Seven years ago, Bella Prana Yoga studio got a modest start in Tampa, Florida, catering to about five people per class. At the time of the studio’s founding, Bella Prana owner Roni Sloman had just eight months of experience practicing yoga.
Today, through the acquisition of nearby competitor Yogani, Bella Prana is now one of the largest yoga studios in Tampa.
Here, Sloman discusses her studio’s success, the triumphs and trials of acquisitions, and how to differentiate in a competitive market.
MSM: How did your studio get its start?
RS: I rented a space in the back of a building and with only eight months of experience doing yoga, I just went for it. I put the Bella Prana name out there and would show up — sometimes no one would come, sometimes one person, sometimes more. Eventually we outgrew the room and ended up outside. Within six months we’d begun to outgrow the patio outside and I knew I needed a more legitimate studio space. So that is when I opened [a new location nearby]. We could hold about 25 people and I thought it was so big. In seven years I have been in four spaces, constantly growing and all thanks to the generosity of our students.
MSM: What makes Bella Prana unique?
RS: In the beginning, something that I feel set us apart was my dedication to a neutral environment — meaning no incense or statues or anything that may confuse people as to the religious connotation of yoga. I very much wanted people to have a spiritual experience, but I felt a neutral environment would be the most welcoming. I also believe that our customer service and attention to detail set us apart. Yoga has historically been a “hippie” type activity, and so naturally that lended to a more laid-back attitude with business as well. I felt that we could foster a peaceful attitude, but still take seriously our role as a business. I think we kicked things up a notch and provided a safe space in ways that were visible but also subconscious.
MSM: How did the acquisition of Yogani come about?
RS: As we outgrew our space it became obvious the next evolution was necessary. But yoga requires a large amount of space and parking that is very challenging with our profit margin. I knew that Annie, who owned Yogani, had shifted her attention toward her non-profit working with veterans, and felt that there was no point in us competing when we both had a similar vision for how yoga can serve our community and a mutual respect for each other for years. I simply asked her if she’d be interested and after thought, we came to the conclusion together that this could be a great gift to our community. By combining our resources, I am able to grow and she is able to gain the freedom she needs to focus on the next steps in her journey as an instructor and speaker.
MSM: What were the challenges of the acquisition?
RS: There are many challenges in this type of thing, and the hardest are things I can’t really speak on too openly. But it is difficult dealing with lawyers and endless paperwork, accountants and contractors, and all while maintaining the business you’ve already built. There is no preparing you for it really, you are just pushing a boulder uphill and when you get to the top the view is special and not very many people ever see it.
MSM: How did you overcome those challenges?
RS: One problem at a time, and don’t give up. When something is difficult it is not necessarily a sign it is not meant to be. Often, the difficulty is a sign that it needs to happen. When something has the power to impact the world, there is always resistance. One breath at a time.
MSM: You’re now one of the largest yoga studios in Tampa. How does that feel?
RS: It feels fantastic. But not because of our size, that is a natural bonus. It feels wonderful because we can now serve people at the level I always knew was possible, but was still stuck in my cocoon in a way. Now we have the resources to be creative. I feel like this studio is a gift to the city and is a sacred space for our community.
MSM: How will you use the space to your advantage?
RS: I’m hoping that the warmth and love that went into the creation of the space is tangible and if it is, then students will come back. Having a space that feels like me and what I always dreamed for Bella Prana is almost an out-of-body experience. I hope it is used to our advantage of course, but it won’t be the size that does that. It will be the quality of intention we bring to the mat. I’ve always grown in small spaces; I believe deeply that we will succeed. So being the largest studio in Tampa and having the biggest schedule of options should only be a reflection of the quality. We will never use the new space to provide quantity over quality, or else we don’t deserve it.
MSM: What advice could you give to other studio owners on acquisitions?
RS: I would say not to let fear or a sense of scarcity make your decisions for you. Trust your gut, it’s what got you at the table in the first place. And make sustainable choices. There is risk of course, there should be if you are being brave. But it is also your job to take care of what you’ve built, so make thoughtful choices that are about the big picture. Do not get caught in the microcosm of the moment. This too shall pass, and you will succeed.
MSM: What do you wish you had known prior to the acquisition of Yogani?
RS: In a way there are a million things and in a way there are none. Because you just can’t know a lot of these things until you experience them. If you told me it wouldn’t have mattered much. I would say that you will be surprised by how little others understand about the big-picture choices you have to make, it is tough to be the boss and know all the details and be judged by others who have less information. But it is normal and a part of the dance.