71 – Matt Milchard: Building Martial Arts Schools At The Back Of Children Centres

Matt Milchard's core business of children centres and nurseries gives him a unique approach to running their 9 martial arts schools.



  • The importance of establishing a connection with the parents and letting them see the real value of martial arts
  • The marketing tools every martial arts school owner should invest in
  • How to build your email lists through children’s events, corporate events, festivals and outdoor events
  • How being connected with the education sector contributed to Matt’s success
  • And more

*Need help growing your martial arts school? Learn More Here.

Download the PDF transcription


It's not about the price of your lessons and your offering, it's about the value to their children. If you can prove to a parent that your lessons and your teachings are of great value to their children, they'll pay whatever you ask.

GEORGE: And welcome to another Martial Arts Media business podcast episode. Today I'm joined with Matt Milchard, all the way from Pyramid Martial Arts. How are you doing today Matt?

MATT: Very good, thank you. Good to meet you. Pleasure to be here. So what would you like to talk about?

GEORGE: Just getting into it. So Matt is a serial entrepreneur, has multiple projects on the go and his passion honestly is martial arts which brings us here today. So let’s just start at the beginning Matt: give us a bit of a background, how did you get into martial arts – who is Matt Milchard?

Matt: Ok. Martial arts, I grew up part of my life in Jakarta in Indonesia. Your neck of the woods or closer to you than it is to me. And when I was about 10 years old, I got introduced to the local arts there and learned it. Studied it for maybe two years from when I was 10 years old. And then when my family were brought back to the UK, I was desperate to carry on learning martial arts.

So I tried lots of traditional styles, all sorts of traditional practice that I could find in the UK until one actually stuck. I found one and I stuck with it for many years. That was just freestyle sport karate, so it was kind of a blend of many different martial arts. And then when I went to university, I moved away from the club I was at and I decided that I could not find a club that I was satisfied to carry on my training, so I opened my own one. And it kind of spun out from there. That was many years ago and I'm still doing it now.

GEORGE: You recall much about growing up in Jakarta?

MATT: Yeah I learned Indonesian. It was like a second language, I went to an American international school which was fun. Very diverse in cultures and experiences and stuff like that, especially at that young age. Yeah it was great, living there was certainly a lot better than it is here in London, definitely remember that.

GEORGE: So you open up your own school, so how did this start? And I guess I'll just backtrack because you did mention you have 15 different companies, about 15 different businesses that you run.

MATT: Yeah.

GEORGE: So what came first? Did the martial arts business come first or was that…?

MATT: No, no, that was later on. My first stab at running my own martial arts centre just when I was at the university, I decided that I would run the club for the university, for the students. And that was fine and throughout the study of my degree which was actually in the building, nothing to do with martial arts or sports or leisure. And I ran the university kickboxing club for about three years.

And then went off into the big wide world and found myself a career. And then years later, I decided to open another one as a just a sort of commercial interest, rather than the university one was just to train myself and to help my friends train. So yeah, a commercial interest of the martial arts started about ten years ago.

Quite a funny story to that to be honest. I was out with some friends and my girlfriend at the time and there was my girlfriend’s best friend and my girlfriend at the time having an argument. And I stepped in to try and calm them down and the other lady’s boyfriend stepped in to calm it all down and it ended up me and him arguing because it was all a big mess.

And we both went our separate ways, but we found out later we were both experienced in martial arts and luckily, it didn't come to blows because still to this day, we joke about who would have won. But it kind of formed a bond, we shook hands afterwards and apologised and then over beer got talking about our interests and found out we were both accomplished martial artists and looking for an opportunity to open a martial arts club.

So we ended up opening one together. So what could have started off as a mischievous brawl, ended up forming a lifelong business partnership with a good friend of mine. So, yeah that's how it all started, that's how Pyramid started.

GEORGE: The reason that it actually didn't escalate was because you both were experienced in martial arts.

MATT: Yeah, yeah, absolutely, you know, yeah. That's exactly it. Both of us knew our ability and both of us don't go out looking for trouble, because that's kind of what's embedded to you for a lifetime of martial arts, as I’m sure you'll appreciate.

So, yeah, that's exactly it. We both realized that it's going to get out of control and walked away. It’s quite a fun story, we do enjoy our sort of annual awards ceremony and stuff like that,  with new members, sharing that story. Because it's a funny way to start a business to be fair.

GEORGE: That's fascinating. Meant to be, obviously.

MATT: It was, it was meant to be. And still to this day, obviously, the founder and co-founder are still very close friends. He lives miles away because he runs one of the gyms in a place called Birmingham, which is about 4-hour drive from where I live, so we don't see each other that much. However, he's running the place up there and I'm running the place down here. So it works well.

GEORGE: A bit of context about Pyramid Martial Arts. How many locations do you have, etc?

MATT: Ok, so we currently have nine locations, throughout the UK and growing. The nine that are run by us, we have a couple of franchise pilots that we’re operating right now as well, there's two of them. So yeah, there are nine so far and then two franchises. The franchise model is what we’re very much expanding upon in 2019 next year. But we just wanted to make sure the pilot model was correct.

As far as our main head office centre, it's our biggest one, our first one. We run I think 12 different disciplines from there, so we’re not a kickboxing school, or a taekwondo school, or a karate school – we are a multi-discipline school. And, I know schools like us appear around the world, but certainly, in the UK, we’re one of a kind. I still haven't come across any schools in the UK that service as many disciplines as we do.

So our unlimited membership means a young child, boy or girl, could literally come every day and learn different styles and master different styles every day, whether it's jiu-jitsu, whether it's boxing, whether it's kickboxing, whether it's taekwondo, whether it's kung fu – we do all of them here. So it's quite a diverse timetable. And I guess the reason we did that is, when I was a young lad, learning martial arts, I always wanted to try lots of different ones, but there's wasn't one place where I could go to try them all at the same time.

So in my head, even then I thought, wouldn't it be wonderful to have a school where you could try everything. And so that's kind of what formulated our plan really. And that’s what we’re doing.

GEORGE: So that's really popular amongst the students? Is that sort of embedded in the culture, to really crossover and run the multiple styles, or do most of your students really just get fixated in the one?

MATT: There are some students that do everything, especially the fighters. We've got some pro and semi-pro fighters and obviously, it's very good for them to learn a bit of everything, so they have a bigger vocabulary, experience when they’re actually in the ring, or in the cage or whatever. However, we also pride ourselves on being a lifestyle gym, so it's not just about the fighters.

It’s about the family and experience and people who come and meet friends, it's not just about kicking and punching to us. So there are quite a few of our students that do many different styles, just because it means they meet different people. Whether they’re rolling down on the mats one evening doing jiu-jitsu, or standing up in the boxing ring, you know, having a couple of boxing bouts.

So I’m thinking a lot of them use it as a social hub as well. In fact, I know that they are. Not saying… it's the way we've done it, you know. I'm sure some people say you should stick with one style when they come in, but we chose not to, and for us, it works.

GEORGE: And I see what you're saying, but really it's a social hub, so students are really, it's more a bonding thing, from what I can picture. You know, crossing the different styles and stuff like that? Maybe for some, you know, that I’ve just got to be fixated on a style, but it's because it's like, hey, we’ve got to try this and this. Has that sort of created a non-competitive type of environment in a way? You know, that people aren't heaving to be one up the type of thing?

MATT: Yeah, no, absolutely. We've got as I'm sure many clubs, there's sort of inter-student WhatsApp groups and I sort of monitor all these groups. And all the time my friends pinging, one of the students saying, “Hey, we’re doing BJJ tonight,” “Oh, I can't make it tonight, but I'll see you at boxing tomorrow, or, “Is kung fu still on Friday night,” and these things, you know.

They tend to spend more time at my gyms than they do out with their friends it seems, certainly some of them. So it's good and we very much value the social element of it. We have lots of social events, we've put on lots of parties and award ceremonies and social outgoings and I think that’s good because we've got some very strong fighters in our camp and lots of other gyms who've tried to poach them and they may be better coaches, it's not for me to say, but for all of us, students stay with us because we've become a bit of family.

And I think a lot of that is the social inclusion or whatever the correct wording is. You know, because they want to stay with us and be with us. There are other gyms, which are very, very successful and produce very good fighters and they've tried to poach some of our fighters, but for whatever reason, the fighters are staying with us. So I think there's a lot to be said for the full inclusion and the family in the martial arts setting, definitely.

GEORGE: There's an old saying on my marketing wall that's, you know, when people sign on for the online community, they come for the content, but they'll stay for the community.

MATT: Yeah, yeah.

GEORGE: And it sounds like exactly what you're saying, people are obviously attracted for that emotional reason, or whatever they need or what they want to get out of martial arts, whether it’s fitness, or confidence for the kid, or whatever, that’s the draw card. But then, when martial arts become part of the routine, what keeps them growing is presence and family. And that's the real pain to disconnect, why would you train at the gym down the road when you've got your whole family right here.

MATT: Yeah, and that's part of our business model. And because we’re so diverse, I mean, our students start at 3 years old, which not many martial arts gyms, certainly in the UK,  they won’t touch 3 years olds, they won’t. Most gyms start about 5. But we developed a program for ages 3+ and it's been very successful, because what it means is that the whole family.

We've got something for the whole family, and we've got something for 3-year-olds, we've got something for 7-year-olds, we've got something for mom, we've got something for dad, we've got something for the cousin, you know. We do family packages to encourage whole families to join, not just individuals.

So I think on a marketing point of view, you just highlight it as a thing of value, certainly of great value to us. We sell more family packages, far more family packages than we do individual packages.

GEORGE: I've asked you a few things on marketing, can you clarify just your two models? Because you mentioned you've got the franchise model that you really want to focus on in 2019 and beyond, and then you mentioned you also had a pilot model, correct?

MATT: No, it's the pilot of the franchise. So, we run 9 gyms ourselves, they're self-managed by us, from our head office. And the franchise model, we've got two pilots, so we’re just playing with it, making sure it's right before we roll out the franchise as an official line. Ideally, we would like to have gyms in all the main towns in the UK, 100% definitely.

But on a logistics point of view, it would be very difficult to self manage, too many more. We’re quite stretched at 9 as it is. So we're looking perhaps one more to make it a magical 10, self-run, and then the rest would be franchises. And that's the plan and I think that's the way it seems to be going.

GEORGE: So your day to day life, you've got… going for 10 martial arts schools, you've got franchises that you really want to get going with. And then you've also

got all these other businesses that you run. So how… what is your day to day role, within the martial arts business?

MATT: Ok, well I have teams that run the individual clubs, you know. Chief instructors, receptionists, PTs, cleaners, you know, there is a whole team of gym managers. So myself and my partner tend to float in for weekly meetings, sit down with the whole team and discuss what we're doing right, what we’re doing wrong.

Look at promotions, look at pricing, look at the competition, look at social events and together work as a team to try and keep an eye on each one of them. As you pointed out, I run multiple businesses, so I can't be on the ground with all of them at the same time, of course not. But I do make a real effort to try and meet all the students, even the ones that I don't directly teach.

I mean, my background is freestyle sport karate and kung fu, so if I teach, I teach those lessons, maybe a bit of krav maga. But I go out of my way to get to know my BJJ students, or my taekwondo students, although I don't directly teach them, I think it's good that they always know and can approach myself and my partner as the gym owners, rather than just being a strange person that wanders in and out every once in a while. So we do make a conscious effort to do that.

As far as my day to day routine goes, I still try and teach, especially the black belts. I teach in about three of the clubs every week, I probably do about 10 hours a week at least. Ranging from the children up to the adults. I would like to do more, but physically and mentally, I can’t. Because my other day time commitments are with the other businesses, so…

GEORGE: The cool ones that I picked up there was, obviously the meetings, the weekly meetings. Really focused on making sure that you get that personal connection with students.

MATT: Students, yeah.

GEORGE: How difficult is that for you to do, have you got a process that you… is it just sort of showing up and trying to make as many connections as possible, or have you got that down to a system where you can really introduce yourself to as many students as possible?

MATT: We've got a system. I guess myself and my partner try to be at all the gradings, so they will see us at the table doing the gradings, and obviously we’re very vocal and it's seeing who we are and what we do and trying our best to, not to be that scary grandmaster that everyone has to bow down to, to more be proactive and calm them down, so look, we’re just testing you to show us how good you are and show us how much you're learning.

So I think we’re trying to befriend everyone, rather than be this distant school owner that just takes everyone's money. So that's the idea and you know, going to class, obviously, I don't want to interrupt lessons the other instructors are doing, but I'll be around and sit and watch and comment and, you know.

And all of the teams are on the regular newsletters that are always signed off by me, there are pictures of all our instructors and all our gyms. There's pictures of a lot of our students and all of our instructors on the website. So although there are many locations, we try and bring the locations together for the award ceremonies, or for the gradings to make sure all the different clubs know each other and the other instructors. I rotate my instructors as well, so one instructor might be teaching one venue one week, and then another one another week.

So it's always fresh, the experience is always fresh. It’s the same syllabus and the same teaching styles, but the lessons are always fresh because I think you can very much get stuck in a rut if you're teaching the same lessons to the same people, week after week. So I feel mixing up the instructors, it gives a fresh approach to the warm-up or to the teaching techniques etc. So I think I went off on a bit of a tangent there, so…

GEORGE: Perfect, that's what these podcast conversations are about. It’s about tangents, it's about exploring and…

MATT: Yeah, yeah.

GEORGE: Just the things that you do and you know what provides value to everyone who listens. So Matt, and before we got started, something that we touched on was your vast experience in other companies and marketing with kid centers etc. So how does this crossover into your martial arts business and how does that benefit?

MATT: OK. One of my core businesses is, as you currently said, children centers and nurseries, day nurseries for babies up to… 3,4,5-year-olds. So for instance, my biggest children centre has a 150 full-time place for children on a daily basis. So from that, obviously, I have a real insight into the marketing and what the parents are thinking and how they wish to develop their children, just because of the educational side.

So another USP for us is that in our children centres, we offer martial arts lessons. So that's the USP for the nurseries. It also works the other way, because a lot of our nursery parents will drop their young children in the nursery, but then to get to the nursery, they have to walk through the martial arts corridor, where they can see there's offers for the siblings, for the slightly older children, or themselves.

So then the mom can put her child in the nursery and then go and have a self defence lesson, while the child is in a nursery in the same location. So we've purposely made that connection, with both companies, because one absolutely facilitates and compliments the other.

So now, whenever I open a new children centre, very soon after it comes Pyramid Martial Arts in the same location, the gym would be in the same building. And again, with that, because we've built up a very big name, a reputation within the schooling community, it's very easy for us to go into local schools and do talks about martial arts, because I can ride on the fact that I'm connected with the educational syllabuses, the community, the teacher associations, because of the other business. So it certainly opens a lot of doors within the martial arts if you've got your foot in the education sector as well, absolutely.

GEORGE: I can just see it, it's like a perfect merge of…

MATT: Yeah.

GEORGE: …of obviously having the foot on the ground. I think it’s almost the most important, being able to tune into conversations and understanding what's going on, you know, for starters. And let me ask you this Matt: knowing what you discover within the children centres and conversations you have with parents – what do you pick up that you really try and implement on the martial arts side?

MATT: That’s fairly simple to answer. So with parents of young children – and I have two young children myself, so I can certainly identify with everything they're saying, it's not about the price of your lessons and your offering; it's about the value to their children. If you can prove to a parent that your lessons and your teachings are of great value to their children, they'll pay whatever you ask. That's the whole thing, getting across the value of what you're teaching.

What I mean by that is what benefits the child and what is vital that the child learns these key skills from a very early age, whether it be discipline, or respect and fitness and all these things. The sooner you can help the child learn these things, from a very early age, the more they'll develop into a more grounded and rounded individual as they go through their life challenges. And I think if we can get that message across to the parents of how we’re going about that, they'll pay whatever you want.

GEORGE: Is it possible to articulate that? Like, how do you go about demonstrating or like really communicating that value to a parent?

MATT: I think it's getting them within the conversation to buy into it and understand it. For instance, no parent that I know of would want their child to be bullied, of course, they wouldn't. No parent would want their child to grow up to be obese. Or to be disrespectful, or to get themselves into trouble, or connected with the wrong group. So you’re offering an opportunity to help them avoid that from a young age while instilling discipline and key life skills.

So to articulate it, you kind of … you have to almost get into their heads and show them the path they don't want their children to take and then show them how you can help them put their children on the path, with their help from the start. All of our lessons and teachings and syllabus includes homework, which really makes the parent interact with the child's martial arts career, but more importantly, they can see the progress on a daily basis.

For instance, our very young classes, we make our children take home a tick sheet and on that tick sheet, the parents tick and sign that they've done 15 minutes of night practicing, that they've been respectful, that they've actively held doors open, or they're making their bed or they're helping with the washing up, or all these things that the parents are actually ticking and handing in to prove that the teachings go beyond the dojo; they go home and help the children develop at home.

Because I think the parents can see that, they understand it and they support it more, because if a child, and all the young children, they might say, “I don't want to go tonight because such-and-such is on television,” or “I want to play on my Xbox,” or “It's cold outside.” Many parents that don't understand the value would say, “OK, don't worry, we’ll miss it tonight, go and watch telly.”

But most of our parents will say “Nope, you're not missing it, this is important.” Regardless – obviously, they’re paying for it, but more they see the value and they want the children to go regardless. And I think if you can get the buy-in from the parents, your student retention from my point of view will be a lot better.

GEORGE: I was… on an episode, I’ve been with a young entrepreneur, Adam Myers and he was discussing this topic of really… I mean he's only been going for 12 months and he's pushing up for 250 students. I mean, he's really on a sprint, and he was talking about his whole thing of kindness and really just placing the energy on the people that are actually paying, rather than… it’s one thing for the kid to know that they’re having an awesome class, but the parent doesn’t know that. So really make the parent see the…

MATT: The value.

GEORGE: And I really like what you said and I can guarantee you that a lot of the podcast listeners are going to implement just that whole check sheet system. I feel we’re sort of scratching the surface. There are so many questions I can ask you and so many directions we can go. Is there anything else from your experience with your other businesses that overlap into the martial arts industry?

MATT: Again, in recruitment, we do a lot of… I have children’s event companies as well and then we put a lot of parties and corporate events and festivals and this sort of thing, outdoor events. And that also gives me an opportunity to engage with parents and families, because they're all at my events. So not only can I build my email lists up, obviously; it gives me a chance to advertise on all the flyers and all the marketing material because I'm in control of it, I can put my logo wherever I want.

But again, with the parties, we usually have, we offer martial arts children's parties, for instance, where the instructors go through a training program as a children’s entertainer as well and what that does, the interesting thing that does; if we hold the children party with a martial arts flavour to it, for 25-30 children at a time, potentially you've got 25-30 new clients with you for social events, trying out your product for free, because someone else has paid for the party. And it gives you a real opportunity to show the kids what fun they can have at a martial arts lesson.

Also, the parents, sit and watch at the party how evolved the children are. So there are so many different ways you can market your product, away from the normal, standing on the street, handing out flyers. There are multiple ways you can get in the head of potential students. And again, that's how I use another one of our businesses to do that, parties and events.

Sometimes we put on sort of carnivals and street festivals, so I always offer for free a martial arts stand, or floats, where the kids are demonstrating throw stars, or nunchucks, or their routines. And other kids can see them doing it to music, so it's all fun and upbeat. Other kids can see it and think, “Ooh I want to be a part of that, that looks fun.” So yeah, I guess that's another way we can use the other businesses to promote the martial arts side.

GEORGE: Question: you mentioned something that I don't a hear a martial arts business owner say often, was, the emphasis on you building your email list.

MATT: Yeah.

GEORGE: Now, it's something I'm a big proponent of in all our, like in our partner’s program, we focus on the automation side, but then also the actual activity of using that as a broadcast and relationship building tool. And a lot of marketers obviously spread out the idea that email is a dead horse etc. What's your take? What's your take on that and how do you use email within your businesses?

MATT: Ok. Yeah, email is not as strong as it used to be, I'll admit that. I think it should be part of your armour, not all of it. We use a mixture of live chat on our websites, we use clickfunnels to guide potential clients into our email lists. We use messenger bots, so they can have live updates, or live communication, whatever time of day or night through our messenger bots.

So I think it's important to use all the technologies, sort of at your disposal. I think it's too early to write off emails completely. They're not as responsive, people they're going to dump files and some people ignore them absolutely, but I think there's still a value, especially in conjunction with clickfunnels, from my experience.

A clickfunnels I'm sure yourself have come across the funnel, but for anyone who hasn't, it's a way of channelling all your media into one place and then with that data, then you can contact potential clients. That's my understanding, I'm not techy at all, but it's my understanding of it. And it certainly works in that fashion for us.

GEORGE: So yeah, that's something we… we are a big proponent of using different funnels and, whether it's clickfunnels or tools that…

MATT: Oh, there's various, I know Clickfunnels is a brand, but yeah, I know there are various ways of doing funnelling, yeah, absolutely.

GEORGE: I like what you said, so the multiple channels, it's definitely the be-all, end-all, you should pay attention obviously to what's relevant right now, I mean, chatbots, I’d say for the most part are an uptrend. Definitely chat on websites, we use something like Intercom, where we try to funnel everything into the one location.


GEORGE: A source, where we can pick up if there's a Facebook message coming in, or if there's a track from the website, or… yeah.

MATT: Certainly when I was starting out, there would be post-it notes with someone's number on and an email and a text message and trying to collate it all… when you're starting out, it's fine, but as soon as you start growing, there's no way you can keep on top of it. And the same from our point of view for the billing. I speak to some martial artists, some of the schools come to me for some advice sometimes and I give it happily and some of them say, “So how did you keep on top with your payers?

You know, I've got all these lists of people that have paid this month and haven't paid this month,” and you drive yourself mad. There's no way! If you've got 100, 200, 500, a 1000 students, there's no way you can keep up with who's paying and who isn't, and who's missed their bill and who's forgot to pay – there's no way, it's uncontrollable. So you need technologies, as I'm sure you'll agree, you help you keep control of that as well.

So I think it moves on far from just learning to teach people to kick and punch. If you're a successful martial arts school owner, you need to embrace the technology and you need to learn it or get someone to show you how to do it. Because there's no way you can build a big, successful school without it, I don't think. Certainly not from my point of view.

GEORGE: Having you on and I'd really like to take this conversation further at some point in time, it would be fantastic. So for now, thanks again for jumping on. If people want to learn more about you and what you do, where can they find you?

MATT: The main website is www.pyramidmartialarts.com. Pyramid-like the Egyptian pyramids, so it's just pyramidmartialarts.com. Contact me directly on that, there's a way of contacting me directly. But then, there's also online, there are videos of what we do and there's access to all the different clubs, we've got an instructor’s forum. I mean, you have to get a password to get into the instructor’s forum, but all our instructors communicate and share lesson plans, which I actively encourage. Yeah, so, visit us and drop me a message, I'd be happy to talk to anyone, of course.

GEORGE: Thanks for being on and I hope to connect to you soon.

MATT: Nope, my pleasure, thank you. It's been a pleasure.

GEORGE: Awesome. Thanks for listening. If you want to connect with another top, smart martial arts school owners, and have a chat about marketing, lead generation, what's working now, or just have a gentle rant about things that are happening in the industry, then I want to invite you to join our Facebook group.

It's a private Facebook group and in there, I share a lot of extra videos and downloads and worksheets – the things that are working for us when we help school owners grow and share a couple of video interviews and a bunch of cool extra resources.

So it's called the Martial Arts Media Business Community and an easy way to access it is, if you just go to the domain named martialartsmedia.group, so martialaartsmedia.group, g-r-o-u-p, there's no .Com or anything, martialartsmedia.group. That will take you straight there. Request to join and I will accept your invitation.

Thanks – I'll speak to you on the next episode – cheers!

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George Fourie

Hi I'm George Fourie, the founder of MartialArtsMedia.com. When I'm not doing dad duties or training on the mats (which I manage to combine when my son is willing! :), I'm helping Martial Arts Gym owners grow their business through the power of online media.