The classic formula for marketing success is the combination of product, position, and price. In simple terms if you have the right product, pitch it to the right audience, and charge the right price, you will sell. Properly done, marketing should generate enough students to produce enough income for you to consider this a serious venture. In this context product becomes very important.
The product line in most clubs is competitive electric foil, epee, and saber. Is that all there is to fencing? Does the 60 year old female beginner really want to compete in your Division’s tournaments this year, or ever? How about the 30 year old who wants to understand how swords were used when they were sharp as part of a longstanding interest in history? Does your product line capture the interest of all your beginners? If attrition from beginning fencing classes is a valid indicator, in many cases we may not.
This may be as simple as scheduling options. Run one group for the fencers whose intent is recreation and general fitness, and a separate group for your competitively oriented fencers. This positions the modern fencing experience to make it more attractive to those who want to for fun.
However, there is another option–truly diversifying your product line. In my salle we offer four other distinct options: classical fencing, historical swordplay, Asian martial arts swords, and sport chanbara. In my program classical is fencing emphasizing blade play in the period from approximately 1880 to 1939. Historical is fencing with the range of weapons typically used in serious combat from approximately 1300 to 1800s. There are a wide variety of Asian sword systems. We teach a Korean and two Chinese systems. And chanbara is an international full contact soft sword sport done with minimal protective equipment.
Classical fencing is a very attractive option for those who want a technical, disciplined, blade focused sport. It appears to be very attractive to middle aged and older individuals who want to take up the sport. Sources are readily available, and technique is close enough to modern to allow an interested coach to transition with some ease.
Historical swordplay is an underdeveloped area, and important to our heritage as fencing professionals. Most core concepts of modern swordplay descend directly from the work of Medieval fencing masters (timing, distance control, blade before body, simple direct attacks, the primacy of the attack, are a few examples). There is an audience of potential customers who are interested in historical sword techniques and who will pay for quality lessons. These include people interested in period history and those interested in the dramatic use of the sword.
This is only a snapshot of the opportunities. Therapeutic fencing for students with a variety of development and health issues, fencing for movement development in young children, and others may be viable. And do not forget the obvious choices of Modern Pentathlon and Wheelchair Fencing.
If you are interested in broadening, consider the following factors:
(1) do you really want to do it? Offering different products requires a lot of time and effort. Don’t do this unless you have a passion for the new product you are going to add.
(2) do you have the skills or can you acquire them? Are you willing to do the work to become as expert in the new line as you are in modern fencing?
(3) what is the potential interest in your community?
(4) will your facilities support the requirements of a new product? If you are thinking Medieval sword and weapons play, you need a high ceiling. If you plan to offer wheelchair fencing, you have to have not only an accessible fencing floor, but also accessible bathrooms. Each type of product needs slightly different facilities.
(5) how can you market it? Where is the audience, how do you reach them, and what sells them?
(6) can you convince other professionals to get in the game with you? If your classical fencers want to fence others, who will they fence?
(7) can you afford the equipment? A reasonable inventory of wooden historical weapons can add one to two thousand dollars to your equipment costs. Wheelchair frames are not inexpensive. And if you are doing something other than modern fencing, you may need added insurance beyond US Fencing’s coverage.
(8) can you do this safely? Classical can be done with weapons and uniforms that meet current USFA and FIE standards. However, when you start wielding Medieval longswords or Renaissance rapiers or Chinese big knife sabres, you are in a whole different world of liability.
If you have an interest in broadening your product line and need help, please feel free to contact me. I do not have all the answers, but I would be glad to share my experience.