In just 5 weeks, Kevin Blundell from Kumiai Ryu Martial Arts System grew their new martial arts school to 100 students without focusing on selling. Discover how he did it.
IN THIS EPISODE YOU WILL LEARN:
- The marketing strategies Kevin implemented to grow KRMAS into 26 locations in Australia
- How to overcome tall poppy syndrome backlash
- The importance of underselling instead of overselling
- Removing all things free to boost sales and reduce frustration
- How being accredited positions you as a market leader
- Why your ‘sphere of influence’ is your ultimate martial arts marketing tool
- And more
*Need help growing your martial arts school? Learn More Here.
If you're in business, if you charge a dollar for a lesson, you’re in business. And irrespective of people say they do it for nothing, there are still fees involved.
Hi, this is George Fourie and welcome to another Martial Arts Media business podcast, episode number 20. I have another awesome guest with me today, Mr. Kevin Blundell from Kumiai Ryu Martial Arts System and Kevin has grown his organization to 26 locations. We touch on the most recent one, because the most recent one was opened just over 5 weeks and as of today, they have 109 fully enrolled students into the system. So we touch on his success and how they’ve really engineered the process to happen in 5 short weeks.
And this could be a key turning factor for you in your business, this could be just that one thing that gives you that edge, without having to be all creative with teaching your staff to be super salesy and pushy and having all these fancy sales systems in place, but just simplifying your process at having a core offer in front that invites people and eliminates a lot of time waste for you and allows you to really run the organization a lot smoother and really talking about your front end marketing process, of getting people through the door. And I hope it’s not me that picked up on these subtleties because I listen to these interviews and there are things that just come through where I am like, wow, that's awesome!
But more than just picking them up, I hope you take these to heart and apply them to your business, because if there's no transformation, then it doesn't help. And I know that in these last 20 episodes, there have been really, really great interviews, there's been some core, fundamental information that could be the key factor that makes your business successful. Or, and if you're really successful, take it to that next level, just applying these few, simple steps and really optimizing your business.
Now, we are moving into the new year: depending on when you are listening to this episode, there are lots of things happening and people are sort of wrapping up for the end of year and people are getting ready for the new year. Depending of course on when you are listening to this episode, but no matter where you are, if you need help with this marketing stuff, we do this on a day-to-day basis and we help martial arts businesses grow and go to the next level through marketing automation and marketing systems.
And when I say marketing automation, I don't mean fancy things where you've got to press the button and you get all this automation stuff coming out – no, it’s really a case of automating your outreach so that you make more conversations and speak to more people. Because at the end of the day, you're going to have to speak to people before they join, you know? Some people are going to take up an offer online and so forth, but for the most part, there's going to be some communication involved.
So we put systems in place that help facilitate that process and it helps you get in contact with more people. If that's for you, head over to our website, martialartsmedia.com and get in touch with us.
Set up an appointment with me and we can chat about how we can possibly help your business grow through the new year. And working with so many school owners, it’s always interesting to see different approaches people take at this time of the year being the end of the year, that a lot of people are saying, well, things are dying down and nobody's ready to join in the martial arts school.
And then, we are doing campaigns for some of our clients that are, at this point in time as of recording this, that have 28 new page sign-ups in the 7-8 days, and we've still got a couple of days to go, which is weird that the campaign starts to ramp up in the last couple of days. And this takes me back to episode number 7 with Paul Veldman, which you can access at martialartsmedia.com/7 and he mentioned market for a season or a reason.
And when you take that concept in mind and you follow the sense that it is the end of the year and people are buying and they are in a buying mood – give them something to buy, because that's what people are doing. Whether they start training now at the end of the year or in the beginning of the year, it doesn't matter, but people are in a buying mode, and why not give them something to buy and something to join, because that's what they're doing anyway. They're buying Christmas gifts and they're doing all these things, so put something, put a great offer in place. And I guess that's what all this comes down to, is when you have the right offer at the right time, people are going to take it up, that's just the way it goes.
All right, enough from me: this is an awesome episode, I'm really looking forward to sharing with you. We had a few echoes and so forth, as you do, but I'm sure you'll get the whole jest of the conversation. And if not, of course, download the transcript and you can delve into it deeper. But without further ado, that's it from me – please welcome to the show, Mr. Kevin Blundell.
GEORGE: Good day everyone, today I have with me, Mr. Kevin Blundell. Now, Kevin has a total of 26 locations with his martial arts school, KRMAS and recently he opened the 26th one, which generated a total of 100 students within 5 weeks. I already chatted to Kevin, just on that one topic, although we've got several things to talk about, but just his recent success of how he approached that with paid trials and a bunch of other things. So welcome to the call Kevin.
KEVIN: Thanks, George.
GEORGE: All right. First things first, let’s start from the beginning – who is Kevin Blundell?
KEVIN: I’m a guy that's been hanging out in the martial arts for 47 years. I started as a boy in judo boxing, then went into karate and kung fu and Muay Thai and jiu-jitsu, sort of just training and enjoying my training and in 1989 we formulated my own organization, Kumiai Ryu Martial Arts System, which is KRMAS. And we have a couple of locations in the Central West of New South Wales. It was more just a hobby and something to spend time with likeminded people. It’s subsequently grown over the years and it’s become my full-time occupation 5 years ago.
GEORGE: All right, fantastic. So, full-time occupation, you said 5 years ago?
KEVIN: Correct, yeah. Prior to that I was a building contractor by trade and then I went into state government into the building services corporation and worked my way up to an executive level and one day I realized I couldn't do 80 hours a week anymore doing both things, so after a bit of discussing with some of the key people in the industry, such as our friend Fari, Fari Salievski, and back in 2009, we had a conversation and he said, why aren't you doing this full-time?
And I said, well, I can't. And we weren't even doing direct debit then, we were just doing pay as you go and it was all hobbies and we had one little permanent setup at one location in a guy’s backyard and subsequently, here we are, 5-6 years later, where we have fourteen full-time centres and the rest being part-time centers, whether they’re in a school or a community centre where the guys train 4 days a week, so we’ve grown from back then just under 600 members and now we’re just shy of 1800 current active financial members across those locations and 6 of those centres are full time occupations for the guys running them.
GEORGE: Ok, it sounds like there was a big switch where things really just came together for you. What was the first thing, when you decided to turn it into a full-time business, what were the first steps that you took?
KEVIN: The first thing we did, we went from pay as you go, pay per term to pay per fortnight, direct debit system. I had a lot of pushback from the guys at the time, I had guys who were virtually in tears, saying that we're going to lose all our students and it’s the worst thing you can possibly do. But I had a look around the industry, I had faith in the people who were successfully doing it at the time. And I believed in myself and we just formulated a slow integration period and we finally got all the locations online by mid 20-10 and we had been using a direct debit system.
And about that time, we were introduced to the educational funding company and we used them as our billing company, who at the time were quite good at initial marketing and setting up plus all the information Fari was sharing with us through his MA Professionals. And we started to formulate our own approach and I then went on a bit of a tour to visit with guys that were doing it full time and I thought, our end game product and our martial arts were equally on par and was quite up to the standards and that, so it was just a little bit more self-belief.
I think that a lot of us in the industry and the guys that are still on full-time or holding back are excellent martial artists, I know some guys who are fantastic martial artists but they “Well, that won’t work.” Well, yeah it won’t work unless you do something about it! Self-prophecy, 100%, people don't believe in stuff that might work. So it was just a bit of self-belief and I left my job. It was a pretty high, six figure job and I just said, I made a decision. I didn't have a plan B, I did have a parachute on my back without a reserve ‘chute, I just went for broke and the results were outstanding, it turned into a multi-million dollar business.
GEORGE: Well, that's excellent, well done on your success, Kevin. Why do you think there's a big block with direct billing? I just look at general purchases that you make during the day: your phone is on direct billing, your gas and electricity and all these types of things: what is the stick point with martial artists?
KEVIN: My observations, and I think it happens in the US and the UK and other countries as well and I think the biggest sticking point is, people are brought up with the belief it’s just a bit of fun that you do a couple days per week, a little hobby and they don’t see us for what we really are. And that is high end educators us who facilitate positive change in individuals lives. Take people who have no confidence who become business leaders, experts in their fields and give kids confidence to excel at school. Once I had come to the realization I had many, many success stories, I started to see, for me personally the light if you'd like, that if I did this full-time, I could provide a better service with the help of direct debit it enabled me to have the resources and then provide the facilities to provide a much better environment for the students to learn and have better quality in the student, if you'd like. We call it a ‘black belt end' product if you like after a four year period on average, some people a little bit quicker, most around four years to five years.
Much better, higher quality than I've produced before, not because of the syllabus or desire, but because we were able to put more resources in for people to take care of jobs, like doing administration and stuff, so you didn't have to do as many on a higher level, so you can train and get the message across. So, I think it comes back to, people just need to take that quantum leap, they need to believe in themselves, believe in their product. Undoubtedly there are brilliant martial artists out there serving the industry, but they go “Ah yeah but…”.
So one of the key things I did personally George, I just decided to surround myself with positive, like-minded people, and the naysayers and rejecters and the it-might-work and sadly, all of these were just being jealous because you're moving forward. And in Australia, the tall poppy syndrome is a real thing, it’s a sad thing. In the US, if you're successful, people applaud – in Australia, they wonder what underhand things you are doing and that's the sad thing.
GEORGE: Yes, and I guess, just clarify that for the American guests, the tall poppy syndrome?
KEVIN: The tall poppy syndrome basically is, if you rise above the pack, everyone can see you, you're noticed. Therefor you’re a tall poppy in a field and you become more opened to be targeted if you like and they try to cut you back down to size, so you're in the group again if you'd like. Now, that doesn't mean you have to leave everyone behind, in fact, I bring a lot of people with me. There's a saying that says, a rising tide lifts all boats and that is a true saying and very much relevant. Once I started to associate with the guys that were successful, they're just the same as everybody else, they're just out there doing the best they can, but their full-time occupation is a professional martial arts instructor, whether which way of martial arts that is.
I've always been a firm believer in education and enhancement of martial arts instructors. I’m the senior vice president of the martial arts industry association, which provides an accreditation program. I’m also the New South Wales president of Kung Fu Wushu and I recently re-joined the Australian Karate Federation accreditation program. All the accreditation programs are linked back to the Australian Sports Commission, and parents and people who are not familiar with martial arts often think someone has a black belt or a black singlet in Muay Thai, whatever the case might be and they're an expert. With all due respect, that's not necessarily the case.
If you can well hang on I’m accredited, you can contact people in the martial arts industry association, or the Australian Sports Commission and they can verify that you are accredited. It does give you an advantage, especially when it comes to going to a new location. The understanding of people with accreditation, they have done first aid, fitness, coaching etc. – I've done all that as well, but having accreditation lifts the industry overall. That's just my viewpoint, but I can see the benefits because it aided greatly in our growth.
GEORGE: For sure, and success breeds success. I really like that philosophy of a rising tide lifts all boats, you know, it beats the whole tall poppy syndrome. You can also see it as the whole crab and the bucket: when the crab tries to get out of the bucket, all the other crabs just pull each other down, instead of everybody sort of making a plan to get out. But the whole success breeds success, it’s something that really will make you deliver a better class as well, because if you are successful and your instructors are successful, that's going to transfer over to the student base and just deliver a better class, a better experience and a better student at the end of the day.
KEVIN: I often ask people, I say, what do you provide? I mean, if you charge a dollar for a lesson, if you're in business. And irrespective you can say you do it for nothing there are still fees involved you have to pay this and that, you're in business. So if you’re going to charge a dollar, charge enough. I mean, the difference between a professional and an amateur is a professional earns bacon. That's the difference. So fundamentally, people need to get out of the past. I mean, we didn’t ride into the office today on a horse and dust yourself off. Everyone moves at the time. You can talk about, oh, it’s not traditional, it’s just rubbish – it can be more traditional by having more access.
Then you can source the best martial artists in the world and go to their base and train with them, or you can bring them to your base or your school, wherever – discipline will follow. It’s probably more traditional than people that see themselves as being traditional. At the end, I respect all that, I think it’s wonderful and if people want to do it as a community service, that's fantastic and I respect that. Some people generally do it for nothing they put all the funds in and that's great, but I've made a choice. Look Kumiai Ryu, my organization, we employ 120 people, full or part time and we’re giving back to the community.
Every one of our locations raises funds for various causes, Cancer Council or Starlight Foundation, we give back to the community. Not because it’s a marketing ploy, and I get very offended when people make that innuendo – it's genuine, heartfelt, giving back to the community. We sponsor children, we have a sponsorship program where kids that come from underprivileged or less fortunate social economic environment, they're sponsored at each of our locations, so we’re always giving back. In fact, we’re probably giving back more than the people who are standing there throwing rocks and saying were bad guys for charging money. Basically, all I say to them, have a look in the mirror, you'll find an answer to your problem.
GEORGE: Good call. All right, Kevin, let’s jump to a few things. Now, recently, I want to get down to your most recent success: 100 students in 5 weeks. Some people have been in business for 20 years and they haven't reached that 100 student mark. You did this in 5 weeks, now, obviously, you have 25 other locations that have given you the groundwork to really do that, so I doubt we’re going to be able to summarize it as quickly as we want, but what are the key steps you took to be able to have that level of success?
KEVIN: As I mentioned earlier George, I was a building contractor and I never built a thing unless I had a plan. If you haven't got a plan, you might have a concept or an idea, but a plan is in detail. And that's what I did, I sat down with the project, the location is Taree New South Wales, it’s an agri business center. It has some social implications but it draws on a large population, around 25,000 from the town itself but within a 40-minute radius around, about 65,000 people.
So what I did, I sat down and looked at The Australian Bureau of Statistics. I looked at all the demographics, I looked at all the income, I looked at employment levels, I looked at all that. And I went there and had a chat with people. It’s 55 minutes from where I'm located, so you have to take that into account and we didn't have one person in the area who was involved. So we started from scratch. So what we did, we formulated our plan, and just to give you an overview, we decided to go for broke and set up a part time instead of a permanent location, we signed a lease for two years with a possibility of a purchase.
I firmly believe in buying locations, because of long term, it gives you a return and you're not paying somebody else's mortgage off, but that's another subject for another day. But back to this project: what we did, the key points were, we did our research. We then worked on setting up a marketing plan, and a way we could communicate. So obviously, Facebook was good and joining groups such as Buy, Swap and Sell plus local community groups on Facebook. Plus, we just went down there to give some flyers out, put up some posters up, visit the schools and we just talked to people.
And we started a campaign of whispers and rumors of, hey, something really cool is coming to town. And we started that about 4.5 months out from our launch date. And then, we devised an offer. And Rod Darling gave me an idea when I was in Sydney and we had a good old chat about that. Rod was originally in Perth, now he's in Newcastle. And I took his concept and quickly put together an offer of $49.95 for two weeks training and you've got a karate uniform for a karate program or a set of boxing gloves for the Muay Thai program. We also made a firm decision – no more free stuff. Free is for five dollar Fred down the road. We’re a professional organization and we want that mindset that you pay for the service and that the only way you could come watch a class is if you were a parent or a child or a guardian of the child.
So instantly, it eliminated all the tyre kickers, which wasted all our time. Because basically, people would come in from another school, just wasting your time. We wanted genuine people. Before we had our first class, we had 60 people that paid for the trial and over the next 5-week period, we had 118 paid for the trial and a 100 of those have joined by the 5th week. And as we speak now, I think we’re in week 7 or 8, we’re just coming up to 109 members. So now it’s slowing down as we are leading into Christmas, but we've got 19 people booked to come back when we come back in January.
GEORGE: That's excellent. So can you clarify the whispers and rumors campaign?
KEVIN: Sure, what we did was, we just let people know we were there, we got our guys walking around in their staff shirts with our logos on them and get a coffee, get a haircut, just be part of the community. So we sent someone down every couple of days and their job was just to walk around, buy something from a shop and people would just start a conversation and tell them what's going on. And from there, a conversation started and generated an awful lot of interest and we said, if you're interested, just pop online, go here and book here. And we got results every day that we did that, the next day people actually got booked in and they paid for the trial, or what we call the introductory program.
GEORGE: So, people purchased the trial: how do you go about delivering that? What's the sales process for getting the trial started? Is it all online based, or do you have a bit of a leading to that?
KEVIN: They can either come in and come to the facility and pay for your introductory program, or they can do it online. But we train all that stuff, we don't have any selling. Selling is not in our vocabulary. We’re a martial arts organization it’s about storytelling. So we tell people what they can expect to learn what will happen over a period of time and we just show them. We don't want to sell anyone; we don't want anyone in the organization that's been sold. We want them there because they feel like they want to be here for the program for the duration and to obtain the benefits of martial arts training, which we all know are many. And that's the way we approach it, we don't try to sell anything.
So people come in, we give them a pre-free trial, we introduce them to the mat and to the instructor team that's on that night and then they just do their classes over in the next two weeks and then we welcome them to the opportunity to join up and every single one of them, by the end of the first week they were joining. You can have the best marketing program in the world, you can spend a million a month on marketing, but if it’s no good on the floor they march out the door. So you've got to make sure your mats are spot on, they can deliver the message in a fun, but martial arts like way. We’re not entertainers and we’re not here to entertain people, but they must feel like they're really being looked after. And that's what we do, we look after them.
GEORGE: You mentioned people can't get on the mats without buying the offer.
KEVIN: Right, that is correct.
GEORGE: Do you feel that you turn people away because of that?
KEVIN: If I do, that's OK, because, short term pain, long term gain. What I mean by that, people that sit around and whinge about this and whinge about that's too expensive and I can't do this and all that sort of stuff – I just want positive people in there. And by the way, we have a high percentage of people who are on low income, unemployed, they're on benefits or between jobs and they can still afford our program. So we’re not priced out of the market, but at the same time, we charge what we think is fair and we provide a full package service. I would rather have people in there that are genuine from the first day and the way it goes through the process, if they have to leave, it’s usually a very genuine reason, like they've relocated, some medical circumstances or some dramatic changes and anything other than that, you've failed, you haven't done your job properly and there's been a hole somewhere along the way.
That's why it’s so important that you don't sell them anything and you make sure they fully understand the program. We talk a lot about things like there is going to be a time when you don’t feel like coming or your child won’t want to come so we have strategies to help them move past those phases. So it’s very important that people when they come to your organization, are very clear what they're getting. And don't oversell, OK? Here's a saying that's underselling, overdeliver and that's a really important thing.
Because it’s a very personable thing we're doing, it’s a great thing we're doing and that's coming back to talking about people that want to do it professionally or full-time or they shouldn’t be doing that kind of stuff – we’re not selling kids doughnuts. We’re not making people fat or making them unwell. We’re really changing their lives and I think that's really important. That people grab hold of that, to be passionate about what you do. You can't just feel it as a business, there's a business part to it, but you've still got to be passionate about your martial arts and what it means to you.
GEORGE: I really love that approach, because it’s the perfect qualifier: if someone's not going to be prepared to spend $49 with you, chances of them committing with their martial arts program are minimal. If they're not prepared to commit that, then the next level of commitment is really probably non-existent.
KEVIN: We had an awesome marketing campaign, we got 300 leads. And it was spin the wheel and it was free. But out of that, people were just pouring through the door for free lessons or two lessons a week or whatever. And out of that, we've got a lot of people, a year later, nearly all of these caused grief and they were disrespectful, abuse staff on the way out the door and all sorts of rubbish. And I said never again, no more free stuff. Sure, the flow of the people coming in is a little bit less, but the quality and the longevity and participation rates are exactly what I want. It’s the positive environment, it’s a great place to be even though we still use a lot of those marketing strategies, but instead of the free stuff, we give them opportunities other than free stuff. That is the introductory offer I was mentioning.
GEORGE: I love it. Kevin, that's awesome. I have one more question for you and it’s something that we just touched on that you mentioned in a conversation a few days ago, and that's your sphere of influence. There's a lot of talk always about the lifetime student value, what are students actually worth for you in a monetary value of how long they stay on your organization and train. But you take that a level up with this sphere of influence. Can you elaborate on that?
KEVIN: Sure. What I mean by that is, each individual person that joins a new school, they represent a possible candidate or future student. So, one person has a sphere of influence, well, you've got a mum, a dad, brother, sister, aunt, uncle, next door neighbor, buddies from school, buddies from work, work colleagues, something like that. I've broken it down to this formula and I've come up with this: in general terms, most people have about 8 people in their sphere of influence.
So what I do is, someone joins, we put their photo up on Facebook with their permission, “Welcome George to Kumiai Ryu Port Macquarie, we’re excited about your journey,” and then you go to work you say if someone contacts you, within your sphere of influence and asks what that’s about. You become like a marketing messenger. You tell them about it, they may or may not come straight away, but they're inside your sphere of influence and therefore, as you move forwards through the system and it’s highlighted and you progress, quite often they end up bringing a book.
Everyone listening, I'm sure you’ve had someone join, say a 9-year-old boy, and then in 2 years’ time, you might have a whole family join. I’ve got cases here where we’ve got the whole family, mum, dad and the two kids, and then they've got their next door and their whole families join. And that's happened dozens of times. So it’s about having that person understand from the day one it’s ok to tell everyone about martial arts and the benefits you're getting. So that's built into our program, it’s great to be proud of your achievements, your next belt level, the training that you attended, the seminar that was had and take lots of photos, tell people.
We encourage that, we have a system where the kids have their photos put up on the board and all that stuff. The whole time, it’s about them sharing their experience and then other people subsequently wanting to join that experience. So that's what I mean by a sphere of influence. The power of one person is 8 people waiting out the door to come in. It’s really important not to push them, not to offer trinkets and rewards and all that sort of stuff. We don't offer anyone anything: if they bring a friend, that's just great, it helps the dojo grow and then we've got more positive people in there.
GEORGE: That's awesome. Kevin, it’s been great chatting with you. There's so much gold in this episode and I hope everybody listens to this again, just because there were so many small things that came through there that I think are life changing. It’s life changing advice for any martial arts school owner that really just want to ramp things up and get moving to that next level. Kevin, where can people find out more about you?
KEVIN: Our website, krmas.com.au and they can reach out to us through there if they like. Just click on locations Port Macquarie or home office, it’s easy to access through there. Just go to our website and reach out, I'm happy to share and have a chat and nothing too sell here.
KEVIN: Alright then, thank you very much for having me, George.
GEORGE: Thank you very much, Kevin, that was excellent, chat to you soon.
KEVIN: Ok, bye.
GEORGE: And there you have it – thank you, Kevin. I hope you got a lot of value from that episode, I certainly did. One key thing that stands out for me: I speak to a lot of martial arts school owners. Depending on the level that you're at, or where they're at, there are different problems in your business. If you're just starting out you've got different problems versus someone like Kevin that has a 120 staff in 26 locations. So there's going to be different levels and different problems, obstacles you've got to overcome in your business.
But the key one that always comes out is the sales process. Even for some business owners it's hard, but it’s probably easier for you as a business owner because you know all the aspects of your business. But to formulate that into a process, it can be a difficult task, and to actually teach your instructors who are more than likely not sales people can be a hard slog to get done. And I know for most people, most people don't really want to learn sales.
For me, it was a default profession and I'm not going to go into details, but when I lived in South Africa, there was a time in my life where I had to get into sales or not eat. That was the scenario, and I learned something and it taught me so much about life and it’s something I value. And for me, it’s not a sleazy or slimy thing, it’s just taking people from one situation to a better alternative, if that's a match for them, without pushing people into any scenario that they don't want to be in, or any situation.
But to convey that type of skills and to teach that kind of skills, it’s a hard thing to do. And if that's such a big obstacle in your business, the sales process, why not simplify that? And that's really what Kevin has done here: he's put an offer in front that people can take and it eliminates the time wasters and it just makes a life a lot easier for everybody and the more people can tell stories about how people are having success in their business, that's really what people want to hear and they can evaluate for themselves if your organization, your martial arts school or MMA gym is a match for them.
So there you have it. As always, the show notes can be found at martialartsmedia.com/20, so that's the number 20. And if you got great value out of this show and all the others and you would like to leave us feedback, this really, really helps us get our rankings up. If you've got an iPhone and you're listening to us through the iTunes app, click on reviews and you can submit a review from there. If you're on a laptop, you would need to go to martialartsmedia.com/itunes. There's a blue button that says “view in iTunes”- that will open up iTunes and you can leave a review from there. And then, depending if you're listening on another phone, like stitcher radio or somewhere else, then you can leave a review within that platform as well.
Last but not least: if you would like to leave some feedback, or have any questions about anything within this show, and if you've maybe asked a question below this episode, we could get Kevin to answer them for you. So you can go to martialartsmedia.com/20, scroll right to the bottom, just add your name and email there and you can add a comment, leave your feedback, what you liked, what you didn't like and we can have a bit of a discussion on the episode.
That's it from me – I hope you have a fantastic week and if you are traveling this time of year, be safe, I’ll chat to you next week – cheers!
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