MA Business Success 56: How to Grow Your Business in a Tough Economic Climate w/ Legendary Martial Artist & Business Owner Dave Kovar


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Phil: And we have the one and only, Mr. Dave Kovar. Thank you for joining us.

Dave: Oh, my pleasure. Glad to be here, guys.

Phil: Well, what an absolutely awesome podcast we have for you guys, the next four. We're gonna be diving into some really good topics, good subject matters from someone who's been in the industry for such a long time. Somebody who's, you know, travelled the world and got the scene, so many instructors and schools. So just an amazing wealth of knowledge that we can then share on and impart to all you other school owners out there.

So in saying that, we're gonna kick it off with topic number one which is how to last 30+ years, and in particular, how long was it?

Dave: So like November 1978 so going 38 years in the business yeah.

Phil: Woo. Wow, that's amazing. So, you know, how to last 30+ years and still enjoy it? Wow! Graham, what have you got?

Graham: Look, I guess starting first because we're a big believer of begin with the end in mind.

Dave: Right.

Graham: So how did you find yourself on this crazy journey where you are today if you were to backtrack a little bit? Do you...

Dave: Right, right. I mean it's kind of interesting because when you say that I've been in business a long time, I don't think of myself as old. You know, I still think about myself as 19 years old and it's interesting when you go to stuff, I realize, man, I'm the oldest guy in the room, right?

So just like everybody else, you know, I started in martial arts when I was a kid. I wanted to do it years before I could but finally, my folks [inaudible 00:01:36]. My first art was wrestling. I started wrestling in '71 and then I started karate in '73 and that was back then. I mean it wasn't... there were some schools around but there's very few professional schools.

About six months out of high school, I was teaching part-time for my instructor but I didn't get paid a lot or sometimes he would forget to pay me. So I had another job as well and I never really thought. I mean I knew I was gonna do martial arts my whole life but it wasn't something you've thought of going to do it as a career. Yeah, I come from a family of college graduates. My mom and my dad and my brother and my sister and that was kind of the expected road, so to speak.

So I'm going to junior college and one of my students or like co-students, the guy that was a couple of years older than me, to open up a school. He'd been in business for about a year and it didn't work out. So my instructor said, "Hey, yeah, Dave, you ought to think about this." So I checked it out and I got a loan from my parents, a savings secured loan. It had six students when I took it over and I think they're all scholarship too, right?

Phil: Yeah.

Dave: You know. I think my rev was only $260 a month and I was living at home. So I just kind of started and struggled for, you know, a long time. I mean there's always a struggle. There's always a struggle but... And then stuff happened like I was painting houses by day for a while and teaching in the evenings.

And then in about 1984, '85, when you guys were just whippersnappers, "Karate Kid" came out and overnight, boom, things changed. At the time, I had already had that largest kids program that I knew of in Sacramento County. It had about, oh, 10 or 11 kid students. The rest... I didn't keep stats but I finally had a hundred members I'm guessing. It was a pretty good-sized school.

I gave everybody a deal so there was... You know, I was always been... was never making any money, right?

Phil: Yeah.

Dave: But so when the "Karate Kid" came out, I was kind of poised, because, you know, I enjoyed working with the kids and so we just blew up. So I kind of was able to quit my day job, I think in like '86 and then go back to being full time. My brother became my partner in '87 and we just... It kind of grew for... In the early '90s, we moved to this building we're at now and we've been here and then we started expanding locations and here it is, 2016 already and that.

So you kind of fall into and there's still... I mean the bottom line is we're still...there's so much to learn. Actually, the difference now is that we make less mistakes. We still make plenty mistakes. You know, I don't, by any chance, feel like we have it figured out. But, you know, we're a lot farther along than we were 38 years ago.

Graham: And it's cool. But you mentioned that proficient martial arts schools were not around so therefore, the education process or the information.... How did you guys, yourself or yourself and your brother, stay up to date with, you know, being in business in martial arts? How did you grow...

Dave: Well, we were really all isolated. You know back when I first started, there was 18. When I did a report for a college class which I have a... I'm a seven-year junior college dropout just so we're clear. Yeah, I did a little study for 1 of my business classes and there was 18 schools in the greater Sacramento area. There's 2.3 million people in the greater Sacramento area and now there's over 200. Just to put it in perspective. So there was a few schools. But when we started out, it was very... I used to have a sign outside, a flip sign that says, "No contracts," right? Like that was gonna be a good thing. Right?

Graham: Yeah.

Dave: And so we didn't have a clue what we were doing. And the thing is that we took our cues from each other and nobody else knew what we're gonna do either. I remember one time hearing about a school and this would have been early '80s that did $10,000 a month. And it was like, "There was no way, you could do that. There was no way you could do that." Right?

Graham: Yeah.

Dave: And then so I actually went through... The turnaround time for me that really made me realize, "You know what, I can do this and make a living" I went to a Jhoon Rhee seminar., Grandmaster Jhoon Rhee is, you know, pretty well-known in martial arts in the States and really influential in bringing like martial arts students the 20th century. I went to a seminar with him in January of 1987 and I met all these guys that were like actually quite successful by that standard. And that's when I went, "Wow, they can do it, I can do it." So that instantly, once you see the model and you guys know what I'm talking about.

Phil: Yeah.

Graham: Yeah.

Dave: And you realize, "Whoa, it can be done. It's like the "Four-Minute Mile Story," right?"

Graham: Yeah.

Dave: And so then we just...and the timing was it was like a perfect storm. Like I said that the time, the interest for martial arts for kids especially was crazy. The demand was very small. I remember one time doing a first lesson for 21 kids and that was just like a Tuesday night. You know I was like, "Okay, you know, just..." And they were just like, "We couldn't do..." Every time we put out an ad in the Yellow Pages or Valpak, if we did... Most of the time we didn't because we get too flooded with students.

Graham: Wow.

Dave: And then I met Nick Cohenos [SP] of DFC in like 1990 and I got into that network and now, I was seeing all these guys that are really doing stuff. And then we kind of, you know, did the Tony Robbins seminars in the late '80s, early '90s. And it's really just like was on the circuit to pick up everything we could and applied it into our business and the establishing systems that we still kind of do this day.

Graham: So in a nutshell, you're really just hungry for information?

Dave: Yeah.

Graham: And just weren't enough...

Dave: In order to be a champion, you have to fight like a challenger. And at the time, my older brother Tim who's now retired, was my business partner and he brought the kind of the discipline that we needed. Like for me, you know, I still love martial arts. It's still my hobby. Like we trained this morning, I love that stuff. I mean it's like, "Oh, it's not..." I don't go. You know what I'm saying?

Graham: Yeah.

Dave: It's like I try to choke people while they try to hit me, you know? And I still like that and I hope I always do but.... And that's what makes it fresh for me but you know? So there's still what, lots of room for improvement.

Graham: Yeah.

Phil: You know, I think a good take way for everyone out there is it doesn't matter where you are in your journey, always be seeking out knowledge.

Dave: Absolutely, yeah.

Phil: Always be learning and putting stuff inside you. You know even if it's internally, externally. Like look at that. Okay, I guess look outside of your industry and see what else... You know I mean you're talking about how you enrolled in seminars...

Dave: Totally, yeah, yeah.

Phil: ...helped the personal development sort of area.

Dave: So there's a book called, "Peak" by K. Anders Ericsson. I don't know if you've ever heard of it or not but it's an interesting book. He has two distinctions and we're talking on the ride over here about, you know, just what it takes and being hungry. But what the takeaway from the book was that success is not... And this is stuff we know. It's not the guy that has got the highest IQ or the guy that's the best athlete.

There's nothing wrong with that. I don't know if you have that. But if there's two things that go and do it and this is something that I think we've done a pretty good job of. And I've done a pretty good job honestly because I'm not the smartest guy and I'm not the best athlete but I have been able to self-motivate myself. That was the first thing. I'm pretty high... You know, it doesn't take a lot for me to get out of bed in the morning. I'm pretty... And sometimes, it's because I got all these issues I've got to deal with, right? You know, yeah, yeah, [inaudible 00:08:36]. But mostly because I love what I'm doing.

But the other thing is to be introspective and that is kind of... and constantly analyzing what you're doing if it's on the right track. And I go, "Oh, okay, we do a pretty good job of that." You know, it's like sometimes you get too tied up into thinking you got it figured out and you're not willing to look at how to improve things differently. You know so that's kind of... Like I look at our team and that's probably why we've been able to stay relatively relevant. I mean sometimes I feel like I am behind the scenes. I think I see what the next generation, I call you guys the next generation. You know and doing it, I'm like, "Oh, man, they're doing some cool stuff and they don't..." It comes up. I still refer to things as the... I'll say, "Hey, look in the Yellow Pages." I have to catch myself. You know what I'm saying? It's like...

Graham: Yeah.

Dave: But I think that's like... You know there's three types of motivation. There's desperation, there's inspiration, and there's purpose.

Graham: Yeah, yeah, that's good.

Dave: And desperation, we've all been there and you can do a lot of stuff when you're desperate but it's temporary. You know what I'm saying? And there's inspiration that you go to a seminar, man, you get inspired, you do something. That's pretty cool too. But that tend to wear off too. But purpose and that is having a real clear vision of where you want your school, your business, your life, to go... So we call it create a vision and visit it often. Like you know being really clear that this is what I wanna do.

Graham: Yeah.

Dave: I guess that we've been strong in.

Phil: That's what we try and do with the guys in the team is reverse engineer, right?

Dave: Right, right.

Phil: What do you envision 20 years, 30 years however long? You know what's the end game look like and can we work backwards to today and what action steps do we need to take today to get us towards that goal?

Dave: Yeah, yeah.

Phil: Talking about sort of, you know, the 37 years you've been in there, the good, the bad, and the ugly, is there anything that you've seen in your time? You know, if we're talking about sort of the bad things of martial arts or instructors or there was something that you would suggest to people not to do or you know? Do you have any advice in that?

Dave: So what not to do in the martial arts business.

Graham: Yeah, we've only got a short podcast.

Phil: Yeah, yeah.

Dave: Well I've done all of it.

Phil: You did.

Dave: So no, but there's things I've been you know? But I think first and foremost is you don't try not to reinvent the wheel. You know if you guys are doing this, find guys who know what they're doing and get... use them for mentors, right?

Phil: Yeah.

Dave: You know I mean that's first and foremost. And then the second thing is make sure that you surround yourself with people that are not... You know, like I said, I use this quote in the way over here and that is, is not fiercely defending their mediocrity. You know what I'm saying? They like are really trying to get to the next level. A lot of times, we get advice to people that shouldn't we shouldn't even be getting advice from, you know?

And then of course, when it comes to a school, I mean where do you begin? You know make sure that your environment is safe, it's friendly. You know, that you need to provide emphasis on having great classes. You're not afraid to recruit new members. It's all the basics just done consistently. I think what happens is people have success and then they forget what got them there, you know? It's really there's nothing, there's no real success. You know there's no real secrets. You know, it's show up on time with a plan and execute it. You know what I'm saying?

Graham: Yeah. Awesome. So fantastic. If I know we could be here for hours talking about this sort of topic with such a great person. But I know that we are always constantly looking to improve ourselves and self-check and whatnot and getting as much charge as you guys. Is don't just settle for good because that's not a standard that you should hold yourself to. Always strive to be better each and every day whether it's physical training, whether it's business training and again for your staff. Because they look to you as a role model and a leader and if you're not continually learning, well it doesn't set a good standard there.

Phil: Yeah. Cool guys. So that's a wrap for this particular podcast. As we've said, we're gonna be shooting four of these. This is number one. So stay tuned for number two where we dive a little bit deeper into, you know, Kyoshi Dave Kovar's mind and get a little bit more in depth about how he's been able to create a world-class team. So stay tuned, gang.

Man: Innovating the martial arts industry.

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