Episode 31 - Forever a Student, Always a Leader
Ashley Keefe Is the owner of Modo Yoga waterloo and focuses extensively on leadership training within her studio. This allows her studio of 10 years to continually grow and evolve due to the professional development of her staff. Ashley is here with us today to talk about the importance of leadership and how it can help to grow even the most tried and true studios.
Best way to reach her: https://ashleykeefe.com/contact/
Host - Dan: FitDEGREE is more than just two guys with microphones. It is the studio management software you've been looking for. For more info, reach out to me on our website at www.fitdegree.com, on Instagram at the handle fitdegree, or my email dan.berger, that's B-E-R-G-E-R @fitdegree.com to get the conversation started.
Host - Dan: All right. Now onto the show.
Host - Dan: Hello to all of my wonderful listeners out there. And welcome back to another episode of Studio Savvy by fitDEGREE. I'm Dan, your host for the show. And I'm accompanied today as always by my cohost Nick.
Host - Dan: The yoga is an art of change and discovery. Why should your yoga business be any different? Ashley Keefe is the owner of Modo Yoga Waterloo and focuses extensively on leadership training within her studio. This allows her studio of 10 years to continually grow and evolve due to the professional development of her staff. Ashley is here with us today to talk about the importance of leadership and how we can help grow even the most tried and true studios.
Host - Dan: Welcome to show, Ashley. We're so glad you could join us.
Ashley Keefe: I am so glad to be here. Thank you so much for having me.
Host - Dan: Of course. How are you today?
Ashley Keefe: I am fantastic, feeling very excited to chat with you guys.
Host - Dan: Great. Great. So Ashley, I like to start off by having people tell us the story of their studio, how they got started, how they got to where they are, really take it back as far or as not far as you'd like to tell us how you grew Modo Yoga Waterloo over these past 10 years.
Ashley Keefe: Okay. Well the inspiration really struck basically after my first yoga class. I knew I was going to do something in health and fitness. I just didn't know what it was. I was going through a really hard time as a teenager just graduating high school and moving into university. And finding yoga and fitness was really a saving grace for me.
Ashley Keefe: I remember the moment that I made the decision to go do my teacher training. And then from there, go onto create a space where other could come, and move their body, and breathe, and find a place where they could let go of the stresses of their everyday lives. And that was probably about 14 years ago. And from that moment, it was like I knew.
Ashley Keefe: So that being said, I had very very little skill at that time. I mean other than a business degree, I had no management experience. I didn't really know how to manage people, work in a team environment. So there was a lot of learning in the first couple of years of opening the business that went into that.
Ashley Keefe: But yeah, from there, I mean definitely tons of mistakes more than I can count. But every mistake was really an opportunity to dive deeper into learning, to look how I can be a better leader, how I can manage my staff and my teachers in more efficient ways so that they feel like they're part of something bigger than just coming in teaching our classes and leaving.
Ashley Keefe: So that's really been a driving force for me over the last ten years. And it's still an ongoing learning process.
Host - Dan: That's fantastic. So did you attend any leadership courses, seminars, things like that to learn and find your leadership style? Or is this kind of just, "I'm going to keep trial and erroring and find out what works for me,"?
Ashley Keefe: I definitely did a bit of both. There was definitely both in there. I read a lot of books on leadership. I feel really blessed that I own a studio that's part of a greater community. [inaudible 00:04:31] 86 studios across Canada, the U.S., and then sprinkled abroad as well. So we do a lot of leadership trainings through our network.
Ashley Keefe: But the first one that I really dove into was the EMyth Coaching Program which worked on leadership but also worked on the business and creating systems. And I felt like the system creation was something that I was really lacking at the beginning because I mean I just jumped in-
Host - Dan: You didn't know you needed it.
Ashley Keefe: I didn't know I needed it. But it turns out systems are there for a reason.
Host - Dan: Yes.
Ashley Keefe: So I did that probably around year three or four. It was 12-month program. Even if your listeners are interested in what we learned in that coaching program, just read the EMyth. I mean the book is amazing for entrepreneurs who are just starting out. And it really trains you how to work on your business and not in your business. So it's step back and look at the bigger picture which is often hard when you're-
Host - Dan: Yes.
Ashley Keefe: [crosstalk 00:05:51]. I don't know if there's anybody else out there that really feels like they want to control every fine detail of their business. But that was definitely where I was at at the beginning.
Host - Dan: And I know just for some personality types like one of my best friends growing up, he started programming when he was seven years old because his parents were both programmers. And you could show him something and he'll scan it with his eyes. He'll look at every little detail. "This isn't right." And he'd focus on those details. But you ask him to look at something big picture visually, and he'll be the first to admit that he's incapable. He can program a robot to separate different nano chips. But he can't do visual puzzles because they require looking at the big picture.
Host - Dan: I'm vice versa. I'm not detail-oriented at all. So I understand some things can be so difficult for different personality types. So I'm sure all these business and the leadership coaching really was able to help pick up areas that you may not have been your strong suit.
Ashley Keefe: Oh yeah. 100%. And I agree. There are definitely different leadership styles, management styles. And figuring out what those are so that you can work with your team in a more cohesive way is really super super helpful.
Ashley Keefe: And then from there, obviously taking the time to create systems so that your business isn't dependent on you knowing how to do everything.
Host - Dan: Right.
Ashley Keefe: And also your business isn't dependent on your staff knowing how to do every bit of it. Having the system means that if somebody gets sick or goes away on vacation, the system is there so that it's just an easy roll out-
Host - Dan: Someone can do it.
Ashley Keefe: Whoever takes over. Someone can do it. It's really laid out. And I took probably about a year after that program to lock down my systems. And that might sound like a long time, but it was honestly my time best spent.
Host - Dan: Sure. Sure.
Ashley Keefe: [crosstalk 00:08:13] because it allowed me the freedom to step back, to let go of control of every little bit of the business, and to trust that it was going to keep rolling forward even if I wasn't intricately involved in every minute detail.
Host - Dan: So Ashley, are you a more, "I like to focus on the minutia, be in the nitty gritty, the detail-oriented?" 0r do you prefer to look big picture, "What's the direction we're going?" And then you figure out the details as you need to from there. Which came more naturally to you?
Ashley Keefe: Oh that's such a good question. When I first started I was definitely the detail-oriented, small minutia. But for me I noticed that it kept my blinders on in a way. I wasn't really seeing all the other things that we could do to continue to grow and evolve and shift and change with the times and how fitness was growing at that time as well.
Ashley Keefe: So through these programs that I have done, I really allowed myself to open up to the bigger picture, and like I said before, to let go of control. That was a huge one for me was-
Host - Dan: I know somebody like that.
Support - Nick: Yeah, it sucks. It's a mindset.
Host - Dan: He's talking right now.
Ashley Keefe: It is a total mindset. Just letting go of control is a total mindset. So for sure, for me mindset training and having a coach was also the other instrumental part of my growth, my ability to know what was really worth me putting my efforts into and what was just me spinning my wheels.
Support - Nick: Yeah. I think an adviser is really overlooked because how are you supposed to let go of all the details if someone's not there to tell you, "It's okay. This is how you're going to grow. It's going to be all right." You have to trust other people. What's the point of putting in systems if you're going to continue to overlook them constantly? The point of a system is to let go of something.
Ashley Keefe: Yeah. 100%. And I remember when we first hired our manager-
Support - Nick: It's a big for a lot of studios.
Ashley Keefe: It was a huge step. And-
Host - Dan: We know with studio it didn't go so well for.
Ashley Keefe: I was still in my control freak phase a little bit. So I was looking over every detail. And A, it wasn't empowering to her to really lift her up and feel like she could make decisions as her own person in that role. But it also just gave me double the amount of work.
Host - Dan: It's exhausting. Yeah.
Support - Nick: Yeah. So now when you started, you said about 14 years ago you really got into yoga itself. And you've been running this studio for about 10 years now. Was that all Modo Yoga? Or how did you get involved in going from practice to management or owning or anything like that?
Ashley Keefe: So yeah. So I started practicing Modo when I was in university. And like I said at the beginning, for me it was the first time that I felt really good in my body and really strong in my body. And so I had dealt with anxiety in the past. And it also created sense of mental freedom. So I was like, "Huh, there's something to this."
Support - Nick: It is magical.
Ashley Keefe: So every city that I went to after university... I went to Toronto. I went to Montreal. And they all had Modo studios. So before I even unpacked my boxes, I looked up where the closest studio was to me. And I found a sense of community in the studio and that same sense of physical relief and mental relief that I really needed at that time in my life.
Ashley Keefe: And I remember going to a big event that was hosted by the founder of Modo. There was 400 people doing yoga together. It was a big fundraiser. And I ran into one of my original teachers. And she just gave me a big hug. And she said, "Oh man, when are you going to go and do the teacher training and open a studio?"
Host - Dan: It's like, "Huh. I guess now I have to do that."
Ashley Keefe: I am not kidding. I went home right after that class. I applied for the teacher training. I called my family-
Support - Nick: Oh wow.
Ashley Keefe: I'm like, "Dad, I'm quitting my job in three months. And I'm going to go be a yoga teacher and open a studio eventually." I knew I had to practice and all that kind of stuff. But the vision became so clear. I'm like, "This is what it is. This is what I'm meant to do."
Ashley Keefe: And again I was young. I didn't know what I was getting myself into. But probably I would say it was a good thing.
Support - Nick: For how anxious you said you were, you probably didn't want to know everything.
Ashley Keefe: No, I definitely didn't want to know. I just had to keep rolling forward. And I mean 100%, there were sleepless nights. And I'm not going to pretend like it was easy by any means. It was a big commitment, a lot of money went into opening the business. We borrowed from many different places. We're on a hook for that. And signing a 10-year lease in-
Host - Dan: That's a long lease.
Ashley Keefe: [crosstalk 00:14:13] commercial space was really scary. But I just had this internal trust that it was going to work out. If it could turn my life around in such a profound way, I knew that it could help other people. And I just went for it.
Host - Dan: That's awesome. And a 10-year lease, I mean just the thought of that when most people are starting out they're just like, "What am I doing? 10 years?"
Support - Nick: "It's half my life at that point."
Host - Dan: Yeah, I can't even imagine where I'm going to be in 10 years.
Ashley Keefe: Me too.
Host - Dan: So now more than 10 years later, how regularly are you still doing these leadership trainings and finding new ways to do just about any... Systems, once you got a system working, you keep it. You don't change it if you don't need to unless it's improvement. How regularly are you doing these leaderships and changing little things and still tweaking things more than 10 years in the business to help it grow and work at its optimal performance if you will?
Ashley Keefe: Yeah. Well for sure. Once you have a system that's working, there's always ways that you can improve slightly. But I'm big on when something is working and it's helping the machine move like a well-oiled machine, then don't start changing it because everybody that's working within that system has to relearn it.
Ashley Keefe: But I'm constantly doing leadership trainings. And I just finished a four-month training early last year. I do my own things online. I'm heading over to Tony Robbins for a day program. I sign myself up for communication workshops because I feel like it's really really important when you're working with people to continuously learn and improve in those areas because it's a dynamic process.
Host - Dan: For sure.
Ashley Keefe: Yeah.
Host - Dan: So one thing I'm really curious about and I often wonder this for myself is when you go to communication workshops, Tony Robbins, things like that; how often do you walk away from something and you go, "Oh my god. That sounds great. No wonder this is successful. It all makes so much sense." And then you go to put it in practice, and you're like, "Uh." Or you learn something in the communication workshop, say this in this situation, and it seems robotic. How often do you go to a workshop and what you walk away with 80%, 90% of it is actionable and effective? Or how often do you go and you go, "Maybe 20% of that is actionable in a non-vacuum environment. And that wasn't as valuable as I thought it would be."
Ashley Keefe: Well that's a good question. When I go to these things, I mean there's so many different ways, right? There's so many approaches and techniques and styles. And sometimes I'll go and they won't really resonate with me. So like you said, it does end up feeling a bit robotic when you try and put it into practice. But I still always feel like there's value in learning, trying it on, so staying open-minded through the process, giving it a shot, and of course sharing with the people around you what you're working on too. So that you don't come back and all of a sudden, all your language is different and everyone's like, "[crosstalk 00:18:00]-
Host - Dan: Right. Right. It doesn't come across disingenuous?
Ashley Keefe: Yeah, exactly. So yeah, for me the language definitely gets integrated into my day-to-day life. I keep what really lands and resonates with me. And the language that doesn't really resonate or feels like it's not authentic, then I have it still in my tool belts but I don't have to call on it in those times of need.
Host - Dan: Sure. Absolutely. Because I know we've gone to a couple things. And we've heard stuff. And we just look at each other. And everyone in the crowd will be cheering. And we'll be like, "No, we don't agree." Now then again we're not the one being paid lots of money to be up on stage. So sometimes who am I to disagree? But other times I feel like some things either just doesn't fit into our business model or it doesn't resonate with the way we run our business. And to be honest, I really sometimes find myself at an impasse.
Host - Dan: It's a judgment call. Who am I to doubt what they're saying? These people are successful. They're teaching me their systems. We want to talk about systems. They're teaching me their systems. On the hand, I say it doesn't resonate with me. Or in some ways, I disagree with how that would work for my business. Am I being savvy? Or am I being stubborn?
Ashley Keefe: Yeah. I mean that is a really good question. And I think it's going to be so dependent, right, on the situation and where you're at in your business.
Host - Dan: Yes. That's a big thing as well.
Ashley Keefe: For sure. I mean I've done trainings in the past where nothing has resonated or it's been over my head. Or I've disagreed or have a judgment about what they were teaching. And then years later, circled back around.
Host - Dan: Oh that's interesting.
Ashley Keefe: And all of a sudden it was like, "Oh I get it now."
Host - Dan: I wasn't ready for it yet.
Ashley Keefe: I wasn't ready for it yet. Like that old saying when the student's ready-
Host - Dan: The teacher will appear.
Ashley Keefe: The teacher will appear.
Host - Dan: Yup. That's exactly what I was thinking when you started talking about that.
Ashley Keefe: Yeah. So yeah, that's happened to me. And so I always try and listen with an open mind even if in the moment I'm thinking to myself, "No." Because you never know when it's going to come back or make sense. So yeah, I think always looking at these things with an open mind is important.
Host - Dan: Sure. Now when you're putting all these things into practice, now what percentage of your day-to-day activities actually are involved in running the studio, right? You've got all these systems. Does that really free you up from the majority of... Could you go away for a week and check-in with your manager and come back the studio is still stable?
Ashley Keefe: Yes. 100%. And that was for me really important because I started my business so that I could make a difference in other people's lives not so that I could work 150 hours a week.
Host - Dan: Yeah, I hope not.
Ashley Keefe: And time freedom and flexibility are important to me. They're part of my values. So I was really clear that when I started to create systems for my business that that was going to be a part of how I created them. And also like we talked about before, letting go of the need to control and be a part of every little detail, that was part of my own mindset training and personal development training that I needed to work through so that I could go away and trust that the people that are in the positions of leadership in our studio feel empowered to make decisions. And should they make a decision that we might not want to make again, then it's just a conversation that we get to have. And we all get to learn from it.
Support - Nick: I really like that takeaway. It's a conversation we get to have.
Ashley Keefe: Yeah.
Support - Nick: It's such a better leadership mentality instead of, "You messed up," because then they don't feel empowered again.
Ashley Keefe: 100%. Yeah. So that has been a game changer for me to get to a place where I can say, "Yeah, I have full trust in you and the training that you have. And just that your heart is in the right place, the place that is within our values and what we want to create in this space that you're going to make the best decision you know how with the information that you have." And if it warrants a conversation, then we just sit down and have a conversation on how we could do it differently next time.
Ashley Keefe: So yeah, I like that way of working. I used to be the person who was like, "Oh no. Why did you do that?" And it's not fun for anybody. And it really stunts people's growth.
Support - Nick: Yes. Yes. I think that's key because like you said, if you want to walk away, then you have to empower people to do the great job that you want to be done. And if you're not working on them growing, then you're belittling them and forcing them to feel afraid at work when they should feel ready to work. And yeah, that all makes a ton of sense.
Ashley Keefe: Mm-hmm (affirmative)-
Support - Nick: So now how has Modo Yoga... So Modo Yoga is a franchise, right? You told them, "I want to up a studio." And they said...
Ashley Keefe: They said, "Here's the application."
Support - Nick: Okay. So other than the brand name... For example, I think because my buddy opened up a Muscle Maker Grill that just went terrible. And they were like, "Here's the menu. Here's the prices. Here are the specials." What is at Modo Yoga? And how have you made it your own?
Ashley Keefe: Modo is an incredibly community of studios. So when we first opened 10 years ago, we weren't a franchise. We just-
Support - Nick: Wow. Okay.
Ashley Keefe: We had a license to use the name. There was only 10 or maybe 13 studios when I first opened mine.
Support - Nick: So you're an OG of Modo Yoga.
Ashley Keefe: Totally OG, yeah. And we used to get together once a year in the founder's living room to chat about how we wanted to move together as a small community we were for the next year ahead. And now, we're over 100 owners. And we take over a massive camp every year.
Host - Dan: Wow.
Ashley Keefe: It's been really cool to see it grow and evolve but continue to stay really true to its pillars and its values. And so one unique thing about this franchise is that twice over the last eight years, they have put one to two year pause on accepting applications to open new studios because they're also very committed to making sure that their systems are really dialed in and they're not just growing for the sake of growing.
Ashley Keefe: So it's been really really cool to watch that evolution. And I feel really grateful to be part of a franchise. I can call up anyone of those 100 owners at any time and share a challenge I'm having. And they're there to help. If they've been through something, they'll share their experience or the documents that they've created. And it's really neat. It's different than what else is out there.
Host - Dan: I think that's really cool that you have the community aspect, that you guys all go [crosstalk 00:26:51]
Support - Nick: [crosstalk 00:26:51] mastermind.
Host - Dan: Yeah, you take over a camp. You've met the other Modo Yoga owners. You got something similar, but you all do things differently. I think that's all...
Ashley Keefe: Yeah.
Host - Dan: And just talk about professional network, you've all gone to different trainings, different seminars. You're going to have one or two I'm sure that you rave about. Someone else will have a different one they rave about. And suddenly you both have new things to put on your schedule to go check out.
Ashley Keefe: Totally. In May, we just got together for our annual General Meeting. And they brought in a woman who spent... The whole workday was about building the body in a leader. So our workshops that day were all experiential and dynamic. We're working together in groups and communication and meditation on our own patterns and all that stuff. It was really really cool because then we're going to take that back into our businesses and start to apply that learning.
Ashley Keefe: So for sure like you said a mastermind type situation which is, again if you don't have a coach, find a mastermind.
Support - Nick: Yeah. Yeah.
Ashley Keefe: That network of people who are looking to up-level and looking to grow because that's how you're also going to grow.
Support - Nick: And I mean you could type into Facebook and just say, "Yoga studio owners," or "Yoga studio mastermind." There are so many groups you could join. Find one that's right for you. Totally agree. A lot of times as an entrepreneur we feel like we're on a stranded island when really I mean for yoga and Pilates, we know there's over 40,000 businesses. You are not on a stranded island. There are plenty in the local area, plenty in the national, plenty in the international level. You can find a group of people that you can bounce these problems off of and just move faster, just move faster through your issues.
Ashley Keefe: And what you just said made me think too. One of the cool things that I've done in my community is I've connected with other yoga studio owners who aren't part of our franchise. I mean I know them from outside of the studio as well. But we get together once a quarter. We have a glass of wine. And we chat about our challenges and our success, and ask each other questions, and share things. And that's something that also doesn't really happen. Like here are three studio owners in a very close vicinity who anybody else looking outside would say, "These are competing. What the hell are you doing?"
Ashley Keefe: But that community, that camaraderie, that willingness to support only uplifts the other businesses. More people doing yoga is not a bad thing.
Support - Nick: That's what I was going to say-
Host - Dan: There's more people coming through your doors, their doors, everyone's doors.
Ashley Keefe: Yeah. And we teach a very specific type of yoga. And if it's really not for somebody, I'm going to send them to another local studio that I stand behind because I know what they teach. And that means that that person's not going to go home, throw out their yoga mat, and never step onto their mat again. So I think that that's really important. And so don't be afraid of the competition because the competition just means there's more people out there that want what you're offering.
Support - Nick: Yeah. Yeah. And a lot of it depending on the area, we always talk about it on the podcast is just education to the market. If there's more yoga studios, now they're starting to think, "Oh what is this yoga? Yoga is a thing. I'm going to go try that yoga thing." And then you just find that studio that works best for them.
Support - Nick: I think what's really cool about you meeting up with the local studio owners is now you can all talk about what's your niche offering so that you're not stepping on each other's shoes, other's toes because you guys are-
Host - Dan: You all win.
Support - Nick: You guys aren't going anywhere. So you might as well figure out how do we all win.
Ashley Keefe: Yeah. Yeah.
Support - Nick: Could you imagine the 20-mile radius where over 50% of the population does some form of fitness?
Ashley Keefe: Yeah.
Support - Nick: Well that's really cool. Do you have anything else, Dan?
Host - Dan: No. I think that was super informative. I love how you stay educated. You keep learning and you pass that learning to your staff. That's good leadership on your part. And you're educating them to be leaders.
Host - Dan: I think it's awesome takeaways for everyone to implement the systems. You want to get an extra hour of sleep in the morning, teach somebody else step by step everything you do to open the studio and how to shut it down at night. The more we do these, the more I hear about systems. So I think you're ahead of the curve with planning all that.
Host - Dan: Are there any closing words you want to leave people with? What's the best way for them to keep the conversation going with you?
Ashley Keefe: Yeah. For sure. Well I just want to just touch on what you said about winning. I think it's really important to your growth as a leader to ask yourself, how can everybody win in this situation? Not just how can I win or how I can get more or how can my business grow? But how can we all work together and so everybody wins because there's always a way where everybody wins. And so I tell people to just try that on.
Ashley Keefe: And yeah, I mean people feel free to reach out. I'd love to hear what landed. If I can support in any way or answer questions, you can email me at firstname.lastname@example.org or check out my website at ashleykeefe.com.
Support - Nick: Awesome. You beat us to it. I was going to say how do we get people to get in contact with you. So we'll have all that information up on our website. Ashley, thank you so much for coming on. And we'd love to have you back.
Ashley Keefe: Thank you so much. It was a pleasure.
Host - Dan: Thanks. Have a good one.
Host - Dan: So if you liked this episode, be sure to go and leave us a review. Your feedback helps us make better episodes every week. If you're a studio fitness owner who wants to streamline processes with a studio management software that's actually affordable, check out fitDEGREE. Go and find us at fitDEGREE.com. That's F-I-T-D-E-G-R-E-E.com to talk with a team member today. We'll see you back here next week, same day, same time for another podcast episode featuring amazing studio fitness owners. See you later everyone.