Napping Your Way to the Top
Andrew Tsunis, a 46-year-old attorney in Manhattan, says he doesn't need strong coffee or a hearty breakfast to get through the day. He needs a nap.
He gets one at Yelo, a corporate wellness center on West 57th Street that offers naps, in 20- to 40-minute increments, for $24 or less. (The center also offers reflexology for the feet, hands, and ear.)
"It's like recharging my batteries," says Tsunis. "I leave my BlackBerry behind. I'm not looking at any deals; the phone's not ringing. I'm not staring at something that needs to be done. I take a vacation from the world."
Even in the city that never sleeps, busy professionals need their rest. Yet it is still something of a departure for a business culture that brags about working 24/7. Can the power nap ever rival the power lunch?
Yelo and another Manhattan center that offers naps, MetroNaps, seem to think so-as do a number of corporations.
New York is the ideal location, says Yelo's founder, Nicolas Ronco. Why? Because it's stressful, the price of real estate is so high that people crave private space, and the city has tons of commuters: 3.5 million a day.
"We have a number of executive clients, because we cater to that population," he says.
Yelo, which opened in February, is negotiating corporate membership deals with Hearst, Newsweek, and Random House, and finalizing one with Time Warner, Ronco says.
MetroNaps, located in the Empire State Building, was started in 2004 by Arshad Chowdhury, a newly minted M.B.A. from Carnegie Mellon. He says he came up with the idea while working as an analyst at Deutsche Bank and watching people fall asleep at their desks in the middle of the day.
Unlike Yelo, MetroNaps offers no spa services. Naps cost $14 for 20 minutes. But Chowdhury's innovation is to sell not just naps but also his EnergyPod-a sleek cocoon that customers settle into-directly to clients.
"Very quickly we learned that our original business model-operate like a gym, attract members, offer napping facilities, and expand through a franchise program-had to change," he says.
Customers did not want to walk more than 5 to 10 minutes to take a nap, he discovered. They wanted to nap nearby. To better accommodate them, Chowdhury sells ($12,485) or rents ($10 per employee, per month) his pods to clients, including hospitals, universities, spas, and companies like Procter & Gamble and Cisco Systems. Rental fees include the EnergyPods themselves, usage tracking, and sleep seminars to get employees napping.Cisco is using Energy Pods at its campus in Research Triangle, North Carolina, in a pilot program that is "part of our ongoing effort to support employee health and wellness, and improve productivity and the services we provide to our customers," Cisco said in an email statement.
Napping may not yet be fully accepted in the U.S. workplace, but Yelo's Ronco was born in Tunisia, where afternoon naps are necessary in order to get through the hot day. Ronco says he also saw lots of midday naps during business trips to South Korea and Japan. When he moved to New York in the late 1980s to work for Time Warner, "I was seeing interesting behavior," Ronco says. "Around 2 p.m., people would go to the bathroom and stay for an hour, napping. People fell asleep in meetings around 3 p.m."
Ronco himself was taking a regular afternoon nap in those days, retreating to his apartment, a few blocks away, for 25 minutes or so, and says the difference in his afternoon was great. He could stay at the office until 9 p.m. or later.
"Before founding Yelo," Ronco says, "I talked to corporations like Time Warner and asked H.R., 'Would you pay your employees to sleep on the job?' And they said, 'Absolutely,'? Companies in intellectual property, where you're using people's brains, are anxious to keep people at their jobs longer by providing benefits."
One million dollars later-Ronco raised startup funds from friends and family-Yelo made its debut. Yelo was named to evoke the feelings of joy, warmth, and safety that Ronco says is associated with the color yellow. He pared the word down for a simple, cross-cultural moniker. In addition to professionals like Tsunis and employees of big media companies, who make up 50 percent of his client base, Yelo gets new mothers who can't find a minute to sleep at home, and even a psychotherapist who deals with addictive personalities who comes in as often as three times a week.
He says he hopes to open three more centers in Manhattan next year-one in the Wall Street area, and two in midtown near Grand Central Terminal and near Central Park-to take advantage of the consulting firms and banks located nearby. He also has Chicago, Los Angeles, and San Francisco offices in his sights.
While sleep may be a precious commodity, the bulk of Yelo's revenue comes from the center's reflexology and massage treatments. Naps account for 25 percent, and the remainder is earned through product sales, including those for aromatherapy and homeopathy. Expenses include payroll and rent: the 57th Street location has 12 employees and 1,800 square feet of space.
The two nap centers in Manhattan may be different enough to avoid direct competition. But one thing they have in common: battling skepticism from anti-nappers.
"Beyond the day-to-day productivity and mood boost associated with a 20-minute nap, people who take a brief nap three times a week see up to a 37 percent decrease in mortality from heart disease," says Chowdhury, who takes three 15-minute naps a week, in response to those who call corporate napping a waste of time and company resources.
"Convincing someone that taking a nap during the day is good for them is like convincing someone that smoking cigarettes is bad for them," he says.
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