Smash Gyms started in late 2010 and, six years later, we’ve become the largest gyms of it’s kind in Northern California. With three gyms, and more on the way, as well as a community of over 1000 people, we’ve become a huge success. This is how and why we did it.
I started Smash Gyms Sunnyvale along with some friends and my BJJ instructor, Michael Jen. It all began with my friends and I being involved in online marketing and having great success providing lead generation for martial arts gyms. At the same time, my instructor was teaching a small group of students out of his garage. Michael had closed his BJJ school 10 years earlier because of increasing rent and a dislike for running a small business. It was a short jump to figure out that, with our marketing and his world-class instruction, we might make a good team. I also happened to be a jiu-jitsu fanatic and wanted any excuse to be around the mat more.
My initial goal was to see if we could build up a business and create high quality jobs for expert instructors. I soon realized that I was walking down a path from which I could not turn around. We worked hard to create something great. I was at the gym every day from morning to evening. It became a family gym. My wife, Debbie, would come straight from her 9 to 5 job at Morgan Stanley to come help clean, sign people up, and take classes. Even my mom was there every night. Instructors’ wives and their kids also attended classes and helped a the gym wherever they could. A year later, my brother, Eli, came home from college and began working full time for Smash. This was soon followed by Debbie leaving her successful job to work full time at the gym.
At some point, I realized that there was nothing else I would rather be doing. Members thanked me for changing their lives by creating a community for great people. I’ve had Instructors hug me, in appreciation, for providing a career opportunity that finally allowed them to buy a new car or get a place of their own to live. I was in front of people who were bettering themselves and genuinely happy to be at my business. It gave me a sense of fulfillment and gratitude that I knew I could never find selling things online or in any other profession.
I also couldn’t help but feel a deep sense of obligation to everyone who helped Smash grow. So many people helped and contributed. I felt I couldn’t let them down. I felt that my hard work was a display of gratitude to all those that helped me. I worked harder than I ever worked in my life and became consumed with making Smash the best I could.
It was a community effort and we quickly became one of the largest gyms in the Bay Area. My friends, Filip Novachkov and Mario Rios, opened the doors to Smash Gyms San Jose in 2014 and it quickly became a huge success. They doubled the size of the community with their location.
Countless other instructors and supporters helped us grow. Every time we added a new member or instructor, things became easier. With every individual who joined, we also got their personal and professional network, their ideas, their skill sets, their opportunities. Those that lacked integrity or our “stronger together” philosophy didn’t last long. We began to build a community of inspiring and exceptional people.
As I looked around, I started to notice that no one had done it. What small brick and mortar business had grown, without venture capital funding, to become a large chain? I asked around and virtually no businesses could be named within the last 10-20 years. Where had the family-owned corner store gone? What about the local department or book store?
The freedom and autonomy of being self-employed was not without its challenges. I slowly began learning that things were not easy for small businesses. We were nickel and dimed by everyone. City, county, state, and federal government agencies were clearly not on our side. Permitting and zoning were an arduous hurdle to overcome. We were audited by regulators and paid unreasonable amounts of taxes and fees.
As I noticed these things, the paradigm of small gyms competing against each other began to be a blur. I knew most of them didn’t have the number of members and revenue that Smash generated. Even though members rarely switched gyms, most of these other gyms were barely making it. I started to realize that the gym down the street was not my competitor.
The epiphany was that all our battles were internal. I began to tell people that other small business weren’t obstacles to our success. The real obstacles are growing revenue, profitability, marketing, branding, vision, culture, procedure development and implementation, risk management, government regulation, permitting, legal issues, accounting, recruiting, hiring, training, etc….
As a result, I began talking to other gym owners. I began to tell them that win/lose is great for sports, but the wrong philosophy for business. Business is about creating win/win situations. Business is about creating opportunity for those around you.
This led to my friends, Jane Estioko and Cung Le, and I, sitting down and discussing the idea of working together. Soon they decided to have their community join our community. We realized we were stronger together. We realized that unity and cooperation between community leaders in this business would almost guarantee success and more opportunity for our instructors and more value to our members. We realized that we were obligated as leaders to do everything we could to provide for our people. So we did the unthinkable and joined teams.
We soon began searching for a location for the third Smash Gyms. During that process, we crossed path with Rudi Ott and Tony Gabucan. Even though they both individually ran successful gyms in Milpitas, we all agreed that the best thing for us to do would be to join forces. They closed their locations and we combined communities at a brand new 12,000 square foot facility to form Smash Gyms Milpitas.
We choose to band together to help each other succeed through sharing networks, branding, experiences, knowledge, procedures, best practices, marketing, revenue streams and people. We help each other avoid the mistakes most commonly made by small businesses. We are a community of successful entrepreneurs working together to solve the same problems and find success together. We realize that combining our networks and experience gives us more opportunity than we could ever have on our own.
Martial arts communities must reach a unified realization that we are not competitors. It is continuously getting harder for small businesses to succeed. We are on track to follow the footsteps of virtually every other industry. The little independent gym will become extinct because of a failure of our own creativity and foresight.
We’ve figured out a model in which each location can be independently owned and operated yet be part of a large collaboration with unmatched support. We want to preserve the freedom of small business owners while ensuring their success through connecting these community leaders.
At Smash, I’ve mentored many instructors that have come and gone. I’ve always openly shared my thoughts, ideas, and philosophies with everyone that has been a part of the team. Some have started their own gyms and found quick success with our ideas of collaboration. Gyms that isolate themselves don’t get it. Ego and fear will be the lid of their success. Those that are willing to share success will continue to grow. We are in it to help people, allow them to do what they love, and find success together.
We will be using new platform designed to connect gyms and their members within the next few weeks. Stay Tuned!
If you are a gym owner and would like to find out more about how Smash works feel free to reach out.