Opening a New Business: Surviving the Economic Downturn

The 2008 recession was a drastic hit to the U.S. economy and proved a tenacious adversary for Sifu John Wilbur’s small martial arts academy. Despite the economic downturn and a traumatic family accident, John persevered and opened his doors, acting on a promise to his former Grand Master and mentor.

John’s love for martial arts started as a young boy. Rough play was built into his genetic makeup. He grew up kicking, hitting, elbowing and punching, and it wasn’t long before his parents enrolled him in Taekwondo. “I needed an outlet for all my energy and I wasn’t really into sports.”

By the age of fifteen, John had earned his first-degree black belt in Taekwondo and as a young adult became a Golden Gloves boxer. “I wanted to add to my skill set and become a better martial artist. The more I learned, the better fighter I became.”

He went on to train under Master Robert Robear learning the ways of Muay Thai. A few years later, John studied under Grand Master Dennis Decker, who mentored him and eventually awarded John his Sifu Certificate. This made him a recognized teacher in Chi Ling Pai. Before the passing of his Grand Master, John promised to share his mentor’s teachings with the next generation.

In 2000, John took his first step in fulfilling that promise and began teaching out of his home. Just four years later, he had more students than space and opened his first academy, but had to close his doors a few years later when the housing market crashed. “It put a real hurt on my business and I had to start teaching out of my home again.”

Shortly thereafter, John’s brother had a traumatic accident and became a quadriplegic. That’s when John met Lynn, his brother’s nurse, who would later become his business partner and the love of his life.

Drawn together by extreme circumstances, John and Lynn joined forces to open the Chai Ling Pai Academy. With their combined knowledge, they were able to offer martial arts, yoga and Reiki, a method of healing through touch. For several years they kept the business running with pen and paper, until they realized that they needed something more robust to manage their daily operations. After asking around, John and Lynn were referred to MINDBODY martial arts software.

“The owners of CrossFit Key Largo and CrossFit River Mountain Rock both referred us to MINDBODY, so we checked it out and we’ve been using it ever since. Now we can do everything at the click of a button.”

Now the proud owners of the Chi Ling Pai Academy, John and Lynn have finally fulfilled John’s promise to his esteemed mentor. They are currently working toward becoming a nonprofit academy, which will make their business eligible for grants, allowing them to offer more classes to their community.

This blog post is the fourth in our series on opening new businesses. Read the other posts in our series here.