She might be the brains behind Singapore’s most popular yoga studio chain, but Ms Alicia Pan readily admits that it took time to fall in love with the practice.
The former singer-songwriter, 37, was persuaded by friends to give yoga a go over a decade ago when she was looking for a down-time activity to balance her busy lifestyle pursuing a music career in Taiwan.
But the practice did not come naturally to her.
Says Ms Pan: “Being more of an adrenaline junkie, it took me a while to get into yoga. But with consistency, and me noticing the changes in my physical and mental state, I started getting hooked.”
Taking a leap of faith in 2012, Ms Pan, together with her then-partner (now her husband) Peter Thew, began Yoga Movement (YM) with their first studio, created to make the yoga scene in Singapore more accessible.
She explains: “Everything from our spaces to our class types and lingo is considered and deliberate. We looked to replicate ‘cafe feels’ and create spaces with dwell time.
“We wanted to create a community and a space where people could come in, do a class, have a cup of coffee and meet people. And most importantly, we wanted to put out a message that was clear to the public: Everyone is welcome.”
With that first Carpenter Street studio, YM did indeed make yoga more accessible with its novel, yet simple, class packages, which offered just three options: Single Class, 10-Class Pack and Unlimited Pack.
A curated lifestyle for the community
This “no-fuss, no-frills” experience struck a chord with local yogis, and YM soon found itself growing rapidly. Today it has established itself as a pioneer in Singapore’s fitness and wellness industry.
Today, Ms Pan helms six studios, including the latest and biggest Orchard Flagship outlet, which opened earlier this year.
The chic, Instagram-worthy space spans 6,000 sq ft and offers YM’s signature yoga classes in three bright, airy studios. True to the YM ethos of creating a community and sanctuary for yogis to unwind, the Orchard Flagship also boasts a new cafe bar concept and a breezy outdoor patio for chilling out pre- or post-flow.
Taking its commitment to user experience to the next level, the YM team developed their own mobile app in 2019, which Ms Pan calls “the pride and joy of the business”.
The YM app allows users to self-check-in for classes and includes features such as yoga tips and tricks and live chat functions. A virtual badge-based achievement system keeps users motivated while celebrating their practice milestones.
“Since its debut, our YM app has had more than 28,000 downloads and was even nominated as ‘App of the Year’ Finalist by the Fit Summit earlier this year,” she adds.
“The App plays an important role in the holistic lifestyle concept we are building at YM, as it places more focus on the social experience, such as inviting friends to class and keeping up to date with the content and YM FAM activities!”
Growth in an uncertain era
Like many businesses that were affected by Covid-19, YM faced its share of challenges and disruptions last year. Due to social distancing restrictions, the team innovated its offerings, including livestream and pop-up classes to keep the community engaged.
Ms Pan is no stranger to calculated risks in life, evident from her decision to progress bravely ahead with the Orchard Flagship launch in the middle of a global pandemic.
In fact, YM’s finance manager, Nimisha Vekaria, shared that the team still has big plans to expand to new locations and markets, even as they keep a steady eye on developments in the current ever-changing situation.
Ms Vekaria, 37, left her corporate job in 2019 to join the YM family, as she “wanted to experience the challenges and victories that come with managing a smaller, more dynamic business that has huge potential for growth, both locally and globally”.
With finance being a core business function, a decision was made by the company to streamline and automate its accounting. “Before, we were pretty much using Microsoft Office for all our finance and accounting needs,” she recalls.
“The manual process was very time-consuming and left us open to risk through human error. We spent an inordinate amount of time on data entry, combing through spreadsheets to confirm the accuracy of formulas and troubleshoot errors, while at the same time trying to adapt to the changing nature of the business.”
By switching to cloud-based accounting software Xero in 2018, YM was able to automate these tedious tasks while ensuring financial records are accurate and up to date at all times, with performance data available to the team to review anytime, anywhere. Thanks to Xero’s automatic reconciliation feature, YM can now generate month-end reports in two, instead of up to eight weeks.
Having a bird’s eye view of its cash flow and financial health allows the business to allocate its budget and investments effectively. YM was also able to adjust its sales and attendance campaigns to meet its targets.
“If we have learnt anything during the pandemic, it’s that digital transformation in the financial area can benefit and uplift the business immensely. It helps improve efficiency, provide a real-time overview of finances and introduce intelligence across key financial planning processes,” she says.
Xero is not only user-friendly, but also enables various levels of access to provide a secure accounting experience, notes Ms Vekaria, who adds: “It has helped make working from home for us very easy, and been hugely beneficial.”
As a business owner, yogi, musician and parent, Ms Pan stresses that it’s crucial to recognise that you cannot do everything by yourself – a piece of advice she can relate to her business and would like to share with other small business owners as well.
“Know your target and have a clear direction. Do not try to be everything to everyone.”