Setting up your first school can be a hard task, and deciding on the perfect location is absolutely vital. MA Instructor sent Lesley Jackson out to discover the facts on how to discover the best location for you, your business and your students.
From the local park to a misty mountainside, from the Shaolin temple to a student’s garage, there is no definitive location for a martial arts business. But in this modern age of marketing and presentation, finding the perfect location for your school can mean the difference between your enterprise succeeding or folding. If you want to make a decent living from your martial art, you need to think very carefully about where you are going to have to locate your school and avoid the pitfalls that could make your business go under within its first year.
One of the first decisions you are going to have to make is for what purpose are you going to run your classes? Are you interested in a non-profit making community project, whereby you are able to make your living elsewhere, or do you want to make money from your martial art and run it like a profitable business? For those seeking non-profit social businesses, there is funding available in the form of grants from associations like the National Lottery and the Sport England/Scotland/Wales projects. Contact the local county council’s sport development officer for advice and consultancy, as they offer funds, investment and work space for this type of scheme.
However, for the majority of school owners, your location is going to be your biggest expenditure as you will need a place to train as well as run your school. Book some time with your small business adviser at your local bank and present him with a viable business plan, and investigate the potential for further financial aid through government schemes tailored for new aspiring social business enterprises. There are hundreds of grants available and the Department for Trade and Industry’s website is a good place to start as well as Business Link, which has information regarding financial awards both on a national and regional level. Contact details can be found at the end of the article.
If you are starting your school from scratch and looking for your first location, you may want to use a space that is shared throughout the community as it will be considerably cheaper than finding your own exclusive training hall. One of the best options is a local leisure center due to its already active clientèle and prime location. Most recreational centers in this country are run by local councils and they will usually have a space big enough to practice and teach martial arts which will not be expensive to hire. They also have the advantage of very good changing and parking facilities and you will have to spend less on advertising as you will already have a ready made market of physically active people who will be interested in your martial activity. If your martial art contains sparring of some kind, you may find that you will have to take out additional insurance to cover this, but this cost is easily comparable against renting your own space. The only drawback may be the time factor, as you will have to arrange your classes in agreement to the leisure center’s schedule of events.
Another option is hiring a school hall. You will have a large space that is cheap and well maintained and usually available all year round. Due to these reasons, this will probably make it one of the most popular options but you do need to consider a few points before you march into your local infant school. Choose and research your demographic area carefully. Pay careful attention to the people living in the immediate surrounding areas as this is where you will be drawing the majority of your student base. You need to target families with a disposable income level high enough to pay for lessons, gradings and tournaments, and charge accordingly in order to see your students return and remain for the long term. Unfortunately, it is a truth to assume that an area that looks run down may not be the best place to start your first business as the surrounding population will not have the disposable income to spend on what can be an expensive hobby. However, this could be a good place to start for a non-profit community project which would help to build up your reputation as a martial arts teacher. Once your reputation as a good instructor spreads, you won’t have to work so hard to find your students. Sensei Gavin Mulholland, who is a Chief Instructor of Go-ju Ryu Karate, comments that “it is up to the students to find you, not the other way round.”
Other considerations to think about when using a school hall compared to a leisure center is that you will not have the same level of footfall by being located away from the town center. Therefore, more money will have to be dedicated to marketing costs to attract your clients. This needn’t take up a large chunk of your start-up revenue but it may take up your time, so you will have to advertise in local newspaper and take the time to do a leaflet drop around a two or three mile radius of the school. Until you have an established chain of schools, people are unlikely to travel far for their first lessons and so the surrounding catchment area of your first school will dictate whether your potential business will succeed or fail.
Getting Your Own Space
Another option, or the next stage in your business plan, should be to acquire your own premises from which to run your school. Sensei Mulholland has his own dedicated space because “there is something about a genuine dojo that absorbs all the energy and feeds it back to those who train there.” Much like choosing where to live, you will have the option to either rent or buy your own space and the adage of finding a suitable location is as important for your martial arts business as it is for your house. There will be advantages and disadvantages for both and it will depend on what stage your business is at. Where you are located could spell the difference between your business making a profit or failing.
When choosing a space to rent for your martial arts school, unless you already have a loyal and supportive student base who you can rely on to travel to your school, you will need to choose somewhere in a densely populated area that is easily accessible. Although the cheapest commercial space could be a business unit on an industrial estate, unless you master a very good advertising campaign, you will not attract any footfall customers as they simply won’t find you. The luxury of having your own space will come at a price, (namely your rent, utility bills and council tax) so you must have a sufficient number of students to cover your overheads. One idea could be to lease one of the cheaper shop units in a shopping center. The rent would be less than the prime locations that the chain stores will inhabit, and you will be able to take advantage of the large amount of footfall custom that will form your customer base. Karen Vactor and Susan Peterson, co-authors of the book Starting and Running Your Own Martial Arts School, confirm that, “a good walk-by traffic will bring people into your school. It may pay for itself and then some.” You need to acknowledge that your martial arts business is as much a commercial enterprise as selling TVs or shoes and that you are encouraging your customers to be spending their disposable income as such.
To Buy or Not to Buy
Buying your own space, could you and should you? To convince a mortgage lender to give you the money, you would really need to be an established martial arts business that has a proven track record of making a profit. This will be the most expensive option, as not only will you have the mortgage repayments and the rising interest rates to consider, but you will also have to cover the cost of the building’s insurance and maintenance. However, you will have the comfort of being able to customize your own space specifically to your own needs, such as installing a sprung floor, attaching screwing kick bags to the ceiling and having the mirrors and pictures of your own choice on the wall. Sensei Mulholland speaks about the atmosphere of a purpose built training hall: “I love the power that you can feel in a genuine dojo – the sights, sounds, smells and the feel of the place.” It will, of course, be a good investment but there are risks involved and you need to be brutally honest with yourself before you make that type of financial commitment.
The only other consideration to take into account when finding your own space for your martial arts business is size, as not only will you need to accommodate a class but you may need to run a grading or even a tournament. However, this needn’t be a problem, as hiring a bigger temporary space for the day in the shape of a sports hall is quite easy. If you are affiliated to a particular martial arts association then you could collaborate with other local schools to put on a joint event and halve the costs and organization.