By Keith D. Yates
Coming to America
Adam Spicar (pronounced, spy’car) first came to the United States as a foreign exchange student in 1996 and went to high school in Arizona, where he graduated in 1997. He returned two years later to visit his host family and was able to travel and visit several other states in America.
Lucie Stolkova and Adam were what she calls “middle-school sweethearts.” She says she first fell in love with Adam when she was just 12 years old and they met on the school bus.
When Adam came back to America in 1999, she got permission from her parents to come with him. She was only 16 at the time.
“My parents were suspicious of America, but they trusted Adam,” she remembers.
She spent a couple of months attending high school in Arizona, but she admits she barely understood English.
Back in the Czech Republic, students often studied English, but she says it was mainly vocabulary.
“I knew what was a table and a chair,” she says of her sparse grasp of English. “But if someone started talking to me in conversation, it was very difficult.”
But they both fell in love with the United States and were determined to come back.
Struggling in a New Culture
That happened in 2001, when they officially immigrated.
“We came from a totally different culture,” says Lucie, “with two suitcases and just $1,500, money that we were supposed to return. It took us a couple of years to pay it all back,” she adds. “I remember at one time literally putting my last dollar in a machine for a can of Coke and I thought, ‘Well, if this is it, I’m just going to enjoy this drink.’
“I wanted to return home a couple of times in the following years,” she says, “and, if not for Adam, I would have. But he is just a very positive person and always looked on the bright side of things. He said, ‘We are going to make it.’”
They traveled the country from Oklahoma to Indiana and finally settled in Lexington, Kentucky. They were on the cleaning crew at Target stores for a couple of years and then transitioned to managing a residential cleaning company for a friend they had made.
Coming from a different country and culture and trying to make a living in America was difficult.
“We didn’t even know how to rent an apartment,” Lucie admits. “What is credit history? What is a social security number? We had no clue!”
Things as basic as setting up accounts for utility services like water and gas were brand new to their experience as well.
“We had a mattress on the floor for years before we decided we could buy furniture,” she says.
“And [we ate] a lot of ramen noodles and Hamburger Helper,” laughs Adam.
Soon, the friend that owned the cleaning business moved and Adam and Lucie decided to form their own company. By then, they had learned valuable business skills and they slowly grew their clientele.
Their Martial Arts Journey
Adam also had a job working at a computer all day.
“You know what happens in a sitting job,” he says, “you get out of shape.”
There was a Gold’s Gym near them and Lucie was prodding Adam to join and perhaps lose some weight. Turns out there was a martial arts school nearby as well and one day he came home and said, “Guess what, I’ve signed us up for taekwondo!”
“That was back in February of 2003 and I guess that was his little payback,” she says. “I was trying to get him to get into shape, but he signed both of us up!”
Lucie admits she didn’t even know what taekwondo was at the time.
“We started at the back of the class as white belts. But we stayed and, over a few years, ended up at the front of the class as black belts,” she says.
Their determination was evident and soon they were helping teach the classes, working on marketing and registrations, and even helping with special events and demonstrations for the school.
The Spicars’ original instructor is Sid Nelson.
“Mr. Nelson has been like a father to us,” says Adam. “He has been a great mentor, role model and also a great martial artist. We are frequently on the phone talking about all aspects of life, business and martial arts.
“Even though we have moved 1,000 miles away, we have stayed friends. We brainstorm about classes and help each other with new ideas, drills and class plans.”
Nelson and the Spicars have developed a mutual and lasting respect for each other. They say they were fortunate to find him as an instructor and adviser as they forged their path in this country.
Taking the Leap to Ownership
Although Adam and Lucie enjoyed teaching for Nelson, they eventually got to the point where they thought they might like to open a school of their own.
“We had a friend, George Strickland, who had a school in the Dallas/Fort Worth area and he invited us down to check it out,” Lucie says. “In 2008, the economy wasn’t that great and Kentucky was hit pretty hard. So, we just made the decision to move since Texas wasn’t as hard hit by the economic downturn.”
Adam says they were able to rent a space in Southlake, a northern suburb, and they started with a full-blown school rather than trying to teach part-time somewhere first.
Lucie adds, “We had money saved up from our cleaning business. So, we just invested everything we had and jumped in all the way. It was either sink or swim.”
In retrospect, Adam admits that probably wasn’t the best way to start. But the couple diligently worked the neighborhoods, talking to people about the advantages of the martial arts for children. By the time the school was ready to open its doors in July of 2008, they already had 16 students signed up.
Their first location was about 2,100 square feet. But in just three years, they were bursting at the seams with over 250 students and negotiated for a larger space just under 3,000 square feet in the same shopping center.
The new location has an office, and a waiting area with a wall dividing the lobby from the large, matted training area. It has Century XL wave bags, body shields, target pads, mitts and other training equipment — all hidden in built-in cabinets in the wall. Of course, there’s also a pro shop with everything from uniforms and pads to belt displays and weapons.
Today, the Spicars have a second location about 3,000 square feet in the same city, run by Lucie and their chief instructor, Brian Garcia. Between the two schools, they have over 400 active students and over 70 active black belts. Four black belt instructors, plus Adam and Lucie, are paid staff members. Their monthly gross is about $75,000 and they average $4,000 in monthly pro-shop sales.
In line with most of the industry, they run 75% or more children as compared to teens and adults. They have up to six classes per day starting with 30-minute sessions for kids ages 4–5. They also hold two 45-minute children’s classes for kids 6–11 each day. Their teen and adults classes are an hour long.
They have additional “Leadership Program” classes that run for 30 minutes several times a week. There, they teach topics like body language, public speaking and communication skills as well as weapons training. The Leadership Program, which leads to students eventually becoming instructors, runs an additional $39 per month over and above the regular tuition.
Over 80 students are currently signed up for the Leadership Program.
The MAIA Influence
The Spicars have been with the Martial Arts Industry Association (MAIA) for over three years. Lucie says that although they were already successful, MAIA has helped them in organizing and gaining a better understanding of how to increase various revenue streams.
“They have helped tweak our special events for much better results,” adds Adam.
They were MAIA Wealth members at first. Lucie says Frank Silverman, MAIA’s executive director (and co-owner of 10 thriving Florida-based schools), helps members analyze their business and personal wealth-management systems. She says that was valuable for getting personal advice on how best to be covered and protected, as far as insurance and liability issues go when they started their business expansion.
“That was definitely a great learning tool for us. Mr. Silverman has been really awesome!” Lucie says.
They then moved to MAIA Elite status and gained more insights on how to follow up on leads, better understand the daily business numbers and to be more profitable overall.
“We work with [MAIA Consultant] Shane Tassoul, who has been great. He helped us take certain aspects of our business to the next level and we are very grateful,” adds Lucie.
“And of course, we’ve been Century Martial Arts customers since the beginning,” Adam says of the world’s leading industry equipment supplier. “We get our orders in the very next day, since Texas is right next to their Oklahoma facility. Our pro shop sells basically everything that Century carries,” he points out.
Adam points out that they try to keep the class schedule and the payment schedule simple.
“Everyone always asks how many times a week they can bring their children,” he says. “Often, they are busy with other sports or activities and can only come a couple times a week.”
So, the Spicars have a one-time-a-week tuition of $129 per month, and a twice-a-week tuition of $169. They also have a $199 per month unlimited program. Adam says that the majority of their student body is signed up for the twice-a-week plan. They do offer a 15% discount for prepaying for a year at a time.
“From the very beginning, we were focused on providing great customer service and keeping the students happy,” Lucie emphasizes.
That dedication to customer service has paid off.
“We’ve had parents who had to quit because of other commitments or whatever reasons. Then, a couple of years later, they come back and start again because they had a good experience with us,” says Lucie.
Their paid staff consists of additional four instructors, all of whom have been training with the Spicars for many years. They also have several junior instructors, black belt volunteers and teenagers who assist with various events, like testings, tournaments, birthday parties, picnics and summer camps. Of course, they run other special events year-round, including Parent Nights Out and Teen Gaming Nights.
“If all you do is kicking and punching,” Adam insists, “then the younger students can get burned out.”
He admits all the class and events can be exhausting to pull off, but it pays off in superior student-retention numbers and increased profit, which is important for long-term success. “
We still have a number of students who have been here since the very beginning,” says Lucie. “In fact, the second student who signed up at the school when we first started is still training with us.”
Some Sage Advice
People are often surprised when they find out that Adam and Lucie didn’t start in the martial arts as children but as adults. Add in the fact that they came from a different country to stake out their fortunes in America and their journey seems improbable at best.
“Honestly, when I look at it, I wouldn’t recommend that others do what we did and just jump into a full-blown building lease with just a small student body,” Adam warns. “There is so much risk involved in opening a martial arts business.
“I would tell people who want to start on their own to learn what it takes to run a successful business first,” he advises. “Find a great mentor or a few who you can follow and learn from, who will share and teach you how to do it successfully through proven systems. Teaching is not the same thing as running a business. Be open-minded, have a thirst for constant improvement and a strong vision of success. Have a long-term plan for your students, too,” he adds. “They deserve it.”
Perhaps the fact that they were still fairly new to the martial arts industry when they opened their first school actually aided in their success.
“You know, when you have been involved in something for a very long time you have certain baggage,” says Adam. “You have traditions that might prevent you from looking at things from a different perspective and keep you from being open to doing things differently.
“It is fun to hear stories from some of the ‘old-timers’ in martial arts and to be associated with guys that have decades of experience,” he says. “But we don’t have those connections. Coming from a country where there were no martial arts schools when we were growing up, we don’t have the temptation to say, ‘Well, that’s the way things have always been.’”
The Spicars say they are open to learning new things, innovating and making their own traditions in their adopted country and their chosen profession.
“Don’t be afraid to tear down walls that hinder your growth. When you become successful, your students will, too,” Adam states. “In the end, that’s what our industry is about.”
Lucie concludes by saying, “We are so fortunate to be able to be examples of truly living the American dream.”
Besides being a prolific author, Dallas’ Keith D. Yates is the longest continually teaching martial arts instructor in the state of Texas. He can be reached through his website, www.akato.org.
To learn more about how hundreds of other successful school owners, both large and small, operate, visit the Martial Arts Industry Association’s website at www.maiahub.com. Through this constantly-enhanced website, members can access a massive amount of useful information on just about any topic from A to Z.
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