Different enterprises measure success in different ways. The metric that means the most in business is revenue growth. More dollars in than out, more customers served, increased engagement, business development, longer sustained spikes without the dips … well, you get the picture.
Unless you’re a yoga practitioner. Then your achievements are in moments of calm, deeper breaths, and an ineffable sense of something “different” going on. If you’re a yoga practitioner who also owns a yoga studio, your bottom line is rooted in an age-old tradition that is growing in popularity and practice, perhaps because the rest of the world is desk-bound, stressed out, and looking to add something more fulfilling to a fitness routine.
That’s the measurement that drives David Drost, owner of Evolation Yoga on Buffalo’s West Side.
Between 2012 and 2016, the number of Americans practicing yoga increased by 50 percent, according to The Good Body website. “There’s a history of yoga in Buffalo that’s very strong,” Drost said. “I learned that when I inserted myself into that community.”
Like many Americans, Drost was first introduced to the practice of yoga as part of a fitness program. He quickly saw yoga was more than that, and something completely different. He worked in the hospitality industry for many years, traveling, working extended hours, and always under stress. He needed to find ways to stay fit, both physically and mentally, so he sought a fitness routine that offered more than a promise of six-pack abs and a strong back.
“I found that yoga was a way to bring back commitment in my life along with a soundness of mind and body,” he said. He also found a new career pathway for himself as the owner of a yoga studio that’s steeped in the ancient tradition with a contemporary vibe.
His hospitality career brought him back to Buffalo in 2007, where he continued his yoga practice and began working at Evolation Yoga’s founding owners. He folded his practice into a business venture when he bought the business in 2012. His commitment to yoga and his awareness of how a regular practice changed him were key motivators. “If I did it for the bottom line, I’d be disappointed,” he said. “But it’s a sustainable life for a business. The fact that I get to do what I do for people blows my mind.”
Part holistic health and part fitness routine, yoga’s niche in the wellness narrative stands--or balances--alone.
“As a person who practices yoga, it’s hard to classify yoga as the fitness industry,” Drost said. “Fitness is the benefit of a yoga practice. Yoga is a practice of mind, body, and spirit.”
Unlike traditional physical fitness programs, yoga isn’t about doing more reps, adding more weights, or going the proverbial distance.
“One of the things that makes yoga unique is not expecting a certain outcome as the result of your actions,” Drost explained. “What comes, comes. Yoga asks you to do what you can, when you can.”
Creating a business from a yoga studio is another exercise in balance. The chief form of revenue is the regular schedule of classes, seven days a week, from 6 a.m. to 7:30 p.m. There’s no escaping the overhead expenses related to physical space, staffing (he has 20 instructors), and other administrative requirements. While the practice of yoga--with its gentle stretches, deep breathing, calm, centering relaxation--can benefit anyone from children to seniors, a regular practice in a quality studio, with attractive amenities like desirable location and free parking, may have a price tag that may not be in everyone’s budget.
“You can bring the costs down when you buy packages in bulk. Most people with a regular practice don’t want to live without it,” Drost said.
Evolation offers a broad range of classes, from vinyassa to bikram, with meditation sessions, some limited work-study programs, and a training program for individuals who wish to become yoga teachers. Training the next generation of instructors is part of the yoga tradition, too: Drost partners with the studio’s original owners to offer these trainings. Training evolves into mentoring that creates life-long bonds between yoga practitioners.
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Drost believes in the power behind yoga’s values, and that will serve the enterprise, he said. “We’ll continue to grow organically. Now that we’re in the Five Points district (we relocated to Rhode Island Street on Buffalo’s West Side two years ago), we are trying to organize into a neighborhood collective. The more you become part of the community is how you grow. Organic growth inserts itself.”
Part of Drost’s growth plan is to bring yoga to businesses, business parks, and community centers. This will invite diversity amongst yoga practitioners, and break down some of the barriers related to expense and affordability. This will also support his in-studio growth plan to continue adding more practitioners.
“Our retention rate is low,” he said, “but our practice is growing. For every 100 people who take a class, only four people stay on and continue their practice with us. We try not to backload our actions with expectations. I can’t count the people that we’ve brought into yoga to better themselves and improve their health. “