With six studios across Singapore, Yoga Movement averages 25,000 visits a month. The brand’s accessible approach to yoga continues to attract new faces both in-studio and via its popular blog. Behind the scenes, its teacher training academy is working towards shifting the credibility of the yoga industry, and future proofing its position in the market.
Since launching the brand in 2012, together with business partner Alicia Pan, Peter Thew has grown Yoga Movement from a bootstrapped startup, funded by their respective life savings, into one of Singapore’s most prevalent fitness offerings.
Starting from the ground up, the husband-wife duo spotted an opportunity in Singapore’s emerging wellness market and set themselves a task to build a lifestyle brand that existed beyond a core yoga offering. Anchored around a clear brand concept and a service culture that positions the client at front of mind, Yoga Movement has won over a loyal following through passion, planning and a strong understanding of the market.
With two new studios, plans for international expansion and a ‘game-changing’ new concept all in the pipeline, here Thew reveals to Welltodo how they’ve grown the largest independent chain of yoga studios in Singapore and why the brand never takes itself too seriously……….
On navigating a husband and wife partnership………
Working with each other hasn’t always been easy, but we have been lucky to have each other as partners, knowing that a lot of other small business startups are usually a one-person-show, going at it alone.
Entrepreneurship and ownership can be a very lonely and difficult place, so it’s always been helpful to have each other to bounce off.
More specifically, as a couple, we have found that each other’s weaknesses are offset by the other’s strengths and vice versa. This was definitely not a deliberate play, but just how the chips have fallen for us to date.
On staying to true to the core business objectives……..
The original mission was to deliver on brand. We had a “litmus test” word that we would always come back to: “accessibility”. From our website feeling approachable and easy to navigate to the images used on it and in the studios (i.e. not a twisted-up pretzel pose) to our spaces not feeling like studios, rather something you would walk in to every day (like a café), we always asked ourselves, “is this accessible?”. We have done all we can this past five years to stay true to that mantra and have jokingly called ourselves “professional no-sayers” because of this.
On using previous business experience to mould the brand………
My previous experience working as Asia Brand Manager for Australian surf brand Billabong played a huge part in branding Yoga Movement, for two key reasons: I presided over the Billabong brand at a time when there were a lot of decisions being made for short-term profit, due to the fact that the industry was taking a hit and we were a publicly listed company. We needed to make cash and some calls were made that would largely affect how we could maintain a premium position while moving product. I learnt a lot about what-not-to-do and the key take away was that a focus on brand delivery is a long-term vision for the success of a business, whilst a focus on sales is a very short-term vision for the success of a business… and largely not sustainable.
The second learning was, like surfing, yoga is a passionate lifestyle pursuit. When you surf for the first time, it is super frustrating… it’s nice being out in the water, but you really want to stand up and go across a wave. That one time you do, when you get it for the first time, you can be sure that the next day you’ll go out and buy your own board, you’ll get that expensive pair of boardshorts, you’ll have surf trips scheduled on your time off… it literally becomes your life’s focus. Yoga is no different… you see people frustrated with it, not sure about it, but then they break into their first full pose, or maybe a handstand, then they’re hooked! Their Instagram feed becomes yoga-in-front-of-everything, you buy lululemon pants, you get a mat, and you start planning your leave around yoga destinations.
These parallels helped us realise that there is no tricking people around the delivery of a business centred around their passionate lifestyle pursuit. You cannot fake it with them. They read the magazines, they hang out with other yogis, so you’ll be exposed if you don’t show up with intent.
On taking risks and pushing through the challenges……..
We started the whole thing by looking at what was being offered by other businesses and setting an intention for our own brand. We wanted to stand for something.
We had a small team, mostly built from Alicia’s network of both teachers and service professionals, and we set out to find a location. At that point, it was our combined life savings, which wasn’t a lot. There were no investors, no family money and definitely no safety nets –– we were all in. It is our belief that this steadied our resolve to make this thing work because it had to work.
At the same time, we did apply for an ACE Startup grant via SPRING Singapore, a department of the Government built to support small and emerging Singapore based companies. It was a pain at the time, but looking back, going through the process of submitting business plans and brand intent really helped us focus up in those initial stages. Beyond this, we were the first Fitness Lifestyle brand to secure a grant, which was a super supportive $25,000 in the bank account to help out in those first few critical months.
On successes and failures within the local market……….
It seems that the desire to really correct that work/lifestyle imbalance has been on the up and up in Singapore in the past few years. This has led to an influx of new concepts and established brands from abroad looking to franchise or partner into the region.
There is a broader realisation that there is money to be made in this industry. This has attracted all types of people and operators into the space, but my position on the current industry, both yoga and wellness, are the ones that are putting the client first and have a solid intent around their brand, will be able to be successful for a long time.
What is unfortunate, but unavoidable, is that we’ve seen a lot of cases of extensive replication of successful concepts and a more disingenuous approach to service delivery. Ultimately, these things find their level and we’ve learnt to simply focus on what we can influence and our people.
On standing out from the crowd……..
We actually really want to be good at this and our drive to deliver only the very best in brand and service has seen us come up with a lot of industry “firsts”.
It is admittedly really frustrating to have those things replicated almost immediately, but it keeps us on our toes and keeps us grinding. This stamina, coupled with a clear brand direction is what helps us stand out.
On the benefits of self-funding……..
We have been fortunate enough to never have had to take investment. Keeping ownership tight helps greatly with business direction and quick decision making. It has also helped us with brand, in that we don’t have to build out a big plan or proposal at each juncture relative to significant spends. If we feel it’s right, we go for it two feet in.
We have found that when you have a small business, you’ll get a lot of advice from people that have never had one, so we have always prided ourselves on collecting as much information as possible and making an informed decision.
On the importance of building the right team for growth………
We are big people persons, but once you grow to 100 or 150 staff, you simply don’t have time in the day to get to everyone.
At the end of the day, people want to work at a place that they can earn, but they want to feel valued, and they want to feel like they’re part of something that has clear intent. It is extremely hard to clarify your path when you’re growing, let alone convey it personally to that many people, and also make sure you’re checking in on them regularly along the way.
Locations, SOPs, brand, and service are actually all quite scalable, but you need to be cautious and genuine with a team when it comes to growth.
On making the yoga industry more credible………
We’re having a real run at Yoga Teacher Training with our Yoga Movement Academy. We see no less than four or five teacher applicants each week that have their certifications, but some of the horror stories about how they got there are really pretty unbelievable. From the lead teacher not showing up to photocopied texts to the mentality of “if you pay, you pass”, we think the industry has a lot to answer for in this area, so we’re trying to counter that with an amazing offering under the Yoga Movement brand.
On future growth and game-changing concepts………
We’re looking at up to two more locations in Singapore and have desires to dip our toes into some new markets at the repeated requests of our international clientele.
We also have a really cool online experience and business management system that we’ll be rolling out towards the end of 2018, which I’ll be as bold as to say that it will be a “game changer” for the industry.
Beyond that, we’re looking to introduce some really cool new class types and continue to work with epic partners in the lifestyle and F&B space.
On not taking things too seriously………
We would like to play a small part in removing the sentiment that you need to look a certain way, speak a certain way and eat a certain way to be able to participate in wellness. We believe that people already have enough on their plate, without having to feel guilty about their level of participation in wellness. We are firm believers in removing fear-driven and judgment-based positioning and terminology from this industry.
At the end of the day, we want to keep it “cool” and “accessible”. Let’s try not to take ourselves too seriously…….