Josh P.: Welcome to the Gym Heroes Podcast. I’m your host, Josh Peacock. Today’s show is brought to you by gym desk. The easiest gym management software you’ll ever use. Take payments, create marketing automations, track attendance and much more. To try the software out free, go to gymdesk.com.

No credit card or painful sales call required. Our hero today is Keith Keppner, a boxing coach and founder of the Keppner boxing franchise. In this episode, Keith reveals to us the secrets to preparing for, launching and growing a successful commercial boxing gym.

Beyond that, we explore how you can balance running a gym that produces serious competitors, with serving people who just want a good workout on the bag. Without further ado, Keith Keppner. Well, welcome to the GymHeroes Podcast. Go ahead and introduce yourself, and tell us about your background in boxing and in business.

Keith K.: Yes. So my name is Keith Keppner, and I was born and raised in Athens, Georgia. Spent all my life in Athens, Georgia, except for I was in Mexico for about two years where I boxed for a period of time. And my background is that my father was a professional boxing coach, as well as a PhD a neuroscience clinical psychologist.

So I grew up with boxing always in the background, I was never that much into it. Then I got severely sick with Lyme disease, that went undiagnosed for about five years, had to drop out of high school. And boxing was the field of diamonds in my own backyard for me to help me become the antithesis of what I was, which was about 125-pound, five foot eight, 17-year-old that had horrible carpal tunnel on my wrist and whatnot and a weakling, and that’s why I got attracted to boxing, and that was my path.

And so I got into that, was not very successful as a boxer. But in that course, if you’re not very good at it, you learn a lot about it, and so that equipped me to be a good coach. So when I started coaching 2010, I found success with that and then needed to do my own thing, because partnerships oftentimes don’t work out. And so I started my own business along with who would be my future wife Lisa in 2013.

Josh P.: Awesome. Okay, so boxing is kind of a hot trend right now, you’re seeing it on YouTube a lot. It started I think with Logan Paul, and now you’ve got that creator clash thing that just happened, so there’s a big interest in it right now.

What makes boxing more accessible than previous trends like kickboxing? I mean, kickboxing is still popular. But what makes it more accessible than kickboxing and other combat sports related?

Keith K.: Yes. Well, let me throw some things out here, and I hope it doesn’t come across you the wrong way, because you’re somebody that obviously does a kicking art. And to be clear, my wife fought 22 fights and 16 of those fights were in Muay Thai, k-1 rules and rules like that, she also did some MMA fights as well with a couple boxing fights.

So I have massive respect for all martial arts and particularly combat sports. But I would say with boxing, one thing is it has such a rich history with being truly almost really America’s martial art, really. And then also visually, something about punches with somebody else is really entertaining and exciting. Obviously, done in a certain fashion, obviously, some people get bored by some boxing.

But it has the potential be very entertaining. And then there’s a kind of a weird awkwardness, that doesn’t mean it’s not effective, but weird awkwardness as far as visually with kicking sports, even things like as brutal as Muay Thai where it’s just like not as smooth and pretty as boxing, okay. I mean, it’s freaking brutal as hell and amazing, but it’s just not as pretty.

And so yes, and then as far as a participation standpoint, it’s one thing, right? It’s like how many times can I connect my knuckles to the target areas of your body, and how many times can you do it to me and that’s it. So it’s like really simple, really straightforward, but obviously like we think like there’s so many awesome nuances. But I think that’s what makes it appealing, because it’s really freaking basic in a sense.

Josh P.: Yes. I guess it’s less daunting in the sense of hey, I’m just going to focus on being really good at footwork and punching.

Keith K.: Right, exactly. It’s not like eight things, right?

Josh P.: That’s why it’s the sweet signs. And then there’s like there’s this weird, I actually have a friend, who he’s a Korean martial artist like I am. Not Korean, but he’s Italian. But he’s in the Korea martial like I am, very pseudo, very related to taekwondo.

And he does boxing because he really likes boxing, not just because he has a stylistic affinity to it, like he likes to learn hands. But because it’s like it’s western too, it’s like a western martial art.

So it’s like eastern martial arts is really cool, and a lot of us grew up with like Bruce Lee and Jackie Chan and Chuck Norris and stuff, and it’s super cool. But it’s like all right, what can I do also that I have some sort of like cultural continuity with it, so to speak.

Keith K.: Yes. Oh gosh, and the thing like you’re talking about, like the cultural continuity is the fact of honestly, the diversity of demographics, right? It’s like George Foreman said like every race, ethnic group and creed has shed blood in that ring. You had back in the 30s the Jewish fighters, you had the Italian fighters, obviously, the blacks and Latinos and just what a wide variety.

Then now, you have the eastern Europeans, which used to be so unsuccessful as pros, but now they’ve become very successful. And then so it’s really an international sport now, but is as an American sport. Also, it’s the first professional sport really actually.

Because think about it Josh, you would back in the day want to ride for a few days or however many days it would take to get to an event to watch people like hit a ball, right. So the antithesis obviously of competition is a combat sport, but boxing in America was the first one with prize money, with a purse.

Josh P.: Right, yes. So you can actually make a living doing it. It’s like the way Muay Thai is in Thailand now with kids trying to get out of poverty. But you had a lot of people, you have like your Rocky style story with people getting out of poverty, working in these gritty gyms and then becoming a world champion and being really wealthy because of it.

Keith K.: That’s right.

Josh P.: But yes, I mean it’s really cool, there’s a lot of cultural, I mean, it’s like you boxed in Mexico, I mean big deal in Mexico, big deal.

Keith K.: Yes, it’s like a bigger sport.

Josh P.: In like central America and stuff. And like you even have like ancient Egypt had a boxing style, like a rule set. And of course, the Olympics. And it looked different, but still like they wrapped up, and went at it. So yes, it’s very cool.

So switching gears here, somebody decides that they want to open a boxing gym, they want to make teaching, coaching a career path, maybe after pro fighting or instead of pro fighting. What do you need to have in order, your ducks in a row so to speak, before the gym is open. What needs to be in place?

Keith K.: Yes, well that’s a great question. And first, it starts with a person, because you mentioned two drastically different types of people, right? Someone who does it instead of pro fighting and someone who does it maybe after pro fighting, something like that.

What I’ve seen when we talk about the second group of people first, and that’s the after pro fighting or after some type of competitive experience, is that what they have to remember or learn is that now the role is completely different, it’s no longer all about them, right? Because to be a successful athlete is purely a selfish endeavor.

And particularly in boxing, like how I was raised in boxing, it was like kill or be killed. Which is not necessarily the best mindset even as a martial artist, but it’s there a lot and for sometimes large utility. And so when you start your own business, and you want to be paid as a coach, obviously, now it’s not about you, it’s about everybody else. But then as well you have to accept the fact that it doesn’t matter at all how much you know about boxing.

This is something I experienced when I started my own business, because I was like well, man I’m a better coach than all these other coaches, and man, like so and so down the street. He doesn’t know crap about boxing compared to me, and so I’m like man, why don’t people just come to me, like why did they even go to him?

Like I felt personally insulted about it, right? I know a lot of coaches that feel like that when they’re struggling with their business and most are unfortunately. But then they need to simply realize that hey, you’re stepping into a whole nother endeavor, all right. Just because your service is now boxing, you are now starting a business and everything is different, and everything you did with boxing is not going to directly correlate, all right.

And so mastering marketing, mastering sales and then mastering administrative and then leading a team and being able to grow your team. So it’s not just an army of one, but it’s an army of many. So you actually have a life, instead of having handcuffs to your business.

Josh P.: Absolutely. Yes, I hear people say things like yes, you have a black belt in jiu jitsu, but not a black belt in business.

Keith K.: Right.

Josh P.: It’s true.

Keith K.: Well, let me put it this way though too, is that even if you had a black belt in business, it’s like what, I think one of the Gracie said this, right? Is that the black belt only covers a small part of your butt, right? So same thing with business, right? So I’ve seen a lot of people, I’m in Athens, University of Georgia. I remember, I’m a high school dropout, I have no high school, I have really well, yes, honestly no high school education, but definitely no college education.

And I would see so many high school grad, I mean college graduates and whatnot people with degrees in business and whatnot, and they can’t fight the rate of a paper bag in a business sense.

And just like I’m sure you’ve seen that as well with maybe some people that have had experience with martial arts, but they’re actually, just because you know the ideas doesn’t mean you actually are a good fighter, right?

Josh P.: Yes, it’s absolutely true. I mean, I think that you don’t really have, well, I actually, I think it’s corny to say things like I have a blackboard in business, because like the fundamentals you find in martial arts that are analogous to other things are just, they’re just fundamentals. It’s not like everything’s martial arts, just everything has a sort of fundamental operating sort of behavioral physics to it, or a dynamic to it.

Like humans behave a certain way, and you have things like your pareto principle, there’s a reason why the pareto principle applies to almost everywhere, and that’s because the pareto principle is describing self-organized human behavior, social behavior.

Keith K.: That’s right. Underlying or overarching themes, right?

Josh P.: Right. I mean, you’re really describing human behavior, you’re not saying that just martial arts applies everywhere, you’re saying it’s actually just human behavior applies everywhere, but it’s whatever. Analogies help people to move knowledge between domains, but you have to have that direct experience in marketing, in business.

Keith K.: That’s right.

Josh P.: If you don’t know how that works, then no 100 analogies from the Dow-g condor wherever you get them from, are never going to make you successful.

Keith K.: Yes. Well, I would say like going along with that analogy or that theme, is the course that it didn’t make sense to me. But it made sense to me with boxing for some reason, it was funny. They didn’t make sense me with business until I got into it and then obviously hindsight.

So I got into boxing, why did I get into boxing? Because I had a father who was a professional boxing coach. So I had somebody mentor me. And then when I became a coach, he mentored me as a coach, all right. I didn’t do what some of these people do, which is they maybe do the sport for a little bit, and then they stop and then they go off and try to figure out how to be a coach, and they don’t seek somebody to teach them how to be a coach.

Because granted you’re not going to be exactly like your coach, but you can learn a lot from someone who’s been doing it for decades, right? As a coach and from that perspective, and no longer from the perspective of being an athlete. So that’s what I had, but when I got in the business, I didn’t have that and I was struggling.

And I was like well, like what the hell? It didn’t make sense to me, right. But obviously in hindsight, it’s like well, I needed mentors, I needed coaches, I needed people to lead me and guide me just like you do when you’re an athlete or a fighter. And so I think that’s something really important that people miss out, and now granted though, sometimes just like with a fighter, right?

If you really want a coach to dedicate a lot of time to you and give you a lot of energy, no matter who you are, it’s not only your natural talent and ability that will attract them, it will attract some coaches yes, but I would say a winning recipe to attract a good coach in business or in fighting or anything is to show that you’re willing to do the work man. And to be doing the work before you come across them.

So this has been my experience with my first mentor in business, well actually, my second. My first was my wife, because she managed gym for about nine years when I met her, so she helped me tremendously, and she was essential for our growth as a business. But this gentleman that was across the country in San Francisco, he started giving me a lot of tips on marketing, he really was my first I guess marketing mentor.

And the reason I think he felt attracted to me and to help me out so much, is because I wouldn’t question what he would tell me to do, right? Just like a good fighter, like okay coach, what do I do? Do this, okay, gotcha and I’ll do my best to execute. And only after executing to the best of my abilities would I give any feedback on it, so that’s one thing. I was not dumb enough to not realize what everything I didn’t know.

And I remember he made a beautiful prediction for my wife and I back in 2015, because we were in the business 24/7 period. I coached literally every session, 36 plus a week and personals on top that, she was in the facility all the time, and people were like oh, this business is so great, too bad it’s just great just because of you guys, right? And it’s like that’s the only reason it’s great because of you Keith, right?

And that that strokes your ego and you have to put that aside. But he said back in those days, he said you guys will get to the point where literally all you’re going to be doing is doing some sales calls for the business, and you’ll have all the free time you want to do anything else you want, and you’ll be making a great living. And he was partially right on that.

We got to that point in 2018-19 and then we’re like what the hell do we do now, right? And so then we outsource even doing sales for the location that we own now, we own two now.

And then got into launching a franchise concept, which obviously that’s a whole new business, just like a whole new martial art. Like just because I’m a good boxer doesn’t mean I can jump into Jinkundo and start doing that man. I got to start from zero again, right?

Josh P.: Right, absolutely. So what about more of the mundane things, so when somebody wants to open up a gym.

Keith K.: Yes, let’s talk exacts.

Josh P.: Yes, what do they need? I mean, that’s really important. Don’t start a business if you have no business experience or any education, right? Get your education. So we talked about that, that’s probably the most important part. What needs to be on somebody’s radar in terms of liability, insurance, legal?

Keith K.: Well, it depends what state you’re in. What state are you in, Josh?

Josh P.: North Carolina.

Keith K.: North Carolina, okay, cool. I’m in Georgia. So like first, know your state laws with requirements. Some states require more, like a small group training certificate things like that some don’t, Georgia does not. With boxing at least, it’s very easy and inexpensive, like talking 100 bucks or less or a little bit more 100 bucks now, to become a USA boxing certified coach, certify your gym as a USA boxing gym, then automatically there’s some reasonable liability for insurance there.

But then general liability, and you can just get that anywhere, general business liability. And then thirdly to that is to having a really good waiver, right? And it’s one of those things that anyone that reaches out to me, I’m happy to give him our waiver because it’s not a super-secret.

But it’s pretty extensive, I’m talking about everything you may experience. And so therefore, all of the presumption is upon okay, you had a bad experience well, it says here and here and here and here and here that these things could happen, right? They’re probably not, but they could. So yes, so there’s the presumption of the situation there as you walk into it.

Now, you want to find a location, that’s the biggest thing, where I see people with boxing gyms mess up on is they think if they just open up something in the middle of nowhere, that people will come. And yes, you will get some people, but you’re going to get a small fraction of the amount of people you get if you put yourself in a high traffic area, yes, you’re going to pay a little bit more in rent, but hey, that’s actually, just look at those advertising costs and then get a gosh darn sign up.

Man, it’s something that with boxing it’s just too much, people don’t spend any money on their sign, they don’t even have a sign and it’s like a damn secret man. And yes, at the end of the day I don’t know it’s like they’re a little too cool for school, right? It’s like they don’t want to sell out. But I don’t know man, I want to be like Metallica when I remember like one of them said like, yes, we sold out, we sell out every night, right?

And that’s the way that you can support. Because the way that my wife taught me to do it, because I was raised, my father clinical psychologist and his hobby was boxing. And he was special because his pro boxing gym paid for itself, right? He didn’t make money, but he wasn’t losing money, so he was an enigma with that. So then when I got into it, here I don’t have another career path, so this is literally all I have to make money and to live.

And so I’m trying to run it like he ran his, and it wasn’t making money, he wasn’t there. And so I had to quit, and so my wife exposed me to the concept okay, look, train general public, make it very clear that it’s beginner friendly, everything else, because that’s where the bread and butter is, and then don’t worry about attracting the fighters, because the fighters will come.

And that is the darn honest truth, is that we do zero marketing for fighters or anything like that or try to attract those type of individuals, but we market all to beginner friendly, we love beginners and that’s the truth we do, and as a coach too, I actually like working with beginners and building them from scratch more than taking someone with a little bit of experience.

But everyone else comes man, you have to worry about attracting those people. But what you do need to worry about if you want to run a boxing business in the boxing gym, something that is, I think it’s a challenge for other martial arts facilities, but I definitely know it’s a challenge for boxing, is do not ever sacrifice your business, your bread and butter and it helps if you live off the thing and that’s your only source of income, on a fighter or on a couple fighters.

Don’t let them run the show, all right. I train all of our coaches, all of our team, we talk about with our franchise partners as well. It doesn’t matter if a young Mike Tyson walks through your door with that level of potential and that skill set or just natural explosiveness and everything else, if they’re acting like a young Mike Tyson, even if they can be heavyweight champion in the world, the amount of things you’re going to lose to try to serve that person and the amount of people you’re going to lose is not going to be worth it, and it’s like betting on racehorses man. If that racehorse breaks a leg, now your fighter is gone, and now your cash cow is gone, and you’ve destroyed your business, you have no money.

Josh P.: Yes, don’t bet on kids.

Keith K.: Right.

Josh P.: Don’t expect kids to be around in 10 years.

Keith K.: Yes, and that’s what creates for a lot of frustration I think, because coaches, I see them pour so much time. And don’t be wrong, like I put a little bit of time into our fighters and whatnot and give them what they need to succeed, but they literally build their whole life around this person.

And yes, it’s a sick relationship too because then there’s this weird pressure now. And that’s one of the troubles with professional boxing, is there becomes this really odd relationship pressure where you have these individuals, some of them are from certain backgrounds so they don’t have a father figure, you are now that father figure. But there’s a weird incentive now tied to it, and it can be very dangerous for that person.

Josh P.: Yes, it’s like a weird codependent situation.

Keith K.: Yes, exactly.

Josh P.: Cool. So we talked about leading up to the gym, fundamentals of before you launch. What about at launch? What makes a successful gym launch? What elements need to be in play?

Keith K.: Well, I would say above everything else simply your marketing, right? So you have to be doing marketing and nowadays, obviously, this was not news five years ago and it’s still not news today, but social media marketing that’s where we get the majority of our leads from. Social media and website.

And that’s just the easiest way to do it. Because word of mouth, there’s ways to work that and to grow that. But if you really want to actually create a sustainable business, you have to be willing to commit a certain amount of capital. Let’s say it be five percent or ten percent of your hopeful earnings for that year, or that hopeful gross profit to grow your business man.

And if you don’t, it is literally, man, I mean it’s just, marketing, you can look at this way, it’s not only for growth but it’s also for insurance. Because if you are not growing your business, it is not stagnant, it’s going to go one way or the other. It can go up or it’s going to go down, so if you’re not marketing it’s not going to happen.

And then second of that is something that I had to learn, and so this is, again, super applies to boxing people. Is that martial arts and boxing can be very clicky and everything else, and I know for a fact that the moment that I stopped being clicky is when our business really took off, because people like oh, it’s such a nice friendly place and all Keith is so great, nice and friendly.

And you got to lose the clickiness, you got to lose the facade of being a badass or whatever or that oh, this is something special when first a select group of people. And some people don’t even purposely do that, but that first impression is made in first four seconds, right? And according to the research I’ve read, it takes up to seven re-exposures to someone to make up for a bad first impression. So good luck getting seven times in the real world to do that. And that’s where again my wife called me out back there, before I started my own business when she was training with me as a fighter for a period of time.

She said like dude, you’re mugging everyone that walks through the door, like every dude, right? You’re mean mugging them. And it’s like yes, it was because I was worried, I thought maybe they would challenge me. I thought maybe they would think I’m not a tough guy or whatever and that type of thing, and then I realized okay, I just need to actually kill people with kindness, and that’s how we train all of our staff and all of our coaches.

Josh P.: Yes, be welcoming.

Keith K.: That’s right. Disarm, right? Disarm them. Because if you try to be all, in a way that articulates insecurity.

Josh P.: Yes, it does, for sure. So what about going beyond the opening and maintaining healthy growth at work? Seems like we’re kind of going into a recession, what do we need to do? I mean, I think the answer is going to be very similar, but what do we need to do to keep membership and growth healthy after a launch?

Keith K.: Yes. I mean definitely very similar answer. I would say one thing though, this has been in my advice for some individuals that I’ve worked with that own their own one-off models that aren’t a part of our system. Is that there’s many avenues for increasing revenue with your current base, and to do that through legitimate means, not through means that are just unethical and not right to do, and not good for long-term growth.

But different things like we do member appreciation, sign ups where they can prepay again for another membership and get a discount on that, and that can help you increase revenue during down markets. Because you already have people that believe in you. Because it’s a funny thing to work with, at least I experienced as a business owner especially when I was in there all the time, you feel like it’s dirty to sell people things, where if it’s of actual value and you actually believe in it, it’s not dirty. And so I mean, it was a big mind shift thing for me especially the past four or five years.

But the easiest people to sell to are your current member base, because they already believe in you. The hardest people sell to are new people. But for some reason like mentally as someone not very confident in themselves maybe in sales or whatever, or you have all these like kinds of stigmas attached to selling, it’s easier to sell to people you don’t know, if that makes sense.

So it’s like if I don’t know you, I can like be okay with coming across wrong perhaps, but if I know you, it’s like oh gosh, I want to preserve our relationship, I don’t want to lose trust and everything else. But it’s like man, it’s all about how you ask for it, let me give you a perfect example. I remember this one great gym owner I know who is asking me how to increase referrals.

And I said hey man, like literally we’ve tried a few different ways, and literally the best way we found to do it that our staff does it, is they say hey Josh, we’re really working at growing the business and getting more referrals and impacting more people with this. Hey man, you got anyone you think that might want to come check us out, we’ll give them a buddy pass or whatever.

So just like straight out, there’s no like special tactic or anything or kind of bait and switch type scenario. Or hey Josh, if you give me this, I’ll give you some free stuff. It’s like maybe I’ll do that, hey, you want a free shirt man if you give us like five referrals, that cool? Just like basic stuff like that.

But not this whole type of extra construct and pressure people put on themselves with like okay, well if I’m going to ask Josh for referrals, I have to make it worth Josh as well. It’s like no dude, if I’ve been serving you well and you like us and you love it here man, you’re going to want to do that. I mean, if you ask me for referrals, I’d give it to you if I liked you.

Josh P.: Yes, that’s a good way to look at it. But if you did want to add a little zest to it, like hey, we’ll take a little bit off your tuition if you refer somebody and they sign up.

Keith K.: Yes. Now, let me jump on that real quick, Josh. Let me be a contrarian, right? Because when I stop boxing, I strongly consider being a lawyer, but I didn’t go that path and I’m happy I didn’t, because I like this path a lot more. But I am a little bit of, so it could be a contrarian sometime.

So one thing with the membership discount that I’m not a big fan of, okay. And t-shirt is throwing flavor man, I’m not saying it doesn’t work, but I’m just not a fan of it. Is it is articulating to that person that what you’re paying is not worth it. And so I have learned, and I now come from the school, I didn’t used to come from the school, but now I do come from the school of never discount your service, never discount your service.

So it would maybe be, maybe you can get a free month, but even with that, it’s like assuming that it’s not easy for you to pay what you do pay for what you get right now, right? And so that’s where it’s this thing of yes, it’s just like, so I’ll give you a free pair of gloves man if you give us like 20 referrals or something, right? Or like a free shirt, something like that that’s separate from the service.

Because that’s something by the way jumping back to before opening, pre-sale. So we’ve watched quite a few locations and we’ve had membership signups being the 50-plus members upon opening, and obviously, that’s it, could be way better than that. But regardless, so many people start a business, they don’t pre-sell anything for memberships and then they build it and they hope things will come and they don’t realize that Kevin Costner in that movie is a liar, right?

And so the thing is with that for instance, we have tried like pre-sales where you get a discount of the membership for those founders. But man, at the end of the day, it’s like nah, you need to work out the deal in another way. So therefore, because let me tell you from an admin side, man, from an administrative side, this is something my wife hated about her previous gym that she managed for a long time, is they had like 300, 400 members and like everyone felt like it was paid a different rate.

So someone’s like oh, I want to renew and she’s like okay, hold on, let me go through and look through all these things, and oh you’re paying this random amount, oh you’re paying two dollars more than that person, and so just like a complete nightmare, versus this type of like uniform.

And the way that we frame it to people as well, just a little bit on the sale side of how we sell memberships and things like that is fairness, right? So let’s say like right now you try to session with us and working on helping you sign up, and you’re saying oh man, well, can I do the year rate, but can I do that month to month?

And I’m like Josh, like I completely hear where you’re coming from man, but it’s honestly not fair to everyone else that committed to a whole year to get that reduced pay, right? So that just wouldn’t be fair to do to those other people, makes sense? And so that’s how you frame it to people versus being like oh man, well, oh I guess, so it’s like that’s the darn truth man.

Because if you have a bunch of members that are paying, they committed to a year and they’re paying less, it is not fair to them for me to sign somebody up and to pay as much as they do, and they’ll only commit for a month, right? It’s not cool.

Josh P.: That makes a lot of sense. I know that a lot of people do that. I ran a taekwondo for school for a while, so I didn’t discount my services. When somebody did a referral, my referral program was like you and the person you referred got something if they signed up. So I think one of them was like you both got like this special uniform, that looked really sick, like it was really cool.

Like I probably, I like lost money on it, but I just thought it was cool. So yes, I guess they got this cool uniform with like all this embroidery and stuff on it, that looks like super cool. Or like free pair of nunchucks or something like that. That’s a way you can do it without doing the tuition, lowering thing.

Keith K.: Yes. And I like the win-win thing too, because also, going back to the downside of discounting sometimes, or of like you’re saying not having both people seemingly win. So it’s like the way we typically do is like the only people that win are just your buddy, because they signed up and you win that because now you have your buddy, like there’s no other incentives.

But the second you kind of go up to someone and you’re like hey dude, like you want me to like pay you money so you can give me somebody? There’s like this weird thing feel now that feels like a monetization of our relationship. Versus like just like hey dude, like we want to grow what we’re doing, you love it here, right? Yes, cool. Like you got any buddies you want to train with?

Because we love to have them here, we’ll give them like a free three days or whatever, cool, awesome. Where like you’re saying you win and your buddy wins, like let’s do that, So yes that’s a good way to do it.

Josh P.: Yes. I think that’s a good way to like, you probably and you actually probably spend less money on it, as long as you’re not buying like an expensive uniform. Like a pair of nunchucks like two bucks from century or whatever wholesale.

Keith K.: Yes. And that’s one thing too, as a business owner, and I would recommend people not doing this initially, because I guess like when I first started, at least, I don’t know, the type of guy I am. Starting from scratch with no business experience, I was very susceptible to getting too much information, right?

And then with too much information, just doing nothing. And so things as you go through your journey of owning a business if you’re doing it by yourself and not with a franchise, because with the franchise it’s all laid out for you and everything else, and you have coaches and support with that.

But if you’re just doing it yourself, I recommend not knowing your cost of acquisition if you are not business savvy, and focusing on just am I marketing through standard means, which is Instagram and Facebook, and have a website. And with those leads that are coming through, am I going after those enough? Which means you are calling and texting them at least for the first three days.

At least once a day, but really ideally twice a day. And then are you providing a reasonably good service, right? Making sure that some point. And then when someone comes and tries your service, right? Recommend giving them the ability to try it one time for free. They come in, they try it one time free.

Are you making an effort to actually sell them at the end? And that’s where I know people that are not from a sales background. They’re like oh god, sell people at the end, oh, high pressure, that sucks, I don’t want to do that. And it’s like well no, just simply come at it from the way of a coach.

And that’s actually something that’s beautiful about how we train our coaches to close personal training and small group. It’s like if they were training you in a session, it’s like hey Josh, there’s great work with you, when do you want to do this again? And you start the conversation like that. Oh, well this time work for me, awesome. Did you have an idea what option you want to sign up for? No, I don’t. Cool, awesome, let’s go through it, this is the most budget friendly option, go for that one.

And that’s actually the highest ticket one, but it’s the most budget friendly, because it’s the less per session cost, right? Because you’re buying in bulk. And then oh, you don’t have that much cool, awesome, we’ll do like the five pack, we’ll do one pack, one off and yes, so doing like that.

But remembering that if I come to your studio or someone else is boxing, I’m going to come to your boxing gym man, and I take a session and afterwards you’re like hey Keith, awesome, great work, later, see ya. Then I feel, there’s kind of this feeling of like well, do they even want me here? Like do they like me? But if they, do it in a sincere way of like hey man, like awesome work, when can you be back in? And they find out what my goals are beforehand everything else, that’s service man. Selling in the right way is service.

Josh P.: Yes, absolutely. I mean somebody who comes in and tried out a boxing class, they’re kind of want to do it anyways, so they wouldn’t be there. If they fundamentally didn’t want to be there, they wouldn’t be there.

You can’t make somebody, it’s a little bit different than selling a car. You can’t make somebody come out to, with the car, they kind of need the car and they rope you in and whatever and they’re like unscrupulous. But with a boxing gym, no way. Like there’s no way, you’re not dragging them out there. So just be friendly and be like hey, what am I going to see you again?

Keith K.: Yes, exactly. And the thing is too with the boxing gym that’s different than the car, is like a few fold. Well, so like one thing is like right now, I sell franchises. So we’re talking 45 thousand dollars and $130,000 commitment, okay. But 45 is your franchise fee.

So going to that world of selling things for forty five thousand dollars, versus a thousand dollars or four hundred and fifty dollars, it really changes your mindset then when I do work with my staff and things like that, where it’s like hey dude, like everybody has a few hundred bucks, right? Everybody can afford a membership honestly.

And like you’re saying if they came out and they have interest, they probably would enjoy it. And what’s so beautiful is that if they don’t enjoy it, let’s get them signed up for a shorter-term commitment, maybe it’s just a month. And they don’t like it, cool, no worries. Or like what we do, and this is how you overcome a pre-buyer’s remorse experience, people won’t make a decision because they’re worried about going home being like God, that was idiotic. Is he having a seven day money back guarantee.

And like for a lot of states, that’s the law. At least, I know for the state of Georgia, that’s the law. But it’s also just what we do with our franchise, where it’s like hey, let’s lock it in right now. Worst case scenario, you go home, you’re like this is a horrible idea, I should have done this or two days from now, and bring your equipment back, full refund, no questions asked. Sounds fair enough? And boom, easy.

Josh P.: Awesome. That’s great, that’s really great advice. So let’s pivot now to talking about staffing your gym, like how do you go about finding boxing coaches? And I know that you have a particular approach that’s involved in your franchise. So how do you go about finding those coaches? And then how do you go about training them in your specific approach?

Keith K.: Yes. Well, I’m going to talk, well I was going to try to come out from a specific angle. So the biggest thing I see is that where owners will mess up, and I believe they do this with martial arts as well, so all just supplies. But with boxing specifically I see this 100% is you get somebody based off the fact that they have boxing experience, you get someone based off the fact that they’re a boxing coach.

And that’s something that we steer our franchise partners very strongly away from doing that, not that all boxing people aren’t any good or yadda yadda yadda. But the key qualifier of a good team member is someone with the right characteristics, they have the same values as you do and as you want for your brand. And they are focused on customer service, right? And putting other people frankly above themselves, because that’s what a great coach does.

And I’ve seen so many coaches with less experience, less ability really, in terms of technically, become far better coaches in a business sense, but also for an athlete sense and for a client sense, because they came at it with the right perspective they had they were the right types of people.

They really cared about other people, versus really liking contact sports or really being a fan of boxing or whatever. So some people that we have found to be great fits are school teachers, people like that, that they already know how to work with people that are of different levels and things like that, and not be overly judgmental and also have a growth mindset with people.

Because so many of us, we maybe go through high school or whatever and we have a high school coach and some of them are great, but some of them are just horrible and they’re just horrible role models as coaches. And then when we become a coach, we think okay, that’s how we’re supposed to be, we’re supposed to be like that high school coach. Was like dude, that high school coach, nobody was paying that guy for anything, the school paid that dude to work, and did you like going to the gym or whatever? No, not really.

Okay, well yes, so let’s not mimic that, right? And so that’s something I saw early on bringing on coaches, is people kind of mimicking coaches they’ve had in the past which maybe weren’t good coaches. So obviously, as the owner, you need to model the behavior. And one way that I teach it is that for owners and managers is that do your best to make sure every single action you make and every single thing you say could be repeated for the next 10 years by all your people. Because if you act with that type of mindfulness, you’re going to have good results.

And if you don’t, it’s what I’ve seen happen where oh the owner or the leader feels it’s a time to relax, so they say something goofy or funny, and then it creates this whole pathway for everyone to think they can kind of dick off and say a bunch of crazy stuff or act in a certain way from time to time, and then they misjudge when that time is. And now, you just created a whole vicious cycle.

But yes, so hiring coaches with I would say the right intentionality, the right characteristic, professionalism, we do a short interview with references, right? So everyone’s required to provide references. And the gold question, the super gold question to ask references is if you do everything you knew now about this person, would you hire them again, right? You can legally ask that question in any state in the United States.

And if the person says absolutely, then that’s probably a good fit. And if they say I might not, or they do anything else other than that, don’t hire them. And the one time I had someone say that it was like literally actually the one time I had someone say that, I didn’t listen to that person, because I actually knew that person, that manager it was another fitness concept, and I honestly didn’t respect that person.

And whether or not I even respect that person now as a manager, they were so right. Because I brought that person on anyway, and within three months it was a disaster. And thank God they were like leaving anyway when I was about to fire them. So that’s the biggest thing.

And then when you do bring on these people that do have a little bit lesser experience, ensuring you have some type of onboarding process of helping them understand, and you have to really think about this too hard. But just your values as a business, and things like that, and then running them through some type of basic prerequisite for boxing.

The easiest and best things to do I would say going from like a few years ago, when we really started systematizing things out is to have all of your sessions and all of your curriculums written out, and start off by doing that for yourself and then as you start to onboard staff and coaches, then you are able to pass that on to them.

You’ve drawn out the things in the way they’re supposed to be done. But that’s one thing with like my experience, is that if I wouldn’t have spent so many hours, weeks and years in the gym, coaching, running these sessions figuring out how to best do them and everything else, it would be very hard for me to have other people do that.

So I think it’s very important for business owners at really almost any level to have that real, have your finger on the pulse, and have real experience with what everything is, including marketing. Because it’s so easy to get fleeced by a marketing company, and yes, right? And it’s just like everyone in your mom can be a marketing company.

And if you know nothing about marketing, you don’t know like what to expect, and they can tell you anything. I remember one marketing company that I fired, they were saying that they couldn’t run ads on Instagram stories unless we had 10,000 followers on Instagram.

And I was like that’s crap, because I see the guy down the street has that, and he doesn’t have 10,000 followers. And so I looked it up, Google searched it and it’s like yes, you’re wrong. I was like yes; I’m not working with that company anymore.

Josh P.: Yes, they were trying to sell you a prerequisite first.

Keith K.: Right, exactly.

Josh P.: That’s exactly what they’re doing. I’ve worked for a few marketing companies, and they’re pretty good. But there’s just stuff that I come from the SEO world, so there’s just, so there’s stuff that you just should not pay money for.

They do not drive the needle, and in a perfect world, yes, do them. But there’s just some SEO stuff that doesn’t drive the needle you should not be paying money for it from an SEO perspective.

Keith K.: My research has more of the same thing because I’m not an SEO guy. But everything that I’ve learned confirms largely what you’re saying.

Josh P.: Yes. I don’t want to say something like get in trouble.

Keith K.: Let’s talk about like this point for instance, okay. So like should you post on social media? Yes, 100%. We actually like on our systems and checklists and stuff like that, our goal is to post at least once a day, organically on social media.

Now, what is the metric that is truly going to move the business, right? Is it going to be our social media posts and no matter how good we hashtag them and etc. no matter how good we do that, it barely holds a candle to direct response marketing, right.

Josh P.: Yes, I was exactly going to say that. Do you want to run a direct response ad? Don’t pay $500 for organic posts, get a teenager to do it.

Keith K.: Yes. And then so you see so many business owners they waste money on boosting their posts and doing all this other stuff, and there’s no direct response in there. And nowadays, it’s so darn easy to do this, right? It’s not like how it used to be way before I even started business.

And so yes, it’s like that moves the needle, because you can literally see if it’s actually doing anything. Because I mean, I’ve contrived posts and creatives, add creatives together stuff like that and I’ve been like man, this is so amazing, this is so cool man, this is going to really make people want to experience us.

And when you do it direct response style, you can see how it’s doing, and it like freaking flops. And then like some crap you pace together that looks like garbage. Actually, it’s funny, one of our franchise ads, it was our highest performing franchise ad, that was actually the only ad creative that actually generate leads and we actually had franchise partners come off of that ad.

I had somebody say this, like comment on it say like this ad looks so outdated, this looks like crap yada yada yada and I responded back I was like that’s really funny, because it’s literally the highest performing ad copy. So direct response doesn’t lie, you’re either getting that leads off or you’re not.

Josh P.: Numbers, yes. That’s the, I’m sure you like Dan Kennedy.

Keith K.: Sure.

Josh P.: Yes. So that’s one of the, when I started studying outside of SEO, SEO is kind of its own thing. It’s like a pit. I specialize in content marketing, but it’s like all over the place. When I started reading outside of marketing, more into the advertising realm, I had this paradigm shift reading him.

It’s like dude, you can have all the creatives in the world prognosticating about how good an ad is, but that’s like this little like it’s an illusion, because they’re looking at it from a design perspective, not from a human performance perspective. It’s like trying to design a product, oh yes, tons of people buy this product.

Well, you can’t say that because you like it and your grandma likes it, and so I’m going to make tons of money off of this. No, you don’t know that until it hits the market and people buy it. So you have to validate with real market behavior.

Keith K.: And what you say as well what you’ve seen with some industry leaders, maybe not so much with fitness, but just in general though, these huge advertising firms with these gigantic companies. It largely, what I see it becomes about them, them winning advertising awards versus driving results.

Josh P.: Yes.

Keith K.: Because like we all know man, so my father also he taught inferential statistics, so I’m not reverse in statistics, but I have Elise Layman’s understanding of it and awareness of it.

So think about it, you have this huge company which is driving so much in sales and then you have a marketing company that they pay so much money to, and how are they supposed to truly validate their worth with these kind of just general awareness ads, and somehow trying to act like that is a direct causation of the increased revenue, right? It’s like it’s impossible.

Josh P.: Yes. If you want to do general awareness marketing, just be it events. Like don’t be spending a ton of money on general awareness marketing, that’s ridiculous. And have a shingle, hang a shingle out, put a sign.

Keith K.: Well, you know what I’ve noticed too man, again, just doubling down on like with social media, with the direct response style marketing like reform stuff like that. Is that you actually create, when you spend enough in advertising, so like give everyone examples some hard numbers. Like our location, we spend 60 bucks a day just on Instagram and Facebook alone.

When you’re spending that much, it’s also creating that awareness too, right. So even if the people don’t click the ad, they still see it, they still think about it. And we actually kind of notice a correlation on website visits when our social media marketing’s up. And like our social media marketing doesn’t lead to our website, it’s its own funnel.

And so it’s like yes, when this goes up, all website visits go up and Google searches go up when our social media marketing goes up, but they’re not actually connected. Well, why? Because it’s awareness, right?

Josh P.: Yes. I think that our guy, Dr. Cialdini calls that priming.

Keith K.: Yes, exactly, precisely.

Josh P.: And you see the priming effect in search marketing too, because if you run search ads on Google, you see more organic visits and this is from data that I saw personally. This is not something I read; this is data I saw personally working agency side with multiple websites.

If there was a correlation between the web pages that showed up on a Google search ad, and the web pages that were subsequently clicked organically. So it does help your organic clicks.

Keith K.: I’ve seen the same thing. My sample size wasn’t as large as yours, but yes, I’ve seen the same exact thing.

Josh P.: Yes. Dude, this is a lot of like really good information for a free podcast.

Keith K.: Real quick, so my intention and for folks listening, man, I was thinking about earlier Josh was like man, my intention, I just thought about it, because like man I consume so much information, right? And yes I’ve had some great mentors along the way. But a lot of what I’ve learned, same thing like sounds like with yourself is self-taught stuff through reading and everything else.

And man, people talk so much about these conceptual things, but then it’s like dude, I got to the point after a couple years like just give me exact steps, like what the hell do I need to do exactly? Like don’t tell me about the idea or this, that and the other thing that sounds cool and sexy, like dude, just tell me like what step one, two and three, that’s all I need now, just tell me.

Josh P.: Yes. Just tell me what works, I can figure out some of the other stuff later when I have room to breathe. I can start trying to work with theory. But absolutely. My last question to you is, so like true blue coaches, they’re going to want to produce fighters.

How do you manage having a successful business that’s accessible to most people, and also being able to have legitimate fighters produced out of your gym. How do you structure your business to do that?

Keith K.: That’s a great question. Yes, I have helped other boxing gyms that are not, got my boxing’s do this. You have to make a clear line of distinction between your non, we call it contact. So you’re fitness boxing and contact type sessions, all right. That’s number one. So therefore, I’ve seen so many people make mistakes with this where it’s like oh well Monday and Wednesday, Friday at this time is the fitness boxing.

And then Tuesday and Thursday at the same exact time is this contact thing, and it’s like it’s way too mixed up, you have to make it really clear in the schedule and have it never shift. So therefore, me as a client, I joined for fitness boxing, I’m never going to accidentally show up to the same time I normally show up it’s just a different day, and all of a sudden, it’s contact boxing it’s like oh geez, and now I’m expected to get hit.

So that’s one thing. And then the separate thing as well with that, is I would say almost to have three tiers. Is you have your fitness boxing, you have your contact boxing which is beginner friendly, but it does teach the real martial arts and you actually do drills with other people in a controlled fashion that you can titrate and build people up.

And then third is when you do have your competitors, you have to instill a credo in them with hey look, like you are here to help other people grow as well as grow yourself. We’re going to give you some special time alone, but that is a privilege, that’s not an expectation, that is a privilege because you’ve been putting the work in yourself right.

One great champion, Marvin Hagler, the Petronelli brothers that coached him, they said every boy that came through the gym, they would tell them the same thing. They would say hey, every kid is like I want to be a fighter, okay, cool. Well, you’re not going to be able to stay up late, you’re not going to be able to go out and drink, you’re not going to be able to hang out with girls, etc.

And it’s going to be horrible and suffering, everything else is going to be years until you get any type of payoff. And they said he was the only kid that was like okay, I’ll do it and turn it into. And so instilling that in your fighters as well where it’s like hey look, like it’s a privilege. It’s a privilege to fight, it’s not a guarantee. I’ve had a lot of people in our contact program that like oh, they want to fight, but they’re not putting the work in to fight.

And I am not so hungry for fighters that I’m like oh yes, I’ll let that person fight even though they’re not ready for it. So they understand it’s a privilege, and they understand that how they conduct themselves in our facilities is going to determine that as well. If they’re not being respectful to other people, and not helping other team members out, then it’s no bueno, they don’t belong with us.

And so yes, so really almost like three tiers. General kind of fitness concept which you are going to be making a lot of money that way, and obviously impacting people for more of a health perspective. And then you have the contact program a little bit more of that standard martial arts style and approach, and then thirdly is that fighter level which is a privilege to be a part of and it’s not a guarantee no matter how skilled you are. And if you’re in a second you deviate from that, you’re going to be hurt in your business, I’ve seen it happen too many times.

Josh P.: I’ve seen the same exact thing happen not with boxing, but with taekwondo. Where instructors get a little, they get greedy with the things they have in their disposal. They have demo team, they have sparring team, they have competition team.

And instead of choosing people that really want to be there, and giving them that extra validation and training for putting in the work and getting good, they charge people for being in the sparring program, being on the demo team, doing that kind of stuff.

And so anybody can be there, and the same kid that was being lackadaisical in regular class is bringing that energy to demo team and sparring class, because he doesn’t want to be there either. And it just brings the team down, and I don’t think it helps retention at all. I think it can, because if the parents not seeing results, it can really destroy their perception of the value of the program.

Keith K.: Yes, that’s a great point, because that’s the thing about, in business, right? And also, with fighting too. They think in life, right? Is that it’s all about what time frame you expanded over, right?

So like yes, charging more money, it’s like if right now we want to charge our individuals that compete, we have about like seven or eight and about seven or eight more that are going to be getting ready to compete. If it was like okay, you’re on the competition team, so now you’re going to pay more money to do that. There might be a short-term increase maybe in money maybe.

But like you’re saying, then it becomes this thing of like it’s a goal to upsell you now even though you’re not truly earning it and ready for it or whatever. And then yes, and then it eventually just hurts the morale of that team, people fall off the team, it becomes a joke really. And yes, so if you draw it out over a longer period of time, it actually doesn’t make you any more money and maybe it actually loses you money.

Josh P.: Yes, absolutely.

Keith K.: That’s a great point.

Josh P.: Yes, I totally agree. Cool, so where can people find you? What do you want to plug? I know you have a franchise.

Keith K.: Yes. Well, so go to Keppnerboxing.com that’s one thing, check us out there. That’s where people can find out about the franchise. But also, we have a YouTube channel, Keppner boxing, I think it’s just called Keppner boxing. We got about maybe a little bit over 3,000 subscribers, so check that out, a lot of good tips and things like that. I do some fight studies there as far as instructional stuff.

And then I’m pretty active on LinkedIn, if anyone’s on LinkedIn, follow me there. And then also, I’m pretty much an open book with most things, and I’m always looking to help people. And help them succeed like I was helped. So if anyone ever has any questions or anything like that, just reach out to me on one of those platforms.

Josh P.: Awesome, thank you for coming on.

Keith K.: Yes, man. Appreciate, Josh.

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Published by Josh Peacock

Josh is a lifelong martial arts fanatic, taekwondo 4th dan, BJJ player, writer, and marketer. In addition to helping martial arts school owners market their gyms more effectively, he also holds an M.Ed. in teaching & learning and has a passion for improving martial arts instruction.

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