How One Martial Arts School Opened Another Location During COVID-19
While small fitness businesses everywhere have struggled, Master Shakeel Chaudhry—owner of Dragon Taekwondo Academy in Milton, Ontario—is opening a second location in Oakville, Ontario, and doesn't plan on letting COVID-19 slow him down.
Here is how he navigated the COVID-19 crisis, and came out more successful than before:
How Xplor Recreation Helped
Master Shakeel has been running Dragon Taekwondo Academy in Milton since 2010. Before closing down temporarily in March, the school had 120 full-time students who attended after school, and just over 200 who participated in the traditional programming in the evening. Dragon Taekwondo Academy also saw the help of several drivers, assistants, instructors and volunteers—a team Master Shakeel built with the help of Xplor Recreation.
"They had run a seminar which talked about how to develop like a kick-ass team with instructors and that, and that actually kind of helped us. We kind of built our team, using help from that webinar, from the person who presented that. That really helped us a lot."
When opening in 2010 and scaling up, Dragon Taekwondo Academy used spreadsheets and other manual tools to keep track of operations, but found themselves quickly becoming too busy to efficiently use it. Master Shakeel said they started looking into an automation platform a few years later, and came across Xplor Recreation.
"Somebody had mentioned Xplor Recreation, so we got that and we stuck with it. Now, the convenience of setting it all up with the training and all that, I kind of liked that. Any time we called, we'd be able to get training on over the phone as well as all of the different features, like the automatic withdrawals. The bread and butter for, I guess, every club that you need is emails, marketing emails, the happy birthday emails, all that kind of stuff that you can set up so you don't have to worry about it, and it gets sent off. That's a lot of convenience."
Now, he says Xplor Recreation has been helpful in offering class size limits during the class booking process for his students. Even for students or parents who weren't completely familiar with digital booking systems, having a platform that streamlined the booking process and allowed them to book weeks in advance was an extremely helpful tool—both for students and for school staff.
"I really like that feature. It actually really helped out. I've been using that a lot, where they pre-book their classes, and then it's just a click, and I send the email out with the link and the passwords to the ... Especially for those who are doing it online as well, they pre-book as well. So, we know who's doing in person and who's doing virtually. So, that's very convenient."
Keeping Students Engaged
In conjunction with government programs to offer relief for small businesses, Master Shakeel says that he has been looking for ways around each challenge the COVID-19 pandemic has presented.
"They say there's always an opportunity somewhere, right? It doesn't matter what's happening. You got to kind of step back, take a deep breath, and say, 'Okay. Yeah, we know there's a pandemic going on. Everything is shut down. But what can we do to continue? What's the bright side?' You always have to look at the positive."
For Dragon Taekwondo Academy, he looked carefully and realistically at how school closures would affect not just him, but his team and their ability to engage with their students. They navigated these barriers using weekly challenges and featuring special guests to join on Fridays. One particular session with a coach who discussed health, nutrition and staying positive saw 60 registrations online; another featured a world-ranked NBA player. Master Shakeel noted how thankful parents were for these sessions.
"It really helped a lot of the parents; they really appreciated that."
Coming Back To A School
Dragon Taekwondo Academy reopened its doors just in time for the beginning of summer vacation, which resulted in a lull of a start. Master Shakeel suspected that it was due to students and their families taking time to return to regular life, and he expects to see a bigger rush of students coming back in September. Despite the slight pause in registrations as the school reopened, they still have seen many leads and sign-ups now, and have largely retained a significant amount of their students despite shutting down.
"The reopening, I found initially it was slow, but it was interesting because we offered the online classes. So, it was busy, but then when we reopened, I saw students who weren't doing online, who we never heard from, even though we were reaching out, and they just show up. They just registered and showed up because they just missed it and they wanted to be back, and they were just waiting for us to reopen. It was nice to see that. It was really nice to see that."
Even with extra precautions such as physical distancing, online classes, and symptom questionnaires, business seems to be going as usual at Dragon Taekwondo Academy. Master Shakeel attributes a lot of that with the power of positive thinking.
"If you just kind of sit there hoping it goes away or when will it go away, you're going to fall behind. I think that's why we kind of took advantage of the opportunity we had with opening up a new location that came up instead of the what if this, what if that, maybe not the right time, and let it go by. So, I think, just look at the positive, and if there's something there, seize the opportunity."
Moving Forward Through 2020 & Beyond
So, what advice does Master Shakeel give to other martial arts school owners who are trying to stay afloat during the pandemic? The number one thing, he says, is putting your students first.
"Keeping the members a priority really helped us because they felt that, 'okay, you know what, even though they're going through a hard time, they still care about us and want to help us get through this.' I think that was really what kept us going. When we started reopening, we didn't really feel that we lost any students because a lot of people want to come back, but they're still hesitant, but they're doing online as well as the other ones who are doing it in person."
To learn more about Dragon Tae Kwon Do, visit www.dragontkd.ca