Boutique fitness classes are often expensive, ranging from $20 to $40 for a single class. Do that three times a week and you are looking at spending thousands of dollars a year on working out. This single fact is the reason Belinda Thurston, the owner of Just B Yoga in Lansing, Michigan, has made her studio completely donation based.
“The studio began out of a desire to make yoga accessible and affordable to a better cross-section of a community,” said Thurston. “I find a lot of studios within a business model price themselves out of making yoga something everybody can afford to do. I didn’t want to be part of making yoga something only for certain groups of people. If I give people the opportunity to pay what they can afford or what is in their heart, they are being an active participant in choosing the value based on their income and what is available to them.”
However, while the idea of being completely donation-based is enticing, it’s hard to make that business your sole revenue generator. Thurston said in the beginning of opening up shop, she was still working full time, using a lot of her own money to keep the business afloat.
“We do pay our teachers a flat rate for each class,” said Thurston. “The key to generating enough revenue to do this was diversifying the revenue stream so everything isn’t donation based. We have customized programs contacted out by various agencies. When you diversify your revenue, you aren’t as reliant on the day-to-day goal of the studio to pay the rent, insurance, marketing, and all the other things involved to have a full-time, brick-and-mortar studio.”
It would be easy to assume students at Just B Yoga are simply trying to get a free yoga class, paying a small amount and being able to practice for cheap. However, Thurston explained most people who attend classes at the studio bring with them a willingness to be a part of a contributing community. She explained that only around 15 percent of her students give $5 or less.
“Are there people taking advantage of our studio? Not really, no,” said Thurston. “What became apparent is that people who want to come to a donation-based class are not necessarily wanting to get one over on you; they want to give something and contribute. People who just hop from studio to studio for free classes are like people who go to the mall for the free sample of food. They aren’t valuing anything about it. That isn’t who comes to our studio, nor is it the kind of community I want to be creating.”
Thurston’s advice to studio owners considering adding a donation-based section to their business model is to make sure you appeal to the people who absolutely need that financial accessibility. Don’t expect to turn a posh, suburban studio into a donation-based program. Take the work to the communities that need it, and watch it flourish.
“Maybe make a satellite of what you do at your studio, but in a community center,” said Thurston. “You are still providing the same quality of teaching you provide in other areas, but you are bringing it to less-privileged areas. You have to look at who you are serving and what your intention is. If opening another location isn’t an option, try converting two to three classes a week to different charities and have all the proceeds for the classes go toward that.”