By Erik Hofmeister
Shihan Garduque once told me that Soke told him, “Don’t sell Yoshukai cheap.” The principle is that Yoshukai is an excellent, valuable skill. It shouldn’t be sold cheaply. I couldn’t agree more. While Athens Yoshukai students do not pay tuition, they pay in terms of dedication, time, enthusiasm, and giving back to the dojo. I believe that just being able to pay money for karate is easy. Dedicating your life to it is hard.
For the past two semesters, Athens Yoshukai has attempted an experiment in student recruiting. Once upon a time, our model was to distribute information (via Facebook, Flagpole, and flyers around town) that we are taking new students. When new students came, we would welcome them in a friendly manner, do a relatively typical class, and then leave it to them to decide if they wanted to come back or not. We liked new students and appreciated them, but we didn’t make any special efforts to recruit them. There was no follow-up email, no sales pitch after their first class, etc. It was very much, “Here we are. If you like what we do, keep coming. If not, that’s OK too.”
Our more recent model has been similar to how a commercial school operates. We have been more aggressive with follow-up with new students who come to a single class. We have been sensitive to new student issues and making sure they feel like they are very important to the class they attend. We have been talking to the students and explaining about how great Athens Yoshukai is and why they should train with us. This has all been in an effort to help motivate and retain potential new students. It has worked no better than the old way of recruitment, and may be backfiring.
When students come for “free karate” and then receive a ‘sales’ pitch, they may wonder, “Why do you need to offer free classes AND convince me I should come?” Trying to convince a student to train over and above offering free classes may create an impression that Yoshukai IS cheap. It may detract from the perceived value. Instead, if new students are given no particular emphasis, they may realize that the only reason they will come back is themselves. We provide quality training. It’s up to them to decide if they want to do that training or not. It’s not up to us to sell Yoshukai. Yoshukai karate sells itself.