How various studios build a culture of retention within their fours walls.
The path to retention often starts with a conversation.
“Our desk staff and teachers are encouraged to make a personal connection with the students — get to know their name and a few things about them,” said Wendy Swanson, the owner and studio director at Be Yoga and Wellness in Charlotte, North Carolina. “We find out what they are looking for from their yoga practice so that we can suggest the classes most appropriate to them.”
Janna Hockenjos, the owner of Inhale Pittsburgh, and her teachers strike up conversations with new students after their first class. She said it gives the student the space to ask questions or decide to chat. Plus, she wants the yoga experience to speak for itself.
However, conversations like the above can help not only determine what class a student should attend, but also how a teacher can respond to the student in class. Jane Caulfield, an Iyengar yoga teacher at Studio Yoga Madison in Madison, New Jersey, said they discuss health in order to figure out what poses would be best for the student.
But this takes time and energy to learn. One of the reasons Caulfield said students stay is because of the quality of teachers, as well as how they care. “We maintain a regular personal practice, and continue training with senior teachers so that we can offer our students classes that are knowledge based, safe, and that improve the overall functioning of the body and the mind,” she said.
That is one part of the experience Hockenjos also noted. Teachers at Inhale Pittsburgh are given guidelines to follow when it comes to things like how to greet students, when to open the door and the approach for physical assist. She said it’s important for her teachers to always be in a space of learning from each other. “It’s an open line of communication, so if there’s any criticisms, they are constructive and they are in a place of everybody doing well and everyone getting the benefits out of this,” said Hockenjos.
At Be Yoga and Wellness, teachers are encouraged to email students after class. Swanson explained students want to be seen and valued. By making personal connections like sending a note if a student falls ill, it shows the community cares.
Plus, the studio has a designated person who connects with members to find out how they can serve them better, “by asking, pausing and listening,” said Swanson. “We also have a suggestion box and the option to fill out our feedback form in their welcome email. It really doesn’t matter what we think; it matters what the student thinks, needs and wants. Success comes with remembering that we are here to serve them, not the other way around.”
The space itself can also be a factor in retaining students for years. Swanson said their studio is a “haven” for students to come to in the middle of their busy lives. With such an emphasis, details like decorations or lighting truly matter. “It all comes down to the aesthetics,” said Hockenjos.
Both Caulfield and Hockenjos also noted by offering a variety of classes, students are likely to hang around longer. For example, Studio Yoga Madison has 97 classes a week, from meditation to dance to Pilates. Hockenjos mentioned teachers can play a role in keeping things interesting as well. “There’s a tipping point where it becomes uninteresting, and I think that’s when people seek things elsewhere, so for us it’s important as teachers to bring all of our unique qualities and ongoing experiences into teaching to share with students,” she said.
In terms of practical ways to work on retention, Swanson offered up some ideas used at Be Yoga and Wellness. She noted how they have yoga socials several times per year, as well as a book club. A welcome email and newsletter are also sent out to let students know more about the studio and yoga.
In the end, it all comes down to listening to the students’ needs and then meeting those. If you do that, if you care, your students will be around for a long time. “Our focus is the student. Each of our teachers, assistants and staff members are friendly, knowledgeable, approachable, compassionate and attentive,” said Swanson. “We offer a short meditation, breathing exercise or contemplation at the beginning and end of each class. This helps set us apart as a place where you get more than a work out. We care about our students’ minds and hearts.”