IAM1640 – Northern Virginia Yoga Owner Brings Innovation and Creativity to the Health and Fitness Industry

Podcast Interview with Suzie Mills

Why it was selected for “CBNation Architects”: It was great to hear in this snippet from the CEO Chat Podcast and how Suzie, “a Healthy CEO,” started her business and saw how important it was to stay true to her community/members and her brand.  She wanted to create a place where people can feel welcome and belong. She has a background in engineering which helped her innovate.

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Suzie Mills Teaser 00:00

And nobody believed me. I was opening a studio and so I just started changing my language. I was like, I'm opening a yoga studio, and everyone's like, oh my God, that's awesome. When I'm like, I don't know, soon. And once I started declaring it and believing it, things just kinda started falling into place.

The money became available, didn't take that much to start up, but we were able to make it happen in a very short amount of time with very little.

Intro 00:23

Do you want to learn effective ways to build relationships, generate sales, and grow your business from successful entrepreneurs, startups, and CEOs without listening to a long, long, long interview?

Suzie Mills 00:36

If so, you've come to the right place. Gresham Harkless values your time and is ready to share with you precisely the information you're in search of. This is the I am CEO podcast.

Gresham Harkless 00:50

Hello, hello, hello. This is Gresh from the I am CEO podcast and we're doing something a little bit different this year. With some of our episodes, we're repurposing some of our favorite episodes around specific topics related to entrepreneurship. This month, we're focusing on entrepreneurship and community.

Us, we, our together and we're gonna look at entrepreneurship and industries and different types of entrepreneurship and ultimately what that really means. But we're also gonna delve deeper into the importance of community networking niche communities and how that supports being a CEO entrepreneur and business owner.

So sit back and enjoy these special episodes around entrepreneurship and community.

You know, a lot of people think that when you start a business, it's like, You have the idea and the next day you have 15 studios or something like that. But to hear the progression step by step on how you've been able to do that from having an idea or having like actual pain and coming up with an idea and then just kind of going from their step by step has been awesome to hear.

Suzie Mills 1:47

Yeah. And nobody believed me. I was opening a studio and so I just started changing my language. I was like, I'm opening a yoga studio, and everyone's like, oh my God, that's awesome. When I'm like, I don't know. And once I started kind of declaring it and believing it, things just kinda started falling into place.

The money became available, didn't take that much to start up, but we were able to make it happen in a very short amount of time with very little.

[restrict paid=”true”]

Gresham Harkless 02:10

Wow, that's powerful. Like as you said, you spoke into manifestation.

Suzie Mills 02:13

Yeah. I just. There was literally blood, sweat, and tears, like lots of crying. I didn't think it was gonna work.

Lots of sweat. We physically did our own build out and then I got a paper cut on signing the lease so there was blood too.

Gresham Harkless 02:23

Could you take us through what some of the things are that you do at Honest Soul Yoga and, what makes you unique from maybe other essential studio yoga that are in the area?

Suzie Mills 02:32

So obviously our primary focus is yoga. We offer over 65 classes a week for offering yoga classes for adults. Well, we have expanded into family offerings. We do prenatal babies, kids, and so forth. But again, our primary offering is for adults. It is all movement based, so primarily flows. But we do offer restorative yoga, which is something that is becoming more and more popular.

A lot more people are understanding that they need to relax. And we also starting to add more things that are not just focused on the movement, like meditation. In addition to our yoga classes, we are a yoga training school, so we do train people to become yoga teachers. We offer a 200-hour program, which would be like an associate.

And then we have, we're launching a three, 500-hour program this year, which would be more like a bachelor's program for more advanced teachers. Teachers looking to take it to the next level. So we offer a lot of yoga, and I think what separates us from other studios is we've really fine-tuned what our brand is.

We're very clear on what we offer and what we do well. I learned pretty quickly not to offer everything but to offer just a few services and get really good at those. And then we also focus on our members. They're definitely our top priority and we take a lot of pride in our community, and I feel like our space reflects our physical space.

We have very spacious rooms. We have a very spacious lobby with a lot of amenities, like a tea bar and lockers and different things like that they don't have to pay extra for. We try to create an environment where people feel like they belong.

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Gresham Harkless 03:59

Awesome. Awesome. And it kind of goes back to what you were saying, you know, I guess in your early days.

When you were kind of looking around for I guess essentially in a community, it kind of sounds like you have, and you built that to some degree with your studios.

Suzie Mills 04:13

Yeah, we have a lot of military members. We're right outside Fort Bvo, so we tend to get more than half the population of our studio as military, so we understand that people are here for a short amount of time, usually two years.

That's typically how long we have a client with military and they're looking for their home when they first get here, like getting grounded and getting back to feeling like that is a place where they may belong or fit in. So we try to be that place for everybody like they feel welcome. We say their name when they come in the door.

We have a lot of community-based activities, like a book club and happy hours and things just to connect with other people so you can make friends.

Gresham Harkless 04:49

Yeah. And that's huge for somebody. As you said, whether you're in your 20-something or ofcourse you're a military person that's gone from place to place or location to location and you're trying to look for a home and a place to kind of feel comfortable, especially in working out and something that might be kind of new.

It seems like that's something that you guys are able to do very well.

Suzie Mills 05:07

Yeah, absolutely. And we also realized, I actually started a family in those four years that I've had my studio open. I had two kids and I've also realized.

Gresham Harkless 05:14

Wow, did you have time?

Suzie Mills 05:16

Not that it was crazy enough opening or expanding twice, but having two kids during that too.

Gresham Harkless 05:21  Wow.

Suzie Mills 05:21

But our community as well as our families, young families, and older families don't just focus on one person. But how do we make this fit for your whole family?

Gresham Harkless 05:30

Right. Right. That makes sense. So what types of things do you feel have made you successful as a business owner and what can kind of like other business owners kind of learn from?

Suzie Mills 05:39

I think for me, I love yoga, but business was always my first love. I loved to be innovative. I loved business. I was a business major and for me, business has been a way for me to have kind of that creative outlet. It's almost come naturally to me owning a business and being able to look at the big picture, not just day-to-day, but kind of looking at what the market is offering, and how we can innovate within the market.

And also I really like to define our brand and I love branding. Another thing too, early on, one of my mentors told me to hire up. Anytime I've come across anything that wasn't a natural fit for me to do or I struggled with like QuickBooks, I opened that and then quickly closed it. I hire the best people that I can find.

I always try to hire up and make sure I'm working with the best people. I'm also a big-picture person like I said earlier, and I love to kind of re-engineer things. I guess that's my IT engineering background coming back. But I like to look at how things are being done now and how can we improve them, how can we do them better, and what things nobody else is doing.

And that stuff comes naturally to me and I have a lot of fun doing that. And also, even though yoga is a tradition, this is the fitness industry, and so we have to offer things that get people coming back and we have to keep people interested, and I like to bring in different things that get people excited.

And that wanna come back. Obviously, we still say true to our roots of yoga, but we may change things up a little bit and do little popups or fun things to keep people coming back in the door. And then also knowing that people have a set budget every month for health and wellness. And that does include gym memberships, massages, hair appointments, manicures, whatever and that budget I'm competing with.

So like I said, we have to keep interested in keeping people engaged and also innovating and seeing what the trends are in the industry, not just in yoga, but in fitness as a whole. That still fits in with our mission and our core offerings, but again, keeping people engaged and wanting to come back.

Gresham Harkless 07:37

You're absolutely right. I can't say that enough, especially in any industry, especially in the fitness industry, creating a product or a service or you're creating memberships where people have to come back every time. You wanna make sure that, just like your workout plan, where you have to continue to work yourself out in a different way to continue to see results, you have to do that in business as well.

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So it's great that you kind of tapped into that. We love yoga and you've taken your business background and your engineering background and you've been able to manifest that, in Honest Soul Yoga.

Suzie Mills 08:04

Yeah. And I think a lot of people that wanna start businesses are stressed in whatever career they may be in cause they feel like they'll never get out of it.

But looking back, being in IT and yoga sounds like two different careers, but I've been able to pull a lot of what I've done in my past jobs as a network engineer and project manager into my business now. So, I look at all of my past experiences as kinda preparing me for what we're doing now.

Gresham Harkless 08:28

Interesting. In what ways have you seen that kind of bleed through? Cause most people think that I guess if you want to own a yoga studio. You have to go and be yoga, but you can have different backgrounds you're saying, and still be able to pull from those skills or experiences.

Suzie Mills 08:41

Yeah, and you know, it's funny, everyone that comes to yoga, we have so many unique backgrounds, all different walks of life. I think people are attracted to yoga because it does change your life in one way or another.  But for me, being an engineer and project manager, like the business side of things, I'm able to organize better or understand how to organize my business from the backend.

And I feel, I laugh sometimes cause a lot of stuff we did in the corporate world, I'm like, oh yeah, HR departments and policies and procedures, we need all those things in a yoga studio.

Gresham Harkless 09:10

Right, right. And that's how you've been able to kind of develop that culture to some degree.

Suzie Mills 09:13

Yeah. In this business, I still hire people. So we have right now almost 40 employees, so we have to.

Gresham Harkless 09:20 Awesome.

Suzie Mills 09:20

All of the best practices for a business to be able to employ people as well. Not just being able to do the day-to-day operations, but being a good employer too. And I look up to a lot of the companies I've worked for and pulled from them what they did that I really admired for their employees.

So for me, it's not just about my business and clients, but also about being a good employer as well.

Gresham Harkless 09:41

Awesome. Yeah, I mean, and that's not it's kind of like, it just speaks kudos to who you are as a leader, that you've been able to do that and how you're comfortable enough, like you said, to even hire up. I think that's a big thing that a lot of business owners sometimes don't do as well, where they're trying to maybe hire less or equal to, but you've been able to be confident in understanding where you want the business to go and how, and what pieces need to be in place for you to do that.

Suzie Mills 10:07

Yeah, I know what I'm good at now. It's taken me a few years to be okay with that. But I also know what I'm not good at and there are people that are very good at that kind of stuff. And being able to bring people onto my team to support that I feel like only elevates us as a community and a business.

Gresham Harkless 10:21

Right. And it has a bigger impact on the entire community, so that's awesome. If you could maybe look or hold a crystal ball and you can look maybe three to five years down the line and you can say, this is where Honest Soul Yoga is gonna be, could you paint that picture for us on where, what things you have in place, what things you're thinking about, working on and, and where Anna Soul Yoga would be the next three or five years?

Suzie Mills 10:42

Sure. As I said, I sometimes get too many ideas. I'm very creative, so there are many directions we can go and I actually. Talking about hiring up, I just hired a business coach that I start with this week to help me fine-tune those in that direction. But for right now, the yoga industry is going online.

So I think for us, we'll still have our physical studio. Absolutely. That is super important. But taking some elements online, and being able to offer classes online. So like I said, we have a big military community and a lot of them want to still practice with us, but can't from other states. So being able to offer some sort of online program.

So that's something we have in the works for the future. I do see myself opening up other locations, and then also we're down the road three, five years hoping to franchise or license. So that's definitely in the work. And then also expanding our training centers. So like I said, we offer training like your associate and bachelor's degree equivalent of teacher training, but expanding that and taking it that also online and also taking that nationwide.

I have a couple of partners that I work with that don't live locally, so being able to offer training anywhere in the world or states, I like to think big, so awesome. We have a lot of things in the works. And then, of course, just making what we offer now really.

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Gresham Harkless 11:52

Yeah, I mean it definitely sounds like, and I mean I'm an ideas person too, so just seeing, especially the whole military connection that you just made, I think that's huge because like you said, a lot of people are looking for a home, so to speak, and you have to move every two or three years like you mentioned, but still to be able to still tap into that community is huge.

So I think that's a phenomenal idea.

Suzie Mills 12:14 Thank you.

Gresham Harkless 12:15

I know you, you gave us a little bit of some tips on like what somebody that is maybe in the health and wellness industry and is trying to start a business should do. Do you have maybe two or three other tips that you can give to those that are maybe looking to start a business and what things they can do to kind of be successful as well?

Suzie Mills 12:32

Yeah. Well, like I said earlier, higher up. Don't be afraid to ask for help. That was my tip.

Gresham Harkless 12:37 Okay.

Suzie Mills 12:39

Just understanding that as business owners, know that we can't do everything by ourselves. Don't be afraid to ask for help. And even if you can't afford good help or help at all in the beginning, maybe reach out to friends and family, but I think most importantly, have a really good website.

Gresham Harkless 12:54 Okay.

Suzie Mills 12:54

And work with your team. And that team is your lawyer, your accountant, and your banker, like get to know people that are your team of support. Cause I've made a lot of mistakes in my business. I probably could write a book on that, but I think having people, legal people, your accountant, people that really support you and have your back and also.

Being able to ask questions to them and understand how everything works from a financial or legal standpoint just to protect yourself.

Gresham Harkless 13:25

Do you have three tips that are just for people that are trying to improve their health and wellness that you can give to us to maybe more mindful or just healthier overall?

Suzie Mills 13:35

Yeah, sure. I think what's most important in what I teach in every single one of my classes is just to learn how to breathe. It seems like we know how to breathe because we do it. Not thinking about it, but a lot of times people aren't paying attention to actually how they're breathing. They're holding their breath or they're breathing too fast.

But just starting with being aware of how you're taking your breath in and taking your breath out, and not even trying to do any specific type of breathing, but just notice are you breathing? I think that's the first. Second, I think people need to take time to be quiet. We call it meditation, but it could just be sitting and doing nothing and not worrying that your thoughts may be coming up, but just being aware of those thoughts and sitting with them and not having to do anything with it, and just letting our busy minds have a moment to just be still, even though our mind might not feel still.

And then last, I think it's just moving your body. I mean, yoga's not the only thing out there. There are so many amazing fitness things that you can do to move your body. It's just literally moving your body.

Gresham Harkless 14:33

Awesome, awesome, awesome. So I wanted to kind of pick your brain and just get an idea of like what do you feel is maybe unique or special about being a healthy CEO.

Suzie Mills 14:41

Yeah, so as a healthy CEO, we naturally impact people's lives. Like there's no question about that. And I think where I've had to find the balance is being able to run a successful business to be financially successful, but also successful as an employer, but also just being a good human being. All of my decisions I look at from two directions, are they great for the business, but are they also great for my clients? Am I being a good human being?

I think that's what's most important to me about being a healthy CEO or making the decisions for everyone, not just for one side.

Gresham Harkless 15:13

Yeah, that makes sense.

Outro 15:15 Thank you for listening to the I am CEO podcast, powered by CB Nation and Blue 16 media. Tune in next time and visit us at I am CEO is not just a phrase, it's a community.

Be sure to follow us on social media and subscribe to our podcast on Apple Podcast, Spotify, Google podcast, and everywhere you listen to podcasts. Subscribe and leave us a five-star rating. This has been the I am CEO podcast with Gresham Harkless, Jr. Thank you for listening.


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