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Adding a Martial Arts Program as a Profit Center

Tony Santomauro is owner and president of The Santomauro Group, a health, fitness and martial arts consulting and management firm. Santomauro is an internationally certified Kukkiwon black belt. He also is the co-founder and a partner of Can Do Fitness Clubs in New Jersey, which operate two successful in-house martial arts schools. He can be contacted at or 973-396-2100.

To be successful in today’s competitive market, health and fitness clubs need to focus on generating greater revenue per member and/or adding additional profit centers. Depending on the size of the club, most clubs already offer personal training, private Pilates, massage therapy, chiropractic or physical therapy services, juice bar, pro shop and youth fitness programs.

Larger clubs with swimming pools, basketball and racquetball courts, tennis, speed and agility programs, summer camps, birthday parties, tanning, spa and salon services have additional profit centers that generate additional revenue. Each profit center serves as a retention tool as well.

Martial arts schools throughout the country offer a special niche in the overall fitness world. They cater to children and adults and provide them with a specific skill set—self-defense and discipline—as well as a fitness component. Most martial arts schools now offer many group fitness classes during their non-peak hours. Some schools offer meditation and yoga.

Although owners of martial arts schools have been successful in integrating fitness into their programming, owners in the fitness industry have struggled to incorporate martial arts as a profit center at their facilities. Some fitness clubs have devoted an entire area to martial arts, complete with padded flooring, kicking paddles, heavy and punching bags, uniformed black belt instructors and a full martial arts schedule for 3-year-olds to adults. They have gone to great lengths to be a true martial arts school and not a martial arts program in a fitness center. Although these schools have shown some success, in some markets, they are labor intensive and reliant on the head instructor.

Other fitness center owners have hired martial arts instructors and placed their classes in a group fitness class schedule, while others have offered children-only classes two or three times per week during the early afternoon time slot right before group fitness classes begin. Still others have offered a six- or eight-week program that is more manageable but does not engage the student and does not offer him or her an opportunity for advancement.

Benefits to Adding Martial Arts
Adding a martial arts program to your fitness club offers benefits to the student and benefits to the club operator. Studying the martial arts, regardless of style, enhances a student’s:

  • Strength
  • Stamina
  • Respect for self and others
  • Discipline
  • Focus
  • Self-defense skills
  • General sports abilities
  • Socialization

Martial arts programming also offers direct and indirect benefits to the club operator.

A) Direct benefits include an increase or improvement in the following:

  • Headcount and retention rates
  • Pro shop revenue from sales of sparring gear, T-shirts, equipment, etc.
  • Juice bar revenue
  • Birthday party revenue
  • Special event revenue from camps, parents night out, self-defense courses
  • Name recognition
  • Family add-on (fitness) memberships
  • Public relations
  • Outreach opportunities – revenue and exposure
  • Charitable events

B) Indirect benefits include:

  • New fitness members that participate in other profit centers, i.e., personal training
  • New fitness members that refer other members
  • Cross marketing opportunities
  • Use of space during down time
  • More options for members

How to Add Martial Arts to Your Club
You have several options for incorporating a martial arts program into your club. You could:

  • Create a stand-alone martial arts school
  • Hire a martial arts instructor to teach classes and manage the program
  • Partner with a local martial arts school
  • Rent space to a martial arts instructor

Each option can work depending on the size, resources and management of the club. The most difficult aspect of starting and operating a martial arts program or school in your club is the instructor. Unlike the fitness industry, many martial arts instructors are not certified. They teach different styles of martial arts. Some are “old school” practitioners that believe in teaching violent and strict programs. Some martial arts associations offer teaching guidelines and curriculum. The National Association of Professional Martial Artists has teamed with the Cooper Institute to offer a martial arts certification.

You must determine which martial art is the best fit for your club. Most schools in the United States teach a form of Taekwondo or karate. There are differences between these styles. The key is to find an experienced, certified black belt instructor.

Whichever option you choose, be sure to do your homework, survey your existing members, check the competition, and evaluate the local public and private grammar schools, then make a list of the pros and cons of the four options above.

Finally, use the five basic principles of starting a new business: planning, organizing, staffing, implementing and controlling.

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