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Behind the business: Ritual Hot Yoga redefines flexibility

Photo from Ritual Hot Yoga

Five years ago Lindsey Kaalberg, owner of Ritual Hot Yoga, started her business to help revolutionize the yoga industry. Her studios are all-inclusive with premium mats and mat towels, essential oil bath products, and shower towels. Every last touch is designed to create an elevated experience. 

Lindsey is also passionate about creating career opportunities for her teachers. By offering teachers full-time salaries and career paths, Lindsey’s goal was to provide stability and balance for her team. She now operates three locations—two in San Francisco and one in Chicago—and prior to the shutdown, there were 32 employees total. All of the teachers were full-time employees. 

We connected with Lindsey virtually to hear about how her team adapted to meet the new demands of their community during COVID-19 and what she’s planning to do when shelter-in-place orders begin to lift.

How were your staff and business impacted in those early days?

We were on a manager’s call when a San Francisco manager got the alert that shelter-in-place orders were going into effect that night. We had to act quickly but intelligently. The first thing I thought of was my staff. Because of our full-time employment model, I knew I wouldn’t be able to afford all of my teacher salaries. We went with seniority and kept four staff members. The rest we helped with unemployment options and told them we would help them get through this transition. We have every intention of having them come back, so I need to be thinking about the best way to preserve the business so they have a job to come back to.

I told my employees, if you can’t make rent, call me because I can give you money for your rent. I’ll figure it out. I feel very personally responsible for our teachers—especially financially. It’s the whole reason I started Ritual. So they could feel secure and grounded in that aspect, and this was the one time that I couldn’t do that the same way I could yesterday.

The early days had a lot of shock but no time to feel anything. I had no time to be emotional about this. It was go-time. This is either going to make or break our business, so I need to make decisions, make the best of it, and keep moving.

What have you done to continue generating revenue?

Well, let me start by saying that revenue is at 50%. Prior to shelter in place, I had never done a virtual class before. We had no idea how to do a virtual class! But we decided to put one on the schedule for the next morning, because then we’d have to figure it out.

It’s extremely important for us to stay connected to our students and members. A lot of our students come daily, maybe even multiple times a day. They lean on the business for mental and spiritual support. People need us now more than ever, so we needed to figure this virtual thing out.

The first class was filmed in my house. I quickly realized that I couldn’t do all of the classes there for the long term. For one thing, I have a toddler. We thought maybe we could teach from the studio for a while, but that wasn’t feasible either. Me and the other two instructors bought microphones, cameras, and tripods, and we’re doing the best we can to teach from our homes.

We’re offering seven virtual classes a day right now. Our members can come to unlimited classes. Drop-ins are $14 a class. We have class cards as well, so the price goes down if you buy multiple classes. 

It’s beautiful that some studios can offer free classes, but for us, that’s not a sustainable option. If we have students in need, we can certainly work with them, but something I’ve always said is—discount your product and you discount your teachers. We have to continue to charge to stay with our philosophy and be able to reopen some day.

What have been some bright spots?

Virtual classes have been going pretty well! Every day is an improvement. Within the first two weeks, we had already learned a lot and made changes to improve the experience for everyone. 

Our members have been incredible. They’ve been supporting us, and that’s so important. Support your small businesses if you can. If you go to a gym or a yoga studio, keep your membership alive if you’re able. Get a gift card. When we open back up again after shelter in place, come back! Reconnect in your community in any way that you can to support those small businesses.

Our landlord in Chicago was also extremely generous. He abated our rent for two months and that gave me so much hope.  

Closing advice you would share with other business owners?

This is just a moment in time. This is just a bridge until we can reopen our doors again.

Think about how you can get your business to a healthy position so you can bring your people back into a healthy business. Every day I think of how I have to preserve this business in a way that allows me to bring back my people and in a way that they feel secure again.

As a business owner, you go through a lot. We’ve been through a lot with all of our studios. Every year there’s something new—that’s running a business. Owning a business is a lot harder than it looks. Especially for small businesses that are owner-operated—it’s a lot of your life’s work that’s been poured into building your business, brand, and community. To watch it pause and start to dissolve in front of your eyes is heartbreaking, but you’ve been building this for years. You just have to keep fighting.

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