What Niche Retailer YOGA YOGA Looks For When Sourcing New Products

Yoga Yoga: a studio is a beautiful new studio in the most happening part of Toronto’s West End, the Junction Triangle. After 15 years as a fitness journalist and yoga teacher, owner Sandy Braz turned her attention to creating an innovative space to appeal to the new type of discerning yogi. Her unique studio space is a far cry from the dainty yoga studios you find everywhere, here yoga is about practicing a physical discipline to use as a tool for managing the wild and chaotic mind. As part of Hubba Health and Wellness Week, Sandy was kind enough to share some of her insights about innovating and standing out in a competitive market like health.

H: Congrats on the recent opening of your studio! Where did the idea come from to create a studio?

SB: Thank you so much! Opening has been a wild ride, but so far, so good. I’ve had thoughts about a studio since I was 22 (I’m now 35), so my ideas about what I wanted it to be have evolved over a long period. But the timing was never right, so I didn’t go for it. I also loved journalism and pursued my career as a fitness and health writer and did that for a decade. Over the years, I still taught yoga and produced yoga events around the city, so it was always on my mind. I recently took a step back from writing full time to open YOGA YOGA, but I find the journalism informs a lot of what I do and how I run the studio. When I think about it, this studio is a culmination of what I’ve learned about yoga, editorial, branding, marketing and teaching people to move their bodies.

What kinds of things did you consider when it came to becoming a niche retailer on top of operating the studio? Why carry stuff?

Amazing question, because it’s something a lot of boutique studios ask: why invest in product when you’re not a storefront or traditional retailer? It’s really about creating an experience for the students at the studio, and introducing them to tools or products that might enhance their yoga some how, so I look for stuff that offer that. Yoga blocks, yoga mats, mat bags and even beauty products that promote skin fitness are all things I wanted to make available to the members here. I only sell products I use and have tested, so that I can share that brand’s story with confidence and honesty.

How do you find the brands to carry? How do you vet them?

I’ll be honest… it’s a lot of Googling to find good products; having access to brands in one spot would’ve made my job easier. I also cruise a lot of flea markets in the city, creep social media for what’s new and trending in yoga gear and also take meetings from brands that want to work with the studio, and are interested in connecting with the yoga community here. I like to meet with brand creators and owners in person by inviting them to the studio to vibe us out, and then I test product. I test everything I sell and offer feedback when the opportunity is given. Sourcing and testing products was a big part of my job as a journalist, so I use a similar approach when searching for products to have at the studio.

What’s the most important thing you look for in terms of products, like have you ever rejected something because of packaging or name?

Umm… yes. More than once. First and foremost, I look for what kind of business relationship we can establish with a brand. Sometimes consignment is the best route for a niche retailer like YOGA YOGA, and sometimes it’s coming up with another buying/selling model that works for both of our brands. So, other than the quality of the product having to be stellar, I also look for a good relationship with a brand. I’ve also tested a lot of great products that either didn’t live up to its brand (behind the scenes) or had packaging that lacked polish or a story. Creating an experience for students here is my objective, so I look for brands who want that, too.

Anything to add in terms of advice to other niche retailers?

I’m still learning as I go, but so far I’ve come away with three big lessons: 1. As a niche retailer, figure out how much you want to invest and be upfront with the brand about that; don’t be pushed into consigning or buying more than you can sell. 2. Get to know a brand’s story. If you don’t believe in it, you can’t sell it and product won’t move, period. 3. Test, test, test… try all things you retail so you can offer an honest opinion to your clients.

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Photo credit: Tim Bermingham