Crazy 88 Mixed Martial Arts and I, Julius Park, renewed our lease at our existing location in Elkridge, Maryland at the end of 2019. We were in serious negotiations to relocate, but we ended up staying in the same building. In hindsight, this was a huge blessing. If we moved, we would have been in serious financial trouble with the added construction and moving costs.
Maryland shut down gyms on March 16, 2020. We were able to pivot quickly to online classes for different martial arts styles. The attendance has been consistent, but only a fraction of what we would normally get in our live classes. We also came across some challenges with the online classes. For example, our Tiny Ninjas (3-5 years old) online class is tough to run virtually. Despite the high number of membership freezes, we were fortunate enough to continue paying our full-time employees. Our clients have actually been really awesome; most are choosing to just freeze their memberships rather than outright cancel and the majority are continuing to support us throughout this challenging time (we’ll be providing the shutdown time back at no additional charge).
Just this week, Maryland started to allow outdoor fitness so our staff has been organizing outdoor meet-ups to work out. My main concern is not the lockdown, which I feel will be ending in the next few weeks; my main concern is the recovery from the lockdown. It seems that our students are very divided on how they feel about the virus and their own safety. The decision to return to “normal life” is one they will have to make on their own terms. Secondly, the students who haven’t been receiving pay throughout the lockdown will not be in the best financial shape. Many of our students who work in restaurants or other service sectors have been getting by on unemployment. Most of the regular business people are just in a holding pattern waiting for society to open up.
On the competition side, it has been frustrating. We had a few athletes who were in very good positions to win/medal at the major tournaments this year; sadly, it appears that they won’t have a chance to achieve this in 2020. Still, we were lucky enough to do the European Open, so we at least got some high-level competition in before the shutdown. On the plus-side, the time off has allowed many of the athletes to recover from their nagging injuries. We’ll also probably recover faster than an only Jiu-Jitsu school, especially that we have a sizable fitness, Muay Thai, and boxing base. These classes can operate under ridiculous “social distancing” measures far better than Jiu-Jitsu can.
I think the takeaways from this (for myself) are the importance of savings, building good-will among your employees and clients, and also taking advantage of any type of situation. If you were a serious competitor who could have gone to Europe but didn’t, now you’re most likely not going to be competing for a long time. If you didn’t have any savings, your business is on shakier grounds. If you have been treating clients transactionally instead of building relationships, they probably left the second the academy was shut down. These are lessons that I hope the martial arts community has also realized.