Flexible Spines, People, and Ledgers

The explosion of interest in yoga naturally draws investors with financial expectations. What’s interesting is how CorePower Yoga keeps the discipline the priority—money is simply the tool to reach more practitioners

Yoga and money generally don’t fit in the same room together. Nor are concepts of corporate culture, branding, and private equity-funded business growth typically associated with mind-body-spiritual practices that originated as far back as 3,500 years ago.

But all that and a well-worn yoga mat are part of almost every day for Chad Kilpatrick, president and chief financial officer of CorePower Yoga, a company that has reinvented its industry since 2002. Kilpatrick joined the company in 2011 when it was already about fifty units strong. One round of funding and four years later, the 119 corporate-owned locations will grow by an additional 25–30 studios in 2015.

Take a step back to look at the fitness industry in general, yoga in specific—and the nature of the yoga consumer—and it makes a lot of sense. The Sports and Fitness Industry Association reported a 37 percent increase over six years in the number of yoga practitioners, to more than 24.3 million people as of 2013. Then, consider how an estimated 7,000–9,000 yoga studios in the United States are due for consolidation, according to an industry roundup in the Wall Street Journal from July 2014, and it’s easy to see how this is attractive to investors.

Kilpatrick’s job is to keep the company on track and profitable. But the word that comes up most frequently when discussing the business and Kilpatrick’s role is culture. What is it, why is it important, and how is it maintained? “Our culture is the thing I’m most proud of,” Kilpatrick says. “I challenge you to find one as special as ours. It spans across all employees, our student teachers, and our members. Working here is an opportunity to change lives. We believe it, and we do it.”

“We hear ‘you saved my life,’ or ‘I was struggling with addiction,’ or ‘I was going through a divorce. What we do sounds altruistic but we really accomplish it.”

Kilpatrick ticks off a list of things that bring people to try yoga at one of their studios. “We hear ‘you saved my life,’ or ‘I was struggling with addiction,’ or ‘I was going through a divorce,’” says Kilpatrick. “What we do sounds altruistic, but we really accomplish it.”

The culture is found in the members, in the on-site staff—including part-time and full-time instructors—and at the company headquarters in Denver. And many employees at the studios are, as Kilpatrick describes them, “corporate refugees,” career-changers who find that working as yoga instructors is appealing and fulfilling.

Not that one can easily slip into being a CorePower Yoga instructor. The company requires all instructors to complete a teacher-training program, either with CorePower Yoga or through an outside instruction program. However, the company also provides its own comprehensive, 200-hour course of study and practice. Kilpatrick describes it as a way to inspire instructors, a “transformational process” that also helps maintain consistency.

This is a very important part of the brand. A membership with CorePower Yoga is transferrable to all locations. Given the socioeconomic characteristics of the yoga student, this is important. Among yoga practitioners everywhere, 63.6 percent earn more than $50,000 per year, and 31.5 percent make more than $100,000, according to the Sports and Fitness Industry Association. Ensuring consistency is as important in this industry as the predictability of salsa verde at a Chipotle Mexican Grill or the simple setup of an Apple computer.

Kilpatrick accepts the responsibility for maintaining that brand—and he admits it is not necessarily an easy part of the job. “What keeps me up at night is how to grow at this pace and still maintain the level of quality we have,” he says. One cannot ignore it is a people-based business, high-touch, and subject to human variation. The psychographics of the business, as Kilpatrick describes it, helps: “Everyone here is looking to live a healthy lifestyle and experience the physical and mental benefits of our classes.” That goes for corporate as well as studio unit staff.

Service delivery is important, but so too is revenue. But Kilpatrick feels they have that covered as well in several ways as well. “We are highly focused on same-store growth,” he says, referring to the existing studios. “Our comps are best in class.” All employees are also made aware of the fact this is a business. “Financial alignment with employees is critical,” Kilpatrick adds. “Everyone here is driven to succeed.”

Kilpatrick was a finance guy before he became enlightened by the Hindu discipline (which, to be accurate, CorePower Yoga’s methods refashion aspects of yoga in ways that harmonize with modern, Western needs). He worked in the health and wellness practice at Ernst & Young, then joined Gaiam, which supplies the yoga industry and practitioners with mats, props, clothing, and other accessories. After nine years there, he met Trevor Tice, who founded CorePower Yoga in 2002. “In five minutes, the energy and passion I saw in Trevor was powerful,” Kilpatrick says.

One question must be asked: Is there ever a bad day in this company? “We are building twenty studios per year,” he responds. “You can’t fake this.” Kilpatrick says the truth is found in values, keeping to the path they are on, and being authentic. “We all want to bring what we do to more people.” With that kind of belief it seems that yoga can be a way to make money. So long as the yoga—and a consistent delivery thereof—comes first.