No one can deny that the growth of BJJ over the past decade has been nothing short of phenomenal. Thanks to the explosion of MMA, the masses have been directed to Brazilian jiu-jitsu because of its gentle nature and its intriguing complexity. At the forefront of our growing sport, the Gracie Barra organization has been very busy in building a strong international network of gyms, making it one of the biggest BJJ academy franchisors in the world.
Behind this growth in North America is Flavio Almeida, who plays an integral part in the brand’s development.
“I make sure that owners joining Gracie Barra receive the support they need to accomplish what they want through their schools. To keep it simple, it’s pretty much supervising and training people.”
A graduate of the Bachelor of Economics program at the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro (UFRJ), Flavio believes that there are two important questions that one must consider before joining a franchise model.
“One is to think about why big organizations like Gracie Barra want to embrace the franchise model as a tool for supporting their schools. And the other question is why you, as a school owner, would want to embrace the philosophy, method and management principles that someone else is handing down to them.”
For Gracie Barra, their responsibility is to make sure that the quality and reputation of their famous red shield emblem is being justly represented. This is done through the specific training and curricula that are passed down from the executives at Gracie Barra. Every school must uphold a standard. There cannot be two schools in a city where one is following the proper curriculum with a black belt instructor while another has a blue belt instructor lacking management and teaching experience.
“So if I am demanding all my instructors around the world to teach jiu-jitsu for beginners a certain way, when I make that requirement, I also have to provide them with the tools so they can perform at the required level. This includes giving an instructor’s certification program, instructional DVDs, curriculum and the requirement for accountability. You have to have all these things in place to make sure everyone is doing a good job.”
From the perspective of the franchisee, before they join a larger organization, they need to make some decisions for themselves. The first is what they want to accomplish with their school. They must know whether they want their school be for all ages and levels, and whether they can manage all these programs so that their school can reach 300 to 400 members.
Flavio makes it clear that if this is what you want then being part of a franchise makes things much easier.
“You will need curriculum, marketing and sales systems, to hire and train people, and to find instructors. You will have to have a strong brand that you either built yourself or are already using one that’s out there. And if this is really what you are trying to accomplish, then a partnership with an organization like Gracie Barra is the best thing you can do.”
Flavio was quick to outline the most important reasons for teaming up with a larger affiliate organization. From the perspective of the franchise:
• The required investment will not break the bank
• The affiliate organization holds brand equity, reputation and creibility
• Inheriting proven curricula and systems that work
will ensure the success of your venture.
Joining a franchise also protects gym owners from the obvious business risks. Flavio has witnessed unsuccessful gyms in the industry in the past, and credits these cases of failure to over-discounting memberships.
“Although these academies may have a good student base, they won’t make enough money to grow the business. The first thing you start seeing is that the instructor is no longer motivated, the owner and the staff included, then the quality of the staff drops and the student base follows soon after. You go into a downward spiral.”
Academies must control their promotions closely. The main goal is to constantly make sure that a school is always building its revenues, as cash flow is king. If a promotion is given, there must always be some sort of return on investment and there are some rules that can be put into place to avoid such disasters, such as always pushing for longer-term membership commitments.
“That 12-month commitment is what is going to keep my cash flowing. I will do whatever I can to facilitate the up front cost for a new member. I create incentive programs like ‘Hey, this month we are doing a winter coat drive for charity. So if you bring a coat, you get a free uniform’. So that brings down the upfront cost for the member. Or ‘if you bring a friend, I wave your registration fee’. I always try to do something that can either benefit the community or build on referrals. But it’s always a win/win situation; that’s where the financial health of the business comes from.”
What can further benefit the financial health of an academy is a gear store, and not seminars, as many people have come to believe.
“I don’t think seminars make a big difference on bottom line profits at the end of the year. It may be good once in a while, but that’s not what is going to bring you wealth. The way you manage your pro-shop can be significant. Find the right products to put out there and get someone on commission to manage and sell; you need constant turnover of merchandise, then you can make good profit. I’ve heard of people who pay their rent with pro-shop sales alone. So it does happen, but you have to dedicate the time.”
Lastly, after outlining the benefits of joining a franchise, Flavio wanted a certain message to be clear to anyone interested in opening their own academy:
“I think the word franchising has a lot of negative things attached to it. When people think of franchising, they think of Mcdonalds. I encourage people to think outside of the box instead of adopting the negative perception of it. Joining a franchise will save you years in building a brand and creating a method that really works for your students. It’s difficult to survive by yourself, especially at the level of competitiveness of the martial arts world. You want to be in business for a lifetime and pass the school to your kids and future generations.”
Words by Naoyuki Da Silva
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