Improving your dojo and creating word of mouth…

Two months ago we moved location and took over a dance studio, so a lot of the work was already done since the building has the same basic purpose – a training floor and reception area.

Basically there is a dividing wall between the tatami and the waiting room, front desk and bathroom. However, the reception area while functional in the short term, requires some work to make it more comfortable, spacious and inviting for students and families.

So in order to figure out a list of improvements I had to walk in my student’s and family’s shoes to see what they see and to experience what they experience.

Now some instructors say, “To heck with the reception and seating! Maximize the training space. Parents and students waiting for class can wait outside, or in their car…”

I say, “That’s a stupid idea!”

Here’s why: When you build a place where people want to go they’ll keep coming back. Build a place that caters only to your needs and it’ll be perfect for you to train by yourself. =)

So that’s why I had to walk a little in my student’s shoes… to understand what they want.

Don’t underestimate how poweful this can be! Providing an area for your families allows you to connect with them. It allows you to get to know them and build relationships. And relationships are HUGELY important in building a successful dojo.

You don’t want to have the “gym” mindset – a front desk, and no seating. The only people you’ll ever get to briefly “know” are those paying their bills and walking onto the floor.

But if you have a place that provides seating for friends and family… guess what? Pretty soon you have people WATCHING your classes… which creates interest. Ever heard the term “word of mouth” marketing? I’m sure you have and this is a PERFECT way to get people talking.

So anyway, back to the list of improvements. I took a seat in reception and realized that the windows in the dividing wall are too high to see the floor unless you’re sitting with your nose pressed against the glass. So this is one improvement we’ve got to make – we need to resize the windows for better viewing.

Secondly I noticed that during the change over time between classes reception becomes very crowded with up to 30 people squeezing by each other… kinda like a rock concert without the alcohol. So this is another area we need to address.

Thirdly I noticed that in the 2 months we’ve been there I haven’t “decorated” the waiting area. There are no pictures on the stark white walls and it sort of feels like a hospital – minus the sick people of course.

So last weekend some friends and I got to work. We demolished a wall to create more space. We also worked hard to prime, paint and decorate reception.

Was it worth it? Absolutely. Last night so many people remarked with expressions like, “This is great! Now I can see”, and “Nice job. Now it’s got a warmer feeling to it”. Already it’s creating “word of mouth”.

Stage 1 of 4. Wall demolished to create
one large room with seating for  16.

What improvements were done on last weekend were just stage 1 of 4 that I’ve got planned. And I can only help but think if people were that excited about the small improvement we did, they’re going to love what’s coming next.

What improvements can you make to your school? What improvements can you suggest to your sensei? And if you’re training in a community gym, how can you provide seating and start creating an atmosphere?

4 thoughts on “Improving your dojo and creating word of mouth…”

  1. I currently take Martial Arts at our local Community Center. I have trained several places. Many are low budget (Church,School Gym) I believe if there is any way to get the family close to the student it brings them back. What if the windows and wall were completely removed and the Family could believe they were right there? They can hear your commands and see their children and how they react. These are just my thoughts. I know one class I was taking believed that NO Family should stay while class was in session. Believe me I stayed about 3 more months and quit. It was not the atmosphere I liked. Again I just suggest getting the parents and students as close to each other as u can without disrupting class. You should see a change in the students and family.

  2. Absolutely! That's what I did when I worked out of the community center. I simply got the chairs out of the storeroom and set them up on the side of the room about 20-30 feet away from the area where we trained.

    I encouraged parents to stay and watch, so long as they didn't interfere with class and were quiet while we trained. That second part was a challenge but it was worth it as it allowed me to expose my classes to friends and family.

    The reason I've build dividing walls since is to cut down on the noise and interference from younger siblings (and "soccer moms"), while still allowing parents to see.

    Within 18 months I had almost 90 students.

    It's a powerful way to build a student base.

  3. A school is not a school without the students and a school becomes a community when the whole family is involved. I think it is very important for parents to see what is happening with their children. Many of our adult students started out as parents sitting on the sidelines. I think it is a great way to run a dojo!

  4. You are certainly on the right track. Parents need to see what is happening, but we don't really want to hear them while they are chatting on the phone. When I first started out, I let the parents sit in chairs on the dojo floor. A beginners mistake! Both of my locations have double doors that they can both see and hear from, but they are far enough from the action not to bother anyone (most of the time).
    Presentation and parent comfort are both very important. Thanks for the reminder.

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