Let’s get digital: Domestic fitness start-ups use Internet for promotion

By Ma Jingjing and Zhang Hongpei Source:Global Times Published: 2017/6/21 17:43:39

Yoga teachers pose for a photograph at Wake yoga studio in Beijing. Photo: Courtesy of Wake

In China, the yoga industry has proliferated in recent years, with more than 20,000 offline yoga studios now operational across the country. However, due to rising costs and low consumer stickiness, there are no mature yoga brands in the Chinese mainland, whereas in Canada there is Lululemon and in Hong Kong, Pure Yoga. Some domestic yoga companies like Wake and Homeyoga have begun exerting Internet promotion efforts to become prominent national brands and to thus improve user stickiness and efficiency.

In China, yoga is buoyed by a growing number of practitioners who are getting into fitness and health. Surpassing its birthplace of India, China has witnessed yoga burgeoning into an industry with great market potential.

"It seems that practicing yoga has become a fashion in China. I realized that an increasing number of people have started practicing Yoga with the wish to keep fit," said a Beijing Yoga teacher surnamed Gao.

Gao, who has been instructing practitioners since 2015, told the Global Times on Monday that she has taught approximately 1,000 members at yoga studios in Beijing, North China's Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region and East China's Jiangxi Province.

"In China, yoga is developed along with aerobics and dancing. Yoga studio promotion is conducive to its popularity, but I think the profound factors of yoga's success are its ability to relieve pressure, cultivate minds and allow followers to adopt a middle class lifestyle," she said.

According to Gao and her other domestic counterparts, most people go to small or medium-sized studios near their homes to practice yoga under the guidance of trained instructors.

A staff member surnamed Huang from Xinyin International Yoga Ashram, a yoga school in Southwest China's Chongqing, told the Global Times on Monday that the school not only teaches amateurs but also trains people, who want to become yoga teachers.

"Our school is small, but we have trained about 1,000 students since it was set up in 2005," she said. "Though we also charge 8,000 yuan ($1,171) for a two-month, full-time term, our school is more like a public institution where the teachers and staff members are all yoga-lovers and where we also provide free services throughout students' whole lives," she explained.

However, opening up online classes may be a good way to break the bottleneck of yoga industry development, Huang noted.

Embracing the Internet

Though the Chinese mainland has a mass of yoga studios, there are currently no brands as mature as Canada's Lululemon or Hong Kong's Pure Yoga. Fortunately, some emerging yoga brands like Wake and Homeyoga have started to develop their brands into national ones by virtue of the Internet.

"I want to develop Wake into an independent yoga brand like Lululemon, integrating yoga kits, studios and yoga-themed hotels and tourism," Xiong Mingjun, founder of the Beijing-based Internet yoga brand, told the Global Times on Tuesday.

Established in September 2015, the company has rolled out a comprehensive app that has more than 5 million followers. In addition to online teaching videos and broadcasting, the company has more than 500 online groups where teachers and customer service staff interact with customers to strengthen user stickiness, he said.

Xiong, who has more than 10 years' experience in the online business industry, said that the Internet helps save time and labor costs.

"As online information gets to a wide range of receivers in a fast way, it's easy for many people to recognize our brand within a short period of time," he noted. "In this sense, the Internet helps us to gain popularity in just one or two years, whereas traditional yoga studios may need 10 to 20 years."

Early in December, the company raised funds of 20 million yuan, which will be used for setting up high-end offline yoga studios. Ultimately, the company plans to continue expanding their brand by using digital marketing strategies.

"I want people to think of Wake when they talk about yoga," Xiong noted.

Besides Wake, Homeyoga, a Shanghai yoga brand with more than 10,000 members and 110 nationwide studios, also developed an online yoga program that is mainly used for communicating knowledge about yoga and improving the efficiency of class appointments, Zhu Jin, founder of Homeyoga, told the Global Times.

Market players interviewed by the Global Times feel optimistic about the yoga industry in China, given the country's consumption upgrade.

According to UK market research firm Mintel, about 10 million people practiced yoga in China in 2015, with a growth rate three times higher than that in the US. No data for 2016 is available to the public.

Competing with India?

In China, the yoga market has reached 40 billion yuan, according to an article posted on tech news platform 36kr.com in January.

There are more than 20,000 offline yoga studios in China, but more than 80 percent of which are unprofitable because of low user stickiness and rising costs, the article noted.

Although still in the initial exploring phase, the rapid development of the yoga industry in China is even stronger than it is in India, yoga's place of birth.

The market value of India's yoga industry has surpassed 200 billion Indian rupees ($3.1 billion), but there is still a large gap compared with the global yoga industry, worth of $80 billion, showed a report on the website of Embassy of China in India in 2015.

Experts say this is because Chinese people implement yoga into their daily lives, while Indians relate yoga to health-related issues and therefore may not practice it every day.

In China, people are focused on learning, training and promoting yoga on a day-to-day basis as they believe the sport benefits and improves their physical and mental health as well as their lifestyle, Shiv Shankar Sharma, head of the Yoga Center at Devi Ahilya Vishwavidalay, a university in Indore, India, told the Global Times on Tuesday via e-mail.

Besides, a job in the yoga industry can bring people success, good health, and a strong social status. Inevitably, the yoga craze will soon create extreme job competitiveness in the fitness industry, he said.

On the contrary, Indians, arguably, aren't as aware of the importance of exercising on a daily basis for health purposes and instead practice yoga only when they are sick, though yoga courses are nevertheless strongly supported by the government in terms of policy and funding, said Sharma.

In fact, a special ministry is assigned to focus on the development of fitness education and research on yoga, according to Sharma.

But things are changing in India - more people are adopting yoga in their daily life from scientific, spiritual and old institutions, he said. "Yoga practice has been a compulsory subject in all schools, colleges, government places and even in medical colleges, so that doctors will also understand [the positive] effects of yoga and therefore implement it into their treatment."

Newspaper headline: Yoga branding hot online

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