We caught up with the brilliant and insightful Samuel Joseph a few weeks ago and have shared our conversation below.
Samuel, thanks for joining us, excited to have you contributing your stories and insights. One of the toughest things about entrepreneurship is that there is almost always unexpected problems that come up – problems that you often can’t read about in advance, can’t prepare for, etc. Have you had such and experience and if so, can you tell us the story of one of those unexpected problems you’ve encountered?
I own and operate a Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu gym (it is like judo and wrestling with choke-holds and submissions). It would be difficult to think of a small-business that would be more impacted by the Covid-19 pandemic. When it hit America 2 1/2 years ago, it threatened to totally derail all of the momentum my gym had built and there was even the possibility that we would have to close our doors forever. The pandemic did close us for a month and when we were allowed to open, we had to offer 1on1 sessions and smaller group sessions until people felt more comfortable getting back to normal. Two things were key: 1. the community we’d built continued to support us while our doors were closed and 2. we had to be nimble in how we tried to provide our service (zoom classes, smaller sessions, 1on1’s). Coming up with ways to keep our gym-community “together” while Covid-restrictions kept us apart was difficult but necessary in order to give us a chance of coming out the other end. That said, the quick vaccine rollout is what really enabled our return to “normality” as a business. Once vaccines were available to all adults, the majority of people who planned on returning did come back and our business got back on track. Covid-19 was a real curve-ball and wake-up call to me as a business-owner. It was a sobering reminder of the fragility of even rock-solid business-plans and it inspired me to be grateful for the support of my customers and community!
As always, we appreciate you sharing your insights and we’ve got a few more questions for you, but before we get to all of that can you take a minute to introduce yourself and give our readers some of your back background and context?
I am the Head Coach and Owner of Buckhead Jiu-Jitsu (Atlanta). We teach Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu to children (ages 6-12) and adults of all ages. Our gym focuses on sport bjj but the benefits of practicing include fitness and self-defense training. On our mat, we have men and women who are hobbyists simply looking for a great workout to athletes who travel around the world and compete in (and win) international tournaments. BJJ is often described as chess using our bodies and one of the things I love most about our gym is how studious it is! Our classes are full of people actively trying to get better night-in, night-out. That attitude makes for an awesome learning environment and it also carries over into their lives off the mat. Our students frequently tell me how bjj has made them better at their jobs or better moms, dads, friends, husbands, wives, etc.
At our gym, we often say, “Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu is a part of life and not visa-versa”. Some think that means that we do not take it seriously enough but we argue the opposite. Putting bjj in it’s proper perspective and putting it within the context of LIFE actually puts you in the position to excel on and off the mat. Clarity and context provide real direction and power!
Can you tell us about what’s worked well for you in terms of growing your clientele?
Our most effective strategy for growing our clientele isn’t really a strategy at all. It is simply having as much real positive impact as possible on every client we have. Our goal is to sincerely try to make every day and every interaction a positive experience from a qualitative perspective (meaning that we offer top-class instruction/coaching) and also from a customer care perspective (meaning that we try to convey our gratitude that our students choose us to continue their fitness and martial-arts journey with). In the long-run, I believe that passionately pursuing those two initiatives and having coaches/staff that buy into and can execute on them has been and will continue to be our most effective strategy for growth.
We’d love to hear about how you keep in touch with clients.
In my business, my clients are also my students, teammates, training partners and friends. I often say that “I didn’t quit my job and start a gym because I didn’t want to teach classes”…meaning I really do LOVE being at my gym almost all of the time. That said, I get to interact with almost all of my 200+ students on a regular basis. I also still compete fairly regularly so they see me putting in the same work and facing the same challenges many of them do. This inspires a level of camaraderie and loyalty that goes both ways and it is one of the real pleasures of my job. I also use social-media (FB, IG) quite a bit to keep students in touch with what is going on at the gym. Social-media makes it easier for people to quickly find ways they can “plug-in” and participate in the group. That active participation allows people maximize the value they can get from the community on and off the mat. And that active participation also creates brand loyalty via both the benefits they receive and their opportunity for personal investment.