USA Karate has been reaching out to several of our member clubs to gain insight on their challenges and successes over the past few months. Scottsdale Martial Artshas taken the newly found challenges of this pandemic in stride by understanding the importance of identifying challenges, posing solutions and pivoting as they identify new paths toward success.
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Ray Hughes started the Scottsdale Martial Arts Center in Scottsdale, Arizona, in 1986. Its membership, along with the Chandler Martial Arts Center, hovers around 400 students. Ray joined USA Karate in 2010 and with his heir apparent, Tyler Warren, have been working diligently to improve their competition teams. The last few years have produced a few students making the USA Jr. National Team.
The COVID-19 War
The closure of our schools came rapidly in mid-March. Within days, we went from riding out the COVID-19 storm to completely closing down the schools.
Without any experience with online instruction, we jumped into action. Initially, we started with short training videos, thinking flexibility would be valuable for our student base. However, we noticed a high number of emails not being opened and realized a different direction was needed. We moved quickly to Zoom and were encouraged with its support and success.
We had to morph our teaching technique several times to maximize results. Student's limited space and attention span greatly affected our teaching method. Offering many 20-minute zoom classes did the trick as it allowed students to participate in as may courses as the felt comfortable with. We found that focusing on kata and specialty techniques while pointing out corrections to each student kept them engaged, adding value for the parent. With three training floors doing Zoom classes, we offered many courses over several hours, thus providing numerous options for our students. Exhausting work!
We felt closing our schools was going to be our most challenging decision, little did we know more complicated and potentially harming concerns were yet to come.
We lost a serious number of students during the 2 ½ month closure, accompanied by that uncomfortable realization; many would probably not return.
Our most significant shock came when we reopened. We expected half our student base would return to the dojo, but only a handful came in. The majority of the Zoom participants stayed on Zoom, obviously still concerned about virus safety. This development brought up another concern, the dark students—those who still contribute their tuition but don't participate in Zoom classes or respond to emails. As school owners, we know these students are at risk of being lost.
It was at this point we realized the recovery was going to take longer and be much more difficult than anticipated. The risk of going out of business became a reality. So, what to do?
We, like many of you, understand we are in the middle of a difficult battle. All options must be brought to bear, including finance, marketing, and thinking out of the box. We must plan for the worst-case scenario while hoping for the best. This struggle could last a year or more until a vaccine is developed. Many of our parents will not bring their children back until they are confident about safety.
With this understanding, the following plan is what we will be focusing on during this interim period:
Our school’s financial strength is our number one priority. Fortunately, we were able to secure an SBA PPP Loan and an SBA Disaster Loan. These funds will help get us through the next year, even if nothing improves. Again, our philosophy is to plan for the worst.
Marketing is entirely different now than before COVID-19. Before, we marketed primarily to the potential new students and now we need to communicate different messages to different groups. Current students need to hear about safety, those who have dropped out need to hear about getting back to basics and normality, and prospective student needs to hear about how our instruction and values will help them in this strange new world. Communication is critical for success.
Thinking out of the box
We have to think differently. Can we use online training to bring in new students? How do we translate our values to the public in this current environment? Can we adopt ideas and concepts from other industries? Creative thinking will help us maneuver successfully through these unprecedented times.
The Scottsdale Martial Arts Center has always operated under the traditional karate values we teach our students, e.g., perseverance, staying disciplined, working hard, maintaining focus, and improving creativity. These proven principles will help us get through this pandemic war, and we will be stronger when we get to the other side.
Scottsdale Martial Arts Center is looking forward to seeing everyone at the next competition.
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A huge thank you to Scottsdale Martial Arts and Ray Hughes for sharing their experience with the USA Karate Family!