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Place for young, old to get their kicks

From karate classes for children to cardiokick aerobics for men and women, Williams Martial Arts in Hilton offers something for every member of the family.
Owner Frank Williams says he set out to offer “more bang for the buck” when he opened the gym on North Greece Road nearly three years ago. While the business has not yet made him independently wealthy, Williams is having fun doing something he loves and getting his customers excited about fitness.
“The first year and a half were slow,” Williams, 37, acknowledges, “but now business is picking up.”
Williams relies mostly on word-of-mouth advertising to get customers in the door, but once they are there, he wins them over with the range of classes he offers. Clientele has tripled since the gym opened in January 2000.
“I never duplicate a class,” he says. “I try to keep it fun and interesting.”
Williams Martial Arts offers a variety of self-defense, martial arts and cardiovascular classes, as well as a weight room and cardio machines.
Three years ago, Williams was teaching cardiokick, a combination of aerobics and karate much like TaeBo, at Empire Fitness in Greece when he decided it was time to set out on his own.
He took a big risk when he opened the gym, he says, especially given the state of the economy in recent years, but it was worth it. Williams also works full time in inventory control at Xpedx, a paper distributor that is part of International Paper Co., in Greece, where he has worked since graduating from high school in 1984.
Still, he dreams of someday running Williams Martial Arts full time.
“I’d like to do it full time, but I’d have to be very comfortable financially,” Williams says. “I read the martial arts magazines and I’m amazed at how much money other places make.”
His goal is to increase revenues to the low five figures per month, but he is more concerned with getting to know his customers personally, he says. He wants the business to grow-but not too large, because that would take away from the individual service he offers now.
“I love meeting and talking to people,” Williams says. “I try to get to know the customers personally and make it like a second family to them.”
Williams’ own family, daughter Shyhan, 5, and son Quest, 4, have grown up on the dojo floor. Both children are taking the Tiny Tikes karate classes and will soon graduate to the 5- to 8-year-old class.
Customers are comfortable working out at Williams Martial Arts because it is not the kind of gym where people judge each other, he says. People are not there to get dates, like at some of the larger facilities.
“Our customers are corporate men and women, blue collar workers, students and salesmen,” Williams says. “There are no attitudes of any kind. They’re there to train and be serious.”
But Williams admits that some of the classes are more relaxed and fun, like cardiokick, which he teaches along with his wife and co-owner, Kim. Cardiobang offers an aerobics-style workout with heavy bags, and the gym even boasts a boxing ring and classes, all of which are attended by both men and women.
Grappling, another of the classes Williams offers, teaches self-defense while offering a powerful workout. Men and women who take grappling often become addicted to its intensity.
“Picture yourself on the ground being attacked and trying to get them off you. Grappling teaches you how to get out of that situation,” Williams explains. “There’s so much power in the legs-they’re weapons.”
With a second-degree black belt in karate, Williams teaches many of the martial arts classes offered at the gym, along with instructor Christopher Zona, who will soon be testing for his black belt.
Eventually, Williams would like to teach fewer classes and hire more instructors. In five years of teaching, he has missed only five classes. On Sept. 11, 2001, he was persuaded to keep the gym open when customers called asking for a place to go to release some tension. He says he wants to be there for the clients, like a trusted friend.
It is the customers’ satisfaction that matters the most in his business, Williams says. He tells the story of a man who lost 40 pounds in three months and moved up from cardiokick to karate.
“He’s a totally different person,” Williams says. “It was a success for him, and that’s what it’s all about.”
(research@rbj.net / 585-546-8303)

10/18/02 (C) Rochester Business Journal

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