Brian Monnier is the proprietor of San Francisco-based California Yoga Company. He took some time to chat with Osmosis Online about his path to becoming a yoga practitioner, teacher, and eventually hanging up his own shingle. He shares that the business of yoga in San Francisco is especially competitive, and discusses the challenges, and rewards of running a small business.
Osmosis Online: So I may as well disclose to the meager readership up front that we were on high school swim and water polo teams together half a lifetime ago. So I know you were always an athletic, energetic guy — but at what point did the transition into becoming a yoga practitioner come in?
Brian Monnier: Ah the water polo days! Gotta love those endless egg-beater drills and morning workouts!
I actually started doing yoga as result of injuries sustained through my years of Martial arts. I had been getting a tons of seemly small tweaks during workouts. One day, I went to stand up and my knee buckled in pain. My lower back also around the same time was really in a bad state. Going to the doctor, he recommended surgery. Not being able to afford it, I asked what my options were. He responded that he was seeing some really amazing results from his patients that did yoga regularly.
I happened to be dating a yoga teacher and she eventually dragged me to class. After about a month I realized that it was the only workout I could do without my body punishing me.
OO: And how did you transition that into being your career/livelihood?
Monnier: Luck of the draw actually. I was going to a Yoga teacher in the San Francisco named Tony Sanchez. I think maybe he saw something in me; after about two or three months at his studio, he offered me a very good deal on his teacher training. Very quickly, I started teaching classes. It grew into something that after about six months was able to pay the bills.
I should note that I also was very aggressive about getting teaching gigs. The first couple of years, I would teach an average of 28-35 classes a week. Most teachers max out at 10-15. I believe it was because I was working more then average teacher I was able to really make good living in very expensive city.
OO: When it comes to health, do you seek a balance of different types of exercise? I know you do Kung Fu as well . . . (thank you, Facebook!)
Monnier: Currently (thanks to my Yoga practice) I can do Kung Fu again. My personal workout routine usually involves at least 3-4 yoga practices and 1-2 Kung Fu workouts. Yoga is awesome, but Kung Fu is my passion and there is nothing like the hard sweat you get from hitting things.
Rest is also very important. I will give myself a day or two of rest. On those days, I do nothing. No workouts, no paperwork for my business. I spend time with my wife, watch too much TV, if there is a UFC event on I watch it, or rot my brain on too much Xbox360. Anything to unplug. Rest is equally important as the exercise.
“Hard exertion and extreme relaxation is the key to the kingdom of health.”
OO: What’s your school of yoga?
Monnier: My yoga falls under the Hot Yoga banner. There are several branches, all have specific ways they do yoga.
Mine comes from line of teachers which heat the room up and focus on the athletic side (Hatha Yoga). Some integrate mediation and spiritual practices into the physical practice. Honestly that’s just not my thing. My experience was one of rehabilitation. My method is for those who are seeking healing and one hell of great workout.
OO: So you actually opened your own studio in San Francisco. What made you decide to take the plunge of entrepreneurship? When?
Monnier: Opening the studio was a leap of faith. I was teaching in the San Francisco extensively and my classes were very full. However what I was paid for them was a quarter of what I should have been paid. I decided that when every class I took over and started would fill up to 30-40 people within 6 months, and then stay full for 2 years, I would open a place.
Around the two-year deadline (late 2004), I found a place in the Russian Hill district of San Francisco and took the plunge.
OO: What are some of the things you’ve learned that you wished you’d known at the beginning?
Monnier: First off, location, location, location! My first location was not ideal, but I made it work. Location matters, a lot.
Next is whatever money you think you need to survive the first year, double it and have that amount in the bank. You will need it. That first year, unless you are lucky, is very hard. So is year three. After three years it gets easier.
Lastly, make sure that if you are in a relationship, [your partner] is supportive of your venture. At the time I was not in a supportive relationship. It was distracting. Ultimately led to the end of that long-term relationship.
Happily, my wife is extremely supportive and actually involved in my business. It really is makes a huge difference.
OO: Is there anything particularly advantageous or disadvantageous about running a business in San Francisco (versus other locations)?
Monnier: Doing business in San Francisco is a double-edged sword. On one hand, there are more yoga studios in this seven-square-mile radius then any other town in the U.S. I have roughly 200 direct competitors. In my hometown there are three main studios. Competition here is very fierce and a little snarky.
However, yoga here is very popular; even with the competition, I can make a living. It also is where a lot of the action is happening for my business. I can attract people for my teacher trainings and grow my business into a brand.
There may be a day when I leave, but I don’t foresee that for many years.
OO: Now you’ve been doing it for several years — what’s next from a business standpoint?
Monnier: Following my passion. Right now that’s teaching other how to teach. I have found great reward in the growth of the people that hold my teaching certificates. Personally to grow, I need to finally step away and let others shine.
Branding and product development is also in next year’s plans. My end goal is to begin to open other locations through out California. Ideally, I would like to have two more in San Francisco, two in Marin county, one in Santa Barbara, and a few in the L.A. and Orange County areas, maybe even San Diego.
It is my evil plan to be the largest hot yoga chain in California.
OO: You’re raising funds online for some renovations, right? Can you talk a little about that? And how amazing are some of these opportunities afforded by the Internet that maybe couldn’t have been accomplished 20 years ago?
Monnier: Crowd funding was a idea that I came across when looking at funding from every traditional source dried up. Banks, despite what the press says, are not loaning to small business . . . the economic meltdown killed my ability as small business to get any kind of financing. Grade A credit or not.
I needed some work that needed to get done in order for my business to function. Last year was extremely tight financially so I tried the crowd funding idea. Honestly, I would not recommend it for anyone who is for profit. While I did make enough to get the work done, I think it is better option for non-profit ventures.
As for the importance of the Internet, I would not be in business without it. It is the most affordable and effective way to attract customers. My advertising is a quarter of the cost of the traditional print campaign. You also have an amazing opportunity to get to a very large audience that you don’t in print. When you add social media and review sites, such Facebook and Yelp.com, doing business as a small operator is much easier.
OO: What have you found most rewarding in being a small biz proprietor?
Monnier: While the stress is hard, I love being my own boss and that I do not have to wear a tie to work! I also look forward to being able to grow something that I will have real equity in.
Watching my business grow over the years is very rewarding. Something that started so small has now become larger. I started this venture with practically no money, a not-ideal location, survived a relocation during the worst of economies, and somehow seven years later I am still around. The possibilities are limitless on where this business will go.
I’d like to thank Brian for his time, and promise to attend a class at California Yoga Company‘s Santa Barbara branch when that day comes. You lucky folks in San Francisco should go ahead and do so sooner than later!