Close your eyes and take a deep breath. More than 20 years ago, that is exactly what Denise Davis-Gains did to launch her on her path to entrepreneurship that had more twists and turns than yoga positions. At first, the yoga studio was just a mom business as she calls it. She started it because she had accumulated many hours of practice, and thought to share her knowledge, passion, and expertise with her community. Through word of mouth and community sharing, it was her and her first official studio was born in Cambridge in 1999. Her business grew and was followed by a studio in Waterloo in 2002 and Kitchener in 2005. By 2008 she was running four yoga studios. For an industry based on inner peace and calm, Denise was becoming anything but. The burnout was developing, similar to what happens when businesses grow at such rapid rates.
Atlas Studio is a business of yoga experts who provide classes, workshops, and training to people who are interested in changing their physical, mental, spiritual, emotional health, or looking for a career change or deepening a career choice like becoming a yoga teacher or therapist. Before the world went virtual, they were a community hub and art gallery for like-minded spirits who loved the energy that Denise brought to the field. The challenge was that Denise was the heart, soul, and center of it all, not only managing the studios but would have to fill in for teachers that didn’t show up and the domino effect that had with the clients. There wasn’t any movement in the business model and the whole operation was facing its first major challenge, but definitely not the last.
Then came the internet, more specifically giants like iTunes and Amazon, and the digital purchase of music and books. The majority of Atlas’ clientele were regular drop-ins that would shop at the merch store for CDs and books. Yoga teachers were buying books for their training in 2005. By 2015, Amazon had taken over. In 2005, Atlas Studios was one of the biggest distributors of alternative music west of Toronto. By 2015, no one had to buy physical copies of music anymore.
In 2019, 20 years after opening her first studio doors, Denise was looking to take the business to the next level. Online courses were about to be the future. That year, with an updated business and marketing plan in place, she was ready to take the leap into having her offerings be online. She was all set to take her winter sabbatical south of the border when COVID-19 hit and that 12-18 month plan got moved to 12-18 days. On March 13th, the doors were closed, and by March 15th, they were live online. Like with quick pivots, it was a challenge at first, but the community showed up like they always did in person.
It was another challenge in a career filled with obstacles. Many clients pay for yoga with cash and it was a high cash flow business. Suddenly there’s a shift to online, where many people don’t like or have access to credit. Add to that the older demographic, who may not have had computers or internet - and there was a large segment of their clientele lost. But global pandemic also opened up the world and they had users coming into yoga from Mexico, Chile, Costa Rica, Ottawa, BC, England. Atlas Studios went from having zero income from their digital business in March 2020 to completely replacing their income by February 2021.
2019 was also the year she was introduced to the Grow My Business Accelerator program at Laurier’s Women Entrepreneurship Centre. Denise was already a part of the Laurier ecosystem as a teacher, who was now ready to become the student. Learning the ins and outs of social media and marketing was probably the most pivotal learning she had to do, differently from in-person word of mouth.
She sings the praises of the program, both for the mentors brought in but also her fellow program participants. She quotes: “If we hadn't planned that, I don't know if we'd be where we are today, because, because of all of that support that happened, just being accountable, being with other women, being there with people who had more expertise than I did in other things”.
Yoga has been a stable practice for many centuries, but Atlas Studios has reinvented itself several times through the years. Through sheer will, determination and support - this local business is now a global one.
Tanya Hayles is an award-winning event planner, public speaker, and freelance writer authentically telling stories and creating change. Located in Toronto and can be found tweeting her free time away at twitter.com/tanyahayles or at tanyahayles.com
The Women Entrepreneurship Centre (WEC), as part of the Lazaridis School of Business and Economics at Wilfrid Laurier University, is dedicated to empowering women entrepreneurs of every age, stage and culture to achieve their business dreams. We believe in fostering leadership. We believe that everyone deserves an equal shot at success. We believe in connecting you with the right people, skills and support to make it happen.
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