Flexible friends

Having attracted the interest of Dragon and leisure mogul Duncan Bannatyne, YogaBellies possesses all the facets of a successful franchise model

Flexible friends

For YogaBellies founder Cheryl MacDonald, franchising has certainly proven a more than acceptable means of growth. A proud wife and mother, MacDonald launched her niche female yoga enterprise four years ago, and ultimately decided that going the franchise route made sense from both a brand-building and logistical point-of-view.

Indeed, it is safe to say that if anyone was going to successfully operate a female yoga franchise, it would be MacDonald. It has, after all, been her life for the best part of a decade. “I have been practising yoga for about ten years now,” she explains. “I worked as a marketing manager at a business analysis firm but would teach yoga in the evenings.”

It was only when she was made redundant whilst on maternity leave with her son, who is now 4, that a solid, and much-needed, business opportunity arose from MacDonald’s previously ‘out-of-hours’ profession. “I just started teaching yoga in my spare bedroom,” MacDonald says. “We then turned the living room into the studio – but it soon became too crazy so I had to get a proper studio.”

Aside from the fact it has developed into a dedicated yoga franchise, YogaBellies distinguishes itself by adopting a woman-only policy, and offering classes geared towards various stages of the birth cycle, as well as to children. This naturally emanates from MacDonald’s own experiences of childbirth, and how she managed to tie it in her with her passion for yoga.

“I have always loved everything to do with pregnancy, and have always preferred teaching women yoga,” she explains. “Women are much more receptive which means teaching them yoga is very different to teaching it to men. Our bodies are built differently, we have a natural flexibility and men have a stronger upper body.”

As her yoga classes began to attract more interest, MacDonald decided the time was ripe to explore how to take it to a wider audience. Needless to say, franchising provided an attractive option. “I wanted to have control over the brand and the consistency over what my teachers were offering,” she says. “When I did my teacher training, there were over 50 of us on the course and only four of us are still teaching now. So I wanted to keep the group small and really get to know the teachers and actively work with them as they progress as teachers. The best way to do that seemed to be a franchise model.”

To that end, it makes sense that MacDonald’s ideal franchisee is somebody built in a similar mould to her. “They must have a keen interest in yoga but I also need someone who is just your everyday normal woman – I don’t want to scare my clients with too much wild chanting,” she adds. “So we are looking for mainstream people who embrace the principles of yoga but can also work with an ethical business mind.”

Adam Pescod
Adam Pescod