Steve Browne

Somebody asked me the other day what I’d been up to lately. “Oh, failing in business,” I replied.

A bit of dramatic overstatement. I’m not failing, I’m what do they call it? Downsizing.

My martial arts school is not generating enough revenue to pay the rent on the space. So I’m going to talk to the landlord about voiding my lease and I’m going to fix up my garage to use and offer to take my services to my customers at their location.

It’s been an expensive lesson, but perhaps worth it.

So what have I learned, or in some cases relearned?

For one, passion does not necessarily mean success. Especially when your passion is shared by a tiny minority.

Secondly, markets for similar services and commodities are very different within certain broad categories.

Because there had been a very successful school for Tae Kwon Do, I thought it would translate into success for my school. But what I do is very different. TKD schools tend to be sport-oriented and heavily dependent on the youth market.

I teach with a strong self-defense orientation in arts that focus on physical efficiency that lasts into old age, rather than an energetic fitness-oriented pastime.

And because I teach dangerous skills I have a lower age limit for advanced classes.

This is actually something I learned years ago working in a gourmet French restaurant. All places that serve food do not compete against each other. We were not competing against McDonald’s.

Thirdly, if you build it they won’t come.

This is a truth expressed in the old adage, “The three most important things for business success are location, location, and location.”

I have a place just outside the main business area of town. The street is reasonably well traveled but the building is set back from the road enough that drivers don’t see it unless they just happen to look in that direction at just the right time.

It would be better to be on the main drag where people would see my sign every time they pass. Better still would be a place with lots of foot traffic passing by.

However places with optimum locations run two to three times the rent I pay. The successful TKD school was off the main street as well, but was serving a larger market and the owner had built up his reputation and client base for a while before he got a place of his own. Something I probably should have taken into consideration.

And something else I might have considered, advertising is expensive, intensive, and results nowhere near as reliable as advertising outlets would have you believe. I spent around three months rent and expenses on newspapers, electronic billboard, Facebook promotions, and radio.

Nada. Advertising needs to run continuously across many media platforms. It’s not a one-off.

Furthermore if you have a niche market business like mine you’ll find marketing specialists know nothing about your business and how to pitch it. And if you find someone who does, it’s likely somewhere else so they don’t know the market specific to your area.

But what the heck, I tried, it didn’t work, but I’m not giving up. I’m going to keep doing what I love and I’m going to find people who will learn to love it too.

Because there’s something even more important than money at stake, the example I set my children.

I’m showing them what I tell them, “You can’t fail, you can only quit. If you’re still trying when you drop dead you didn’t fail, you were merely interrupted.”

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