We had the good fortune of connecting with Franchesca Saunders and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Franchesca, what role has risk played in your life or career?
Risk has played a huge role in my life and career! If nothing in life is guaranteed, then we take risks every single day. I started a wellness business centered around yoga in a very religious society having grown up in The Bahamas from the age of 5. Many people thought yoga was a form of “devil worshipping” and certain poses “awakened demons”; all of which are not true. I applied my knowledge and belief in the practice to be apart of the influence and shift in such a conservative and self-righteous community. Teaching classes and giving presentations began to change people’s minds; especially when I shared my story as to how yoga healed my physically, mentally and emotionally. There was some backlash from some people in the religious community, and for a moment I was afraid that I would not be teaching for long. But I truly believed in the healing power of yoga and meditation from my experiences. I became certified as a yoga teacher and started my wellness company after healing from years of being sick, and suffering from sever anxiety and depression. I was very nervous to start such a business in this society, but I was happy when people became more receptive as they became more educated. My business grew, I landed contracts teaching a multiple studios, gyms and doctor’s offices. I then landed a contract at a resort which exposed me to the international market. I was thrilled that I was able to thrive with my business despite the fears and rejection from many in the religious community.
After about 5 years, things became stagnant. The economy in The Bahamas started to change, resorts started to see less bookings, especially the resort where I had my contract. I was with them for 2 years, then they decided to not renew because they had to make budget cuts. So the wellness program was cut from their budget. I continued teaching on a small scale, I worked with a few corporate companies and then things just became very repetitive then stagnant. I needed a change because I started to feel myself falling back into that depressive state again, and I did not want to return back to that dark place. After visiting Houston for my cousin’s wedding in 2019, my cousins were urging me to move my business to Texas. I was up against a wall in the Bahamas as it was hard to find a job. So I gave it some thought and came back for another visit to Houston in December 2019 where I stayed for 8 weeks researching the market and just generally seeing if this felt right, and it did.
I thought moving was a HUGE risk but playing it safe was not even an option. I moved to Houston in March 2020, then one day after arriving the state went on lock down. At first I was worried, but the lockdown gave me time to do more research and planning; as well as complete my dual MBA program as I was writing my thesis at the time. I also decided to become a licensed Benefits Advisor to have some income until I got my studio established. I found a great, well priced space in a great location while prospecting for clients as a benefits advisor, and opened my studio. Being unknown in this city, was intimidating but I did not want to give up easily and I decided to accept the risk of developing my brand from the ground up in a new market, and take it as another learning and growth experience. The risk hasn’t disappeared as I am faced with it every single day when I work on my business development.
Alright, so let’s move onto what keeps you busy professionally?
I transitioned into the wellness industry after working in the nightlife industry for over 8 years. I worked as a VIP & Private Events Manager at an upscale nightclub at one of the Caribbean’s largest and most popular resorts and casinos. The job was fun at times, but it was also very demanding and the hours were very long; especially for me in my position. You had to have a very strong attitude, be intelligent, sharp and witty all while being professional, personable and discreet. I actually developed a reputation for being “the hot chick with the dread locs at the door” and a “mean bitch”. Quite frankly, I embraced it because in that industry you cannot be a pushover, and I did my job very well and made the club a lot of money year after year. However, considering the fact that the people who came down to open the club and train us were from Las Vegas, they did not expect a “little island girl” to have enough sense to actually learn so quickly. What they underestimated was the fact that I had marketing experience and I also was not impressed by wealth or celebrities; furthermore, I was not intimidated by leadership like they were. They hated that I had brought in some of the biggest private event and VIP bottle service clients in the resort. I had the attention of the departments senior executives who was watching me and had instructed them to ensure that I was included on big marketing projects and events. They hated that and so they did everything they can to get me fired. It was pretty brutal as it included lies, deceit and racism. It didn’t work because Human Resources consistently had this problem with ex-patriots when they came to work in The Bahamas, and they instructed my on how to best deal with the issues as they investigated as things got worse.
I fought this battle with a team of managers who were supposed to be on my side. This is what led to me developing severe stress, depression and anxiety. But if you saw me at work, you would’ve never known that I was suffering so much inside. I emerged victorious because not only was the team from Las Vegas exposed for what they were doing to me but they were also caught breaking many company policies, and had many complaints filed against them from guests at the resort. Some were fired and some did not have their contracts and work permits were not renewed. Unfortunately, about a year later, I developed severe migraines, heart trouble and Carbon Dioxide poisoning from the stress and second hand smoke at the club and casino, I had to quit per the recommendation of 3 doctors. I was next in line for a huge promotion which was what I was aiming for, but my life was at risk. I also had to heal mentally because of the stress of constantly fighting against the other managers on my team who worked against me. I was devastated. This is when I turned to yoga. My first yoga class, I had a very emotional break through, and it took over 2 months for me to heal from the CO2 poisoning. It’s been about 6 years and I am still healing in some ways from the severe anxiety. I no longer have migraines daily but I was left with some sensitivity with my heart; just the slightest bit of stress gives me chest pains and light-headedness.
My brand was build from the strength I gained from enduring so much turmoil every single day at work while being very sick for many years. It was built to show people that you can fight battles against a whole army ALONE and still win! My brand represents that healing can occur no matter how deep your mind falls into an abyss, no matter how much you cry before you head into work and at night, afraid to fall asleep because you simply dread for the next day to come knowing what you have to endure. I steadily remained focused on building my brand to show that even when you have been broken, the scars can still be beautiful enough to inspire others and help them. If I didn’t have a story to tell, then my brand wouldn’t be influential and meaningful; and would not align with yoga principles and my own. The fight actually isn’t over, it is just different this time. I still cry, I still fight off that depressive feeling periodically, but I find so much comfort knowing that I have a strong support system and I still believe in what I am doing with my brand. I can become a little impatient at times but with my experience and a dual MBA in Marketing & Entrepreneurship, I know that it is all apart of the process. I believe in my brand and myself so I am excited to see how my growth will continue in this new market.
Let’s say your best friend was visiting the area and you wanted to show them the best time ever. Where would you take them? Give us a little itinerary – say it was a week long trip, where would you eat, drink, visit, hang out, etc.
My best friend and I have been friends since we were 5 years old. We are both 41 now! If she were to come to Houston, the first place we would visit would be the Museum of Fine Arts. We both have a deep love of the arts, and it was one of the first places I visited when I moved here. We would probably do a museum tour as we both love museums – science, history, culture etc. and visit historical sites and landmarks as Houston has many. We would visit local parks where we would definitely do yoga as we both got certified together to teach, and we love yoga. We would go to the gun range and do some ax throwing because it’s just a different type of activity for us; and one that I would love to do in particular. We would also go to Dave & Busters and laser tag to unleash our inner child; we’ll spend time in the woods as we both love nature. As for places to eat, Vietnamese and Middle eastern food, and we would definitely try various restaurants in search of the best tacos and soul food. Houston is a foodie city, so visiting different restaurants daily would be a major part of her trip.
I am still discovering Houston as I have only been here for a little over a year, and we are just coming out of this lockdown. So we would discover more of Houston together.
Who else deserves some credit and recognition?
My shoutout should be dedicated to my parents, Dr. Francis & Beverly Saunders. I started my business entirely on my own. I used my own money and marketing knowledge and experience to grow. They saw 1st hand how hard I worked, how disciplined I was and how yoga helped my with my ailments. With my dad being a medical doctor, he firmly believed in what I was doing as far as developing a wellness business. Whenever we spoke, I was able to give them marketing statistics, leads and figures in the industry to let them know that my business has the potential to develop internationally. My mom and dad invested in my yoga training when I started, and in my business when I moved and they still provide that support and encouragement. Many times I wanted to quit but they were the ones who kept telling me to be patient and keep working at what I believed in. They were the ones who kept telling me that I can do it, and they believe that I will be very successful when I doubted myself. It was the strength I needed when I felt like a failure. I really did have to learn how to be patient as I wanted big success right away. As a kid growing up, I watched how hard they worked to reach the level of success that they attained over many years, so I knew I had to listen to them as I pursued my dream. I owe a great deal to my parents. I probably would have given up a long time ago if it wasn’t for their love and support.
Linkedin: Franchesca Saunders
Yelp: Prana Soul Wellness
Youtube: Prana Soul Wellness
Other: Google – Prana Soul Wellness TikTok – Prana Soul Wellness
Prana Soul Wellness at The Nassau Yacht Club – Image & Event courtesy of Energy Fitness Bahamas (Regina Smith, Owner).