Any yogi you talk to in Nashville knows about Sanctuary for Yoga, Body & Spirit, and rave about co-founders, Tom Larkin and Daphne Larkin. The yoga experience Tom and Daphne have provided to Nashvillians is unlike any other. They opened the Green Hills studio in 2004, while the second location in the Gulch is celebrating its 1 Year Anniversary this weekend! Sanctuary for Yoga offers yoga classes, teacher training, workshops, and the Green Hills location has a boutique filled with yoga clothes, mats, and the like.
If you step into one of Tom Larkin’s classes, you can expect to not only get an amazing workout, but laugh and be entertained. One word to describe Tom is “hilarious,” but another word is “caring.” Tom can somehow focus on each one of his students in a 20-person class. He manages to make everyone feel welcome – but don’t worry, he will catch you if you are “cheating” in a hard pose. Oh, yeah, and Tom is an incredible yogi who can jump into challenging poses without even warming up.
How long have you lived in Nashville? What brought you here?
I have been living in Nashville since July of 1987, so 25 years this month. My dad’s job had brought my family here from Connecticut. I had already gone off to college, but ended up here when I decided to take a little time off from my roaring college life.
What did you do pre-entrepreneurship?
I have had many hats over the years, and I am very glad for my past experiences. They have proved to be very beneficial in running my own business. After returning to college and graduating from Belmont University, I went in to Life Insurance. After that, I have worked in List Management, Website Development, Internet Marketing and Training.
Tell us how you got into yoga. When did you start practicing, teaching, and when did you decide you wanted to jump into entrepreneurship via yoga?
My now ex-wife Daphne got me into yoga about 12 years ago. I was your typical newbie to yoga, starting with videos. I would ask Daphne for assistance, and finally she said I had to go to a class. That class changed my life. I was hooked and haven’t looked back since.
The decision to start a yoga studio came out of our desire to share what was now a deep passion for both of us. We had been trying to move to Los Angeles, but a number of major life circumstances continued to hold us in Nashville. Needless to say, we got the message to stay here. At the time, I had been working at Trane in Clarksville and had been laid-off. As a result, I felt it was an opportune time to enact our life’s work and create Sanctuary.
How did you know at the beginning that the Sanctuary for Yoga concept was strong enough to pursue? How long did it take for you to feel confident you had a sustainable business?
Sanctuary has always been approached as a business to support the passion we have for yoga and our desire to share that practice. At the time, we really didn’t have a studio in town which provided the experience we had been receiving in Los Angeles. The desire was to emulate that feeling here in Nashville. When Sanctuary opened, we approached it as a great opportunity and took it one day at a time. The idea was simple: provide the best overall yoga experience in town.
Daphne was still working at CMA and I ran the daily activities at the studio. We still laugh at how we would talk in the early afternoon and Daphne would say, “How many people were there?” I would say, “Oh, I had 5 today,” and we would be ecstatic. Then the numbers started to grow and word was out Sanctuary was a place to be. I knew it was a sustainable business when we consistently surpassed our expectations and goals. This was somewhere in the first year and a half. The biggest achievement in sustainability was when Daphne could leave CMA and we could both be fully involved in Sanctuary.
When you opened Sanctuary, what was the yoga scene in Nashville?
There were only a handful of studios in town eight years ago, and the styles taught leaned heavily towards Iyengar. So offering a different style which people were not as familiar with seemed like I was filling a gap in the Nashville yoga scene.
What was the ratio between naysayers and supporters of your business idea in the beginning? When you doubt yourself/business like most entrepreneurs do at some point, where do you turn for inspiration?
I don’t really remember any naysayers. Our family was very supportive and were all in on the set-up of getting Sanctuary ready, from painting to building walls and furniture. They continue to be an amazing source of help and assistance as we have expanded.
Doubt is what can get you in trouble. If you are doubting your abilities or what service/product you offer, then it eventually shows up in your presentation or quality of service perceived or received by your clientele. They feel it and respond appropriately. When I get doubtful on something, I work on letting that thought go. It’s hard sometimes, but reflecting on past successes definitively helps. It reinforces what has worked in the past, which can be a guide in what can work in the future. It also infuses positiveness. As a teacher, I look towards my teachers and friends for reassurance or inspiration. I also listen to my true Self and try to stop thinking about whatever is doubting me.
What was the hardest part about starting your own business? (Or what is still hard about owning your own business?) What would you tell someone who wants to quit their corporate job to start their own business?
I think it was signing that first lease. Up to that point, just about everything is an idea or concept. It’s not really set in stone yet. But once you have to really put money down on the table, you have made the commitment and now you have to follow through. Don’t get me wrong, it was also one of the most exhilarating parts of starting the business too. On a continual basis, I think one of the hardest things is maintaining innovation without losing the connection to the original inspiration.
Have a solid business plan. If you have partners, have a solid agreement between you. Be prepared to have no real free time. As a small business owner you are on the job 24/7. It’s not as easy as it appears, especially if you don’t have a great deal of cash flow and you are the employee of many hats.
Pick one: College or Experience?
Experience, which includes college. Everything you have done up to reading this has helped you in some way during your life. Don’t think the little things don’t add up to nothing; they are usually the ones that have been the best teachers in my life.
How do you keep your focus on Sanctuary for Yoga, not swaying to other new ideas or ventures that often jump in the way of entrepreneurs?
Everything I do is in support of what I do on the mat each day. Even playing my drums, skiing, watching a movie, dinner with friends. I feel nothing is a distraction unless you let it be one. Since everything I do is about yoga, I look for the opportunity in “distractions” to better the Sanctuary experience and offerings. Though I have had to say “no” to myself on a few occasions to maintain focus.
What is your most popular product right now?
I would say Power Lunch and it’s early morning counterpart Power Latte. They take a typical 90-minute class and compact it into 60 minutes. So the pace and heat building aspects get you moving and while you gain the benefits of the poses, you can also burn a bunch of calories. See the yoga schedule here.
Why is Nashville a great city to do business? If you could change something about Nashville to make it a better place for entrepreneurs, what would it be?
Nashville is great because it is still growing and adapting to the changing face of its residents. We have such a great community.
Fix the timing on the traffic lights and add more parking.
What’s one piece of advice you would give to maintain a work/life balance?
Not long ago I didn’t need a great deal of work/life balance, since my business partner was my spouse. Looking back on that in comparison to now is have clear boundaries on when work is performed and when no work can be discussed. You still own a business, so don’t get mad if your free time is infringed upon by work. But try not to let that become a habit. It’s a hard one to break.
What’s your favorite area in Nashville and why (or what restaurant/shop/bar is your favorite)?
What can we expect from Sanctuary for Yoga in the next year?
Watch for some really great workshops.
What’s one book, blog or magazine you are reading right now?
I’m really into Science Fiction, and Issac Asimov is probably my favorite writer. Right now I am reading a one-off writer trilogy based on The Foundation Series by Asimov.
What’s one thing you want people to know about you as a person aside from your business?
I love to write poetry.