Successful Martial Arts Gyms: Problems they had to overcome & How they came to be what they are today

All Martial arts gyms want to be successful in one way or another but the question is how and what you do to overcome the problems and barriers you are faced with when running a martial arts gym.

First the meaning of a successful gym according to the following owners of well-established martial arts gyms:
David Roger owner of the Rising Crane Centre, one of the longest running Chinese martial arts gyms in the UK said that: “A successful Martial arts gym is one where people will keep coming back because they­­­ have had a good experience and are getting results.” He also said that, “a good school will put the goals of the members first, and the ability of the owner/instructors second.”

David Ross, owner of NY San Da, one of the top 50 martial arts schools in the USA defined success: “as having three of the following aspects, money, achievement and happiness. Different people have various ideas of achievement. For some it is getting people black belts, winning tournaments, helping people achieve weight loss and finally, being happy.” He stated you should, “Do what you love and love what you do?”

Helen Cummings, owner of Dragon Wushu School of Chinese Martial arts said that their biggest success: “apart from the numerous competition results, was having produced successful stuntmen, Andrew Lister and Tom Rodgers.” She also said that. “Other students are also training to be stuntmen, and that watching the kids go from nothing to kicking their own faces and doing aerials is really great.” Therefore the student’s success in life can also be seen as one of the major outcomes of a successful gym especially if their career path is one that needs a martial arts backing.

How success is achieved:
Mr. Ross also strongly believed that “one of the elements of success is vision and dedication to that vision.” This is something that he experienced first-hand, as he stated that: “I am where I am today because no matter what, I refused to change that vision. I went with the times and gave people what they wanted but I did not water down my classes or make the classes easier. I now have over 1000 students in the New York area, most are regular people yet ALL of them have the basic martial art skill, not any watered down made up stuff” He also said that, “People start up a business, a few months in it is a struggle and then they give up. They should always have a ‘plan B.” Just in case something goes wrong. Therefore, you should make sure you have a clear direction as to what you want to be accomplished. Then make sure you have the drive and motivation to carry it through.

There are three points which Mr. Ross stated you needed to be a success in the martial arts industry, these are:

  • To teach a great class, and have a great program
  • Marketing and customer service
  • To acknowledge you do not know everything, and learn to ask for help

This is something that David Ross learnt as he realized that his weak points were marketing and customer service, it was only after he learnt these that his business started to gain success.

The internet was another major factor in his success and something else he had to learn as by 2007 the media and market was changing and he did not understand technology or social media, so he got help. He said: “I put my ego in the closet; duck taped my mouth and listened to someone who had once been my martial arts student. A lot of Martial arts guys would be like ‘you are my student, I am you senior, and I am a master.’ It is this ignorance and pride that is the reason some people end up going under and closing down, because they refuse to listen or ask for help.”

The result of learning how to use the internet to his advantage meant that Mr. Ross more than TRIPLED his business in two years going from an average of 25 new members a month to around 60 members a month. He said, ‘the new technology, had it made it easier but I am still constantly learning about it because technology, social media, trends and demographics change every day. Similarly, Mr. Rogers also believes that internet is crucial in the martial arts industry especially in attracting and recruiting new members, as more than 80% of all sign-ups that he gains are through his website. So in order to run a successful gym the internet is an essential tool as it allows you to do a number of things including interacting on forums, social media and essentially putting yourself out there.

What Mr. Ross said was one of the key points to his success is Google if you put terms relevant to his gym, his gym has the first seven of the first ten results. He did this by having a number of back links, reviews on 57 review sites and active accounts on the main social media sites. This means that the average person never sees his ‘competition.’ And it is from the internet that he gets over 100 intros a month and signs up about 60% of them. This is something he said anyone could do, except they do not because they do not ask for help in order to do so.

Other components to operate a successful martial arts gym according to Mr. Rogers are:

  • Giving a really good experience to members
  • Delivering RESULTS
  • Having nice clean facilities, with well-maintained equipment, friendly staff and exciting classes.

Mrs. Cummings and Mr. Ross also mentioned the facilities, stating it had to be well kept as no one wants to train in dirty facilities. Mr. Ross also mentioned it should be awe inspiring and motive people to train.

Overcoming Problems:

One of the biggest problems that Martial arts gyms would have faced, is in 2008 when the recession hit, this was the cause of many Martial art gym closures as in a recession leisure is the first thing to be cut from a family’s tight budget. Mr. Rogers was also affected by the recession as his membership dropped by 30% or so. In order to get the same amount of sign-ups as before he had to do much more advertising, and promoting to get the same result, but he never gave up and now in the last 12 months, due to the pre-recession his numbers are building up again. Mrs Cummings on the other hand made the choice to move to cheaper premises in order to keep the gym running. But, neither gave up and both martial art gyms are still running successfully today after having survived the recession.

So whether you are currently running a martial arts’ gym or are planning to start one these are a few things you should keep in mind:

David Rogers:
Running a school is not about you, it’s about your members. It is not enough to be a good martial artist, instead you must be a good teacher, and that takes study and practice.
Also you need to really study advertising, marketing, customer service, instructor training, decor and design, accounts, computing, all of the things that are needed for the day-to-day running of the business.

If you are not willing to spend a lot of time on those things, you would be better off working as an instructor at somebody else’s gym.

David Ross:
If you want to run a martial arts’ gym, ask yourself if you really want a BUSINESS. There are three steps to consider both whilst running a martial arts’ gym and before opening one these are:

  • Acknowledge it is a business, and if you don’t want that just stop right there.
  • As a business, realize that you have to sell a product that people want, not what you want.
  • And number three, ASK FOR HELP, seek out help… and keep an open mind.

These are the factors that you should be thinking about in order to create a successful gym, so if you are running a gym already or planning on opening one. Then think have you done what you can to make it successful, have you learnt to use the resources around you to the best of your advantage, or are you struggling because you refuse to learn something new or ask for help.

Interviewees:

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