Re: Starting Up a Dojo
When we were in Corpus, I was not the dojo cho but was part of a dojo that had the typical start up problems. We had a nice facility with a donated mat and a decent but not great location. Turnover and getting and keeping new members was the main problem. Even though there were 10 to 15 of us, it was hard to pay the rent, utilities, and phone. At that time, we only charged $50 a month, it seemed that charging more wasn't going to help the problem. The dojo eventually closed after about 10 years due to the finances. The members were still there but the wives got tired of seeing us putting the extra money into it.
In Houston, one fellow has done a decent job on his startup but he started with a big loan from his family. That went quickly but he did get about 35 -50 members. His main problem was turnover. Over the years, he has done everything in his power to solve that problem by basically doing two things. One was to do everything he could- non stop- to get new members. He has done demos, passed out flyer's (everywhere), TV commercials, etc. Another innovative thing he did was to have these super beginner classes where everything was catered to the beginner. I noticed that these people didn't seem to improve, even after a year or two. The fact some were in that long proves my point. He still has 35-50 members. I think with him, there is another factor. One that is usually unseen. That is the personality of the person running it. "Nuff said".
In our program, we have maintained about 50 members from the start. The kids classes have been our salvation but being in a YMCA has made the difference in that regard. We have no expenses and the network of the YMCA in a major city to work through. The down is that we share our practice space and privacy is not the best. Getting the legal corporation was an issue since we needed a legal way to bank money. That took almost a year to complete. This dojo is still in the experimental stage. I have some theories I am trying and I will report later if they worked.
I think that the real success is based in intangibles like leadership, networking, and reaching out in a friendly spirit. Not withholding but being giving and benevolent is one of my major principles. It sounds preachy but I don't mean it that way. I think that we have to do some "sowing" into people's lives and that in the end, it will come back in positive ways. I think that the real problems are concentrating on what we don't have instead of sharing what we have with others. That's why we do the "free" seminar. People have told me I'm crazy for doing it, even my own members! I refused to believe that and still do. I believe that if we give instead of withhold, that it will come back on a good way. We had a first great seminar and all expenses were paid. Lets see how the second one goes. Out of that first one, I made a friend out of a non Aikido practitioner and we now have a second location in his Karate dojo.In short, I think it is the intangibles that make the difference.