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The Fencing Coach’s Product Line
The classic formula for marketing success is the combination of product, positioning, and price. Simply put if you have the right product, send it to the right audience, and charge the right price, you will sell. Done right, your marketing should generate enough students to produce enough revenue for you to consider this a real venture. In this context output becomes very important.
The product line in most competitive foil clubs is electric, epee, and saber. Is that all there is to fencing? Does the 60-year-old female novice really want to compete in your Division’s championships this year, or ever? What about the 30 year old who wants to understand how swords were used when they were sharpened as part of a long interest in history? Does your product line appeal to all beginners? If reluctance to start fencing classes is a valid sign, in many cases we may not be.
This can be as simple as registry settings. Run one group for the fencers whose purpose is recreation and general fitness, and a separate group for your competitive fencers. This positions the modern fencing experience to make it more attractive to those who want to have fun.
However, there is another option – actually diversifying your product line. In my hall we offer four other special options: classical fencing, historical swordplay, Asian martial arts swords, and sports kanbara. In my program classic fencing emphasizes blade play in the period from about 1880 to 1939. Historical fencing with the range of weapons commonly used in serious combat from about 1300 to 1800s. There is a wide variety of Asian sword systems. We teach a Korean system and two Chinese systems. And kanbara is an international full-contact soft sword sport performed with minimal protective equipment.
Classical fencing is a very attractive option for those who want a technical, disciplined, blade-focused sport. It seems to be very attractive to middle-aged and older people who want to enjoy the fun. Sources are readily available, and the technique is close enough to modern times to allow an interested coach to move easily.
Historical swordplay is an undeveloped field, and important to our heritage as fencing professionals. Most of the concepts of modern swordsmanship come directly from the work of medieval fencing masters (timing, distance control, blade in front of the body, simple direct attacks, priority of the attack, a few examples ). There is an audience of potential customers who are interested in historical sword techniques and will pay for quality lessons. Among them are people who are interested in the history of the times and those who are interested in the dramatic use of the sword.
This is just a snapshot of the possibilities. Therapeutic fences for students with a variety of developmental and health issues, fences for developing movement in young children, and others may be feasible. And don’t forget the obvious choices of today’s Pentathlon and wheelchair fencing.
If you are interested in expanding, consider the following:
(1) do you really want to do it? Offering different products requires a lot of time and effort. Do not do this if you are not interested in the new product you are about to add.
(2) do you have the skills or can you build them? Are you willing to do the work to become as familiar with the new line as you are in today’s fencing?
(3) what is the potential interest in your community?
(4) will your facilities support new product requirements? If you are thinking of playing medieval swords and weapons, you need a high ceiling. If you plan to offer wheelchair fencing, you must not only have an accessible fence floor, but also accessible bathrooms. Each product type requires slightly different resources.
(5) how can you market it? Where is the audience, how do you reach them, and what will sell them?
(6) can you convince other professionals to get into the game with you? If you have the classic fences to fence others, who will they fence?
(7) can you afford the equipment? A decent inventory of historic wooden weapons can add one to two thousand dollars to your equipment costs. Wheelchair frames are not cheap. And if you’re doing something other than modern fencing, you may need additional insurance beyond US Fencing’s coverage.
(8) can you do this safely? Classics can be done with weapons and uniforms that meet current USFA and FIE standards. However, when you start wearing medieval longswords or Renaissance rapiers or large Chinese knife sabers, you’re in a whole different world of liability.
If you are interested in expanding your product line and need help, please do not hesitate to contact me. I don’t have all the answers, but I’d be happy to share my knowledge.
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