opening new dojo - living there to save rent?

333kenshin

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Hi folks,
I'm a 2nd dan karate instructor aspiring to open a branch studio of the school where I currently teach and train. I've heard 2 common pieces of advice across several discussion boards about starting up a studio:

1) start small by renting a room per hour in say a school, gym, or church to build up numbers before signing a lease for dedicated store space. This totally makes sense from a cash flow perspective - paying for capacity you're not in position to use is just burning through savings.

2) the most cost-effective way to draw in more clientele is location conducive to foot traffic with compelling signage. Ideally next to an anchor like a supermarket or bookstore

Unfortunately these individually valid bits of advice seem to contradict one another, since a rented room in a school/gym/church limits you on both foot traffic and signage.

One method I've heard of squaring that circle is where the studio has a back room or attic space where the instructor actually lives in order to save on rent. I wouldn't want to do this long term, but could imagine doing it for the first year or so of operations while the business is finding its legs and getting enrollment numbers up.

Can anyone comment on the concerns with regards to legality, logistics, ethics, and perception in such an arrangement? Anecdotes of both successful and failed instances, and what were decisive (and perhaps unforeseen) factors would be great.

Thanks!
-Dave

PS: I'm mindful of the fact that, given the recent bankruptcy of Boy Scouts of America, there is an added need for vigilance against any form of impropriety where kids are involved. The space will be marked Private, remain locked during all business hours, and accessible to only myself.
 
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Headhunter

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Find the cheapest location possible then see if you get any students then go from there.
 

Gweilo

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Another angle is private lessons or 1 to 1s, for wealthy clients you can charge upto 瞿75 per 1.5 hour class
 

Buka

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Living in the dojo is tough. I've had plenty of guys over various times in our careers who lived in my dojo for various financial and personal reasons.

If you can avoid it I think it would be better for you. But I know how it goes, so all the best if that's the way it shakes out.
 

Flying Crane

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If you live in the dojo can you:

Take a shower and maintain hygiene?

Have a way to cook/prepare decent meals, more than just a microwave and a coffee maker?

Are there local laws or rental clauses against living in a commercial location? This could put the lease in danger.

Some things you might need to navigate.
 

isshinryuronin

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I spent several months living in a dojo. Legally, probably not, but who cares? I never ate so healthy in my life during that time. Ethics? Why not do it? Perception? What's better than learning from someone who eats, sleeps and lives karate?
As a young male, I found the arrangement quite convenient. Plus, guys that age are not that picky and able to cope with many situations their mothers' would have a fit about. It's all part of the adventure. Plus, the dojo becomes more personal to you.

Now, I must say, that experience was over 40 yrs ago in the wild and loosey-goosey West. Didn't have a TV and no such thing as cell phones or personal computers. Real life was so much more exciting. Perhaps things would be different now.
 

dvcochran

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Hi folks,
I'm a 2nd dan karate instructor aspiring to open a branch studio of the school where I currently teach and train. I've heard 2 common pieces of advice across several discussion boards about starting up a studio:

1) start small by renting a room per hour in say a school, gym, or church to build up numbers before signing a lease for dedicated store space. This totally makes sense from a cash flow perspective - paying for capacity you're not in position to use is just burning through savings.

2) the most cost-effective way to draw in more clientele is location conducive to foot traffic with compelling signage. Ideally next to an anchor like a supermarket or bookstore

Unfortunately these individually valid bits of advice seem to contradict one another, since a rented room in a school/gym/church limits you on both foot traffic and signage.

One method I've heard of squaring that circle is where the studio has a back room or attic space where the instructor actually lives in order to save on rent. I wouldn't want to do this long term, but could imagine doing it for the first year or so of operations while the business is finding its legs and getting enrollment numbers up.

Can anyone comment on the concerns with regards to legality, logistics, ethics, and perception in such an arrangement? Anecdotes of both successful and failed instances, and what were decisive (and perhaps unforeseen) factors would be great.

Thanks!
-Dave

PS: I'm mindful of the fact that, given the recent bankruptcy of Boy Scouts of America, there is an added need for vigilance against any form of impropriety where kids are involved. The space will be marked Private, remain locked during all business hours, and accessible to only myself.

You would have to dig back a ways but I have made several posts about school startups. I get excited when I hear about a new school. Very good for the industry.

To keep it simple let's keep the discussion to a fully commercial, rental startup since this sounds like what you envision.

Let's assume you have done the due diligence and figured out where your startup capital is coming from, location requirements, and created your budget/financials/flow.
Once you have found a location the first thing you will have to do is read or have the contract interpreted (attorney) to see if squatting is allowed. Most the time it is Not. In other words, the square footage can NOT be modified to include permanent residence.
Can this and Is this often done/abused, regularly? Yes, I think so. Staying a night or two in a sleeping bag or on a cot is not squatting. However this holds the same risks of eviction and liability if you were found negligent.

If squatting is allowed you will likely find that your insurance will skyrocket. I do not specifically know all the reasons but, as a retail space owner, I know this to be true.

Now, since you mentioned the Boy Scouts I am assuming you are aware that perception is Very much reality in marketing and publicity. Little Johnny's mom finding out there is a bed or bedroom in the back of the dojo/dojang could quickly spiral right into bankruptcy. It could easily create a very precarious liability slope.

In a very few exceptions I think it could work fine. For example I have seen schools that are/were the garage of a house that has been modified/expanded to be very nice dojos/dojangs. The one I reference the most is (Jim Welch in Al). He is an old friend. In the wall that joins the house and garage/dojang there is NO thru-door. The only way in/out is the front or back door which is required by the fire marshall. Commercial glass front and well lit. In no way seedy.

If I have not said it already, welcome to the Forum. It is a great place.
I wish you all the best and hope to hear more from you. I will be glad to answer any questions I can.
 

WaterGal

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Most commercial units aren't really set up to live in. You might have an office you could set up a fold-out couch in, but they usually don't have a kitchen or shower/bath. You'll probably get sick of living like that pretty quickly. Also, your landlord might not be keen, so you'd have to be discreet about it.

However, I did say most commercial spaces. We've toyed around with the idea of opening a second location a few times, and I remember seeing an older building for rent a while back that had an upstairs office area with a full bath and kitchen, which was kind of obviously actually an apartment from the days when a shopkeeper would live above their shop. It struck me as kind of a cool romantic idea, but would definitely not lend itself to good work/life balance lol.
 
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333kenshin

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Very grateful for the speediness and quality of the feedback - it's quite clear that living in the dojo raises all sorts of issues both external (zoning, propriety) and internal (psychological boundaries, hygiene and nutrition). I'm looking instead into renting space by the hour out of a gym, dance studio, or such.
Thanks!
-Dave
 

Monkey Turned Wolf

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Very grateful for the speediness and quality of the feedback - it's quite clear that living in the dojo raises all sorts of issues both external (zoning, propriety) and internal (psychological boundaries, hygiene and nutrition). I'm looking instead into renting space by the hour out of a gym, dance studio, or such.
Thanks!
-Dave
Something @gpseymour is doing which might be an option, is finding a dojo already in existence, and seeing if you can teach your art in between/before or after their classes, as a collaboration. Where, say, they get 50% of your tuition (and possibly more clients for their classes), but in exchange you don't have to worry about renting the place.

At least to start.
 
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333kenshin

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Yeah, one of the dance studios I inquired into renting space from said that's their model - I would join their team of instructors (includes acro, pilates, salsa, ballroom, and hiphop) and my class would be one of several options kids could choose from each 8-week term. I actually think being the one martial arts instructor among dancers might work in my favor in terms of standing out compared to being a karateka among a sea of martial artists.
 

Gerry Seymour

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Yeah, one of the dance studios I inquired into renting space from said that's their model - I would join their team of instructors (includes acro, pilates, salsa, ballroom, and hiphop) and my class would be one of several options kids could choose from each 8-week term. I actually think being the one martial arts instructor among dancers might work in my favor in terms of standing out compared to being a karateka among a sea of martial artists.
In my case, I teach an art that's entirely different from the school's primary art (theirs is a very traditional Okinawan Karatedo, mine is a semi-traditional hybrid Aikido art). It allows some more collaboration (though less than I'd hoped, mostly because I chose a really unpopular time slot: 8:15 Saturday morning). There's a sense of community from being around other martial artists, and you can combine forces on marketing focus. If you wanted - and they are open to it - you might even eventually become more of a partner to the owner.

Working with a dance school could have some different benefits, especially with drawing in youth students (which I don't teach, and really don't want to at this point). I'd be concerned that parents might see it as another play option (rather than a learning option, which is mostly just about parental perception), which is more about me than about the kids or the situation.
 

dvcochran

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Yeah, one of the dance studios I inquired into renting space from said that's their model - I would join their team of instructors (includes acro, pilates, salsa, ballroom, and hiphop) and my class would be one of several options kids could choose from each 8-week term. I actually think being the one martial arts instructor among dancers might work in my favor in terms of standing out compared to being a karateka among a sea of martial artists.
So does this mean you would become an employee thereby they would pay You. Based on a number of student based commission program or such?
 

dvcochran

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In my case, I teach an art that's entirely different from the school's primary art (theirs is a very traditional Okinawan Karatedo, mine is a semi-traditional hybrid Aikido art). It allows some more collaboration (though less than I'd hoped, mostly because I chose a really unpopular time slot: 8:15 Saturday morning). There's a sense of community from being around other martial artists, and you can combine forces on marketing focus. If you wanted - and they are open to it - you might even eventually become more of a partner to the owner.

Working with a dance school could have some different benefits, especially with drawing in youth students (which I don't teach, and really don't want to at this point). I'd be concerned that parents might see it as another play option (rather than a learning option, which is mostly just about parental perception), which is more about me than about the kids or the situation.
Did you bring a contingent of students or did you start your Saturday class from scratch? I am curious because I have gotten inquiries about a early morning Saturday class but the two times I put out a signup sheet to see who would actually show up it was left empty.
 

Gerry Seymour

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Did you bring a contingent of students or did you start your Saturday class from scratch? I am curious because I have gotten inquiries about a early morning Saturday class but the two times I put out a signup sheet to see who would actually show up it was left empty.
I started from scratch. An early class on Saturdays is pretty unpopular. When I taught variously at 9AM, 10AM and 10:30 AM, I had much more interest. If there wasn't a yudansha class at 10, I'd move mine.

If you're considering a Saturday class, start with an occasional special class (maybe focus on bunkai from one kata, or something). See who'll show up. If you get decent attendance (whatever that means to you), then you can probably build attendance for a regular class. I started my first Saturday class with a self-defense seminar series at the same time (9AM) over 4 successive Saturdays. Enough people showed up for all sessions that I knew I could probably get some of them to show up for a regular class.
 

dvcochran

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I started from scratch. An early class on Saturdays is pretty unpopular. When I taught variously at 9AM, 10AM and 10:30 AM, I had much more interest. If there wasn't a yudansha class at 10, I'd move mine.

If you're considering a Saturday class, start with an occasional special class (maybe focus on bunkai from one kata, or something). See who'll show up. If you get decent attendance (whatever that means to you), then you can probably build attendance for a regular class. I started my first Saturday class with a self-defense seminar series at the same time (9AM) over 4 successive Saturdays. Enough people showed up for all sessions that I knew I could probably get some of them to show up for a regular class.
We have had a 10:30-12:00 class for a long time. I have had enquiries about an 8:00 or 8:30 class but it has never gotten off the ground.
Way back when I was training for the circuit, I had a 6:00am class because if fit my schedule. We did have a decent amount of people show up.
 
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