Starting your own business when already faced with challenges can cause a big setback. But with dedication, persistence, and the right tools in your arsenal not only can you launch a successful business, but you can quickly grow. Olga Petrova, owner of Maximum Fencing Club, is a success story in her own for overcoming the harsh obstacles of launching a business, especially in the middle of the pandemic.
With her history and knowledge of the fencing world and club booking software to support her and her clients on her side, she is looking forward to even more growth and the addition of new students to her club. Olga shared her experience as a new business owner with us, and if you are also interested in launching your own club, you're going to want to see what she had to say.
How long have you been teaching fencing?
My father practised pentathlon (which consists of 5 sports: fencing, running, swimming, horse riding, shooting) and he practised fencing separately as well. He always wanted me to fence. I remember he kept his old fencing weapon, the Épée, in his closet since I was little. In my childhood, I practised different sports but started fencing when I was 12 years old. Since then fencing has been a part of my life.
We have been in fencing for more than 20 years. We immigrated to California nine years ago from Ukraine. We started fencing in childhood and then were professional fencers and National Team members. My husband worked in the fencing clubs in Ukraine, Indonesia and I worked in Sports University before moving to the states. One of the reasons we immigrated here was to teach fencing. We also worked in a couple of different clubs in California before starting our own.
What made you want to open your own fencing club?
My husband and I worked in different clubs before COVID. The club where I worked was on the Stanford University Campus. When businesses started re-opening, Stanford maintained their very restrictive rules and didn't allow that club to re-open even though other clubs in the Bay Area began to open. My husband also lost his job in the other club during Covid.
Ultimately, we had no choice but to do something on our own and we wanted to do the same work we did.
What was your experience getting your own club set up?
We opened our fencing club in March this year after COVID began. Before that everything was locked in California and clubs weren't allowed to re-open until this March. So we thought it was a good time to open a business.
A lot of students began coming to our club and now we have more than 100 members. We offer different levels and different classes. We have two different fencing programs in the club. I teach épée fencing and my husband teaches foil fencing.
Finding a space
It was a pretty hard decision, especially when we weren't allowed to go back to our previous club. Having no place to work really forced us to do something on our own. Our first challenge was finding a space for the business. Not all dimensions work for fencing clubs. We need high ceilings, and a fencing strip is 14 meters long, so at least one wall must be at least 16 meters long. Small office spaces didn't work so we had to look for a while.
Delays due to COVID
Another challenge was that landlords wanted to charge and collect expensive down payments. They were checking financials and didn't trust us to lease this space. I think we had five landlords who refused, and it finally took, maybe around nine months to find a space. Of course, COVID played a role in why it was so slow, but it was a lot of time.
During COVID we kept teaching in the parks. We set up private lessons and some group classes in the parks as we were allowed to be outside after lockdown. California has a great climate for that no matter in the winter or autumn. It was very helpful to be able to keep up some work outside.
Retaining and welcoming new students
Because the club closed down and we couldn't go back, nor could our students, so I kept some of my students and my husband kept some of his students. They would come to practice with us outside until we were able to find a space to move into. Originally about 12 came and now we have over 100 members.
How have you found new students to join your clubs?
We did advertise our club through Google and through Yelp, as well as through PTA programs. We would send letters and applications to the school districts. It was successful for a while and worked at first, but then a lot of letters were refused because they only advertised businesses for non-profit. So we advertised for one month, but it was enough.
We also have a great location on the main street El Camino Real, and a lot of cars pass by us. With our space right on the street people can see it and people stop by and inquire about who we are and what we offer.
At what point in starting your club did you realise you needed club booking software?
Actually, it was recommended to us by our student's parent. One of our student's moms had some experience developing startups and she gave me a few options, and TeamUp was one of them. I checked them all and Mindbody was too complicated for me, had too many options, and was pricey. I looked at Amelia, and I didn't find some of the options we wanted. So we signed up with TeamUp as it was a solution for both the simplicity of the features and the price.
Some of the features that are important for fencing clubs are being able to set up classes, reservations, and private lessons. We also use the store to offer armoury repair, selling club jackets and T-shirts.
How has having software helped you manage your business?
Because I am a business owner and a coach, I have a lack of time. TeamUp helps me a lot with registrations, reservations, cancellations, collecting payments etc. It has very convenient tools such as customer management and their family members. When you have hundreds of students you can't memorize all parents' names. And when some new parents call or write an email or bring you a check, first you can't understand who they are and for what student they are paying for. But in TeamUp, you can easily track customers by email, parents names, etc.
What is your advice for other club owners trying to launch a business?
Get simple software such as TeamUp, integrate to the website and save time on reservations, cancellations, collecting payments etc. All will be done by yourself and customers independently. Our goal for Maximum Fencing Club is to keep developing and growing.
Thank you for sharing Olga! Check out Maximum Fencing Club on their Facebook and Instagram.
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