Walking in someone else’s shoes can have so many benefits. This week’s guest, owner and founder of Ritual Hot Yoga uses that method in almost every aspect of her business. Lindsey Kaalberg designed her business around the experience of the customer—from conception to execution to feedback—all with the end goal of ensuring the guest experience is outstanding.
When you hear the word yoga, you may have a specific vision in mind, but with Ritual, it’s likely not what you think. This week’s Yelp reviewer, Jane C., sums it up quite nicely: “At the hot yoga studio, you will sweat, stretch, and work out your mind, body, and soul to the beat of the music through intensive breath work. You will challenge every part of your body to a workout experience like no other.”
As a business owner, having a customer positively review your business as an experience “like no other” is pretty much as good as it gets—especially when you’re aiming to be unique. But as we’ve learned from so many entrepreneurs, it takes a lot of work to truly achieve that. To find success, Lindsay really put herself in her future customer’s shoes. Her goal was to make the whole interaction an experience, not just a yoga class. She thought of every detail from the customer’s perspective and created something that didn’t feel transactional. For Lindsay, when someone comes to Ritual Hot Yoga’s website, that is the moment their experience begins. From there, it’s how they feel when they walk in the door and how they will be greeted—not at just a front desk, but more like a home you’re being welcomed into.
Lindsay’s efforts have resulted in customers feeling both valued and invested in. She’s also aware that what she’s offering isn’t your “typical yoga experience,” and that can cause some mixed feedback. But it’s from that feedback—the good and bad—that she’s truly able to take her business to the next level. Rather than getting defensive at the not-so-positive reviews, she thinks critically and looks for ways to make her business better—even looking for positives in the reviews of those who may not have understood what they were getting themselves into.
Some of the key takeaways from this episode include:
Use the customer experience as a driving force for your business decisions. If you start with the customer and work backwards, you’ll be set up for success. It’s about building your business around the experience, rather than a product or business goal.
It’s not the number of stars in the review, It’s the content. Sometimes a critical review speaks directly to who you are as a business. For example, some yogis may not enjoy the heat or fast pace of Ritual Hot Yoga, but those things are what make it unique. A 1-star review complaining about the heat is the kind of critical review Lindsay loves. It may be one star, but it highlights what other people love about the experience.
Just because something doesn’t already exist doesn’t mean you can’t make it happen. When Lindsay first thought about getting into yoga, she had only seen teachers who could barely make ends meet. She wanted to change that. She created a model where she prioritizes her teachers’ pay to enable them to do what they love at a living wage, and that results in an even better customer experience.
Listen to the episode below to hear directly from Lindsay and Jane, and subscribe to Behind the Review for more from new business owners and reviewers every Thursday.
Behind the Review, episode 21 transcript Take a walk in your customer’s shoes
EMILY: I’m Emily Washcovick, Yelp’s Small Business Expert. Every week I pick one review on Yelp and talk to the entrepreneur … and the reviewer … about the story and business lessons behind it. In this week’s episode I’m interviewing Lindsey Kaalburg – owner of Ritual Hot Yoga. Who is also a mom! She recently had her second child and was feeding the baby during our interview, so you may hear that in the background. I continue to be amazed by the strength and power of women. Let’s see what’s behind this week’s review.
JANE: It was just down the street from my school. And I saw it and I was like, oh, that’s a yoga spot. I need to check it out. So that’s when I actually yelped Ritual Yoga and saw that they got really good reviews. The more I looked into Ritual Yoga, I realized it was a unique yoga experience. It was not like anything that I’ve heard of.
EMILY: That’s Jane. She’s telling me about Ritual Hot Yoga—a studio with locations in Chicago and San Francisco that presents a new, unique way to practice yoga. Today we’ll hear about Jane’s experience, as well as how it was curated and carefully executed by owner Lindsey and her staff. Let’s start with Jane’s Review.
JANE: Ritual Hot Yoga is a unique yoga experience. Don’t come here if you expect a relaxing stress-free yoga session, because you won’t get that here. In the hot yoga studio, you will sweat, stretch and work out your mind, body, and soul to the beat of the music. Through intensive breath work you will challenge every part of your body to a workout experience like no other. The staff is friendly and very accommodating. The studio provides everything you need from the mat, towels, water, blocks, bands, et cetera. There are showers available for you to use and a full vanity of supplies of everything you would need after a shower.
EMILY: As someone who has been to my fair share of yoga studios, Ritual sounds decadent. Before we dive into the details of this elevated experience, let’s hear what motivated Lindsey to start her business.
LINDSEY: I started practicing yoga when I was a freshman in college. And I was literally in that final savasana and I was like, Oh my God, I’ve never felt this amazing. And I’m going to have a yoga studio someday, this is it. So I got a degree in business management and then I started teaching the next year.
While I was at Core Power, the studio that I was working at, I was like, gosh, teachers can’t really make ends meet very well. This is very interesting. How am I supposed to survive? And I was like, well, can we pay our teachers more? Can we do this? Can we have time off? Can we have health insurance? And basically it was like no, that’s crazy. Absolutely not.
Then I was like, well, okay, my studio is going to have all of that and I’ll show you. And that was right around the time that Soul Cycle was coming into the fitness world. I remember taking the class and I hate spinning and I was on the bike and I was like, gosh I feel like everyone’s in this flow state and they’re getting people addicted because the class goes by fast. And I was like, well, I think they’re in flow state because they’re moving to the beat of the music.
Then I was like, okay, well for my yoga studio, I know that I want to have static postures in there, so we couldn’t move to the music the entire time. So it’s like, well, the only thing you do, the whole yoga class is breathe. And then I was like, wait a sec, you could totally just breathe to the beat of music. So that was, amongst other things that was an epiphany moment for me, where I was like, okay, You know what, screw it. I’m ready. We opened just in a little gym, paying per head for rent instead of having a consistent rent expense. And then we just grew from there. Now we’ve got three studios.
EMILY: Something I find really fascinating in Lindsey’s story is her why. Realizing yoga was her calling, but identifying an inability to make ends meet in the industry as an instructor was her call to action. She knew by providing an elevated and personalized experience, she could create a culture and a community that would support instructors who could support themselves. It’s all about the experience for Lindsey. But that’s not just the yoga class experience.
LINDSEY: I wanted it to be an experience, not just a yoga class. Like we always say, the class starts the moment you walk in the door. Now we’ve even gotten to, okay, the class starts the moment you pull up the website, you look at the app.
When you come in, and I remember being like, I don’t want a front desk, I don’t want it to be a transactional relationship. There are no transactions once you come into your yoga home. So instead of walking into a front desk, you walk into a fireplace and cozy club chairs and an inviting area for you to sit down and talk to the teacher or there’s a self check-in kiosk for those times when you just don’t want to talk to anybody and you just want to check in and go do your thing. So that’s how we start the experience.
And then in the yoga room is really where the magic happens. We have that dark candle lit vibe. We do candle lit because we want people to be able to go inward and focus on themselves. When the lights are on, people have a tendency to look around a little bit more. Look at other people, look at, oh gosh, she’s really good. Or, oh gosh, like she just fell. Is she okay? You know, those little things. And so we wanted it to be a community experience, but also provide the opportunity to go inward. So we’ve got this dark candle lit room and then I guess the beginning of it too was when I was designing the class, I wanted to create a sensual experience.
EMILY: Lindsey thinks of the customer experience as beginning when they come to the website. Hearing Lindsey describe the intentionality behind everything from their lobby to the number of teachers in the room really aligns with the attention to detail that Jane felt as a customer. And it goes beyond those things – into the details of the yoga class itself. Lindsey seems to have thought of everything.
LINDSEY: By that I really mean touching on all five senses, like nothing was going to get by us. So the room is perfectly lit. I think I’ve gone through 15 or 16 different candles to find the perfect lighting. And then for touch, we have an assistant in the room. And then we have the teacher also giving hands on assists. And the reviewer was saying the massage at the end with the cool eucalyptus towel. For scent we have a specific incense that we use each time. The teacher uses essential oils that are consistent every time. And we have another scent machine going on in the room because, I dunno if you’ve ever been to a yoga class when there’s, or any workout class and you smell some funky, it’s a little derailing. And then we’ve got the sound. So the music and the queuing is really important to us. We’ve got, you know, fun, I like hip hop music, but everyone can kind of pick their own, but whatever music they choose, it’s got a solid beat because they’re breathing to the beat the whole time. So usually people not only can hear the music, but we’ve got the bass up. It’s up a little bit louder so you can actually feel it in your body, which is really great. And then that water is available. I know that’s little, but sometimes when you’re in class and you’re like, um, I just want to have water. Like she was saying all inclusive.
So yeah, that yoga experience is just, it’s sensual. It’s an opportunity to turn inward and I’m just pretty obsessed with it.
EMILY: Something that really caught my attention was the two teachers in every class. Lindsey saw an expression on my face when she said it though, so she explained.
LINDSEY: So we have two teachers in every class and you don’t have to be a business major or a business owner to realize now you just doubled your cost for every class. For me though, it was just so important for the experience of the students. When you go into a yoga class and don’t know what’s going on half the time, you’re just thinking what the hell is going on. You can’t drop into your body, get the full benefits.
The majority of studios will tell you how to get in the pose and then say the pose name. So what we’ve done is we’ve flipped that airtime, if you will. So now we can teach people how to be in the pose, but because of that flip, if you don’t know what down dog is or what warrior two is, and you have a visual, you can boom! Get there right away without the teacher having to take airtime to get there. And the assisting teacher also helps with hands-on assistance. Which again, when you’re teaching a class, it’s so challenging to queue every student, because everybody’s body is so different. I’d be in class teaching and I’m like, well, I need to give this person this cue, and I need to tell this person this. But if you can just go and give people a little adjustment, boom. You can still keep the class going, but you can help that one person perfect their alignment.
EMILY: Having two instructors impacts overhead. But this approach makes the experience more inclusive for newcomers. The instructors at Ritual also take the extra step in meeting with new students one-on-one before class and that made a huge difference to Jane as a customer.
JANE: I love that Ritual makes you come in or little earlier to meet the instructor so that you know what to expect, because it is such a unique experience. And the instructor actually reaches out to you to remind you, you have a class coming up or like a reminder saying, ‘Oh, we have a meeting at this time.’
That made me feel like they really care about me. So I was like, okay, I’m invested. They know I’m coming, I better show up. I really love that. And once I got there, Sophie was so incredibly friendly and just understanding of where I was. I think she could tell I was nervous, I’m unfamiliar with this place. So giving me a tour and making me feel like I was at home and just coming in to take a class together. It just made me feel like I was going to a place where I wasn’t a stranger. So having that one-on-one time was incredibly valuable.
EMILY: I can’t stress enough the impact employees have on your business. We’ve heard time and time again on this show when a reviewer mentions a staff member by name and recalls how comfortable they made them feel. How much their personal connection enhanced the experience. Hiring is one of the most important levers to effectively impact your consumer experience. Let’s hear how Lindsey makes it happen.
LINDSEY: We’ve got a five-part hiring process that involves auditions and interviews with different people. Through that process, usually it’s hard to get past five interviews without us spotting red flags. So that has been really helpful.
And then after that, we do a lot of quality control. Teachers are typically, we call them labed. Where the manager or somebody else, or maybe a fellow teacher comes in, takes the class and gives them structured feedback. Usually once a week or once every other week. So there is this pride that our teachers develop in their lab scores and the feedback that they’re getting. And then I think it’s also a lot of the student feedback that drives them because of the business model that we’ve created for the student. We get students that really fall in love with the practice. And the first person that they’re going to tell is the teacher. And so I think there’s just this really nice relationship between the student and the teacher, like, ‘Oh, you really liked that. Okay, good.’ And then they’re getting feedback from their manager or a fellow teacher, like, ‘okay, they liked that.’ So it just really helps to have this free flow of communication around what we’ve done.
EMILY: Hiring the right people, and then backing that up with check ins, open communication and frequent evaluations is the way that Lindsey and her team measure and maintain high quality classes and a true experience. But what about when the pandemic hit?
LINDSEY: Yeah, it was so interesting because for us, pivoting to virtual, I kind of felt like we serve this Michelin star product. And now you’re asking me to take my Michelin star meal and wrap it up and send it out to go? Like, whoa! Where’s the server handing them the plate? Where is the special wine pairing? Where is the ambiance? Do I know that their candles are lit? It was so hard for me to be like, how are we going to translate this?
It’s the energy that we can build. So we transitioned to virtual. That was initially our number one focus was how can we make them feel like they’re still in the room? And it was fun. We’d have people like sending us their setups. We sent out some heaters. Like you guys need some more heat in your room? We’ll send you some of our extra space heaters. So we really wanted them to feel like, okay, I’m not alone in this. The teachers we encouraged like, get on before. Be on after class, connect with your students. So that way it’s not just pulling up the screen and saying, all right, let’s do this. So it has been interesting. I mean, here we are, a year later, still working on perfecting it.
EMILY: Lindsey can’t make sure all their students are in ideal yoga spaces, while they maintain virtual connection and classes. But she can maintain the relationships and feelings between students and teachers. That same connection that made Jane feel so proud and excited to share her experience with others.
JANE: This place in particular, after I took my first class, I was thinking in my head, people need to know there’s other incredible options out there like no other. I was just so surprised by how yoga can be. Cause when you think of yoga, you think that it’s going to be relaxing. You’re just stretching, it’s kind of a recovery workout, right? But I felt like this was a workout in itself where it was a whole experience. It took you on a roller coaster ride and I felt like a lot of people don’t know about it. I just wanted to share what I experienced in hopes that other people will try it out.
It’s so important that businesses connect with customers because customers are important. We are your success story. We are a part of that and we want to make sure that your business is successful. And I think it’s your job to make sure that everyone’s taken care of. Every customer that comes in should be part of your family. And I feel like when I go to a yoga studio or a restaurant or any kind of business, I want to feel like I’m welcomed there. I want to know that I’m valued.
So if I have a great experience, I try to go and make sure that I review that place as soon as possible, because I want other people to experience the same experience that I did and be overjoyed with the service and the experience I think is very important.
EMILY: And as we know, reviews benefit business owners as well as other consumers. Lindsey however, has a bit of an untraditional approach to critical reviews, and it’s important to share.
LINDSEY: And one thing that we’re different, you know, we’re not your typical yoga studio. So when we get quote unquote, a bad review, we look for what was bad about it. If someone says ‘God, it was too hot.’ I’m like, jackpot. They’re like, ‘gosh, it was too fast.’ I’m like, hell yeah, it was too fast. We don’t look at just the scores. We want to dive into the content and see when we need to make adjustments, because if we would make adjustments for some of the reviews that say things that we’re actually really proud of then we’d lose the rest of our student base.
So it’s really nice when you have detailed feedback. And I learned just as much from the good reviews as I do from the corrective reviews.
I also try to look at that type of feedback. Sometimes I’m like, okay, if they’re mad about something like, ‘nobody greeted me when I walked in.’ Instead of getting defensive, like, Oh, well we were really busy. It’s, yeah, you should be greeted when you walk in. All right, let’s go help the teachers make sure that they’re set up. That way they don’t miss any students. So I try to get on their side with them and make it as constructive as possible.
EMILY: Taking a look at your reviews in the context of your business is great advice. There are elements core to who you are that you won’t change! No matter what a customer’s opinion may be. Those things that make you, uniquely you. For Lindsey it’s the heat and the pace of their classes. But there are times when they make mistakes, and critical reviews can help in moments like that.
To close out, I wanted to allow Lindsey to share some of her why behind becoming an entrepreneur and choosing to grow a yoga empire.
LINDSEY: So I’ve got two kids now, one just turned two and then she’s four months old. And definitely when I was looking at my career path, well, for one, I always just wanted my own business. I feel like it’s in my blood. A lot of my family members have been entrepreneurs and I wanted freedom. I wanted the ability to, if I’m having a day where I need to be with my kids, I can be with my kids. And if I’m having a day where I want to work and I want to hold my baby while I’m feeding my baby. I can do that. You know?
And so the hard work that was put in really in the very beginning, I know we’re still kind of at the beginning, but the first few years, working seven days a week was no issue because I’m like, oh, this is nothing. I’m building something to give me freedom later on. So it’s definitely paid off.
It helps me, I think, also relate to students in a different way. Like a new challenge, a new thing I have to juggle in my life and still make it to the yoga mat and learn new things about myself through the yoga practice that helps me being a mom and owning a business.
EMILY: Entrepreneurship means something different for everyone. In a recent study where Yelp connected with women business owners, to learn about their reasons for choosing entrepreneurship, Lindsey’s response sums up a few of the top responses. A passion for something where it’s a good or a service offered, as well as making your own rules – and more importantly as a mom – setting your own hours. When Lindsey first started Ritual it was long days and nights, working 7 days a week. As she grew her business and brand, and expanded to multiple locations, the systems she put in place and the legwork she did to hire like minded team members has allowed her to step away from the day to day and be a mother first, while the yoga studios continue to serve their customers and clients.