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The entrepreneur who turned a former Jiffy Lube into a top yoga destination


Piper Zen Yoga GarageScreen Shot 2015-10-29 at 12.53.01 PMIt takes some seriously creative thinking to see a former Jiffy Lube location and think, “I know—we’ll turn this into an awesome local yoga studio.” And then some serious business skills to actually pull it off.

But while Piper Parker wore many hats prior to opening Zen Yoga Garage on Chicago’s Milwaukee Avenue in 2013 (classically-trained dancer, financial services admin, and marketing exec, to name a few), entrepreneur, she insists, wasn’t one of them.

“When my business partner [Bill Senne] approached me with the idea, he literally brought me the book Business Plans for Dummies,” laughs Parker, who will be hosting a full-on yoga fest at the studio for Small Business Saturday—a day she loves because it feels “so authentic and local” and opens people’s eyes to the innovation around them.

In her own words, Parker tells us how she managed to help launch one of the Windy City’s most beloved wellness destinations, transforming her own life in the process.

My “aha!” moment
After college, like so many other people I moved to New York and tried to make it on Broadway. I ended up doing temp work and spent four or five years with Goldman Sachs. Eventually, I got into marketing and, honestly, I had a lot of fun. But I just kept thinking, “There isn’t enough for me to make a fulfilling career here.” Around that time, I did a yoga teacher training and went to work for a corporate yoga company.

For me, it actually took someone else—my business partner—coming to me with the idea of starting an independent yoga studio for me to make that final change. I took Business Plans For Dummies home and after about a month of chewing on it, I realized I could write a business plan. And I had some really strong convictions.

Zen Yoga Garage

The best piece of advice I ever got
Have patience and gratitude—this applies to practicing yoga and starting a business. You might think you’re going to open your doors for business and there are going to be 100 people in the studio. That’s just not the case. There are going to be 10 people for the first couple of days and weeks. You have to be patient, accepting, and grateful for every single person coming through that door. Now that we’re at the point where we have 200 people a day, I constantly have moments where I stop and look around at the community we’ve built…and I’m so grateful.

What owning a yoga studio is really like
I teach yoga four to five days a week. I can’t get enough of it. I want to do yoga all day. Even on a lot of my vacations, it’s all I want to do—I’ll go to a yoga festival. As a small business owner, though, I do work hard, really hard. It’s 16 hours a day, 365 days a year, and it’s hard for me to turn it off, for sure. But the difference is that I used to work for someone else’s dream. Now, I’m doing it for my own.

Zen Yoga Garage 2

Why it’s worth the hard work
l love the changes I see in people when they practice yoga. I see them become more rooted, more self-expressive. They become part of a community. It’s so meaningful to see those changes right in front of your face. My job now never feels like it’s a job. I can see myself doing this when I’m 80.

What I love most about Small Business Saturday
I’m grateful for the energy around it! It’s so important for people to notice that there’s a difference between the types of companies that offer services. Small studio yoga isn’t for everyone, but for those who like to “do local,” it’s a meaningful and appropriate fit.

My advice for other fitness entrepreneurs
Do as much prep work beforehand as you can—know what you’re getting into, and give yourself an emergency fund. But then, jump!

Zen Yoga Garage’s Small Business Saturday class will take place on November 28 at 9:15 a.m. Attendees will be treated to juices, natural beauty products from Organic Bath Co. and Osmia Organics, and a Well+Good tote. To sign up, visit zenyogagarage.com (Booking opens two weeks prior to the event.)

(Photos: Zen Yoga Garage)