In this exclusive live recording from a recent Partner’s Intensive, Kevin Blundell from Kumiai Ryu Martial Arts System, shared some of the deeper details responsible for his martial arts business success.
IN THIS EPISODE:
- Scaling your martial arts schools from 1 – 23 locations
- Becoming the ‘go to’ martial arts school in a small community
- What can martial arts schools model from country clubs?
- Strategies to replicate your skills amongst your staff
- The science of an effective staff training program
- Investing in your instructors with a salary scale
- Attracting students into your leadership program
- How to keep the quality across multiple martial arts locations
- And more
*Need help growing your martial arts school? Learn More Here.
The way we structure everything is customer service and what the customer wants. So, first of all, we're providing a martial arts experience, and each person's experience will be different. So, you need to tailor each program you have around that. So, if it’s your kids program, you need to have the parents on board. If you have someone who wants to be a competitor or become a combat sports athlete, we need to have that program detail. If you're someone who just wants to come in and do some training. So, we're offering a martial arts experience, but the key point is clear and concise customer service.
GEORGE: Hey, there! George Fourie here. Welcome to the Martial Arts Media business podcast. We are on Episode 115. And, a bit of a different structure of a podcast for you, but great guests and some great content. So, why the different structure? Over the weekend, we ran our Partners Intensive event – it was a school owner’s event for martial arts school owners all around the world, who are clients of ours.
So, it wasn't an open event, although we did hand out a few invitations to a few lucky school owners who joined us and got some great value out of the weekend as well. So, ran the event online, which, look, this is the cool part about online, is we have school owners from the United States, Canada, UK, Australia and New Zealand, right? Five different countries all around the globe, and this made for really great mastermind sessions, great conversations between school owners, and it was an epic event. So, really thankful for the weekend, and everybody that attended.
So, one of my guests, Kevin Blundell, was on previous podcast episode 20, you can have a listen to that, and so I invited Kevin along for round two. And the event was coming up and I said, “Look, why don't we actually just have you at the event, and we can run the podcast as a podcast interview, but more importantly, we can have our guests ask you questions?” And that really changed the flavor of the podcast, great questions about scaling with multiple schools, how to structure the business, how to pay staff, how to do your staff training, etc. So, real good value.
Kevin Blundell is from Kumiai Ryu Martial Arts Systems, and I might just mix up the numbers, but it's 23 locations, I believe? About half of them are full time and they're approaching just about 2000 students. So, a really successful school owner and just a wealth of knowledge and just a really wonderful human being. Really generous in everything that he shared, so, you're going to get a lot of value out of this.
Now, there's one snag out of this interview. As luck would have it, I've just moved offices. So, if you look at this, and it looks a bit crazy, it's like day one in my new office, so please don't judge from stuff all around the background—the office. It was my last weekend in my office in the city, and as luck would have it, the day that I ran the online event, the entire building's power went out. Luckily, I had a lot of backups, phone, internet, mobile, etc.
So, we managed to pull through and five minutes before Kevin logged on, the entire building's power went out, so I thought I'd lost everyone at the event, but I managed to log back on Zoom and I walked around the office recording the podcast, muting in between, that you couldn't hear the fire alarms and things going off in the background, because of the power outage. But anyway, if you see a bit of craziness in the beginning just, yeah, look past that, look for the gold in this episode, because there's a lot of it. Anyway, here we go, enjoy the episode, I'll speak to you soon.
GEORGE: Good day, Kevin!
KEVIN: Good morning. How are you?
GEORGE: I'm just on mobile right now. So, we got Amandeep in the UK, Ben and Cheyne from AKA, we got Lindsay, we got Karl. We got Kim and Richard from Canada, we got Matt from Victoria somewhere. Michael Scott and Peter from New South Wales, we got Grant from Polletts, we got Sam and Kylie, and we got Zak from Perth. And we're all excited to hear of you, and Kevin, when I said let's jump on, the entire whole building in Perth shut the power down. So, as you do. So, but we're ready for you, and so we're going to improvise.
First up, Kevin, welcome. Thank you for joining us today. So, I don't have my notes in front of me, but what I can tell you is, Kevin is one of the most respected martial arts school owners that I personally know. We worked together quite some time ago, and we keep in touch every so often. I really love chatting to Kevin, hearing his perspective of how he views his organization. So, guys, you've got Kevin for about 50-60 minutes, I want you to make use of the time and ask as many questions as you want. But I'm going to lead a few things that we want to talk about – how Kevin views his organization, how he views delivering a world class experience to his students, and then for you guys looking at scaling to multiple locations, 23 locations, right, Kevin?
GEORGE: Yep. So, we can dive a bit deeper into the structure and how that's going. So, thanks for joining us, Kevin.
KEVIN: Thank you. Thanks for inviting me, George.
GEORGE: Cool. So I guess just a little quick introduction, just a bit to fill in the gaps where I might have missed – just a bit more about you and Kumiai Ryu.
KEVIN: Yes, sure. Well, we're based predominantly in New South Wales, Queensland and ACT. My background is I started studying martial arts in 1969. Boxing and judo, because karate was too deadly, and then went into karate, and kickboxing, Muay Thai, BJJ, the whole thing, along the way. And we just started our own organization in 1989, in Orange, and we just started a very small group of people, and we just slowly grew from there.
Primarily, we grew organically, we didn't really have any master plan, I was working as a builder. And then I took up a government position with Fair Trading, and then senior building inspector. So, it was just pretty much what you would classify as just a hobby or part time enterprise on the side, with no real ambition until 2010, decided to go full time. Or from 2011, we went full time, and subsequently we've grown out to 23 locations, and just quite a few students across those locations.
GEORGE: Right, perfect. So, now, I mean, going from the one to 23, there's obviously a lot of details and gaps in there. I guess going from, you know, from one to two, what are the core decisions that you made, that you felt, alright, this is this is a real business, this is a real thing. And how did you adjust your thinking and your strategy?
KEVIN: Well, initially, I just wanted to, my background was used to just do the martial arts for enjoyment. I've been doing it all my life. My father was also a martial artist. And so I just sort of, you know, when I was a kid, I was training, and when I turned eight, we started training regularly and formally.
So, it's just sort of, like, something I always did. I explored other sports, I used to race, motocross, and played most competitive sports at different stages and different levels. And then I just went into it, I liked the competition side – was very popular through the late 70s and 80s. And then I just was more like, it was just a social thing. Then I realized that, well, you know, I can spread the word a little bit further if we have more locations. So, like-minded people decided to join us.
So, we didn't really have any structure or any format. It was like, I suppose we were just all sailing on the same lake, and we say, “Hey, let's sail together over there”. Yeah. So, it was pretty ad-hoc, no real structure. And, you know, we weren't looking to, you know, save the world or take over the world with martial arts. We were just enjoying what we do. Then we slowly developed from that point. And then I went, “Whoa, hang on, I better get this a little bit more formulated,” and so about 1990, I started to design things in a more corporate structure, and then it just sort of grew from there.
When we went full time, well, that's when we blossomed out. So, other people would just be sort of like, I might use Brett as an example. I say, “Hey, what are you doing up there?” “We're doing this.” “Do you want to do something together here?” “Why not?” And that's, we sort of did it under the same umbrella, and then we grew from that point. So, that's how we sort of got. So, it was pretty much, you know, accidental, got to this point, really – was more purposeful from 2011 onwards, and our focus has been providing good service ever since.
GEORGE: So, let's talk about that, Kevin, because we spoke a bit about it the other day and you were diving, really defining on the type of experience that you deliver and paying attention to finer details. And although you mentioned, you know, it's kind of flowed from there, but there's a lot in that, right? Because it's like you have organic growth – but it's very strategic in that way, because there are little things that are setting you apart from what everyone else is doing. You got to maybe dive a bit deeper into the type of experience and how you guys go about that?
KEVIN: Yeah, sure. Well, if you need to have systems, we all know that. There's electronic systems and that, but the bottom line is, you need to view everything from the inside out. And the way we structure everything is customer service and what the customer wants. So, first of all, we provide a martial arts experience, and each person's experience will be different. So, you need to tailor each program you have around that.
So, if it’s your kids' program, you need to have the parents on board. If you have someone who wants to be a competitor or become a combat sports athlete, we need to have that program detail. If you're someone who just wants to come in and do some training. So, we're offering a martial arts experience, but the key point is clear and concise customer service. So, you need to, you know, what we do is we have training for everything, we have every detail for every process, and all staff use the same process at all locations.
GEORGE: And guys, just checking in, right? This is your opportunity to ask anything that is on your mind, or what you want to elaborate, Kevin to elaborate on. So, and just for some context, this was going to be a podcast interview, and we decided to schedule it this way so that you guys can get the benefit of having this type of interaction. So, yeah, please add to the questions.
What would you say, you know, because you guys operate your main Port Macquarie location, pretty small town, although you have a thriving business there, and also what's probably a premium service, right? It's not the cheapest of the services. How do you frame that? And how do you position yourself in the market to stand out and where pricing is not as much as an issue for the services in the value that you deliver?
KEVIN: Well, I think the most important thing is if you want to be paid as a professional, act like a professional. People aren't interested in how many belts you got, or what titles you won, and how many medals and trophies you got, and how many kilos that you've trained and all the rest of it. That went out in the 80s and, you know, along with mullets and Holden cars sadly.
So, you need to reframe, and if you want to, you know, provide a professional customer service. Okay, I'll give you an example. Well gym, most people have heard of that, they'll come to a town, and they'll set up a franchise. They have a slick process where they locate the building, purchase the building, or lease the building, set up the building, pre-frame what they're going to do in the community, what services they're going to provide.
Our most recent model, we put one new facility in Western Newcastle, we got a brand new building, we leased the building, my business, I'm a builder by trade, so I set that up using my skills, and we started right in the middle of COVID. Like, COVID was raging when we started in the first week of August last year, and we've moved to 95 current financial members with our minimum payment of $150 per month.
So, it's about good leadership and determination, and having clear and concise systems in place that you follow. So, we don't get into anything other than making sure we provide the service that we say we're going to provide, and we have people trained to deliver that service. So, obviously, you need to have skilled martial artists teaching your class, and you need to have skilled people doing your administrative work out the front. Now, sure, we all start off.
Like, I'm not too proud – I was doing the cleaning during COVID – and it was a real good leveler, bringing me back down to earth. But you know, it was an opportunity to really find everything we did, and reset and restructure. I understand some of you folk are still under strict lockdown around the world and that's terrible, but you know, there is light at the end of the tunnel, that's for sure.
GEORGE: Okay, so guys, quick check in – what are you getting from this? If you can use the chat as a, every time you pick up something that's useful and that you can use, use the chat. That will give me good guidance, well, on where we can steer the conversation further.
Alright, perfect. So, want to touch, and we can jump back onto this, but how do you go about structuring your organization? I think, actually, before I ask that – you mentioned something in our chat on Wednesday, I think it was – and we spoke about the way you view your organization. Can you elaborate a bit on that? And for a hint as well, talking about the whole country club type.
KEVIN: Okay, sure. Well, I'm not saying anyone's not a professional, don't get me wrong. I'm just saying what we do and how we go about our business. So, initially, martial arts to me was a fun thing, as a kid. And then it was like, a cool thing to do as a competition and win trophies and have good fun doing it. Then it was like a hobby, and then it was a social thing, and then it was like, semi-professional business on the side.
But I had to take responsibility and realize I'm running a corporation, it's a multimillion dollar corporation that has tentacles across 23 locations, and we're responsible for thousands of people's well-being and providing the service that we're going to do. So, you need to have a clear and concise structure. So, we have a corporate head office, which is also based here, Port Macquarie.
And then each location, I own some, I half share in some, and the rest are all under license. You need to make it so the people who are under license are getting value for being part of your group and organization, and being well supported through that process. So, the overarching thing is, you know, if you're happy with just a single dojo, single school, sorry, and you're doing it with your partner and/or business partner, and you're getting an income and you're enjoying your lifestyle, that's good.
My point, I've never had aspirations to grow to be some monolithic martial arts organization. It's always been about, am I enjoying what I'm doing? Yes, I am. Am I helping people better themselves? Yes, I am. Am I giving people opportunities? We have 85 people that work full-time across all our schools. So, we're employing a lot of people. And then we have dozens and dozens of people whose kids, after school, come in and help in class. So, that's probably, you know, that's why we need to run it properly, and you need to be responsible and follow everything, you know, as per good business acumen.
GEORGE: Perfect. And then you mentioned looking at country clubs as an inspiration. Why is that?
KEVIN: Okay. When I was in America, I did a talk. I've been a few times and done some talks with the EFC group, and Brett's with me a few times. So, he has, he never fell asleep in any of my seminars. So, that's good. So, when I was over there, I met some very wealthy and successful martial artists. They're a little bit opposite to us, they love to flaunt their Lamborghini and take you to their holiday mansion and take you out on a yacht and all that sort of stuff.
Whereas, you know, we like to keep ourselves a little bit quieter and just let our successes bubble in the background. Anyway, one guy took me to a country club, like it was, you know, like a golf course, tennis, all that sort of stuff. And it was, you know, really flash, and it impressed me and I said, “Oh, so what do you do to get in here?” I said, “Do you just come in, sit down and eat?” Says, “Oh, no, sir. No, you have to be, pay to be on a waiting list.” I said, “Pay to be on a waiting list? Seriously?” He said, “Yeah,” and he said that you have set fees.
And apparently the one I went to, which was really nice, was an ‘Al Cheapo' one. But I came away thinking about what if we all approached our martial arts a little bit differently? You know, swimming lessons are important, we all know that, and guys, martial arts is just as important. So, we should be viewed a little bit differently than just, you know, some people who are over there, saying it is another thing to do. So, we changed our mindset to be like, well, to be a little bit more exclusive, and that you can't just rock up and join in and have a free class or anything like that.
You have to go through a process and to be analyzed to see if you fit into our community in a positive way. Conversely, it gives the potential student an opportunity, and their family, to see if they are happy with the service we're providing. Then they may go and try the next guy down the road, and that's okay too. We encourage that. We actually encourage that, because we only want people who are committed and who are going to participate within the guidelines that we have, and follow our systems.
GEORGE: So, you would never go into a price war?
KEVIN: Well, the quickest way to go broke is to go cheaper than the bloke down the road. In a number of our locations, we've been taken on in a price war, even had one guy march up to us, when we opened the location, he said, “This town isn't big enough for another martial art school, you know, and I'm the leading one here”. And he was right when he went broke a year later, because he engaged in a price war, and, so, every time we put his price down, I put mine up.
GEORGE: Great. So, for any of you guys doubting your pricing, there's some good advice, so on that, how do you frame that? Like, if you, in a conversation, if somebody is going down that route and poking at other people being a martial arts school, and at less of the price. How do you go about handling that?
KEVIN: Well, first and foremost, let me qualify, anyone that teaches martial arts and puts up their shingle and they’re honest to all, I take my hat off to him. It's like anyone that steps on the mat, in the ring, in the cage, whatever. I admire that. I've had that journey myself, and it's good fun. But back to what we're talking about here is that, first and foremost, if people want to shop around, that's their prerogative and choice. Some people will buy a really cheaper version of the car, and they'll be very happy and satisfied, because it works within their means. Some people will buy a BMW and Mercedes Benz, because it works within their means, and then everything running between.
So, when I say about being professional, I believe that if everyone's being an honest toiler and doing the best they can, they're professional, you got to remember guys, if you charge a dollar in business, it's the right dollars that you got to charge. That's what you need to remember. With our organization, we focus on making sure we have everything professionally done.
So, someone comes in, and our staff are trained to talk to them, and extrapolate the correct information out of them, of what they really are there for. So, we don't go into any pricing discussion at all, and if they ask, we quite happily tell them we don't have an issue with that at all. However, we're more about filling the need that they have. You got to remember anyone that's called you, sent you a message, coming to your school – they're already halfway there, if not two-thirds of the way there. So, you need to be grateful they've made that contact, and you need to treat them exactly how you'd like to be treated in any customer service environment.
So, that's the way we process, go through the process. And then what we do is that we listen. We listen to what their needs are, and we discuss their needs. We don't even talk about tuition fees, or anything that we just explained. We have a two week trial, this is how we go through it, and most of the time, most people aren't concerned about asking about the price. If they ask about the price, you should give them exactly what it is and everything they're going to pay for, so there's no hidden cost.
GEORGE: Like that. So, real value-based pricing. It's not what you deliver, it's really the outcome that you're trying to serve. And when…
KEVIN: We have a saying if any of our staff is selling, they're sacked, because we do not want to sell a martial arts program. We are storytelling. We're telling you about martial arts, everyone here will know how martial arts feels for them, and the journey they've been on to get to the point they are at now.
And once you can harness the feeling into words, then you have a much better way of getting people to enroll in your school. You want them to enroll in your school to be educated in the way that you run your organization and the programs that you have. You don't want them to think they just come in and kick some bags – because they can go to the local gym for a 15 bucks membership. Go and do weights 24/7 and kick and punch bags all day long. Okay, so you want to be – we're selling a martial arts program.
GEORGE: I love this. But what I'm more intrigued about, is how do you replicate that type of skill amongst your staff? Because if you're saying storytelling and not selling, right? You're telling stories – how do you get your staff to engage into that level of enrollment that they are storytelling and telling stories?
KEVIN: So, let's translate it to martial arts. It doesn't matter what style system and martial arts. Generally, everybody does something that has graduation involved – belts, badges, t-shirts, these big furry hats, the different colors, whatever. Everyone has a progression through the martial arts, so, with the staff, they need to be also given progression.
So, you start your staff at a lower level, and you have training just like you have training for your next belt or your next badge, or whatever system you use, but we use belts for the point of the exercise here that we are discussing. We train people with scripts, and then the scripts are then revised constantly. Then we have a lot of meetings online, but not all the time, not inundated; and then we have gatherings many times throughout the year where we get together. But the most important thing is rehearsal, and this is where a lot of people fall over – they're here, it's a great idea. I'll go through this script with my staff. Yeah, let's rehearse it.
Okay. So we have, and most of you have heard of it, phone script rehearsal, and all that sort of stuff. That consistency is the key, because your staff will go off script very quickly, if you don't keep them on script. So, you need to make sure they're following… And they’re not robotic, They’ve got to be fluid and flexible. So, the more senior they are, the more experienced, they can answer questions seamlessly. But we actually sit down and have rehearsals on how to take a phone call, how to answer a message, how to address someone when they come in – and we practice and the results come from there.
GEORGE: Love that. So, somebody, I think it was Alan, was asking about staff training and how you go about it, I'll just pull up the question here. But you do staff training, that's super valuable – actually how to do the enrollment, the scripts and so forth, because that is your first point of contact. So, that's arguably one of the most important points of the training. But where else do you; what else do you lean towards – what's the type of staff training that you do? And the depth that you go? And it was Sam, if you want to elaborate, maybe, a bit deeper than that, just ask that in the chat.
SAM: Yeah, so, in terms of staff training, obviously having 23 locations, you've got clear systems to produce more people like you, and then obviously lower level instructors, assistant student leaders down from that. So, I'd like to hear a little bit more about how that's structured, and even maybe how you go through after the training, and pick and choose who are going to be the head instructors that are going to manage your facilities.
KEVIN: Sure, Sam. Thanks for your question. We have some historical owners. So, if you like, the organizations in two parts, we have 10 full-time centers, and then we have, I think four part-time centers, and the rest are in community or school halls. So, we sort of focus on the top 14, if you like, for everything, everyone follows the same system. So, for example, in a community or a school hall, the guy or the girl might work in a full time job, and they just teach two nights a week.
So, I classify them as part-time hobbies, but they're still part of our organization, and the numbers all collate together. The rest, so my main focal point is for people with permanent setups, who've made big financial commitments. So, we want to make sure they get a return on investment, and they are able to do that. So, our systems, once you have a full time center, you can, so, we have a leadership program.
So, we'll talk about two sides. So, the martial arts side, pretty much like everyone else does, have a leadership program and then you have different levels of instructors. So, like, you might have, obviously assistant instructor, class instructor, a lead instructor, they lead a group of classes if you have multi floors in your location, or you might split your class in two, whatever. Then we have an instructor coordinator, and their job is to coordinate the rostering, the staffing, and look after the whole area. So, some of these jobs are very casual, they all have been casual, very few hours a week; and we have many that are full-time, as we mentioned earlier on. So, and then obviously you have the school owner, or you might have a manager in there. So, we have a manager in some, but most are school owned. Okay, so that's sort of the martial arts side.
On the business side, we replicate, that where in the leadership program, we identify at a young age if someone's going to be good to either go into an administrative role, or a marketing role, or an instructional role. Some do both, obviously, and then we have training programs for them. So, you might come into our facility, say here, and you'll see a young lady or young boy there, they'll be 14 or 15, and they'll come in, and they'll welcome you, and they'll say, “Oh, hi, Sam, your appointment is at 4:45. Please come over here, sanitize your hands, you know, for the COVID and all that sort of stuff. Have a seat, and we'll have, you know, the person coming out, going to talk to you.” And then they'll come out and get the person and go from there.
So, they're learning to be communicators, and then go from there. And then then we have people who can run the whole front office or the front desk, and they're the ones who make appointments and set up the trials, set up the enrollments, discuss any, you know, things that are happening or need to happen. So, it's structured that way. So, then we have, obviously, if you have a junior leadership team program, and I think they're all pretty much the same, and everyone just adds a bit of spit and polish – how they see it should run. And, but the key is just like everyone else says, if you don't keep developing staff, and that coming through, or people coming through, well, you know, you can lose a lot.
Like here, Port Macquarrie, we had really good staff that, some took up positions and when COVID hit, they moved to maybe Newcastle or Sydney or Brisbane or something for work, or went off to uni, and that. We lost like eight key staff in a 12-month period, but we're still carrying on, because we had enough depth, and we had enough training for those people to step into those roles. So, you have a little bit of a bump in the road, but you just keep on trucking. So, hope that answers your question, Sam.
SAM: Thank you.
GEORGE: Anything else you want to ask in relation to that?
SAM: No, that's good.
GEORGE: Perfect. Well, while we're going around and while Sam was asking a question, anyone else got a question? If you just want to unmute.
LINDSAY: It's not really a question, but – good day, Kev.
KEVIN: Good day!
LINDSAY: I, I don't know, sat through something that you were having a talk in Sydney there a couple of years ago. You said that when you opened up a new venue, you used a chocolate wheel to attract people, you know, when you're advertising. I'll be really honest with you, after that session that you did, I actually went out and bought a chocolate wheel, and the next event we had, I used it.
And I could say the amount of kids that came over to get a free chocolate, or a free pen, or a free some damn thing was unbelievable! And we've still got a whole stack of those students that we signed up from that event, simply by coming out with that chocolate wheel, was amazing. We still got it and we still use it.
KEVIN: Great stuff. I'm glad it worked for you, Lindsay. Well, when I'm down that way next, I'll come and get a chocolate off you.
LINDSAY: I don't think that's wise, Kevin. Neither of us need chocolate!
BEN: You're not dead yet, guys. Can I jump in, George, is that okay?
BEN: Good day, Kev, I'm Ben. So, I've started up a second location. So, I'm just sort of feeling my way through some of this stuff, and it's in a community center. The guy I've got running it, I've actually got on a small commission basis plus his hourly rate. I'm trying to get him invested in it, and he is invested in it. So, I just wanted you to talk a little bit about how you structure, you know, part-time, full-time, people that come in once a week on casual rates, people that are, you know, using it as their career. What sort of steps and levels and remuneration stuff do…?
KEVIN: Yeah, 100%. Well, we use the fitness industry award as our base. I think that's pretty much, from my understanding, from the boys at Fair Work I spoke to, they said that's the one you got to use. So, we've used that for the last 10 years, and so we pay everyone accordingly. According to the younger staff, a couple of girls work at McDonalds and they said, “Oh, we like working here because you get more money”. And I said, “Oh, but you get free McDonalds, don't you?” and they said, “No, we don't, actually”. Apparently, they don't anymore.
Anyway. So, we use the fitness industry award, and we have different levels. So, when you get to a like, if you own a school, and the person works for you, our people get to what we call Level 4A. They're like instructor coordinator or front office coordinator. They are paid a wage and then they get an incremental growth bonus from your gross monthly take. That fluctuates depending on the income, so if your income for the location is, I don't know, I'll just use round figures, is 20,000, they might get 0.25%.
If they get up, when you get up to 40, or 50,000, the percentage goes up a little bit more, and that incentivizes them to be proactive, participative, and take ownership. And as you all know, someone has ownership of something, they're going to embrace it, and make sure your systems are utilized to the fullest extent. So, my objective is to get our guys up to their bonuses equal to their weekly wage. So, per month, they get like a fifth week's wages, that makes sense? And that way that really motivates them to move forward.
BRETT: Okay, that's, yeah, that's good. That's sort of what I'm thinking. I might look at my percentages, but anyway.
KEVIN: When I first did it, I got a little bit generous, and…
BRETT: I've got him on 5%, but then again, he's only got five students.
KEVIN: You know, they're going to get more, you know.
BEN: Well, good! Yeah. All right. Thank you, man. Thank you.
KEVIN: No problem, Ben.
GEORGE: Awesome. Anyone else got a direct question?
ALAN: Yeah, George, I've got one.
ALAN: Thanks. Well, how do you get people into your leadership program?
KEVIN: Sure. Okay, well, there's a whole bunch of seminars on it, like, Brett's got a pretty good program up there as well, and he does a really good leadership one. So, you know, probably something he could talk about at another stage, but what we do is, you just look across your classes, and you'll see, kids are a little bit more attentive, a little bit more participative, and even the ones that are not.
So, we have an application process, and we only take a set amount each, twice a year. And we have a waiting list about, like heaps of people want to get on board. So, we make it part of the language is that later on, if you want to get involved, and we tell the parents, we say see all the staff out there, that are teaching, they all started as three, four or five year olds, nearly all of them, you know, like the 16, 17, 18 year olds. I got guys that have been with me for 40 years, you know. Hard to believe, I know, I only look 35; but you know, so, you have people, you know, involved for a long time.
But just as a starter, if I had to answer your question, I will look at the people training. Don't get caught up in, oh, you can only have higher grades involved. I aim for people who are about between 9 – 12 months training, and then they're the ones I invite across, to do a one month trial in the leadership program. And then from that, we filter to the next level. Now, we don't throw people to the curb, nor do we, you know, push them aside; but what we do do, those who didn't make the cut, we get them to do other activities and roles.
So, they still feel like they're part of the group, and then later on, they may come in the second time around or the third time around. It's a bit of FOMO – fear of missing out. So, they, you know, once they get in, they really – it's amazing to watch how much they step up. So, I hope that answered your question, but, Brett, you got a pretty good leadership program up there. Is that correct? You still…
BRETT: Yeah, we've actually, George and I've been working on creating an actual program for it all, so, and I think I stole most of stuff off you back in the day, so… I'm just, there's you and Dave Kovar that are my role models in that kind of development, so…
KEVIN: Thank you!
BRETT: Yeah, but yeah, no. It's an absolute necessity, if you want to literally be able to run your school like a business, so you're not stuck down in the trenches with everybody every single day. So, it gives you the freedom to actually step outside and kind of get that 30,000 foot view of how the business is running, so you can see where the things that need to be tweaked.
Like, we just lost one of our best instructors yesterday. She's studying to be a psychologist and – Sam, yeah – so, she's been with us for a long time. But yeah, you know, she wants to be a psychologist – a child psychologist – so, she's been working around kids for a long time. But we've got six kids that are 14 years old ready to jump straight in there. They bawled their eyes out yesterday, but they'll take over her job next week. Yeah, they're going to miss her, but they've learned from her, and following in their footsteps, is another bunch of 10 year olds that want to be them, so…
BRETT: Just got to, yeah, you just got to be looking at your bench strength all the time. And then they come from weird directions.
BRETT: Yeah, someone comes in and they're just got the right personality. Sow the seed early that they've got the right personality to be an instructor, is it something that they'd be interested in down the track. And then might not be another year before you chat to them again, so and then start getting them going in that direction. Yeah, that's it. Yeah, you just got to be on it all the time.
KEVIN: Terrific, no, it's great. I'd like to have a look at that when you got it done, because everyone has a good tweak of something. I just want to qualify something, everyone, if I could. You know, we're talking about people coming in and doing various roles and that, but the most important thing is, I found the quality of our end student, a person that reaches black belt is a lot higher than it used to be, because you have more time to focus on your programs and developing your staff.
And so, like, we don't mass produce people, I mean, still, four to five years to get to karate black belt, you know, still 8 – 10 years to get your BJJ black belt, still all that stuff's in place, and still has that, you know, quality and that's the key thing. And it allows you, if you're interested in combat sports, you might be able to focus on that. If you're interested in people doing forms, you can focus on that. You might be a member of World Taekwondo, or Karate or Muay Thai or whatever federation and have an active role in that.
So, you know, having these systems in place, allows you to have a better organization, and a stronger organization, and a much higher quality. I'm not saying that your quality's bad and you're not putting your heart and soul in it, but what I'm saying is, it gives you that opportunity to have that helicopter view of the whole thing. And then when you change your mindset, everything changes in a positive way for you.
GEORGE: Love that. Just wrapping up on another few minutes, if that's okay with you, Kevin. Just want to check in if there's any other questions. Anyone else got a question for Kevin? Quick one.
MATT: Hi, Kev, it's Matt here. How are you going?
KEVIN: Good, thanks, man.
MATT: You know, just a quick one with your staffing, more as, like COVID and the like, where natural attrition may have found other work elsewhere. Staff retention? Have you found it easy? I mean, I guess where I'm going with the question, you're going to spend so much time upskilling, monetary, time wise, etc. Once you've got them up to a certain level, and they're proficient, have you found there's many that or some that just up and leave and take an offer up better somewhere else? Or they're pretty loyal, or…?
KEVIN: Well, that's never happened to me, but if it does happen to me, I'll help them set up their location, you know, under my umbrella there, because I don't invest my time in negative energy. They're all negative people. So, I invest my time in positive things. So, there's your question: what are the skills that you can transcend across to other industries? And if they go on and then find a career elsewhere, based on what you've done for them, I find that as a very positive thing, man.
But staff retention, as I said, we lost a whole bunch because, you know, four went to uni, two moved away for work and two moved away for relationships. It was just like, it all happens, you know, so that happens in any business. And I don't see, you know, when you're investing in something, well, it's a business cost, and that's the way it goes. So, to shorten the answer, you know, if you make it attractive enough for them, and it's a great opportunity, and there's advancement, and there's also the chance for, you know, personal development growth, you find most people just love the job. I mean, I think we're all on here now, because we all like what we do, I hope. Sometimes you want to kill people, but it's okay.
CHEYNE: Yeah, so Kevin, I've got a quick question, if you don't mind. My name is Cheyne.
KEVIN: Good day, Cheyne.
CHEYNE: How do you keep quality control as in every club, every location, teaching the same?
KEVIN: Sure. That's a really good question, and that's one I've had a lot of times asked to me. And because we have that corporate structure, we have a tier of people who actually, you know, go to each location and make sure the standard is high, with, I use the grading. So, with gradings from your two belts below your black belt or, like, whatever you have, everyone has to grade at one of three camps that we have a year, and that way there is quality control. And if you come, or you send someone into grade, this is the martial arts side, and if they're not up to standard, I don't look at the student, I look straight at you, and everyone else does.
So, the actual standard has lifted, because it's self-perpetuating, because people don't want to be the guy that sends someone to fail their grading. So, that's the martial arts side. And on the business side, well, you have monthly reports, and you can see growth, and you probably heard it before, statistics, you know, keep tabs on everything. And you can see like, with our marketing, you know, we have various forms that we capture, where people come from, why they come in, how they come in, what they're looking for, and then there's a next level of marketing.
That's right up George's alley, so I won't go into that. But you know, he's the man for that sort of thing. But just with your staff working for you at an isolated location, they have, we have like a daily report they text in – just a short report – and then they have a weekly report, and then we have a weekly meeting. So, it makes sense. That's for the other locations I own, and the ones that are under license – that's their baby – but they follow exactly the same system.
CHEYNE: And what about keeping video? How do you make sure that everybody is doing full kata, for example? What do you use to communicate to your mentor?
KEVIN: Yeah, good question. Okay, well, a long time ago, I used to go to a camp and take a notepad and a pen and draw little stick figures, and then they come up with this beautiful thing called a VHS, you know. It was about this big and say video. We've had everything, our whole curriculum online since, I think, 1995; and it's very clear, and it stipulates you can only grade as per the kata and bunkai on the curriculum. So, we have a system where we have a curriculum, and you might go there and go, say, for your brown belt – what have I got to learn, say grading requirements, what kata, and they do that.
So, they're being taught by their instructor, and then we have senior instructors, who go to the locations and do seminars. So, every location gets a visit from either myself or one of the senior guys, every six weeks or so, and then we get together the three camps per year. So, the quality control is maintained through either using what we call curriculum, and then, you know, there's many, many forms out there, there's some great stuff. Chris Folmar Budocode is a good one, we use a different one. You got your phone there, you can video and send it around.
So, we're not learning stuff off videos, you need to learn it physically, and then just have the video as a reference tool. So, I just want to make that clear. So, you know, we don't, but if you're already a martial artist, you can pick stuff up, you know. There's a lot of YouTube experts out there, but we're not one of them. Hopefully I've answered your question, Cheyne.
CHEYNE: Yeah, thanks man.
GEORGE: Perfect. Alright, guys. Anymore questions? If there's more, probably got time maybe for one more, if there is.
ZAK: Just a quick one, George. Hi, Kevin. I'm Zak from Perth.
KEVIN: Good day, Zak.
ZAK: Just since we're on the staff part – how often do you guys have staff meetings with the full-time staff? Is that a daily thing? You get together once a week, at the start of the week?
KEVIN: Yeah, sure. So, what we do is our full time staff, if they're in a separate location to where I'm at, they send in a nightly report just to – it's pretty much a format, they just fill in the blanks. It's just like any incidents and that sort of stuff. And then we have a weekly meeting, and the weekly meeting we have, okay, you know, what's happened, what's about to happen. And then we might have once every three weeks, we have a dedicated actual training on a specific area. Then we have physical training for all the instructor staff weekly, they have a set class they have to go to and if they don't attend, you know, three out of the four weeks, then they're put back down further on the roster. So obviously, things crop up, people get sick and all that sort of stuff. So, we keep the quality constantly, you need to have that quality.
ZAK: So, you do physical training once a week, sort of in meetings?
KEVIN: Yeah, they have to train in other classes as well, but just to make sure we got that exact quality control, so you know, keep on. But it's all about ownership, everyone has to own their role. Everyone has to own their class that they teach, and everyone has to own what they're delivering. So, we have everything set. All the classes are set, all the details, topics. So, we take the syllabus, and then we extrapolate that information out into a weekly schedule, and then that weekly schedule, and there's classes that fall in that week.
So, we'll use, say, our karate program. Okay, our focus might be, I can look it up now, but last night, I can tell you what it was, it was focusing on Tai Sabaki, which is body shifting. Okay, so that was the topic. So, that happened in 23 locations last night, everyone was doing that subject. And that way, well, you know, and so when mum comes in and says, “I hear you failed my son,” you know, “he didn't pass the grading – what happened?” you know, and all that sort of stuff. We just say, well, the syllabus was taught over the 12-week period.
Some locations, we have a grading every 12 weeks, or we have three gradings a year, so we don't have every week or anything like that. So, it's a bit of a backup and allows us to to reference back and say, “Well, this was taught this week”. And over the term, the same subjects taught, I think three times, intermingled over the 12-week cycle. So, that way, you can rest assured that, you know, the child has if they turn up regularly, that's why, and if they don't turn up regularly, they can't grade anyway.
ZAK: So, pretty much, you do three gradings a year, and you repeat this. You do a training session, which goes over probably what two weeks, something like that? Like five different training sessions leading up to that 12-week cycle?
KEVIN: Yeah, yeah.
ZAK: Yeah, so, it's easy to monitor when you have locations where you can't be, I guess.
KEVIN: Look, in the good old days, you just rock in and right it over. When I was on a building site, I used to write it on a bit of gyprock, got to teach kids tonight. That was my class plan. So, you know, I see Lindsay laughing, because it's the way it was, you know, you rock up and you go, “Ah, jeez, grading's coming up, these guys don't know this. Ok, we better do that.”
So, you know, you can, you know, shoot a shotgun into the trees and hopefully hit something, or you can do a study of where your target's going to be, and set it up and be a little bit more accurate, you know. So, you need to have everything detailed. And it sounds like a lot, but it's not really – it's just what you do. And it's just a matter of structuring it, so people are able to learn what they need to learn to advance correctly.
ZAK: So, I've got a last question. If it's not personal, give me a range, roughly, would you pay your full-time, like sort of more of the head instructors, not the ones that are on ownership, those that are just working for you guys?
KEVIN: The guys that, like, run a location or something?
ZAK: Yeah, probably like a run?
KEVIN: Yeah. So, it depends if, like instructor coordinator, I think in the fitness industry, I think it's 4A, which is about 25-something an hour, and then they get bonuses depending on how long they've been there for and what they contribute. So, that wage will go up markedly depending on their participation and involvement. That make sense?
KEVIN: And your casuals are about 30 bucks an hour. I think we add up casuals and we have different levels. We have accredited instructors, and non-accredited instructors, and which is a whole other subject for another day.
ZAK: No worries. Thanks for that, Kevin.
KEVIN: You're welcome.
GEORGE: Perfect. Cool. Thanks, Zak! And thank you, Kevin. I think if everyone could just quickly unmute, and just give Kevin a virtual…
BRETT: We have to unmute for that?
GEORGE: Keep some, make a noise – come on, man!
BRETT: Hooray! Thanks, Kevin. Awesome.
CHEYNE: Thanks, Kevin. Awesome work, man.
KEVIN: Well, guys, all I'd like to say is, you know, keep doing what you're doing. Fight the hard fight. It's been a tough journey, strong leadership, clear and concise systems, and have goals all the time, you know – where you want to be, how you want to get there, and enjoy the ride. I mean, I wake up every day excited. Okay, you know, what are we going to do today? And how are we going to approach this, and you know, we're always looking to, you know, work towards the next goal. So, thanks for having me on George. And you can reach out through social media, I'm there. If you have any questions, and yeah, so all the best for the future.
CHEYNE: Thanks, mate.
GEORGE: Kevin, thank you so much. Thanks so much. Thanks a lot for your time, I really appreciate it. Sorry about the tech issues earlier, but thanks so much – for a change, it's me having all the tech issues! The tech guy has got all the tech issues.
KEVIN: That's my pleasure. Have a great day, everyone. Take care.
GEORGE: Thanks, Kevin. Cheers.
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