How to Market Martial Arts to Adults

82 – [Case Study] How To Market Martial Arts To Adults Without Spending Money On Marketing

Case Study on how to market martial arts to adult students with one of our Martial Arts Media Partner Members, Darryl Thornton.


  • Signing up new adult students through simple cross promotion 
  • The Martial Arts Bot – a total time saver and game changer 
  • The power of having community support in your martial arts business
  • How does the Partners program compare to other Martial Arts Business Coaching programs
  • And more

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

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Realistically you'd be looking at, what would we say, probably $1,200 a year per member. So probably $30 to $40 grand a year more. So it's a pretty big increase, yeah, pretty good little kick forward. They're already our customers. I didn't have to spend anything to get them. They're already in the door, they're all ready to pay me more now. I'm just getting them to pay me more now.

GEORGE: Good day, this is George Fourie and I'm joined today by one of our Partners members, Darryl Thornton from Shukokai Karate Dojos.

DARRYL: That's it.

GEORGE: The naming has changed, right?

DARRYL: Yeah, it has. That's what happens when you go from one location to four locations. You actually got to change the name. Yeah.

GEORGE: There you go. Awesome. Darryl, thanks for being on. So we've been working together for a bit and so I just wanted to ask a couple of questions on your experience and how things have been, etc. So I guess just for a quick introduction, who's Darryl, tell us a bit about your schools. Give us like two, three-minute overview of you.

DARRYL: I currently run an organization Shukokai Dojos in Melbourne Southeast. We now have four clubs. 18 months ago we had one club with around 300 members. We're now 4 clubs with about 700 members. We teach traditional Japanese karate. We've actually just introduced judo as well, which has been an interesting part for me because it's not something that I've really spent a lot of time doing or training in. So we've got a really good coach for that is actually one of the current Australian team members, so that's very good.

We have a very big child based membership. I guess like a lot of martial arts schools. We probably would have maybe 100 adults members and the rest are children, the majority of in between 7 and 12-year-olds. So we are very, very much a family-oriented clubs I suppose. We encourage family members to try and we have family classes available in most of the dojos, where the parents can train with their kids as well. That's actually a really good thing. I enjoy that family class, family orientated ones.

Currently Victorian state coach. I've been a state coach for six years now. Takes a bit of time away from our club but also allows me to gain knowledge from other coaches that I see every weekend basically and a bit of a networking thing as well. There's other business owners and coaches so I can get a bit of Karate information, business information, that type of thing as well. Yeah, that's pretty much it in a bit I suppose.

GEORGE: Perfect. Cool. So, so when we started working together, were there any particular problems you were facing or what were you hoping to achieve?

DARRYL: Well really the biggest problem was our marketing area, like having it simplified. It was quite disjointed. I would just go, oh, we need some more members, so let's run a promo. So the promos I was running with just regular every day, so promos that it everyone sees online and they're quite generic. And even when I started I think as I was using just stock photos which were horrible. So now we run pretty sharp sort of campaigns with landing pages for each campaign.

Rather than having a generic landing page, we have a separate one for the extra promotion, which is very good, much neater, much tighter. We've run some really good campaigns, the parents' program, the women's self-defense program. We run all these top lines and they've been very good in that was actually probably a more internal growth one. Those ones actually have grown out from our own customer base I suppose. The external ones, having the wording or the text correct and the ad placement better would help as well.

How to Market Martial Arts to Adults

GEORGE: Okay. Gotcha. So a marketing a bit disjointed and I'm hearing sort of a sort of fly by night kind of thing.

DARRYL: Absolutely. That was the biggest thing. But now we're more planning how we do things. We were having trouble because I was doing it all by myself, it was just me. And having yourself and I guess the other Partners now, because I think the other Partners are a big part of it. They help sort of straighten you up and put you in the correct line in the path. Because without that I would still be doing what I was doing, still going along and going, Oh yeah, need to do this again with this and I do this, I'll go and do that.

And now it's a much more structured pathway for us, for our growth and our marketing and other areas as well. But you know, the communication I think is very good with this group. The format, the communication goes out to members and perspectives is very good too.

GEORGE: Alright, perfect. And thanks for that. We'll elaborate a bit more on that. But just back on the impact. So I mean, what type of impact is it having on your business, not having the help, plan, structure and things?

DARRYL: I guess if it's just a matter that I was having to spend a lot more time away from what I actually should be doing, which is teaching classes, mentoring my instructors and leadership programs. It took a lot of time away from that and we didn't get great results either. Like sometimes the results were okay, but they weren't awesome. So having to take more time away, having to answer every single message that you get, every phone call, those types of things. They're not ideal when you're trying to teach karate passes and watch what instructors are doing and growing your other clubs.

Having one club to four clubs, it's a lot more work involved just managing the instructors and the membership. So if I have to spend time doing all the extra things that I was doing with my average marketing, I didn't have time to do those other things, like I said, the many hours that I've got in the day.

GEORGE: Yeah. Gotcha. And so not having time to do those things, what impact would that have on you personally?

DARRYL: Oh, it's just draining, I suppose. You're just trying to do everything all at once. I mean I'm not a stressful person, I don't stress about too much, but just feel like you're torn if you don't have enough time to do one thing. So you're sort of doing it a bit, you know, half of this and half of that and not doing anything completely correct I suppose. I've always had a pretty good set of instructors and leaders that are backing me, but not being able to give them, especially the ones that have because we've got a couple of affiliate clubs… I've spent so much time doing other things, I can't keep them the direction that they need and the advice and the help that they need as well.

GEORGE: Perfect. So looking at working together within the Partners program, what are the three parts of the system, two or three that's made the biggest impact for you up to now?

DARRYL: So as a specific part of it or the overall?

GEORGE: Whatever sort of comes to mind first.

DARRYL: I really enjoy the advice and the direction that you get from the other Partners. I think the other Partners is actually one of the hidden parts of the programs that people don't actually realize is very good. Because there are people out there with different skill sets. And outside of the martial arts, there are people with different ideas, different skill sets and say things different ways. So you can actually come in with a problem that you might have or an idea that you have and you get input from not only yourself but you get it from the other Partners, seen with a different set of eyes. That to me is very important.

The communication that we have with you I think is very good. So although you're busy yourself, we have a lot of time, you make time for the Partners pretty much whenever they need it. That's really good.

And the other thing which I know some of us tend to hate is you keep us accountable. Every week you keep us accountable. What are you doing, have you done it? You know, sort of a checkpoint in the middle and have you finished it. It kind of makes you want to, if you put the three things in there that really are important to you, you kind of have to finish them because. Not that anybody gives you any grief over it, but you don't want to say, here you go, this is what everyone's saying, hey, I've done this, I've done this and I've done this as well. So I enjoy that even though I don't like it.

GEORGE: I think it's the part that everybody tries to avoid. But it's good to hear that it's got a psychological place.

DARRYL: It does have a little psychological little ticket that goes, yeah, I've got to get that done because otherwise, George's going to ask me if I've got it done.

And then the final thing I suppose is the programs that you've put in place. Like the Parents program, the six-figure open day is obviously the best one. Then there's the women's self-defense and now the newest one being the chatbot. I think you can't beat the things that have been put in place there. They're amazing.

GEORGE: Yeah, we chatted a bit about the chatbot. And we'll touch on just results and things that you've gotten. The chatbots are things that we are releasing right now. I think it's new for a lot of people, the whole structure and the whole setup. But the goal with how we rolled it out is that it's just plug and play for our members and you just got to change the content and it's good to go.

What has got you excited about the bot? And I guess just to clarify for anybody that doesn't understand the term bot, it's basically just I automated way of replying to all your Facebook messages. So if somebody sends a Facebook message, then you've got a bot that takes over in a smooth way and just answers all the questions and does all the work for you before you actually had the face to face conversation.

DARRYL: Yeah, for me the bot, as we discussed, I've had them before but they've been designed by me who's got zero knowledge on how to design them. I had one running and it was okay, it didn't really get the full interaction with the prospective clients that we really want. This one that you've created is just tenfold on top of the one that I had. The one I had it looks amateurish compared to this one. This one's really smooth and really sharp. It's got all the options you need on it. It's really easy to edit as well. That's the other thing I like about it.

We ran through last week and it was very simple to edit, it's very straightforward. And if you follow the worksheets and all the things that come with the program, you can't miss, you really can't. I can just see it getting bigger and better from here. I can see paper running bots for all sorts of things, just regular posts that you may run, try my post, the whole lot. I think it's great.

GEORGE: Awesome. So let's talk a bit about results. You've had different results with different campaigns and things that you've done. What results have you gotten from applying what we've got in the program?

DARRYL: The Parents program that we ran, that one would have added 30 members, 30 adult members to our program. That one I think has been very successful and the parents that were on the program, they loved it. They absolutely loved it. And that was at the same time as we put that program in, we actually released the family classes so they could try and with their children at the same time.

It's been a very, very good change. Those kids that are in that program with their parents they'll cherish that time because it's a common interest and it's not that common these days that parents have interests with their children. So having that there, I think has been great. Since we did it, we've had a lot of other people ask us recently if we're going to run it again and my answer is yes, we will run it again.

So that was very successful. We're just about to launch the second phase of the women's self-defense bundle we did. So that was a full four-week training program. We're going to run that again very soon. That was quite successful. The open day ones are always there, they're successful, no problem. They're very good.

And then the chatbot thing, the one I'm most excited about at the moment, that's, yeah, very, very good. Can't wait to run that out on my next try my or promos or even just regular posts. I'm really looking forward to that.

GEORGE: Yeah. Cool. And so the big benefit of that is getting your time back.

DARRYL: Really. That's it. That's it. I remember running a promo and it was quite a successful one. We would have had a hundred replies easily and I had to answer every single one of them myself. Even though I was cutting and pasting, it's just time, it's a burden. Someone is, you get a notification, fine, okay, but I've got to answer that one. There might be 10 or 15 notifications on your phone and so you've got to answer all the questions.

Then sometimes if you wait too long, they're gone cold because they've moved on to something else. So having some of them the bot answer for you, yeah, that takes so much time away from… At times I've sort of worried about running a promotion because I didn't know how much time it was going to cost me. Even though we want the new members, I don't know if I have that much time to answer many questions. So that's what I'm looking forward to that for sure.

GEORGE: And just as an a side tip for mentioning that, I heard Alex Charfen talk about this. If your sales structure causes pain, you will subconsciously sabotage it. And that means basically if you know that your house isn't in order to facilitate the campaign and the marketing that you're going to run and you know it's going to cause you some pain answering and so forth, chances are that you're going to sabotage it because you know that running it, like you said, it's going to give you all these headaches and-

DARRYL: Yeah, you might not be able to answer the questions or you might. Sometimes you might be a little bit rude if you answer on the phone and things like that. I've seen it before. I've even done it before. I think we all have. And If you are really honest with yourself, we probably all done that before.

GEORGE: Yeah, perfect. So just quickly before moving on, so 30 adults, people always throw numbers of sign-ups and so forth and it's awesome. But 30 adults, what's really good about this is the fact that the kid's already training, these are parents, it lifts your attention for the kids. It's good. You know the adults that are going to train, they think they're going to stick around for a long time. If you look at the 30 adults, how does that equate to a dollar value for you?

DARRYL: Because they're like a second member or something like that, there would be discounts. So you probably realistically, you'd be looking at probably $1,200 a year per member, so probably $30 to $40 grand a year more. So it's a pretty big increase, pretty good little kick. They're already our customers; I didn't really have to spend anything to get them. They're already in the door. They're already paying me, I'm just getting them to pay me more now.

GEORGE: And you have to send how many emails, one, two?

DARRYL: One email and that was it.

GEORGE: Perfect. Awesome. Just a couple of more questions. If you had to complete this sentence, I almost didn't join because.

DARRYL: That's a tough one. Because we had a background together before I joined your program, I knew what you were about. There are other programs out there for sure. You could join one a month, I guess you could join a different program that's martial arts-based., once a month for the whole year, there's a lot of them out there. But I don't think any of them are as complete with what they deliver. So I think, almost didn't join, that's probably a hard one because I don't think that was ever a consideration.

GEORGE: Sorry to cut you off, but I think the better question to ask you, because you've been with us for a long time and you've been around the block, you know what's out there and what's going on. Maybe the better question to ask you then though is how would you compare the martial arts program compare the Partners program to other martial arts business coaching programs?

DARRYL: I think that the case of that for me would be that it's, the right term is, it's done with you. So I've been in other programs that cost the same, cost more, but you get the information, you've got to do it, you're going to do the work. And sometimes I'm not capable, there are some areas like the chatbots, there's no way I could create, I couldn't create this myself. So having it done with me like this program does, with the help of what you designed plus your input plus my inputs, it's very easy to put it together.

A lot of the other ones, you just get the information and you're kind of left to do it yourself. Which a lot of time I know I would not do it because I was busy doing my own stuff and I'd have all this great information and I just wouldn't be able to do it. I wouldn't find the time to do it. And, and it would just be put in the to-be-done-later box I suppose, and never gets done. But this way, as I said, With the video help, it gets done.

GEORGE: Yeah. Thank you. And that's really key, right? And thanks for bringing that up because if there's one thing that I've been in this marketing stuff for obviously longer than school owners and I've spent hundreds and thousands of dollars on coaching and programs and none of it is ever relevant if you can't get it done.

That's the biggest part of where I like to focus is how do I remove the obstacles that it actually gets done. Because like you say, it's still always good, you might get great information and you get this dopamine release that, Oh awesome, this is going to be so great. But then when you actually got to put your hands together and do it and the obstacles come, it's very easy to put them in the later list and then the not done list.

DARRYL: Exactly. I mean that's probably the thing, I've had some great information come forward and I'm just like, Oh that's fantastic, I really need to do that. And I started doing it, I go, what do I do here? And I can't figure it out. And you have to go back and contact somebody and get the answer. Whereas this way with this, it's virtually all done for you. It's like a plug and play, just put your own information in and away you go. It's very easy. That's what I loved about it.

GEORGE: Awesome. And the last question for you, two questions. First one is a favorite part of the program?

DARRYL: Oh, there's a lot. I enjoy the input from the other Partners and, obviously, we've always got you there as part of that group. That's very important, I really enjoy that. Then accountability is good too. You have to be accountable, as to be accountable I suppose because you actually have to start the thing from the beginning and occasionally we let that slip. But that, yeah, I suppose the other Partners and yourself combined gives us a very good broad view of what we're doing and I think that's very good.

And the done-for-you part, you just can't beat that. Yeah. For me, I'm busy but I'm also lazy and I don't want to have to do everything for myself. I want someone to do it for me. I don't have many other people, not many people are different than that. I like to put my own twists on it, which I think that's what's good about the programs that you put out that you can still put your own twist on it, but the tried and tested parts of it are already done.

GEORGE: Love it. Awesome. And Last question and thanks a lot for doing this, Darryl, much appreciated. Who do you recommend the program to and why?

DARRYL: Really any business owner, any dojo, any martial arts business owner that want to market their business in a way that is tested, tried and tested. And there's a lot in this program that I haven't even used. There's a heap of stuff out there in your program that I haven't used. So anyone that really wants to grow their business and grow it in a smart way too, because there's a lot of programs out there that will get you big numbers in your door, but they don't all stay.

So you need this to be done in a smart way where you're going to continue to get those numbers to stay. The retention is probably more important than growth. And there's a lot of parts of this program to be used for retention. So I think that's who I recommend it to, martial arts business owners. All of them get on it. You know? That's the way to go.

GEORGE: Darryl, thanks so much for doing this. I value your input in the program, especially running the six-figure open day with you. That was a game-changer for so many school owners as well. And look, for anyone, any school owners that want to know more, want to know if we can help, all you have to do it is just ask. The easiest way to do that is going to, S-C-A-L-E. We've got a short little survey, just a couple of questions. Tell me a bit about yourself, what it is that you do. I've got just a couple of questions that you can answer. And then we'll just set up at the time to check, have a quick chat on the phone and see if what we have is something that we can help you with.

GEORGE: Awesome. Thanks so much watching. Darryl, thanks again for being on, much appreciate it, and I look forward to seeing you in the group and helping you create more wins.

DARRYL: Thank you.

GEORGE: Cheers.

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, so, g-r-o-u-p, there's no .Com or anything, 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 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.