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Leavenworth yoga studio finds balance with business advising
Tuesday, Aug. 7, 2012
By Hope Belli Tinney, WSU News
LEAVENWORTH, Wash. - They seem to sprout like dandelions in urban areas, but yoga studios are harder to find in small towns. Marion Lodato, owner of Snowcreek Yoga knows why.
"I have a very, very small population to work with,” Lodato says. Quite simply, attracting sufficient clients to pay expenses is always a challenge.
But, like an orchid growing from pebbles, Lodato’s studio is surviving, thanks in part to the services of the Washington Small Business Development Center. In the process she has created a welcoming place for yoga and meditation in rural central Washington.
Leroy Bickler knew he’d found a gem when he walked into the golden melon glow of the studio in Leavenworth, a community of about 2,000 people nestled in the Cascade Mountain Range.
"There’s a warm feeling when I go there,” said Bickler, who used to suffer from chronic back pain. "It isn’t like church, but you feel good there.”
So good, that Bickler, 62, has been making the 35 mile round trip from North Wenatchee to the yoga studio at least twice a week since it opened in 2010.
"Yoga has given me the freedom to do what I want,” he said. In May 2012 he completed a 200-hour teacher training program at Snowcreek and he now teaches a free class for co-workers at the Chelan Public Utilities District. "I know they have the same problems I do,” he said, and he knows yoga can help.
Lodato loves hearing stories of the transformative power of yoga—that’s why she opened the studio. But even as her clients were developing strength and flexibility, her business was hurting.
Her business plan had been built on steady and significant enrollment from out-of-town visitors, mostly tourists from the Puget Sound region. But, that didn’t happen, or at least not in the numbers that she needed.
Lodato’s partner had pulled back to focus on family, so Lodato was on her own, and overwhelmed.
Lodato is not easily overwhelmed.
In 2008 Lodato opened Snowcreek Integrated Health in nearby Peshastin to bring together a range of alternative health and wellness programs, from herbal medicines to acupuncture and massage.
The yoga studio which offers about 15 classes per week was a natural extension of her other wellness work, she said. As an acupuncturist she often treats clients who are in pain. Yoga, she knew, could prevent the pain in the first place, and that’s what she wanted for her clients.
Lodato expected to struggle at first, but by 2011 it was clear she needed help or the studio would not survive. Not only would her clients be disappointed, but Snowcreek Yoga provides part-time employment to 10 people, including administrative assistants and a cadre of yoga instructors.
Lodato went online and found a site managed by the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) that included a link to the Washington Small Business Development Center (SBDC). The Washington Small Business Development Center is a partnership of the SBA, Washington State University and other institutions of higher education and economic development. Lodato left a short description of her problem and her contact information. A day later she got a call from Jim Fletcher, the SBDC certified business advisor in nearby Wentachee.
"I almost fell over,” she said recently. "It was such a personal response. I thought, ‘Are you kidding me?’” After a short conversation, Fletcher suggested a meeting so they could look over her quarterly financial statements.
"I actually cried the first time I met Jim,” Lodato said. "I was so relieved that finally I’d found someone who could help me—that I could afford.” SBDC business advising is free of charge.
Lodato had been trying to follow her original business plan, but Fletcher convinced her that the old plan was no longer operable. "I had to stop looking at what I hoped would happen and start dealing with what I actually had,” she said.
One of the first things Fletcher did was tell her something she knew at one level, but did not want to hear: her prices were too low. Using a monthly pass, some clients were paying as little as $2 per class. Painstakingly, Fletcher and Lodato went through the numbers together to figure out more precisely where her break-even point was and what she needed to sustain the business.
It wasn’t easy, but bolstered by the data Fletcher helped her compile, Lodato was able break to the news to her clients—if she didn’t raise rates significantly, she would have to close the studio. Some chose to leave, Lodato said, but most accepted the increase.
That gave her some breathing room, and her work with Fletcher has branched into myriad areas, including marketing, social media, accounting practices and staffing.
"He pulled us off the ledge,” said Alicia McKee, a Snowcreek employee who works with Fletcher on various issues. "He’s just wonderful.”
"In a small town like this, it almost doesn’t work,” she said, but with Fletcher’s help, it is working.
For her part, Lodato says simply, "If it weren’t for Jim, we wouldn’t be here.” She calls the SBDC program to help small business owners "genius.” "It really does help small business owners in Washington,” she said.
Lodato knows that keeping the studio open will be an on-going challenge, but with Fletcher’s help she’s ready for that challenge.
"I love it,” she said. "What else am I going to do? This is what I believe in.”
For more information about Snowcreek Yoga, go to www.snowcreek/health.com/yoga
For more information about the Washington SBDC, go to www.wsbdc.org
Marion Lodato, firstname.lastname@example.org, 509-548-YOGA
Jim Fletcher, jim.fletcher@WSBDC.org, 509-888-7252