Stephen Joyce and Kristine Ward are co-owners and founders of Amana Yoga and have dedicated their business to promoting harmony, balance, happiness and fulfilment through yoga, meditation and Ayurveda. The husband and wife team have been bringing wellness to yogis in the Greater Saint John area since 2007.
Amana Yoga welcomes beginners and advanced practitioners of yoga, with a goal to guide and support clients by providing tools to gain optimal health and well-being.
I don’t often interview two people at the same time, but both Stephen and Kristine brought a distinct point of view to my questions about the genesis, growth and challenges related to launching and
growing their wellness business. I started our lively conversation by asking how they would describe Amana Yoga to someone who has never heard of it…
S: It’s a place to come and enjoy yourself. It’s calming. It’s a learning place. It’s a place to learn about yourself, not just a place to do yoga, but also a place where you can learn about yoga and meditation.
[Tweet “It’s a place to learn about yourself, not just a place to do yoga. – Stephen Joyce “]
Q: How did the idea of Amana Yoga come into existence?
K: It goes back pretty far. What first got me into yoga was a health crisis. I had cancer. It was almost 20 years ago now. That’s what got us into both yoga and meditation.
I had a fairly healthy lifestyle already, but no matter how healthy you are things happen that you can’t control. What you can control is how well you recover from them. So, while I was recovering, Stephen said he wanted to learn meditation. We took transcendental meditation and started our meditation practice. Also, around the same time, I wanted a physical practice and got into yoga.
S: It is ironic because I introduced her to yoga and then she got her yoga training first. We had a little studio in the basement of our house on French Village Road.
Q: When did you get serious about the business venture?
K: During a trip to Montreal Stephen turns to me and says,“I have a proposal for you. I want to work for our yoga business full-time”. He said, “You just work, you build your career at Irving Oil and I’ll take care of everything. I’ll run the business and I’ll run the household. I’ll take care of cooking, cleaning, laundry and everything like that. You just focus on your career.” That sounded good to me.
S: The next week I hired a house cleaner, a lawn guy and talked one of my yoga teachers into cooking for us.
Q: Stephen, you have a corporate background as well?
S: I’d been at Irving Oil for 15 years. That’s where Kristine and I met. I was in the heating division. I loved my time there. I always had entrepreneurial ideas, always in my head was, “I want to try this, I want to try that,” and I decided to take a break from Irving and I went to Lifesaving Society, which was a little bit more entrepreneurial because it was a very small organization and you really had to think on your feet and be creative.
Q: What’s interesting about both your stories is it wasn’t like you were escaping a horrible work environment.
K: We weren’t pushing ourselves into the yoga business to get away from something else. The yoga business had been pulling us in.
[Tweet “The yoga business had been pulling us in. – Kristine Ward”]
S: The yoga business is pulling—it’s still pulling us. It’s attracted us.
Q: You’ve had a fair amount of business growth, where are you now?
S: We have one studio in Nauwigewauk – a retreat centre – and we just decided that we needed to grow a little bit. The numbers were telling us . . . the customers were telling us we needed to grow. So we opened a second studio in Saint John. We decided to focus our energy on yoga. Last August we opened up a location in Quispamsis. We have a five-year plan. We are about three years into our five-year plan.
Q: Was it challenging making the decision to expand the business and take on a new location?
S: It was a big risk. Nobody had been doing hot yoga – so, why not us? We have the experience. I even had the heating background from Irving Oil.
[Tweet “Nobody had been doing hot yoga – so, why not us? – Stephen Joyce”]
Q: How do you guys manage risk and risk tolerance?
S: First of all, Kristine is great with analytics – she shows us our risk factors. We always know what our risk is financially before we do anything. That’s the first step. So, it’s calculated.
K: Oh it’s very calculated. I’m risk averse. I’ve worked in risk management for a long time. If this business fails then we’ve got nothing to show for all these years of work.
[Tweet “Oh it’s very calculated. I’m risk averse. – Kristine Ward”]
Q: What advice would you give to someone who might be on the cusp of a brilliant idea and thinking of taking a leap to try to bring the idea into reality?
K: I think the first thing is to be very clear on what they want and then be prepared to work hard. There’s no such thing as overnight success. They have to do their research, know their markets, know their competition, know the customer – it’s not sitting in a room and dreaming up an idea. It’s getting out on the road, pounding the pavement, talking to people and hiring consultants. You have to be open to the idea that your idea might not be as great as you originally thought.
[Tweet “There’s no such thing as overnight success. – Kristine Ward”]
S: As soon as you open your doors, customers aren’t going to be rushing it. You have to spend money. You have to spend a lot of money to get going. That’s a really big thing – spending so much money and knowing that you’re going to have cash flow struggles for a long time.
Q: What does the future look like for Amana Yoga?
S: I think it looks amazing. We are still awestruck by the people who come in and take a yoga class and when they leave the class, how happy they feel. That’s what we do for them. Are we going to be millionaires running yoga studios? I don’t think so.
But yoga teachers are intuitively giving people. There’s this law in yoga, this philosophical rule called the law of giving and receiving. I find that the more we give, the more we receive. So, I see the wellness industry as still growing. I see Amana, itself, looking very positive in the future.
[Tweet “Are we going to be millionaires running yoga studios? I don’t think so. – Stephen Joyce”]
Q: Amana Yoga is more than yoga now, correct?
K: We’ve been growing the fitness side of things, the non-yoga, like spin and now the HIIT classes we just started. It’s about providing customers a place to go that serves their needs for wellness. The vision is that a person comes through the door and can learn what they need for themselves in order to be as healthy and happy as they can be.
[Tweet “It’s about providing a place to go that serves wellness needs. – Kristine Ward”]
Q: What’s the best business advice you’ve received?
S: When Mr. Arthur Irving asked me about the business he gave me two pieces of advice: “Number one, the customer always comes first and number two, stay in front of the eight ball. Once you get behind the eight ball, it’s hard to get back in front of it.”
Q: Any final thoughts on how to successfully run a small business?
K: It’s constant vigilance. I learned that, in order to preserve my own health, I had to shut down work. I used to work constantly. I think it is very important to establish boundaries between work time and rest time.
[Tweet “It’s important to establish boundaries between work time and rest time. – Kristine Ward”]
S: For me, I get up every day and I still feel excited and I have the passion and I have fun with our business.
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This article published in the Telegraph-Journal on Saturday, April 28th, 2018