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Conversations with Lindsay Sutton

Today we’d like to introduce you to Lindsay Sutton.

Hi Lindsay, we’re thrilled to have a chance to learn your story today. So, before we get into specifics, maybe you can briefly walk us through how you got to where you are today?
In 2018, my husband Neil had recently gotten back into Martial Arts after a many years-long hiatus. I was working an unfulfilling 9-5 job where I had to spend over an hour in the car each day and wasn’t even able to get my kid off the bus, which bothered me greatly. We had a chance meeting with our now-business partner Michael who was also a black belt and we all just wondered aloud why we didn’t just open up our own dojo. We knew we could do better than some of the local schools around here, and I was eager to use my creativity and actually do something that I love for a living.

Many nights I wondered if we could really do it because the thought of starting a business was always overwhelming and scary to me. Neil and Michael felt confident that they could bring traditional karate values to local families and I wanted the business to have a strong emphasis on customer service. I was most excited about having full creative freedom!

We wrote up a business plan and started scouting for locations. We found a highly visible space in a local strip mall that had been a dog groomer for many years and we tried to look past the dog hair (and smell) to imagine what it could be for us. Things fell into place in many ways for us, but we also worked really hard and we literally gutted our space and designed and built it ourselves to bring our vision to life.

We slowly but steadily started growing our student base and were even voted best Martial Arts school in our county the first two years we were in business. I was able to quit my full-time job and now do marketing part-time from home while I manage the dojo. We have learned a lot and made mistakes, and we continue to experience growing pains. But I wouldn’t change a thing and I’m so glad we took that leap because we have made so many friends in this business and continue to help shape our community with the good character and values that we strive to achieve every day.

Would you say it’s been a smooth road, and if not what are some of the biggest challenges you’ve faced along the way?
One of the hardest things for us has been managing the small space we have and juggling our schedules to accommodate as many students as we can while not overworking our instructors who both have full-time jobs. As we grow and our students advance, we have had to adjust our classes to better fit the needs of both our volume and our student’s progress.

Obviously, COVID-19 threw us for a loop like most businesses. It brought a lot of anxiety and uncertainty for me especially, as I tend to be the worrier on our team. Because our dojo was child-centered at the time, and out of an abundance of precaution, we closed our doors and went fully remote for two months while we scrambled to find ways to keep everyone connected and figure out the best way to not only hold our student’s attention but to continue their progress. It was tough!

We are fortunate to have a very tight-knit karate family and most of them stuck with us during that time while we got creative and included things like one-on-one FaceTime chats with our Sensei and even did a live story time each night from home. Eventually, we were down about 40% after it became evident that things weren’t going to change any time soon and remote karate is not as easy as it might sound.

As time went on, we have steadily grown back to meet and surpass our pre-COVID numbers and we are very grateful to our clients who feel more like family to us.

Alright, so let’s switch gears a bit and talk business. What should we know about your work?
As the only woman on our team and as both a karate mom and karate wife, I like to think that I helped ensure that our center isn’t the typical Martial Arts dojo you may have seen before. The guys gave me complete creative freedom in the design of our dojo and I wanted to be certain that it was a clean and colorful, bright and welcoming space for men, woman, and children. I had seen enough musty, dark, and gloomy dojos to know that I wanted more for our community center.

Besides the visual appeal, I am most proud of my outside-the-box-thinking in our marketing and the way we interact with our students and families. If it’s not creative, I don’t want to do it! We have had fun with events like movie nights, Star Wars and Lightsaber classes, laser tag team building events, and more. It’s important to me that we get to know each student so that we can better help them grow and there’s no better way to do that than to get to know each family both inside and outside of the dojo.

I think that parents have quickly learned that we do what we do because we love it, and that will set a business apart from the others every time.

What were you like growing up?
Gosh, this is a tough one. Honestly, I was an anxious mess! With an undiagnosed learning disability in math, I despised school and couldn’t wait to just be done with it. I knew college just wasn’t for me so after graduating high school, I quickly got my insurance license and set to work for about 17 years, paying my bills but feeling like I was wasting my life and squandering my creativity every second of every day.

As the years ticked away, I started to get more and more uncomfortable and resentful at the unfulfilling life that I was living, and I just knew that there was so much more that I could be doing to make me happy. I had talent that was oozing out of me with nowhere to go! I started working on a vision board and visualizing what my life would be like, and eventually, even though I was thoroughly terrified, I took the plunge and quit my 9-5 job that was dragging me down. Financially, things are harder than they were but my happiness is off the charts!

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