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Does Retention Really Matter?

student retention May 09, 2020

by Christopher Rappold



Open a business magazine or glance at the business section in Barnes & Noble, and then try to recall the business-building ads you’ve recently scrolled over while perusing the internet. Regardless of the industry or group on which they focus, you’ll find one thing in common: They’re disproportionately focused on getting new clients rather than retaining existing ones.

The mother of one of my students approached me in the lobby with her young son, who was visibly upset. She asked if I had a moment to talk. As it turned out, though the boy was an angel in our classes, he was a terror at home and at school. She was bringing him in to have him tell us what he’d done. Additionally, as punishment, his parents had decided to take away the only thing that seemed to matter to him: his martial arts training.

It took me a total of 10 minutes to reframe the mom’s decision to remove the positive reinforcement of martial arts. By the end of our meeting, we’d decided that instead of pulling him out of class, we’d set up personalized check-ins for our young student to ensure improved behavior outside the dojo.

While this scenario and others like it have been handled by many school owners, where are the records or measurable statistics on the dollar value of these 10-minute interactions? I’ll tell you: Nowhere. They simply don’t exist, and what doesn’t get measured isn’t valued. Allow me to share four reasons this kind of 10-minute conversation that results in saving even one student is more valuable than adding a new student.



How much time does it take to acquire a new student? More than 10 minutes? I think we know the answer to that.



How much does a conversation like the one described above add to your expenses? If it was done by yourself or a team member, payroll doesn’t change. The extra cost is zero dollars.

Contrast this with many of your marketing activities, and you’ll see which option is cheaper. Existing students require far less personal service time compared to onboarding a new student. You’ve already formed the basis of the relationship with an existing student — all you have to do is maintain it.



Lots of promises are made at the beginning of every business relationship. When the romance wears off and the inevitable challenges arise, you’ll get your first indicators as to whether the time and effort you’ve invested in your student have been worth it. Who is more likely to be your raving fan: a new student whom you just met or someone whose child was put on track to a healthier, happier life by your team?

Bonus: They pay far less, if any, attention to the competition than does a new student.


Lifetime Value

What is the greatest number in the business of martial arts? You guessed it: the total lifetime value of a student. This is the cost of your tuition multiplied by how long the student trains. When you keep your eye on this and see this number rise through the years, you know you’re improving the quality of the student’s life and the financial health of your dojo.


Here’s an activity you can do to start turning the tide and giving the proper value to activities like the 10-minute conversation mentioned above. At your next staff meeting, in addition to asking your team members how many new students they signed up for the month, ask if they have had any challenges with their students that potentially could turn into a dropout. Ask them to share how they communicated with the student and then talk with them about what you believe will be the impact for the student and what the financial contribution to the dojo will be. When you take the time to measure and put attention on retention, the result will be a win/win for all.


To contact Chris Rappold, send an email to [email protected]

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