoga lessons are not a fit for her studio.
"Maybe one or two clients are interested," she says. "It isn't a popular request."
Currently, personal training is the No. 1 request for one-on-one training at Breathe Fitness, she says. With yoga classes that average six to eight students per class, the group setting at Berta's studio is still small enough that teachers can assist students individually during group classes.
Mike Dupuis, executive director of HealthWorks Fitness Center, says that private yoga instruction also is not a viable option for his market because private yoga lessons would compete with the other private lessons that HealthWorks Fitness Center offers.
"The target market for one-on-one yoga training would be essentially the same as for personal training, thus, creating a situation whereby we would actually be robbing from one hand to benefit the other," he says.
Private yoga lessons also are more difficult to implement than private or semi-private Pilates lessons, Dupuis says. In Pilates, an instructor can pair up two or three members who have similar experience levels. Private clients for yoga are likely to want more attention to specific stresses, physical or mental, in their lives. For this reason, it is more difficult to offer a range of pricing options, like duets and semi-privates, based on the level of one-on-one attention, he says.
Sometimes, availability of yoga instructors is a hindrance to offering one-on-one yoga, which is the case for Dupuis, whose community lacks yoga instructors.
Even if the instructor pool isn't as thin in every market, many yoga instructors work other jobs in addition to teaching yoga, which means few of them are available for private lessons. That is the case at Somafit, says Davidson, but that hasn't stopped her club from offering private lessons.
It also hasn't stopped other clubs from doing the same. That's because private yoga classes require a limited financial investment on the part of a club owner. In return, the club could grow the number of people who participate in yoga classes and, therefore, feel a loyalty to the club for helping them improve on their practice or reduce their stress. That could not only result in a calmer, more peaceful and loyal clientele, but also in more revenue in the long run.
Logistics of Private Yoga
Club owners in markets ready for one-on-one yoga instruction should keep three things in mind before jumping into this offering: space, pricing, and instructor and client pairing.
As for space, Equinox, New York, is including yoga studios in the floor plan of each new club, according to Carol Espel, national director of group fitness and Pilates at Equinox. The inclusion of a serene, dedicated space is enticing for members who may have been pulled away by a traditional yoga studio setting in the past.
Depending on the clientele, space doesn't have to be an issue. At Somafit, Washington, DC, most of the private yoga clients prefer instruction in their homes, which eliminates the need to find a space at the club.
The second consideration is the price of one-on-one yoga instruction, which is often similar to pricing for personal training or private Pilates lessons. Equinox charges $95 per 60-minute session and offers package pricing that reduces the per-session cost. CorePower Yoga, Edina, MN, charges $100 per hour session.
Instructor and client pairing is perhaps the most important element. If a club has enough instructors who are interested in teaching privates, the club owner or director of that department should interview all the instructors to determine their strengths and weaknesses. That way, when clients call looking for private yoga instruction, the owner or director has enough knowledge about the instructors to make appropriate pairings.