The Kripalu Center for Yoga & Health promises “a world of yoga, holistic health, and self-discovery” at its facility in the Berkshires in western Massachusetts. But until recently its catalog, with black-and-white photos printed on low-grade paper, did not reflect the Kripalu experience.
The catalogs were “stuck in the 1970s,” says CEO/chief creative officer Ila Sarley, who joined Lenox, MA-based Kripalu nearly three years ago. In addition to the black-and-white photography and the downscale paper, Sarley says, “the design was not as creative, and they targeted a very small market. What I found was there are so many people who love what we’re doing, but didn’t know about us.”
Beginning in 2004, Sarley says, “we changed the look and feel of what we were doing. It was the tone of the catalog, how we were educating people about what we were doing. Former leadership didn’t have a good connection to the marketplace.”
The catalogs now include color photographs, plus in-depth information on the center’s programs and background on Kripalu’s nationally known speakers. The paper stock has been upgraded too, from uncoated unrecycled to coated recycled.
Sarley credits the improved and more appealing catalog for much of Kripalu’s 71% rise in operating revenue, from $14 million in 2003 to $24 million in 2006. The number of guest nights at the facility rose nearly 40%, from 66,177 in 2003 to 93,000 in 2006. Kripalu also launched other direct mail campaigns, including targeted postcards for marquee programs, after Sarley’s arrival.
Second time around
This is Sarley’s second stint at Kripalu. She first joined the organization in 1975 and spent 20 years there, leaving in 1995 to work at the Omega Institute for Holistic Studies in Rhinebeck, NY. While Sarley says Kripalu’s former management had struggled with the business, the team that took over in March 2004 — which in addition to Sarley includes her husband, company president Dinabandhu Garrett Sarley — made modernizing the facility and its message a priority.
The timing was right, as yoga has only gained in popularity during the past 20 years. Today 16.5 million people practice yoga in the U.S.; they spend $2.95 billion on related products and services each year.
“We looked at what was going on with yoga and communicated that we were one of the top yoga centers in country” and had evolved from the ’70s, Ila Sarley says. “One of the big things was deciding to cultivate the faculty, who were teaching all over the country but not necessarily teaching here.”
Tom Rocco, vice president of marketing and communications at Kripalu, says the business didn’t have an inhouse marketing team until Sarley returned in 2004. “When Ila came, she started a key-coding system because we had no tracking of lists,” Rocco says. Sarley began renting lists to expand Kripalu’s prospecting efforts and studied the response analysis reports so that she could fine-tune the campaigns.
The catalogs, which mail four times a year, are roughly 100 pages. Rocco says circulation has increased slightly every year and is now 1.2 million. “Our average revenue per catalog came close to doubling in 2004,” he says.
Sarley says she and her husband were confident when they took over the business nearly three years ago, but “these results have exceeded our goals by about 25%-30%. We knew we could do this, but we didn’t realize this much success so quickly. I’d guess the catalog has contributed at least 40%-50% to this success. A lot of it was programming, but no one would be coming to these programs without these catalogs.”