Merchant Business School: How to Build a Community Around Your Business

Building a community around your business is always a great idea. Community is something that makes you stand out among the competition, especially for small businesses. Your brand is not just a set of colours, logo or anything tangible, it’s rather the vibe you project, the feeling people walk away with after interacting with you and your company.

Angry Monkey MMA, a successful martial arts gym in Montreal is a perfect example of how building a community helps you grow your business.

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We interviewed Justin W. Etheridge, the owner of Angry Monkey MMA. His ability to build a community around his brand is remarkable. He’s a natural leader who knows how to bring people together and unite them around the same goal. Ironically, he wasn’t aware that he was doing anything special until we reached out and asked a series of questions on how he did it. It wasn’t a strategy he was following; rather the way he leads his life. He incorporated his lifestyle into running his business. A common advice for people who plan to start working out is to pick a gym close to either their home or work. However, many of Angry Monkey’s clients choose to spend extra time commuting from another part of town just to train with their crew.

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People come to your gym from all over town. What is your secret?

Justin: We’re all about hard work, determination and positive attitude and it’s very contagious. People want to be a part of it. We are very demanding to ourselves and we treat everyone like champions. Our coaches train everyone as they were athletes or professional fighters. People feel the responsibility because we set proper expectations.  We help them to become better versions of themselves and it’s our job to show them what they can achieve.

How do you keep people engaged?

Justin: We’re genuinely interested in getting to know our clients. We know them by name, we know what’s going on in their lives and we joke around them often. We help them to be consistent in their training, we believe in them and we motivate them.

I’ve been collecting fun motivational posters for many years now. They are placed all over the gym walls. Looking at them every day, you know not to whine and complain, you know you have to work hard here.

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Do you use Social Media?

Justin: Yes, we think that social media plays an important part in establishment of new friendships. We have a group chat for every class. People send each other fun memes and motivational videos. For example, if someone doesn’t feel like coming to the class, but, they are still connected with us through the group chat and can see the glimpse of the drills going to happen in the next class. They see their friends being excited about the training and eventually decide to come and put in the work after all.

We also frequently post on our Facebook page. We upload a lot of our training videos that also show how much fun we have. When you see other people training hard and having a great time you feel like coming to the gym yourself. It’s all for good motivation.

How would you describe the vibe at your business?

Justin: Before everything else, we are real. We are friendly and casual. We are all friends here. We work hard, we do our best and my dad jokes have become legendary. 🙂

Your gym has moved to a new neighbourhood a little over a year ago and it seems that everyone knows you already. How did you achieve this?

Justin: We were this new kid on the block; we, therefore, made a point to come introduce ourselves to neighbouring businesses. We would use the services of the local businesses to support them. For example, when we go out for a team lunch or dinner we’d always pick a local place, say “hi” to the owner and chat for a bit. We made sure we contributed to the local business owners in the neighbourhood developing a nice repo with them at the same time. We took the time to talk to everyone, explain who we are and what our gym is before we even opened at the new location.

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How did you promote your new location within the local community?

Justin: Back at the old location, we used to follow a popular running route by the canal with pads and boxing gloves and offered people to stop and through a few kicks and punches just for fun. It was fun and people got to know about us that way.  At the current location, we take our fighters to train outside sometimes. They practice the drills, run sprints, push a heavy sled down the street and do other fun activities. People see us and become curious.

Do you do anything to help the community?

Justin: Oh yes, giving back to the community is a big part of who we are. We help as much as we can by throwing fundraising events benefiting local charities. We work with a few organizations offering programs for youth. We support an afterschool program for underprivileged kids. We also help a women’s shelter in the same area we are. Whenever we have an event, we ask all local businesses to donate their time, products, gift cards or cash and many of them join us in the noble cause.

What’s one piece of advice you could give to other businesses that are looking to build a community around their brand?

Justin: Work hard, treat everyone fair, show a good example, give back to the community, collaborate with other businesses, unite people around your mission, throw local events and most importantly – take time to get to know your people.

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