BJJ Academy Dreams: Location is Everything
If you’ve been practicing jiu-jitsu long enough, you’ve probably started to dream about opening a Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu academy of your own one day. It happens to all of us. Why not turn our passion into our profession?
However, starting a jiu-jitsu academy is not easy. Running it – and running it well – is even harder. A jiu-jitsu academy is a business, just like any other. And like any other business, the failure rate is high. Only about 25% of businesses make it past 15 years; 20% fail in the first two years, 45% in the first five, and a whopping 65% in the first 10!
Yes, that’s intimidating. But there are things that you can do to help your jiu-jitsu academy succeed, and keep from becoming one of those statistics.
For the last 15 years, I’ve trained all over the world, in hundreds of different academies; some for months and years, some for just a day. Over the course of this time, I’ve been able to see what works… and what doesn’t. In this multi-part series of BJJ Academy Dreams, I will give you some tips and ideas that will help your academy thrive.
First and foremost… location is everything.
One of the first considerations in opening a BJJ academy is: how many other jiu-jitsu gyms are already in your area?
Depending on the size of your city or town, “your area” may be considered differently. For example, if you live in a big city, where there’s a high population density, your area might be an individual neighborhood or borough. That’s why in bigger cities, you can have more academies closer together. In this case, distance is gauged more in commute time than physical distance. In contrast, smaller towns have lower population densities, and smaller populations in general. It doesn’t make sense in a small town to have two jiu-jitsu academies just down the street from each other. That is unless each jiu-jitsu academy offers very different services, hours, and cultures... which cater to different people.
Understanding of your area’s demographics is incredibly important in the success of your jiu-jitsu academy.
Demographics refers to the characteristics of a given population, such as age, sex, income, etc. The most successful businesses include an in-depth analysis of an area’s demographics in their initial business plans. It’s what allows business owners to determine that, no, a high-end luxury storefront doesn’t make sense in a neighborhood where the income is below the poverty line. A jiu-jitsu academy is no different. In fact, jiu-jitsu is a luxury for most people; so, unless you plan to focus on a non-profit model (which is absolutely an option), if you put your academy in a low-income area, expect many of your students to struggle to pay their memberships.
When deciding where to put your jiu-jitsu academy, you’ll want to choose a spot where there is a decently large population of "younger people" (between the ages of 20 and 40) with disposable incomes. If you want to have a big kid’s program (and you should, more on that another day), find a place where there are a lot of young families.
Size of Facility
The size of facility you want to begin with will put a huge constraint on your location; and vice versa. There are only so many commercial areas that will offer a lot of square footage for a reasonable rate. And even fewer that are in desirable areas.
Most academies start small out of necessity. The bigger the space, the higher the rent, and the more students you’ll need to just break even. Starting small enables you to cover your expenses with a fairly modest student body. However, if you start small and you’re successful, you’ll quickly outgrow your space. Then you face the hassle of locating a new space, possible construction costs, and closing the academy for a period of time to move all your mats and address other - often unanticipated - start-up needs.
If you’re looking to open a large academy, but you’re on a budget, the more industrial areas of your town will appeal to you. However, as I’ll explain below, this may not be the best course of action. If you want a large academy and you have tons of capital, well, finding the optimal spot is probably less of an issue for you.
Foot Traffic and Nearby Amenities
Another, lesser appreciated, consideration for your BJJ academy is the amount of foot traffic there is in your desired area. This is closely related to the availability of nearby amenities.
The more people there are shopping, eating out, engaging in various other entertainment activities… the more visibility your academy has to potential students. And maybe it’s not the person passing by your window who decides to join, but he/she may tell someone else, “Oh yeah, there’s a jiu-jitsu place by the [insert fun place here].” Additionally, your students will also benefit from nearby amenities. Your jiu-jitsu moms will be able to drop their offspring off and get their errands done nearby. Maybe there’s a nearby watering hole that your students like to frequent after a tough Friday night open mat.
Lack of sufficient parking is not a deal-breaker, but it is definitely a downer. If you found a sweet location, that ticks all the other boxes, but it has only four dedicated parking spots… you’re going to run into conflicts.
At the very least, your students will spend an unnecessary amount of time finding an open spot, and arrive to class chronically late. They might end up parking in an area they’re not supposed to and get a hefty parking ticket from a disgruntled parking enforcement officer who cares not one whit what belt they are. Your neighbors may even end up hating you, and engaging in all kinds of passive aggressive behaviors – such as towing – simply because your students are frequently taking their very limited parking spots.
Hopefully, I’ve been able to convince you of the importance of location in starting your Brazilian jiu-jitsu academy. Stay tuned for the next edition of BJJ Academy Dreams…