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Thread: Opening a School....Is It Worth It?

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    Question Opening a School....Is It Worth It?

    I've been flirting with the idea of opening a martial arts school for quite awhile now.
    The first problem I see with it is the number of places that have opened up and closed their doors in my area anywhere from a few months to a year.
    There isn't a huge potential student base with a population of around 35,000 for the surrounding area.
    I want to be able to contribute to our organization by simply spreading the art around.......but I also want to do it on my terms, which means that a whole lot of people probably wouldn't stick around because they would think the training was a bit too tough......which would be my 2nd problem. Learning a martial art in my opinion is learning war.......the training is like boot camp, hard yet rewarding if you can stick it out.
    this leads to the 3rd problem......people want results fast (meaning belts and lots of them), I'm a stickler for our curriculum.....it covers a lot of material.....and some people simply don't want to put in the time to learn something thoroughly.
    What I might end up doing is having a study group free of charge.....or maybe $5 a class, in my backyard. That way I can do it my way, and people do not need to feel obligated to stick around if they can't hack it.

    Who has a school/ thinking about opening one/ had one and called it quits?
    What kind of problems did you encounter, etc?

    I want to hear from everyone.......but especially the traditionalists, because these seem to be the kind of schools that dont last.

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    Default Re: Opening a School....Is It Worth It?

    Be prepared for the long road. You willprobably have to pay put pf your own pocket more often than not. People don't mind hard training but beating on people in the name of tradition doesn't fly either. Lastly until a person is a 3rd degree Black Belt they should not attempt to open a school unless they have the direct support of their instructor and association, with so many fly by night people out there the public expects to see higher ranks than first degree running a school.
    Quality outweighs quantity every time.

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    Default Re: Opening a School....Is It Worth It?

    I have owned a school for over 10 years so this is what I have figured out.

    1. Hard, not impossible. I train hard too but most people are not going to put up with that. I divide the martial arts in this country into three phases, the blood & guts days, the guts days, and the I'll Sue days. Keep in mind that we are in the I'll Sue days now. The best you'll be able to do is offer an art to all then develop a hard core group around you that you can train seperately. if you try to train everyone like you like to you will lose students.

    2. Train the mind as well as the body. Don't just show them how to punch and kick. The style I started with just did that. I didn't know anything else. When I started a school I wanted to teach the same but then I discovered that it was a lot better to learn how to stop a fight before it gets started rather than get into one. Students need to be strong physically but also mentally. Funakoshi's precept applies here. I know most kenpoists don't want to hear it but it is better to win by not fighting.

    3. You are going to have to teach kids. If you can't then don't bother opening a school.

    4. If you are unwilling to put in the time then don't start. A TKD teacher with 2 schools told me that over 10 years ago. The school is going to take a lot of time. It's going to eat into your personal life. Spouses, family, and significant others will suffer. if they aren't going to supportinve or at least understanding you are looking at a lot of lonely times ahead.

    5. It's a business. I know it's your art but it's a business. I made that mistake when I started. I let a lot of stuff slide because it was my art. A beginner MBA would have told me I was wrong but I would not have listened. it took me a long time to find the balance between the art and the business.

    6. Teaching is an obligation and a privledge. That doesn't mean you let your students slide but remember that it is an honor to be able to teach. Don't take your students for granted. They must respect you, not fear you.

    Hope this helps.

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    Default Re: Opening a School....Is It Worth It?

    I started with someone who only taught a few people out of his home. Lessons were free, but you had to show up well practiced and prepaired or you were out. And you had to take the hits- not cruel or grueling, but this is a contact art! Only one person other than me stuck it out for more than a couple of months. Most didn't last a couple of weeks.
    Look at most schools and you'll see that 90% of the students are there just to pay the bills. If you are looking for quality only, I'd say don't bother opening a school, just go the cheap route and do it out of your home.

    As for charging a minimal fee, I'd think twice about it. Charging could put you in the legal position of being a professional school- with all the legal obligations and liabilities. If you are going to charge, I'd charge enough to cover the expenses, including insurance.

    I really think that some of the best schools around any more are just training groups that are led by someone in their garage or back yard. I've seen some schools around here that were good schools (including AK) either go MMA or go under. But some of them retained a core group that trained together and do better than their parent school or organization!

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    Default Re: Opening a School....Is It Worth It?

    Hey Shawn,

    Sorry I haven't been around to add to the discussion, miliary matters were taking up most of my time.

    As far as opening up a school...Melj7077 and thedan have some great advice. You should take some time to think about how you want to portray your art. You should take some time to think about how much time you want to put into it. You should also consider that as you live in Canada, that it is not Okinawa or Japan. The people here do not see martial arts the same way as they do over there. To a vast majority of people here it is nothing more than something to do when there is nothing good on TV.

    There are many training groups out there that do not have their own schools. I can name four in my area alone and they are QUALITY top notch martial artists that teach a QUALITY program. They do not teach children and they do not teach some one that they can't check up on (can you say back ground checks!?!). They have no interest in making money by teaching and they all have primary jobs (they are not worried about overhead).

    My advice (based on having several friends who have opened schools, some successful and some not) to you would be go to a local school that is already established and ask to rent space from the instructor (some alternatives to this would be to rent space from a church center or to set up a class at a YMCA or local health club). They can then offer Kosho Shorei Ryu Kempo to people who are interested and you can begin to build a customer base while at the same time the instructor that owns the school (if he is smart) has another avenue to bring in revenue. Then if you decide to branch out and open up your own place, the instrcuctor who gave you your start will have a place that he can plugg into for things like seminars and special events.

    There are some rare cases where people have opened up a dojo to propegate the art in the United States but they have done so on their dime. They keep the building open with the help of the few students they train but it is more a labor of love for them (some great examples of people who have done this in the Japanese Martial Community would be guys like Donn Angier and Toby Threadgill). People like this train only a handfull of people at a time so the quality of the instruction is usually much higher than say a class with 30 or more people in it.

    In the end you should go with your gut. There are some good schools out there that are run as a businesses that do teach quality martial arts. They are rare but they do exist. In my personal opinion, based on my experience, most of them are a waste of time for those seeking serious martial art instruction. They spend too much time worrying about paying the bills and not enough time teaching the student body. But if you do open up a school as a business...make sure that you are up front with your student body. Let them know that if you dummy down the cirriculum so Little Miss Soccer Mom could have some thing to do to releive the stress of home, they should be told that they are recieving a watered down version (or version 1.5 if you will).

    To do otherwise would be an invitation to heartache if they should run into the real deal (oh the stories I could tell).

    If you want any advice...just shoot me a PM and I could put you in touch with a couple of people who maintain a quality program while keeping open the doors on commercial schools.

    Regards,
    Walt

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    Default Re: Opening a School....Is It Worth It?

    Sounds like you're getting lot's of good advice. Kudo's to you for having the guts to do it! There's nothing wrong with starting out in your back yard. Many schools start out that way; we did. Then we moved into a gym by renting the aerobics room a few nights a week until finally having the capital and student base to move into a building of our own. Good luck with whatever you decided to do!!
    "It is sobering to reflect that one of the best ways to get yourself a reputation as a dangerous citizen these days is to go about repeating the very phrases which our founding fathers used in the struggle for independence." Charles A. Beard

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    Default Re: Opening a School....Is It Worth It?

    That is a lot of great advice, guys!
    I've always felt strongly about the training group idea over the school idea, people show up because they want to be there, not out of obligatory feelings because they shelled out X amount of dollars.
    How would I let people know?
    Flyers?

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    Default Re: Opening a School....Is It Worth It?

    Quote Originally Posted by Blackcatbonz
    I've always felt strongly about the training group idea over the school idea, ... How would I let people know?
    Word of mouth is the best. Don't be shy about telling friends and associates what you are trying to do. Same with other martial artists in your area if you have a good relationship with them. Sometimes they can steer interested people your way if they just aren't into their art, and you can reciprocate by sending those that want a regular class with certified rank for pay and time in (the kind you don't want, but the commercial schools can't do without).

    See if some of the computer savy techno-geek types here can help you with a web site if you have the resources. And any advertising gurus that can give you advice on catching peoples attention and getting the point across effectively so you aren't just another pixel on the big screen of the world wide web. Bound to be a few of these here, either active or lurking.

    One idea in lieu of payment: we had an arrangement that any equipment needed by the group was either bought, scrounged, or manufactured by the group as a whole. No one had a vested interest in that equipment, so if you left, the equipment stayed with the group and you were not compensated. Our group was allways small, so consensus was easy as to what to get, and it was never abused (expensive or unnecessary gear). This way you are not out a lot of extra money for training equipment. In fact, as the group grows you should not be expected to contribute anything to the equipment fund as you are already giving your time and expertise. I expect that, with the quality of individuals a program like you are trying to establish will attract, they will make this a "rule" themselves pretty early on. Obviously, too, anything that an individual brings for the group to use remains his property unless outright donated to the group or bought by the group.

    I really hope this works out for you! It's a lot of work, but very rewarding. Good luck!

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    Default Re: Opening a School....Is It Worth It?

    People will keep coming back if they know what you're teaching them works. Most people like to know that it works, but don't like getting hit too hard.
    At my school here, we noticed a few guys not showing up after taking a few solid hits. So we toned it down, and a few of our "core" students started an "advanced" class on Wed. nights.
    You see where I'm going? The lightweights/beginners come to pay the bills and will get out of it what they put in. The "core" gets to whail on each other without worrying about losing a student.
    So you can do it if you have a kid's class and you're not too rough with the beginners. When they get to a certain level, you turn up the intensity and you build your "core" whom will accept more grueling training.

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    Default Re: Opening a School....Is It Worth It?

    Flyers are fairly inexpensive. Word of mouth is the cheapest advertising. Schedule a demonstration in a public place (like in front of a Wal-Mart) and hand out flyers there as well.
    "It is sobering to reflect that one of the best ways to get yourself a reputation as a dangerous citizen these days is to go about repeating the very phrases which our founding fathers used in the struggle for independence." Charles A. Beard

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    Default Re: Opening a School....Is It Worth It?

    Quote Originally Posted by Blackcatbonz
    I've been flirting with the idea of opening a martial arts school for quite awhile now.
    The first problem I see with it is the number of places that have opened up and closed their doors in my area anywhere from a few months to a year.
    There isn't a huge potential student base with a population of around 35,000 for the surrounding area.
    I want to be able to contribute to our organization by simply spreading the art around.......but I also want to do it on my terms, which means that a whole lot of people probably wouldn't stick around because they would think the training was a bit too tough......which would be my 2nd problem. Learning a martial art in my opinion is learning war.......the training is like boot camp, hard yet rewarding if you can stick it out.
    this leads to the 3rd problem......people want results fast (meaning belts and lots of them), I'm a stickler for our curriculum.....it covers a lot of material.....and some people simply don't want to put in the time to learn something thoroughly.
    What I might end up doing is having a study group free of charge.....or maybe $5 a class, in my backyard. That way I can do it my way, and people do not need to feel obligated to stick around if they can't hack it.

    Who has a school/ thinking about opening one/ had one and called it quits?
    What kind of problems did you encounter, etc?

    I want to hear from everyone.......but especially the traditionalists, because these seem to be the kind of schools that dont last.
    I can give you some specific insihts because I happen to live not far from you!

    One thing you might want to do is travel somewhere where the population's a bit higher. Peterborough (where I live) has around 70,000 people in the city and more in the county proper. My kung fu teacher actually lives in Madoc and teaches in Peterborough and Madoc. There are also community centres and such that have openings.

    In terms of getting a site, there are a few places you might try. Schools tend to share space here. I don't know if the Peterborough Tai Chi Association has free space right now (they sometimes rent out to other clubs). The Canadian Jiujitsu Council is a networking tool that a number of area schools use. It also provides insurance for member schools. If you're teaching people you don't personaly know, you'll want insurance.

    My preference is to drop belts completely. Teach the material to people who are good enough for the rank but don't worry about it until shodan. I find belt testing annoying and limiting.

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    Default Re: Opening a School....Is It Worth It?

    Each instructor has their own "way" but there is one universal factor which governs all business... money. The number one reason businesses fail is due to a failure to plan... specifically, failure to plan their cash flow.

    I love the martial arts, but my business is accounting. I'll say this one more time... Cash is King and Art and Money don't mix. Artists don't make money until they're dead.

    So... put your belt aside, and pull out a spreadsheet (or pencil for you traditionalists ). Again... if you're going into business dreaming of the "good life" forget it. You'd better love what you do because you won't be able to afford to do anything else. Any small business owners out there care to comment ?


    1/ Have a Business Plan

    Or have one written for you (usually costs a few hundred bucks). This type of document helps you to understand what you're getting into. The plan should detail the nature of your business, how much it'll cost to maintain it on a monthly and annual basis, and how you plan to grow it. If it isn't growing, its shrinking. It should also project a couple of years in the future. Expect attrition in your client base so you'd better be thinking up ways to get more clients. And then plan on executing those plans.

    There's lots of references out on the net for business plans and I'd highly recommend you check it out.

    Your local Chamber of Commerce/small business centre has a wealth of knowledge for you... as well check out the Business Development Bank of Canada (BDC). Fantastic resource!


    2/ Talk (in person) to local school owners... i.e. competition

    Some might think that nobody will talk to them but I've found that this isn't the case. People like to talk about themselves (Kenpotalk... who knew?) and your competitors are your best source of information. Here's the interesting part though... they'll be asking you lots of questions as well. Just because someone may have been in business for a few years doesn't mean that they're living comfortably. In fact, statistically speaking, most small businesses rarely do better than break-even. When I say break-even, I mean it... no salary, no yacht, no retirement package, no golden parachute.


    That's enough for now... I'll just leave with this; when you hear "I admire your courage" quickly translate that to "Oh my God, I can't believe you would take such a risk." Plan plan plan and then plan some more.

    Now that I've touched on the uglier side of small business I have to say that we (my wife and I) have never been more satisfied in our professonal lives as we have been since we started on our own. The risks are high, the road is tough, but at the end of the day there's nothing like it...

    except perhaps... Kenpo

    Cheers,
    Rich

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    Default Re: Opening a School....Is It Worth It?

    What a great post Rich. Very well put.

    I salute you Sir
    Regards,
    Walt

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    Default Re: Opening a School....Is It Worth It?

    To open a school or not to open? Most of us have been through that one. I think probably the most successful franchises are the Tracy system. I am not particularly avocating the system but Al Tracy is a very shrewd at marketing. I have been through several of his talks on marketing. Also he does have a lot of information on his website about choosing locations. The right location can make all the difference. His idea is not to opt for cheap wherehouse space in the poorer part of town but to go to the better part of town and rent the best you can afford. The theory being that most of the people that come through the door can afford the cost of classes. It makes a lot of sense. Also he has a lot good information about where you client base will come from. How far away most of you client base will reach. Do you plan on teaching children?
    In most of the successful commercial schools the kids pay most of the bills.
    A lot more kids take class than adults and the drop out rate is lower. I you plan on running adult classes then it will be a lot harder to make a go of it.

    I had a large 3 car garrage and put in Carpet and mirrors and fixed it up for a mini Dojo. I could handle up to 10 or 12 at a time. You can alternate nights for different classes so you won't be overcrowded at any one time.
    With no high rent overhead it don't make a huge difference if someone drops out. I have had several people in the class from 10 to 25 years. Also with no overhead I can keep the high standards for belt ranks. They learn it right or don't get promoted. They are all comfortable with that.
    If they want fast promotion I have the names of several schools down the road They can go to. I tell them up front that it will probably take at least 6 years to Black Belt. There are no short cuts. This has worked out well for us over the last 26 years. If you own your own property it might pay you to refinance and build on to your garage or other buildings and build your own dojo. At least you will own it yourself and not be paying out everthing you take in for rent. (Make sure the Zoning will let you teach there.) Almost all of my friends that have comercial schools don't make the rent all the time and have to come up with it out of pocket some of the time.
    You have to keep money in reserve for such things. Also if you have no overhead you can charge less for your classes and pick your students that you want to teach.

    I hope thhis is some help to you. It has worked for us for many years.
    Good luck in your Endeaver!!!

    Most Respectfully,
    Sifuroy

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    Default Re: Opening a School....Is It Worth It?

    This post is kinda old so I'm curious - did you open your own school?!? If so, how did it go?

    I myself opened my own school in 2001, and it has turned out to be one of the most rewarding things I have ever done. It was not easy to do...I had to pay for the first six months out of my own pocket. I did not draw a paycheck for the first 2 1/2 years. I had to work another job for the first ~6 years. However, my school is now self sufficient.

    If your town is small (35,000), that may not be a bad thing in that you may not have a lot of competition. I know a lot of people don't like them, but I suggest contracts. One reason is that it gives you confidence of income during the slow holiday months. I actually do month-to-month and contracts; with the month-to-month having a slightly higher rate.

    Also, some statics for you that I once heard and they seem to hold true in my area:
    - Only 20% of new schools make it thru the 1st year.
    - Of those, only 10% make it thru the second year.
    - Nov. 15th to Feb. 15th are the slowest times for the martial arts industry.

    Hope this helps (or maybe someone else thinking of opening a school).

    PorterKenpo

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