On the second half of 18 Jan 2012, the #eWinterim, met with Kimberly Fowler, of YAS. She told a very motivational story of changing her career, mid-career, after being a CEO of a large corporation (and previously working as an attorney). After sustaining a substantial climbing injury, she could no longer continue as CEO during her recovery period, and therefore found herself unemployed when she had healed. While her friends advised her to simply go back to basic practicing law, as she was doing prior to being a CEO, she decided to focus on what she loved–Yoga and Spinning. At the time (1999), the Yoga craze had already begun, and there were also separate spin studios that were quite popular. But nobody thought to take the two and make a combined product–a studio consisting of Yoga and Spinning. Without the support of her family and friends (they thought she was crazy), she put her entire savings on the line to invent and create this hybrid industry. That’s lesson number one–if you think something has potential, no matter what anyone else says, take the risk and go for it (with proper research and execution strategy, of course).
In almost every entrepreneur’s story, there is also an insane element of luck and timing, as we have seen as in some of our other recent visits. Kimberly, for example, was fortunate (and perhaps prescient) enough to choose a location for her first studio in an area that was just about to explode. She took a significant risk, in that she located in an area in Venice, CA (Abbott Kinney) that was, at the time, a hub of gang activity. Within several years after purchasing, the neighborhood gentrified and is now one of the hippest and poshest streets in LA (arguably, her business helped turn the neighborhood). Moreover, she was made the right decision (and could afford) to buy, rather than rent, the space, but much of this was based on the affordable price it was being offered at–the seller (one of the band members in Jane’s Addiction) was going through financial trouble and needed a cash infusion. Kimberly was fortunate enough to be on the other end of this deal, buying from someone desperate to sell. Needless to say, buying the property outright helped her save on rent (which is, of course, one of the top expenses of retail establishments) over the years. That said, while luck and timing certainly played a part, her business acumen and experience helped her recognize these opportunities and capitalize on them. In short, luck and timing are necessary, but not sufficient to succeed. Also required in this equation is the business sense to maximize such arbitrage opportunities of luck and timing—this is lesson two.
Finally, the last element on Kimberly’s success I want to discuss here is her ability to understand her target customer. This was easy for her, as she explains, because she is her target market. So, she simply built her business around solving her problem (a problem she was an expert in), and it turned out that many other people just like her, were looking for a similar solution. Knowing her customer, therefore, was natural to Kimberly. An organic marketing and advertising strategy of course followed, targeting women, business professionals, affluent 30 somethings, needing a refuge to escape from busy life, job, kids, etc., and who wanted an athletic “no Om” approach to fitness (also leading Kimberly to design her own style of yoga, which she terms “yoga for athletes”). She, in fact, made a conscious decision to incorporate customer intimacy as one of her primary value propositions. Knowing her customers well, striving to serve their needs personally, making the studio a sense of community for like-minded people to interact, were paramount goals. Lesson three and four are therefore in one: know thy customer, know thy customer. This intimate approach has served Kimberly well. She has deliberately not grown very fast because she wants to keep the core values and brand intact, without any dilution of principles. Kimberly has demonstrated this strategy, not only in which city pockets to locate her studios, but also in the buildings and neighborhoods themselves (the look and feel of the physical buildings must incorporate the urban edginess of her brand). Consistency and adherence to core principles in all aspects is the final lesson.
Look for my blog on Pink’s business strategy coming up soon..