We recently connected with Nate Church and have shared our conversation below.
Hi Nate, thanks for joining us today. Folks often look at a successful business and imagine it was an overnight success, but from what we’ve seen this is often far from the truth. We’d love to hear your scaling up story – walk us through how you grew over time – what were some of the big things you had to do to grow and what was that scaling up journey like?
Our school started as a small program with just a few kids. We worked with a Home School Enrichment Program and was one of the activities for them on Fridays. They had a science teacher who taught in the morning then they got an hour of martial arts then another class after lunch. It really helped introduce us to a lot of different families. That class quickly grew from 4 kids to over 30 some days.
We were sharing space with a Cheer school and limited by their open gym time but it worked with all schedules. I had my early morning fitness program and then the big Friday class. I added an assistant for Fridays as it grew.
We then got the opportunity to do an after school program at a local K-8 school. Every parent was sent a message about our program. We also participated in their Jog-A-Thon. That got us introduced to a lot of families and the community. That started as 1 day a week and then grew to 2 days after school. Plus a Saturday class for all.
Through each program we gained more interest and students who wanted more training. Some were aging out of the K-8 program also. We needed to expand and offer more times and days. That led us to getting our own location. That would allow for classes every day and Saturday without working around someone else. That is when my assistant asked to come on as a partner which is a great story also.
We searched for 6 months to find a space. Finally found our current location. It is not perfect but works for our needs. We did a 30 day intense renovation, everything but the floors we did ourselves to save costs! We moved in and started classes offering am fitness and afternoon martial arts.
We still ran the after school program 1 day a week and the home school enrichment. More classes available led to more students! But also more hours for us which was a happy trade off. With the COVID Pandemic we lost the after school program and the Enrichment program had scaled back just prior. Luckily, those programs introduced us to a lot of families. We have fought through the struggles of the last 2 years and now are gaining new students and hope to have those previous students return.
Great, appreciate you sharing that with us. Before we ask you to share more of your insights, can you take a moment to introduce yourself and how you got to where you are today to our readers
I have been training martial arts since 1992. I grew up in Southwest Ohio and had always wanted to do martial arts. I finally started my last year in High School. I always thought once I went to college, got a good job that eventually I would take over for my instructor. A job opportunity moved me from Ohio to San Diego in 2008. I actually stopped training then enjoying the new SoCal lifestyle of surfing and motorcycles.
I ended up getting laid off from my corporate job and was not really excited about any prospects I was interviewing for. Nothing really seemed to call to me and fire me up. I had started a small side business outlining fitness workouts for fellow Supermoto racers and friends. Hence the name On Track Wellness. We helped racers stay “On Track” for their health! I had always enjoyed fitness and helped students in martial arts improve strength and fitness for competition on top of teaching Karate. It was a fun little project that even provided a little extra money towards my racing addiction.
When finding a job I would like proved tough, my wife found a Karate school looking for instructors with experience teaching that style or mine, Shotokan. I took the job and realized how much I missed martial arts. A couple years working for them and I decided to do my own program. We are still friends with that studio and compete in their annual tournaments.
On Track Wellness Martial Arts and Fitness, we have kept the name as feel still fits, helps people get “Back on track” and ‘Stay on Track” in health, wellness and fitness through martial arts and fitness classes. We provide a unique martial arts studio unlike any other in the area in that we teach and rank students in traditional Shotokan Karate including forms (Kata), traditional weapons, kicks, punches, sparring and take downs. We also are an affiliate of Honu BJJ and have one of their Black Belts who teaches our BJJ program. Students get rank in that as well. We blend the two together some for all. We actually require a Blue Belt in BJJ before you can achieve a Black Belt in OTW United Martial Arts.
We have not come across anyone else making that requirement and feel that creates a very balanced martial artist who can cross train at any studio and have fun. It makes us different in Point Loma area of San Diego for sure! We give students strength, discipline and confidence to face various situations through the pressures of training. Success on the mat leads to success of the mat!
Add in our popular small group training program that gives people focused attention plus our weightlifting area and we have something for everyone. Our small group training is like having a personal trainer for a group session price. We alter and coach based on each clients needs in classes. Members can reserve a rack in our weight room for up to 90 minutes. That keeps them from fighting for equipment or rushing through a program. Something I personally hated at big box gyms and swore once I had a space would solve for myself and others. We have clients who have been with us in fitness since 2014! That tells a story itself on how much people love it.
How about pivoting – can you share the story of a time you’ve had to pivot?
As I discussed earlier when I got laid off that was a huge pivot in my career and life. I feel like we all had to the last 2 years. Especially those of us with businesses that are in person based. We can not really teach a martial art effectively over Zoom. You can not get the timing and feel of techniques without an actual partner. While there are a lot of drills, exercises, workouts, Kata and other items you can do, nothing can replace working with another partner who you have to move and do the technique on correctly.
That is the heart of our style and studio. Students have to not just know a technique but display the skill live. There is a huge difference.
We had to shut down for a while and give virtual classes for many but we would not dilute the program. We focused on solo moves for as long as was needed by our clients. Myself and my business partner both knew we would need to make some personal sacrifices and changes to keep the business going. That was our mental pivot.
We knew how important this studio is to not just us but our students who need a safe place to grow, develop, learn, make mistakes and have a community. We had to do what it took to survive and put the long term business program as priority. It made us really understand that this is a long term vision. A marathon that we just started.
Can you tell us the story behind how you met your business partner?
I started the business as I indicated in May of 2012. That was just the fitness portion. So we are coming up on our 10 year anniversary for On Track Wellness. As the program grew and I added in the martial arts portion I saw I needed help. How I met my now business partner Eric is interesting. Especially since we come from two very different backgrounds. I have Japanese Karate training and he comes from Korean Kung Fu.
He had left Houston to tour with a friends band. He was teaching at a large school there and was ready for a change. He was going to be on the road with the band for 8 weeks then spend a few weeks in San Diego and then :”Figure out what to do next”. He happened to walk by a school in Ocean Beach I was helping out at. We got connected and chatted about the style I teach, my goals and his plans. It was a nice sunny day with a good talk on the OB Pier.
He agreed to help me out with my Friday kids martial arts class and the after school Karate program as it was growing. He did some other side work and was great in helping me add value and his style to the program. He was a great addition. As the classes grew we knew we needed to get our own location. He offered to come in as a partner. We found our current location in Point Loma and have been splitting all the classes and duties since then. We definitely would not be where we are today without him coming in to help.
We are excited for the future and look forward to being able to hire on a student to help teach.
- Website: www.ontrackwellness.com
- Instagram: @ontrackwellness
- Facebook: On Track Wellness
- Youtube: On Track Wellness