Barry Van Over
premiermartialarts.com / Premier Martial Arts
Last week saw the headline business news that Premier Martial Arts, the largest franchised chain of martial arts schools in the world, had been sold to Unleashed Brands, a parent company specializing in children's gyms and learning centers. Now Premier's CEO, Barry Van Over, discusses with blackbeltmag.com how the blockbuster deal came about and what, if anything, will change for Premier's more than 500 schools.

Black Belt: How did the sale of Premier take place and why did you decide to sell?

Barry Van Over: We were using a licensing system for our schools since 2004 and had grown to 70 locations. But then, two years ago, we changed to a franchise system and it just exploded. We blew up to 546 schools in the United States. I'm a big enough man to know what I don't know and to know when I need help. At heart I'm a martial arts instructor who knows how to run studios, not how to navigate the franchise world. I started getting interest from private equity firms two years ago but sort of ignored them all. But then I became friends with one of the people from Unleashed Brands. They specialize in children's brands and I just felt Premier fits in with them. They have the same core values as us - empowering children's lives. I was at the point where I felt I probably needed help opening all these locations and the money we're talking was pretty amazing. Plus me and our entire leadership team were offered positions to stay on and run the company. So now I get to focus exclusively on my passion, which is helping our owners grow their schools.

Black Belt: We know you can't discuss the exact amount you were paid but can we say it was a considerable sum?

Barry Van Over: You can definitely say it was a considerable sum.

Black Belt: Was the decision to sell solely yours?

Barry Van Over: Yes, I owned 100% of Premier and didn't have to consult with our school owners. But nothing will change for them.

Black Belt: Did the pandemic play into your decision? How much has that hurt Premier's business over the last couple of years?

Barry Van Over: Of course the pandemic effected us but not as much as you might think. There was a period of 8 weeks across the country, in some places 12 weeks, where our schools were shut down. But none closed permanently. They saw some non-growth but really 2020 wasn't that bad. We were doing Zoom classes online and as soon as we reopened the schools almost everyone came back. And as far as franchise sales, we did great. There was a lot of positive, forward thinking from franchise buyers who are looking beyond the pandemic.

Black Belt: How will this deal effect all your schools going forward? Will anything be different for them?

Barry Van Over: Nothing will change with our schools except the new company brings a different dynamic to marketing. We'll add our brand to their marketing machine. They have their own call centers, data and technology resources and we're excited by all that. And the deal allows me and my leadership team to put more time and attention into helping our franchises succeed. For a guy like me, raised in Eastern Kentucky who learned karate training after hours at a skating rink and then lived sleeping on a couch in my first dojo for a year-and-a-half, I'm really proud of what we've accomplished with Premier and what we'll continue to accomplish.

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