View Full Version : Dojo survival in tough economic times

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09-01-2010, 02:17 PM
Hi there,

Anyone else out there struggling right now to keep membership high enough to pay for their practice spaces?

I know we're not the only small club whose membership has dropped significantly in the past couple of years - blame it on the economy or simply the popularity of other martial arts among the general public - whatever the case, this post isn't a request for theories. It's a request for practical ideas.

Aside from trying to partner with another martial arts club to share a space, which has its downsides (not to mention the fact that we don't really have any other connections in the local MA community) - does anyone have any creative ideas for promoting their club or finding an affordable space that have actually worked so far?

At the moment we have been putting out feelers with local community centers in the hopes of finding less expensive practice space but so far, no luck (either more expensive than where we currently are or the hours available are extremely limited).

I'm wondering if we need to "bite the bullet" and start a children's program to pay the bills. Desperate times call for desperate measures...

Brian Gillaspie
09-01-2010, 04:37 PM
I don't think there is anything wrong with a children's aikido program but I'm not sure if that will help you much financially....unless you are willing to run it like a McDojo and hand out belts every month while charging rediculous testing fees.

Marc Abrams
09-01-2010, 05:11 PM
I take teaching the children as a serious opportunity to share this knowledge with the young. My class is not for the McDojo crowd and does not float my dojo. These tough economic times hurt my children classes more than my adult classes. Network, gorilla marketing, post cards to school lists, ...... Keep the name afloat and people will stop by.

Good Luck and remember that surviving this economy is a success!

Marc Abrams

09-01-2010, 05:43 PM
It seems strange, but I know a lot of people base where they go to check things out based on the internet. Do you have a website, facebook or myspace page? Our dojo has a website, but we are in the beginning stages of re-vamping it and we are getting a facebook page up. Media (photo and video mainly) seems to peak people's interest as well.

Public outreach, such as open houses or demonstrations can be helpful depending on the locale. I hear demo's don't really draw people into our dojo where we are, but that doesn't mean it wouldn't work for you.

If there are multiple aikido dojo's (or any successful dojo for that matter) around you, go take a look at their sites, the way they advertise and check out their dojo to see how things are. There is another aikido dojo near us that has a rather large student base. The difference lies in the training atmosphere. They have a more laid back social atmosphere (so I hear, I haven't been to watch) where ours is more of a "no talking, train" type of dojo.

Rayleen Dehmke
09-01-2010, 08:25 PM
How about renting space in a leisure centre, community centre, church, college,....The dojo I train at rents a space at the technical college here and I also dropin at a dojo that has space at a church.

09-02-2010, 11:50 AM
I second the previous idea of making sure your web site, etc are as good as you can make them. For example, ask a non-aikido person (a spouse, parent, co-worker) to find your school, and then sit back and see how they do. Anything that costs you little or nothing... do that to it's fullest. Do you have flyers available outside your dojo for when you're not open? A phone with an answering machine that is checked often? A big sign in the window (or whatever) so random people see you?

I think it's critical that you be aware of the impression that your dojo/school/club presents to the students it already has. Having some small, but visible, projects happen will remind people that the dojo is alive and well despite the attendance problems. (eg, deep cleaning some area inside, some gardening or even just a new plant inside, fixing window shades, a new light, etc) You can organize a "work day" where everyone (not just paying students, but spouses and friends) is encouraged to come spend a few hours hanging out and pitching in. (eg, some student's spouse might love to plant some flowers.) Just the social interaction alone helps those people who are part of the dojo feel great about the dojo.

Finally, when money is still short, your core group should consider making personal contributions beyond your normal dues. You can collectively make up the monetary shortfall so the dojo continues to exist; it is after all a place you value.

09-02-2010, 08:25 PM
If your aiki is any good and you have a nice core of students you probably have the fundamental ingredients for overnight success.
Years back we invested in 'Black Belt management by John Graden' it was a great help in what i was and wasn't prepared to do to have more students in the dojo. The book is a professional approach to running a martial arts business and useful even if you don't want to do it as your day a job, it promises to show how you can have hundreds of students in a month and certainly delivered.
With a grain of salt throw out the Mcdojo and other stuff that makes your skin crawl and just implement what you are comfortable with for more modest growth. It worked for us and helped with identifying some key things like
- getting people to the front dojo (they'll never know how good you are unless they see you).we tried everything , usually more that one - www is a standout winner
- getting them to come back for a second class (even the ones that had a great time, half of them never come back)
- getting them to come back for a second month (turn a fad 'yeah I've done aikido' into someone thats really into it)

etc.. more thoughts from a presentation on the topic to fellow dojo here (http://www.aikidorepublic.com/articles/growing-a-dojo)

Like to how you get on with all the feedback and the dojo down the track. It can be a tough time
best ,

Michael Varin
09-03-2010, 03:02 AM
Guerrilla = irregular tactics

Gorilla = great ape

09-16-2010, 01:42 AM
Dressing up in a monkey suit and handing out fliers always works in my opinion...:)

09-16-2010, 11:58 AM
:) Our dojo is actually working on new flyers (no monkey on it though) Some of the flyers are actually quite interesting. It will be interesting to see which ones are chosen to post.

09-16-2010, 02:56 PM
Word of mouth seems to work. The school has been getting a lot of new students in the last 3 months. Usually summer is slow, because everyone is on vacation. Typically there is this weird influx of students around fall and january because of new years resolution. But the place exploded over the summer.
Word of mouth I think works.

09-16-2010, 10:43 PM
Here in my neighbourhood, there is a Yoshinkan instructor who seems to have built up a successfull little business in a short time. Besides running his normal Aikido class, he always has special courses going; self-defense, self-defense especially for women, Aikido for businessmen, special introductory courses, little one-day events, that sort of thing. He always has flyers ready and always comes up with something new. And there always seems to be a spillover from the special events to his regular class. Donīt know if the approach would work there, but it seems for him.

Janet Rosen
09-16-2010, 11:07 PM
Our little town puts out a three times a yr small catalogue of courses sponsored by/offered through the city - everything from youth sports to dog training to drumming - and our dojo always include short session (few weeks), fairly inexpensive once a week beginning kids class and beginning adults class (which actually takes place as part of our regular, ongoing beginners class so the folks are not isolated). It always brings in a few curious souls and some do stay.

Krystal Locke
09-20-2010, 12:54 PM
Stalk the oldtimers who've fallen out and drop hints that the dear old dojo is struggling.

09-20-2010, 01:32 PM
I have been adding my info to local area info sites, I was surprised to see how many there are,~ `Google Places ` is good, free , plus photo...In the UK the local newsagents shop window works well.
Flyers ...never tried that, I did see a teen guy from the local TaeKwonDo club in the town centre handing out flyers, he was wearing the dirtiest looking gi I have ever seen, orange belt hang down to his ankles, not a good advert.
Henry Ellis

George S. Ledyard
09-28-2010, 02:43 AM
I'm wondering if we need to "bite the bullet" and start a children's program to pay the bills. Desperate times call for desperate measures...

It's a tough time. no question. I know a number of folks who have either closed or have moved back to community centers from dedicated spaces.

I can't imagine how anyone does without a kids program... they pay the bills most places... I don't think that you should look at it as "biting the bullet" to have one. If that's how you feel about training young people, the program probably wouldn't fly. You need someone who is really good with kids to do the program. Someone who actually likes them... This is not necessarily someone senior... they just need to be really good with kids. A good kids program will pay all of your expenses.

09-28-2010, 11:30 AM
I can't imagine how anyone does without a kids program... they pay the bills most places...

Our dojo actually cancelled our kids classes! :eek: Not really sure why.....

09-28-2010, 02:40 PM
I really hate when people view a children's class as something that you just have to have to pay the bills for the adults to train. Children are nurtured and impacted by a study in Aikido as much as an adult. IMO it is a privilege with high responsibility to serve children rightly, in any setting.

Jeremy Hulley
09-28-2010, 04:08 PM
I really hate when people view a children's class as something that you just have to have to pay the bills for the adults to train. Children are nurtured and impacted by a study in Aikido as much as an adult. IMO it is a privilege with high responsibility to serve children rightly, in any setting.

The best places that I know have solid kids programs. It really is what supports a dojo in my experience.

Keith Larman
09-28-2010, 04:22 PM
We have a very active and vibrant kids program at our place. While adult attendance has suffered somewhat and is quite variable, the kid's program is always bustling and busy. There are only a few of us who teach or assist with the kids, however, as it is really important to have the right people there. And if you don't like kids it is the last thing you should be doing.

If the kids program is any good it will tend to grow on its own. Most nights the mat is full of the screaming mat monsters, at least for the first hour. :)

02-27-2011, 08:34 PM
Just a comment on kids' classes. Our dojo had them with a great teacher. However he has since moved on and our main instructor was left looking after the kids classes. Quite frankly he found it draining and the classes were stopped.

Financially, we have almost come to a stand still, just covering our costs through adult membership. Kids class DO pay bills, no doubt about it.

Yes, children are to be respected and their training taken seriously, but at the end of the day parents can't wait to off-load the kids for an hour or so (and pay good money to do so) and taking a kids' class is freakin' hard work.

Just my opinion.


Janet Rosen
02-27-2011, 09:15 PM
The devotion our chief instructor had to keeping kids and youth classes going is a huge part of why/how teh dojo is viewed as an integral part of our small community - and yes, it is essential that the instructor and helpers truly enjoy working w/ kids.