Running a yoga business requires flexibility

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 01 August, 2009, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 01 August, 2009, 12:00am

Terry Woo's profession is easy to guess. The well-built vice-president of yoga club mYoga and California Fitness in Hong Kong walks with an athlete's easy gait and radiates energy.

Despite his hectic business schedule, the 'fitness fanatic' finds time for six to seven hours of cardio and weight training at the gym and up to two sessions of yoga practice every week.

This fitness regime enhances his physical well-being and is part of his work. 'I mainly participate in group yoga classes to get to know mYoga's members and observe the teaching of the trainers [to find room for further improvement],' Mr Woo said.

He is in charge of the operations and business development of two mYoga clubs and the four premises of California Fitness.

His normal working day is divided between visits to various clubs and work at the office. Apart from overseeing frontline employees at the clubs and identifying the changing requirements of members, he also chairs meetings at the office with staff and takes care of administrative matters.

Mr Woo developed a passion for fitness while studying history at the University of Hong Kong.

'Not being particularly sporty at secondary school, I was quite skinny,' he said. 'I started weight training when I was an undergraduate and fell in love with it.'

Determined to turn his favourite pastime into a job, he took a qualifying test to become a certified fitness trainer and began work as a part-time trainer at California Fitness in the final year of his university studies. He was recruited as a full-time personal trainer by the club in 1999.

He had only modest career goals when he graduated from university and was inspired by a client who was a successful business executive to move forward.

'He said we should have passion and be committed to our work and should just throw ourselves into it when we are young and energetic,' Mr Woo said.

Encouraged, Mr Woo drove himself hard to advance his career. From personal trainer, he was soon promoted to fitness manager supervising a team of trainers and then to one of the district fitness managers in Hong Kong. California Fitness supported him by providing management training.

Mr Woo's former supervisor appointed him country fitness manager for Taiwan in 2004. He went on to become the regional fitness manager in charge of the club's operations in Taiwan and Singapore the following year.

A turning point came with an invitation to help establish mYoga. Mr Woo's role changed from manager of an established business to an entrepreneur leading and driving the development of a new yoga studio concept. 'I learnt to become a 'total operator',' he said.

Involved in all aspects of mYoga, from the initial conceptualisation, interior design, pricing, sales and marketing, to operations, Mr Woo said the experience helped fully develop him into an all-round businessman. 'I learnt about new things. For example, in operations, I learnt about ways to set up a comfortable, relaxing environment for members to destress. I acquired in-depth understanding of how to align above- and below-the-line marketing strategies to get the best results. As a manager of California Fitness, I was responsible for generating revenues, at mYoga I also looked after cost control.'

Under his leadership, the first mYoga Club was opened in Mong Kok in June 2006 and the opening of the Causeway Bay branch soon followed.

Another major challenge was to establish mYoga in Kuala Lumpur in 2007. He approached it by enhancing his cultural understanding of the locals through reading local newspapers.

It helped consolidate his grasp of the local market for yoga and identify cultural differences between Hong Kong and Malaysia. 'This understanding is crucial for effective staff management,' Mr Woo said. 'I also want to help local staff realise their full potential.'

Mr Woo was appointed a vice-president of California Fitness last year.

'Although the two clubs are closely related, I run them as two separate businesses. But I have adapted some effective strategies employed at mYoga to California Fitness,' he said.

Effective listening is important in the customer-oriented yoga and fitness club business. 'I am willing to take constructive advice from others, internalise it and make actual changes,' he said.

'I am also willing to get out of my comfort zone to accept challenges and then persevere to follow them through.'

In his spare time he enjoys reading and recently read the self-help book The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People by Steven Covey. 'I have learnt how to get the best results through the decisions I make,' he said.

The Hong Kong market for yoga studios has expanded and there are more men practising yoga compared with several years ago. Mr Woo said yoga centres had diversified their teaching and this would be a dominant trend.

Hot yoga helps facilitate the detoxification process and more dance movements have been incorporated into yoga practice.

'I derive immense satisfaction from my work because I enjoy helping promote the physical well-being of others,' he said.

'My goal is to further expand the operations of mYoga and California Fitness.

'My fitness regime helps me stay energetic to cope with the pressure at work,' Mr Woo said.

Fitting in

Terry Woo developed a passion for fitness while studying at Hong Kong University and became a personal trainer after graduation

Inspired by a client, he was able to fast track his career at California Fitness in Hong Kong

By adapting effective strategies for the Hong Kong operations, he helped develop markets in Taiwan and Singapore

Leaving his comfort zone, he took up the challenge to establish mYoga from scratch

He attributes his success to a willingness to take constructive advice and to persevere in the pursuit of his goals

Stepping Up

Fitness manager

HK$50,000 to HK$70,000

Four to five years

Assistant fitness manager

HK$40,000 to HK$60,000

Four to five years

Senior trainer

HK$30,000 to HK$50,000

Two years

Personal trainer

HK$12,000 to HK$40,000

One year

Fitness professional

HK$8,000 to HK$12,000

Entry-level position