This type of thing is usually left up to the Martial Arts Industry Association, but I figured it wouldn't hurt anyone to hear it from another source. So to whoever needs to hear it: Martial arts school owners, you are allowed to charge a fair price for your services! You are allowed to make a profit! Heck, you're even entitled to up your prices, as time and circumstances change!
As both an insider into the martial arts industry and someone who has trained at multiple gyms, I can say that what many gym owners charge is well below the average cost of other extracurricular activities, especially when it comes to children's classes.
So, why don't school owners charge more?
I think many martial arts school owners have the mindset that asking for money for their services is "selling out." And here in the martial arts, we only have one word for sell-outs: McDojo.
The "M-word" and what it means to be one are hotly contested subjects. You can find checklists a mile long for what it takes to make a McDojo. No two opinions are the same. In short, it's a school that charges an exorbitant price for poor-quality martial arts.
The insinuation that their school is a McDojo is enough to make any self-respecting school owner's blood boil. Add this to the martial artist's mentality of toughness, plus the attitude that teaching should be its own reward, and you get instructors who have never upped their prices in 20+ years.
The perception that McDojos are expensive creates the first problem. When an outsider looks at a gym, one of the first things they're going to inquire about is price. Martial arts schools want to avoid giving the impression that they're "expensive."
The thing is, they don't even realize what it means to be expensive.
In my hometown, for example, dance studio lessons cost $150 a month for a three-class-per-week plan. A gymnastics studio charges $105 a month for a two-a-week class plan, plus a $60 sign-up fee.
And that's cheap. A 2016 survey by TD Americatrade showed that parents typically spent between $100 and $499 per month on youth sports. Of those surveyed, 20% spent over $1000 a month on their child's sports activities.
By contrast, the martial arts gym I trained at in the same town charged under $100 per month for unlimited classes. I could have spent three or four hours every day training in krav maga, BJJ, and muay thai. The martial arts gym I trained at in a larger city cost a little bit more – $125 per month – but that was also for unlimited classes (starting as early as 6 am and ending as late as 8 pm), and I was training alongside actual MMA fighters, both pro and amateur.
Now, could I have afforded something five times that cost? No. But an extra $20 a month? Sure! And I would have paid it. The atmosphere, the quality of instruction, and skills I learned were worth it.
If you're struggling to make money in your school despite having a good number of students, I suggest you take a step back and ask yourself the following questions:
- What benefits does the training I offer provide to students?
- If someone asked me to back up my assertion that training provides these benefits, could I?
- Would I feel confident doing so?
- If I asked my students or their parents to describe the benefits of this training, would they be able to describe the same benefits as I listed, unprompted?
Can you answer these questions with resounding affirmatives? If so, ask yourself: For those benefits, am I asking selling myself short? You might already know the answer.
What can happen if your prices are wrong?
The most poignant argument against not charging more has nothing to do with McDojos: "I don't want money to be the thing preventing someone from training."
I can't argue with that. Part of Century's mission statement, after all, is to help spread martial arts. We know they can change lives.
However, I don't think school owners underselling themselves is the solution. Here's how I see it: Suppose a school owner sets their prices at the lowest bar. Two things can happen. One: The cost of rent, utilities, insurance, supplies, etc. piles up more quickly than the money coming in and the school closes. How many students can learn martial arts from a closed school?
The second scenario ends the same, but is more drawn-out. The school charges more (but still too little) and makes enough to get by. The owner takes a second job, takes a second mortgage, takes a vacation every five years. There's never enough money to hire a second instructor, let alone staff. The owner teaches every class and wears every hat. Eventually, he or she will burn out, grey-haired and tired beyond their years. And now we have to ask: how many students will learn without a teacher?
If you have the resources to take care of your human body, mentally and physically, you'll last a lot longer as an instructor. If you can grow your school, you'll have a wider pool of candidates who may be interested in teaching for you, or buying the school from you, someday. If you can continually invest in better gear, your students will have a better training experience.
I'm not saying go crazy with prices, but what if you do charge a little bit more for classes? That's more money for you, sure, but it's also more money to:
- Set up scholarship programs for low-income students (there, you fixed the main objection!).
- Hold free, open-to-the-public seminars about anti-bullying, self-defense, and sexual assault prevention.
- Help fund students who travel to compete.
- Hire additional instructors to offer more classes and accommodate more schedules, or,
- Hire instructors who teach a completely different art, giving your students the chance to learn something new.
These are all things any instructor would want for their students!
Right now I'm sure everyone's asking, "But what if I overcharge?" I'm pretty confident that you won't. And if you do, the same thing will happen as would occur if McDonald's started charging $10 for a burger: No one will buy.
But you're not McDonald's. You're a steakhouse. Remember that.
Instructors, we want you to succeed as much as you want us to. We're grateful you chose this career, and that you offer us the opportunity to learn. We know you're not taking our money so you can fill a pool and dive into it like Scrooge McDuck. We trust you to be fair.
I wish I could tell everyone exactly what the "fair price" is that they should be charging. Your location, student-to-instructor ratio, number and type of classes offered, and other factors all affect how much you can fairly charge.
However, if you want to know the answer with certainty, and want to learn how to market yourself in a way that plays up your benefits so everyone can immediately see that you're worth what you charge, I highly recommend visiting the Martial Arts Industry Association at MAIAHub.com. They can answer any questions you have.