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At the Helm of a Growing Philly Yoga Studio, Erik Burling Flexes His Ability to Give Back

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Erik Burling and his wife, Lauren, run a full-service yoga studio with a difference. Located in one of Philadelphia's toughest areas, Roots Philly Yoga sets itself apart by offering free classes to homeless people in the community once a week.

 

With business burgeoning less than a year in, we sat down with Erik to talk about how patience pays off, why outreach is so important and what yoga can do to help create an inclusive community.

 

Name: Erik Burling

 

Business: Roots Philly Yoga

 

Started: June 2015

 

How did you create your awesome job?

 

I studied broadcasting at Temple University and worked as an anchor for a local news channel for three years. I loved the job, but the lifestyle that came with it wasn’t for me. 

 

I started practicing yoga as a way to unwind, and became so drawn to it that I knew I had to find a way to do it every day. 

 

I eventually left the world of broadcasting and took a job with the Bethesda Project, supporting Philadelphia's homeless population. I met some incredible people and had a relaxed work schedule, which meant I could practice more yoga. 

 

After three years at Bethesda, I took the leap and became a freelance instructor while also managing Dhyana Yoga, a local studio.

 

Running the business gave me the confidence and skills I needed to open my own studio with my wife and fellow yogi, Lauren. We looked for locations for about 12 months before settling on a place in an up-and-coming area. 

 

It’s not posh or hip and there are four or five homeless organizations close by, so we wanted to include an outreach component for everyone to enjoy yoga. We ran our first free class for the homeless a couple of weeks after opening, once we were confident we’d get enough people through the doors to keep the offer up.

 

Who was your very first customer?

 

Lauren and I had the advantage of coming into this business with eight years of collective experience teaching yoga in the local area. 

 

As independent instructors, we took the contact details of our students and sent out newsletters and used social media to build our personal brands. 

 

A few weeks before starting the studio, we launched our website and social media pages to help spread the word. We opened our doors on the 4th of July, 2015, to a full class.

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What has been your favorite experience working with a client or student?

 

In the business of yoga, everyone’s obsessed with student numbers. We’re the same for the most part, but when it comes to our free classes, that way of thinking goes out the window. 

 

If we’re able to offer a sense of peace to just one man or woman who’s lived on the streets, or who’s battling addiction, it’s worth running the session.

 

When did you know your business was going to work?

 

Back in the fall after only being open for three or four months, we had a packed studio on a regular Monday night for no obvious reason. We hadn’t done any particular promotions or anything, it just seemed like everyone wanted to try us out that day. 

 

It was just a taste of success, rather than a mouthful, but it made us realize we were on to something and gave us the hunger we needed to keep driving forward.

 

What has been the biggest surprise so far after starting your own business?

 

We’ve had a gradual increase in numbers since launching, but we’ve been surprised that we haven’t been able to work out any patterns. 

 

We keep a tally of everyone who comes in and try to track the impact of our marketing campaigns, but whenever we get to the point where we feel we’ve cracked it, everything changes. 

 

We have peaks and troughs, and I guess this is part of the fun of running a new business!

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How do you price your classes?

 

It’s important to us to be able to offer affordable classes so that the average person can access yoga. We kept this in mind when looking for a studio to use, and specifically found a location with low rent so we could keep our overheads to a minimum. 

 

Our basic class rate is $15, but our most popular offer is a pack of five classes for $65. 

 

In addition to the free class we run every week for the homeless, we also hold what we call "community classes" at off-peak times for only $10. These are the rates we started out with and we’ve stuck with them because we’ve always been able to get enough people through the door.

 

What does a typical day look like for you?

 

We’re open seven days a week and offer morning, afternoon and evening classes most days. I teach 10 classes a week, and Lauren teaches two but also works full-time as a medical social worker. The other classes are taught by our team of freelance yoga instructors.

 

Today I woke up and taught the first class of the day at 6:15am, then went to another studio for my own practice. As a yoga teacher, it’s important for me to maintain a personal practice, so I dedicate two or three hours to it, six days a week. 

 

We had no midday class today, but I was back at our studio by 11:30am to instruct a private client. After lunch, I spent some time checking emails and running errands, then went back to the studio just before 5pm for the evening session.

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If you could go back in time, what’s the one thing you would do differently when starting your business?

 

I’m really happy with where we are and wouldn’t change a thing just yet. 

 

We took our time to get everything right before the launch, and were rewarded with a great location. Our offer is unique to us, and it’s working out really well.

 

What would you like to learn today from a community of other small business owners and self-employed professionals?

 

Our biggest struggle is trying to pinpoint what keeps our customers coming back. We’re considering introducing loyalty incentives, so it would be great to know if anyone has experience successfully running these. 

 

How do the other small business owners here keep their customers hungry for what they offer? Is there a way to keep the lines of communication open after a client or customer leaves?

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Let's help Erik out!


Calling small business owners and self-employed professionals here in QB Community with a devout fanbase! 

 

How do *you* keep your happy clients coming back? Do you have experience turning a drop-in customer into a regular? How have you learned to nurture and reward your returning customers?

 

If you have a story to share, tell us more in the comments below. :-)

1 Comment
Highlighted
Level 7

At the Helm of a Growing Philly Yoga Studio, Erik Burling Flexes His Ability to Give Back

Return customers are the biggest compliment a business owner can receive! I find listening and remembering a customer's goals and needs is the best way to keep them coming back. Plus, it allows me to help them achieve their goals and makes what a do that much more worthwhile. 

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