“Maria, I am scared out of my mind that people won’t want to work for me because the good yogis are going to think I’m not authentic since I’m coming from a corporate background.”
This statement was uttered by Isodoro Aguinaga to Maria Turco, the CEO and Chief Yogini of Honor Yoga. Turco’s answer? To travel from her home in New Jersey to Cleveland — where Izzy plans to open an Honor Yoga studio — to ensure the right employees were chosen.
“I said, ‘Izzy, I will come out to Cleveland, we will interview together,’” said Turco. “I am a 500-hour E-RYT, and I will be your yoga expertise. When someone says yin yoga or mentions a chakra, I can answer those yoga questions and help you.”
This level of attention is matched across each Honor Yoga location. As one of the first yoga franchises in the industry, the Honor Yoga team has developed a system and process to support owners by providing tools, resources and guidance for them to optimize their mission and profit objectives.
Prior to founding Honor Yoga, Turco owned several fitness franchises and worked as a consultant and turn-around specialist for fitness studios and health clubs. Though she had enjoyed yoga at the gym, it was in completing her 200-hour teacher training in 2011 that launched her into the yoga business.
“Teacher training truly transformed me — like most who go through training it led me to make a change, to put forward something new,” said Turco. “It was more than an intellectual decision. I felt compelled it was my purpose to take my business experience in the fitness industry and apply it toward building a model to support yogis to grow and succeed.”
Thus, Honor Yoga was founded in 2013. The franchise now boasts 10 locations across New Jersey while on the cusp of significant growth in the coming year. With plans for new locations in Ohio, Florida, North Carolina and more, the company has laid the groundwork by supporting existing studios and yogis and transitioning them to the Honor Yoga brand.
“For existing studio owners looking to become part of the Honor Yoga family there is the initial fear of losing your current studio identity,” said Turco. “We are more than just sensitive to this; it’s what sets us apart and makes us unique. We want to give studios more of a sense of personal power — not less.”
After all, a studio owner has put time and effort into curating a living and breathing company, so joining
another organization may seem like all those hours were a waste. However, for studios that join Honor Yoga, the exact opposite happens. The team makes sure an owner doesn’t lose who they are to become a part of the brand.
“We put the system, process and firepower behind your individual brand and your teachers,” said Turco. “We allow the individual studios and teachers to express their authenticity, while still being part of a bigger family and all the resources we can offer by sharing them across multiple studios. I want yogis who’ve worked very, very hard to acquire their credentials, who’ve grown as teachers and who are trying to build a studio to know that we are here to support their passion with the things they might not have experience with — member services, social media expertise, website development and the list goes on. We have so much to share so that an owner can continue to do what they do best, but reach more people.”
On the other hand, Turco explained Honor Yoga isn’t solely for expanding existing studios. The other half of their market is people who are looking to own a business and want to do something great for the environment and community.
“We have this dual thing going on: You have the existing yoga studios saying, ‘I need help, I can’t do everything myself.’ And you also have the person who wants to do something purposeful and profitable and is seeking a way to make that happen,” explained Turco. “It’s this cool dichotomy of bringing the yoga world and the corporate world together, which I love. It doesn’t make yoga so mystic. We are joining the worlds of the mystic and the corporate together.”
With multiple franchises in varying locations, Turco is dedicated to connectivity and communication. Owners come together weekly for Honorable Mentions, an interactive conference call. Discussions vary based on what is happening across the company, unique ways studios are getting engagement or traffic, and what other questions or concerns franchisees may have.
Once a quarter the owners come together for what they have deemed the Fill Your Cup event. “The Fill Your Cup event is a way we can do something for owners, education-wise to fill their figurative cup of knowledge,” said Turco. “We also host a networking event for them to interact with each other. They are constantly talking to each other and we highly encourage that. Why do this if we can’t all be a family and share information?”
On top of this collaboration with other owners, Honor Yoga paves a pathway to success for its franchisees by requiring each owner to spend a certain amount in marketing, post to Facebook and Instagram on a regular schedule, call low-usage members and stay in contact with their Listen360 software representative. While these processes are expected, owners are also given freedom in their creativity expressing their brand.
“We don’t say, ‘Hey, this is the ad you need to use, or this is the picture you need to use,’” said Turco. “Instead we say, ‘Hey, we want you to have at least four photo shoots a year in your studio, we want you to express your own community, teachers and managers in those photos.’”
This balance of freedom within guidelines extends to instructors as well. While Honor Yoga boasts impeccable standards for quality of instruction and teacher preparedness, instructors are also given freedom to be creative and bring their talents into their teaching. For instance, at one Honor Yoga location an instructor plays a guitar during class. At another, an instructor who doubles as a certified life coach created a workshop centered around their skillset.
If community and connection is the theme throughout, the Honor Yoga Foundation is where it has come to life in its purest expression. The Honor Yoga Foundation is a non-profit created to foster peace and healing in communities by providing yoga-related wellness programs to under-served and at-risk populations. All Honor Yoga studios support the foundation through their community donation classes each month.
“Nearly all of the donation classes that happen at the studios go to the Honor Yoga Foundation,” said Turco. “Every studio is part of this bigger picture. Every studio participates.”
Kathi Szabo, the president of the Honor Yoga Foundation, is co-owner of Honor Yoga Hamilton. Having vast non-profit and board experience, Szabo instantly clicked with Turco’s vision for the birth of the foundation. A year and a half after opening Honor Yoga Hamilton, the foundation was formed and Szabo was named president.
“Yoga brings so much to people, but right now the business growth is in high-income households,” said Szabo. “There are so many outside that demographic who could benefit from the practice of yoga.”
The Honor Yoga Foundation collaborates with local organizations to deliver programming and instruction. One example is Project Teach, a school program for pregnant and current teenage moms who are finishing up their high school education.
“My studio was contacted personally because the organization had one student they thought would really benefit from yoga,” said Szabo. “I called her back and I said, ‘Well wouldn’t all the girls benefit?’ And I told her about the foundation. The girls came to the studio for the entire fall semester after that.”
In addition, the foundation offers a scholarship program to support teachers interested in bringing yoga into the community. In 2017, the foundation raised over $14,000, and this year they have set a goal of $40,000.
“As Honor Yoga grows and Maria grows the brand, my vision is for the foundation to grow as well, in order to help studio owners help the communities outside of their paying clientele,” said Szabo.
Turco echoed Szabo’s statement for future plans. Growth is on the horizon for Honor Yoga, with plans to add 25 to 50 studios a year. With studios opening nationwide, Turco has hopes to be the most well-known, respected brand in the industry.
“Persistency and hard work are the keys to success,” said Turco. “If you know everything there is to know in how to achieve your goal, persistency will give you the gas to get it done. If you don’t know how to get to your goal, persistency will lead you to answers you need to find in order to reach your goal. Therefore, persistency is a necessary factor to success. One of my favorite sayings is, ‘The opposite of success is not failure, it’s complacency.’ We honor our failures, keep going and learn.”