Yoga studios have been among the hardest-hit businesses during the COVID-19 pandemic, and Dearborn's Yoga Shala is no exception. But owner Jamie Garrison says she's "very optimistic" about the future, thanks to a couple of pandemic-era pivots.
Garrison notes that she and most other yoga studios have only been able to host in-person classes for six weeks since the pandemic hit Michigan. She closed her studio to the public in March, when the first state shutdown orders arrived, and reopened briefly this fall when group fitness classes were again permitted. But they were swiftly shut down again as a second wave of COVID-19 crested in the state. Garrison says her profit margin is low even in good times, and she's had to drastically cut her staff from 18 instructors to six.
"It's been really tough for my industry," Garrison says. "I know that a lot of yoga studios have closed down, unfortunately, due to this. But it's been an opportunity for me, personally, to pivot."
The biggest, and most successful, change has been expanding her existing retail business. She'd always had a small boutique in the lobby of her studio, with yoga equipment for sale. But in June, she tried opening a pop-up shop at Rust Belt Market in Ferndale, featuring metaphysical supplies such as crystals, incense, and oracle cards. Sales were strong, so in July she established a permanent space at the Rust Belt and expanded her in-store offerings to include metaphysical supplies.
"That's what's been keeping us afloat," Garrison says. "It's been extremely busy."
In another pivot, Yoga Shala began offering live-streamed yoga classes via Zoom in March, as well as outdoor classes this summer at Ford Land's Wagner Place and Ford Field Park. Although Garrison says the virtual classes haven't brought in any new business, they are keeping her existing studio members happy.
Yoga Shala has also benefited from some pandemic emergency funding, including a Paycheck Protection Program loan and grants from Wayne County.
"There is support out there," Garrison says. "I don't feel that there is enough, especially now that we're mandated to close again, after being one of the industries with the longest closure this year."
Looking past the pandemic, though, Garrison anticipates that her pivots will continue to serve her well. She plans to keep her retail businesses going after the pandemic passes, and she anticipates that live-streamed classes are here to stay as well.
During the short time that Yoga Shala was able to offer in-person classes this fall, she still offered a live stream option for all classes, and she thinks her customers will continue to appreciate the convenience of practicing from home. She's also currently in the process of rebranding Yoga Shala as Inner Sage Metaphysical Boutique and Studio, to better encompass all facets of her business.
"This has shifted my vision in a way that I don't feel would have happened had everything continued along with the status quo," Garrison says. "It's been very revealing and has opened up new doors."
She says the situation is "only going to get better."
"I feel people are looking for more significance and meaning and ways to connect and meditate and go inward due to COVID-19," Garrison says. "So I think it's going to continue to flow in that direction, to more meaningful ways of life."