By Terry L. Wilson
Rocket Scientists do Exist! You Just Don’t Meet Them Often
Wassim Khechen’s (pronounced, wa-sim’ catch’en) exceptional aptitude for science and his keen mind, among other great scientists, helped launch America’s probe of outer space in the 1990s. However, much to his parents’ chagrin, Khechen’s passion for martial arts would eventually take him down a path less traveled by his academic peers, leaving him to explore a world of his own creation.
Originally from Venezuela, Khechen moved to the United States in 1981, landing in Buffalo, New York under protest. A top-rated fighter in his own country, Khechen was poised to test his skills against the best fighters in world. That was, until his father threw in the towel and took him out of the dojang and into a university far away from his taekwondo school in Venezuela.
“I was supposed to be fighting on the Venezuelan Olympic Team, but my father insisted that I focus on my studies instead of martial arts,” Khechen explains. “He sent me to Buffalo, New York, to attend the University of Buffalo. I received a full scholarship that took me all the way through my Ph.D. in the studies of Polymers under High Voltage High Frequency and High Temperature for Aerospace Application.”
The University of Buffalo was one of just five universities in the United States that was funded by the U.S. government to work on America’s revamping of their space program known as Star Wars. Khechen’s mastery in the field of electronics made him an ideal choice to be on a team of U.S. government experts tasked with creating a complex electrical system for space travel.
The Strategic Defense Initiative (SDI), also known as Star Wars, was a program initiated in 1983 under President Ronald Reagan. The intent of this program was to develop a sophisticated anti-ballistic missile system in order to prevent missile attacks from other countries, specifically the Soviet Union.
“Our job was to create and find the right polymer that goes between the batteries/capacitors to create maximum power for space application,” Khechen explains. “We worked with an endless amount of variables, which include high voltage, vacuum, temperature and radiation. We had to do testing under all these circumstances to find the right capacitor to deliver the maximum power that could be used in space without failing.
“We were frequently at the Pentagon working with the Department of Defense. We also worked closely with NASA (National Aeronautics Space Administration) and the army and navy. Anything that was related to weapons development is what we did.
“There were a lot of high-level politics attached to my job, which I didn’t like,” Khechen admits. “I also didn’t like working on creating a better weapon. I wasn’t made to destroy. I was made to help others, and that’s what I was doing by teaching martial arts.”
In 1996, Khechen walked away from academic and Star Wars research to teach martial arts full time. Every effort was made by those in charge of the program to reinstate Khechen, but he just wasn’t interested.
“Even though I had offers from the U.S. Army and the University of Simon Bolivar in Venezuela, I declined all of them. I wasn’t going to abandon my martial arts students. So, I went into martial arts full time. It upset my father very much at the time.”
Learning the Business Through MAIA
Walking away from a lucrative and prestigious career as a Research Associate at the University of Buffalo to teach martial arts took a lot of guts. But Khechen didn’t even flinch, and he never looked back.
However, when it came to learning the ABCs of building a martial arts empire, even a rocket scientist needs some schooling.
“I think my education background has helped me to become much more open-minded,” Khechen says. “I feel like I can never stop learning and that’s one reason why I’m successful at running multiple schools. I was brought up in a business environment, but it was not the martial arts business, and I didn’t know where to start.
“In 2011, I joined the Martial Arts Industry Association (MAIA) and the help I received was amazing. Frank Silverman and Mike Metzger helped me tremendously. I was stuck and they helped me to take my school to the next level of success. They aren’t just martial artists; they are entrepreneurs themselves and experts at creating business platforms and programs tailored to running a school as a business.
“We all have old habits that we bring with us as new school owners,” Khechen admits. “And some of those habits could cause problems that you don’t know how to fix. MAIA offers solutions that specifically outline what you need to do to correct the problem and to move your school forward.
“For example, I used to think that I only needed to sign 20 students a month. But I wasn’t thinking about the end result, which was how much money am I bringing to the school? I was forgetting to follow the Five Profit Centers that I was taught to use.
“My coaches at MAIA showed me how to make effective phone calls, how to contact the school system and how to create programs for them, like an anti-bullying class,” Khechen explains. “The programs and ideas school owners get by being MAIA members will give them step-by-step instructions on how to get new students in the doors and how to keep them excited about their training.
“In the long run, it’s the little things you learn that can make a big difference in your bottom line. If you have a problem in your school, it can be like a cancer. What MAIA does is offer a cure for whatever ails your school.”
MAIA’s Business Systems Fix Any Issue
“I’ve talked about creating harmony as a way to teach martial arts by using your techniques in an efficient manner that creates a nice flow,” says Khechen. “So, what is the difference between martial arts and business?
“None,” he answers the question himself. “They are the same thing.
“If you have the right person that’s properly trained as a manager, he or she will keep the business flowing smoothly. To make that happen, you must first have the proper business platform as a guide. Again, I’m referring to how effective MAIA can be to any type of business.
Khechen likens the process to learning to throw a good kick.
“You must practice doing it correctly,” he says. “The same is true with the business end of running a school. Whatever the business sells, follow the culture of the business programs just like you follow the culture of your class and they will both work in harmony.
“All of these platforms are addressed in MAIA’s programs. MAIA has a system in place to fix any issue a business owner will face. They can show you how to grow any business, but it comes down to having the focus and dedication to follow the program.”
Using the Five Profit Centers
“After leaving the Star Wars program, I was finally doing what I wanted to do, and that was teaching martial arts at my own school,” Khechen says. “My first location was a very small school. I only had a handful of students, but I grew it to where I had more than 500 students.”
He then bought another location, also in Buffalo. Master Khechen’s Martial Arts Academy is, he says, three times the size of the original school. It serves as his headquarters for what has grown into six locations. Five are in western New York and one’s in Charlotte, North Carolina. His total number of students is around 2,000.
“I want to make sure that every one of our schools clears at least $40,000 a month,” explains Khechen. “Some of our locations are already well beyond that, and some of our younger schools are still working towards it. But $40,000 is our standard.
“All you need is a couple hundred students and you can do that easily. I just follow the Five Profit Centers program from MAIA to make that happen. The Five Profit Centers is a series of steps designed to grow your school and increase your profits. Step one is about tuition. It shows a school owner how to get students in the door and how to keep them coming back.
“Step two is the school’s membership upgrades and how to upgrade services. Our upgrades include the Black Belt Club and the Masters Club. Our membership is $159 a month. An upgrade to the Black Belt Club is $179 and our Masters Club is $189 a month.
“Number three is a pro shop that sells bags, pads uniforms and weapons. Profit Center four is about how to do testing. We charge a fee every time someone tests for a new belt or level. And for number five [Special Events] we do tournaments. For us, tournaments aren’t so much about making money, but about keeping our students with us for a long time.”
Number five also includes events, private lessons, birthday parties, Buddy Day and Movie Nights.
“Every month, we have one different event in the school,” Khechen says. “We charge for every event because we have staff running those extra events.”
Creating Leads through Coloring Pages
Khechen created a unique way to build his contact list in local academic schools by using coloring pages. Once a month, he picked a theme based on whatever holiday was at hand. For example, in December, kids grabbed their favorite crayons and drew a picture associated with Christmas. Then Khechen meets with different schools, clubs and organizations and tells them he will donate a dollar per coloring page that is sent to his school.
The sound of free money for a crayon drawing of Frosty or Tom Turkey or a zombie at Halloween opened a lot of doors for Khechen. In the process, he has created a mammoth-sized contact sheet for potential students.
“It’s very effective and the kids love it,” Khechen says. “This gets us into [academic] schools and the PTA (Parent Teachers Association). I came up with the idea of giving a dollar to the PTA for every coloring page that I display in my school.
“To submit a coloring page, it must contain the child’s contact information,” he explains. “I use that information to build my contact list, and I can get as many as 500 a month. And if I only get a handful of students from the $500 I gave to the PTA, it’s money well-spent. Then, at the end of the month, we pick one winner and he or she gets a $100 gift certificate.”
“This is a business,” Wassim Khechen strongly emphasizes when speaking about his schools and his martial arts career. “McDonalds doesn’t give away free French fries with every burger. We are a business, too, and I have bills and employees to pay just like everyone else.
“I do a lot of public speaking and I’m always asked how do I manage to run six locations,” Khechen says. “To me, managing a business of any kind is like having a family.
“When you have only one child to raise, it’s not that difficult. If you have two kids to raise, it becomes a little harder. Add a third and it gets even harder. My point is, if you do a good job with the first child, what you learn from those lessons will help you with the second child and so forth.
“My family is the people that train under me. They know what I expect of them and they pass those lessons on down the line. In effect, we are creating a culture, or a formula, for others to follow.
“To be successful in business you need to have a culture in your school. By that, I mean you’re developing a method of understanding how classes should be taught. After someone proves that he or she can run a class according to the culture of the school, the next step is for them to learn what it takes to run that school as a business.”
Khechen believes that if you want to soar to the top of your business, you must bring along the people that you have trained and that understand the culture of the school.
“I want all of my people to become wealthy and successful,” Khechen says. “Teaching someone how to run a martial arts class easy; anyone can do it. But teaching someone how to run a martial arts business is hard.”
Khechen has built a growing martial arts empire and, in the process, has morphed into a martial arts entrepreneur who plans to expand even more — way more — this year.
“My goal is to open up six more locations,” he says. “Five of them will be in Charlotte, North Carolina. Once we are done there, then I would like to duplicate our success in Miami, Florida.”
Terry Wilson is a multi-Emmy Award-winning TV personality/producer and freelance writer. He may be reached at [email protected]
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