Posted On:11/10/2012 3:53pm
Style: BJJ blue, judo ikkyu
Precision MMA, run by Brian McLaughlin
1097 Route 55
Lagrange, NY 12540
Brian McLaughlin is arguably the best BJJ black belt in my area of the Hudson Valley. He has a respectable MMA record, and a fairly impressive BJJ competition record as well. As I will describe in this review, it is my opinion that he runs a good MMA school that is tainted by unsettling marketing practices and too much salesmanship. All I can do to describe this opinion is relay my personal experience.
I visited (and reviewed) the previous incarnation of this gym a long time ago, when McLaughlin was running it under the name Hudson Valley Jiu-Jitsu in a different location. The short version is that I thought they trained hard, with good instructors, but it was too far away and I thought it was run more like an amateur club than like a well-oiled school. (That opinion was informed by my wrongheaded and deprecated opinion about how a professional gym should look.) Unfortunately, it seems that McLaughlin has oiled some parts of the operation too well.
First, the training is solid. This nuts-and-bolts description of classes is accurate. They offer muay Thai, Western boxing, Brazilian jiu-jitsu, and MMA classes for kids and adults. They have classes seven days a week, including evening, midday, and morning classes, and different classes for beginners and more advanced students.
The facilities are fairly impressive. They have lots of mat space, a boxing ring and several bags (heavy, Thai, speed), padded walls, and a crash mat for once-weekly judo. The only real downside I saw is that the mat material is of a kind of foam that is more grippy than I'm used to, which is fine for sparring but bad when doing shrimping drills.
Classes are run well. Generally there is a brief warm-up appropriate to the type of class (pummeling, shrimping, and rolls for BJJ, jumping rope and footwork drills for Thai boxing, et cetera). They usually show two to four techniques, sometimes do some positional sparring, then spar for several rounds.
That being said about the good training, I must address some problems with the way the school presents itself.
Precision MMA has more than one website, some of which are outdated, and none of which match the name of the school to the URL. Specifically, in trying to find the place, I found:
Now, my requirements of a MA school website are few, and simple. All I need is:
To know Iím looking at the right site (so show me the address, the name of the school, and the name of the instructor)The schedule, because I want to show up and trainA phone number (maybe)
These should be the top priority of the website. If the website has the name of the instructor and gym, and the address and schedule are posted prominently, I show up. Done. New student. Everything else isn't gravy, itís vomit. Itís vomit covering the turkey dinner of training. Unfortunately for McLaughlin, there was a maze of websites disagreeing on the name of his school, and all of these websites looked like an ad for an overpriced DVD. The information I needed was not available, or hidden behind internet marketing crap.
Instead of a schedule, the websites have auto-play video that treats me like an idiot and gimmicky highlighting and they want me to get a free training video and sign up for the newsletter. Guess what? You donít want me watching videos and signing up for the newsletter. You want me to show up. Why throw barriers like a phone call or email sign-up between me sitting at home and me walking in your door? If I were advising McLaughlin, I would tell him to delete all but one website for his gym as soon as possible.
Precision MMA's website approach is not just disjointed, itís disrespectful. Its target audience is neckbearded nerds with the mental capacity of a Stormtrooper interrogating Obi-Wan. Going there makes me feel like McLaughlin thinks I am weak-minded. Treat me like a person who wants to train with you, not like a marketing target. These Lloyd-Irvin-style websites scream ďI AM TRYING TO TAKE YOUR MONEYĒ to me and the everyone else who doesn't appreciate pressure sales.
The website thing wouldn't be such a big deal--plenty of schools have silly websites--but the walking-wallet treatment continues when you show up to train. Instead of trial classes, you get a sales pitch ďconsultationĒ. And get this: I **** you not, there are no physical schedules. I guess they don't want someone coming in, grabbing a schedule, and leaving without entering the sales cycle. This means I've been there for weeks, I've signed up as a student, I've paid money, and Iím still without a printed schedule. Iím flabbergasted. They literally do not have any copies of a class schedule that I can put on my fridge (or in the hand of my friend who might also want to train).
Moreover, the school gives you two options for signing up, as they will tell you after your one-on-one private lesson consultation:
Sign up the same day as your ďconsultationĒ and get a free gi, gloves, and headgear.Take a 30-day trial, but you donít get the gear and you have to pay a $190 registration fee.
This is separate from the three options for paying. The way they present it is a little confusing, which if youíre familiar with pressure sales youíll recognize is a feature in their minds, not a bug. There is no month-to-month option. You must commit to a 6 month contract under one of the following:
$0 down, $179 a month (which is $1074 total)$150 down, $154 a month (which is $1074 total )Six months lump payment: $774 all at once (which is $129 a month)
The calculations in parentheses are mine, and not part of the pitch. I omitted the steaming piles of horseshit that they throw at you when they explain this: ďFREE Technique video ($20 value)!Ē, et cetera. Remember, this is a 6-month contract, and you haven't had the chance to try a regular class.
I really wanted a month-to-month option, or a 3-month option, or a cash option, or a lump-sum credit card payment option that didn't involve the billing company auto-renewing me. I've heard enough stories about people getting injured, cancelling the contract, and getting stuck with another month or four of payments. I am willing to pay extra for these alternatives, but Precision MMA made none of them possible.
I wanted to do at least one class before committing a thousand dollars and six months of my training time. I reluctantly went for the 30 day trial, seeing that the $190 registration fee was essentially a slightly increased monthly fee. (I already have a gi and boxing gear, so I don't mind too much that I missed out on them.) However, there was a (benevolent) bait-and-switch: their strategy is to wait about a week into the 30 days, then offer to waive the registration fee if you sign up then instead of waiting the full 30 days. This is what I wanted originally: a chance to, you know, try class before making a 6-month commitment. I was happy, but still felt like I had been tricked. They intentionally withheld information from me.
I wish Precision MMA had just been up-front with me. I wish they had used simpler numbers, and presented them simply, instead of this obvious attempt to exploit innumeracy and the lack of a calculator at hand. I wish McLaughlin and his instructors didn't try to hide things from prospective students at every step, to trick consumers with convoluted membership and payment options. I wish he would be confident enough in the services he provides, in the competence of his instruction, in his facilities and program, to just let people try it. It would work, because he has a quality gym.
I want to train with them. They have good jiu-jitsu, good boxing, plenty of training partners, and a clean space. I signed up because I want to learn from them, but I am frustrated that they insist on using such demeaning sales tactics. Their payment structure is clearly not for my benefit. If it was, then they would have the option for a higher month-to-month rate or other alternatives in addition to multi-month contracts. It's clear that the goal is to provide maximum benefit and convenience to the school.
An aside: I have a hunch as to where this marketing bullshit is coming from. McLaughlin has mentioned attending several internet marketing and Lloyd Irvin seminars. Some of these may be martial-arts-related, but I suspect at least a few were BJJ-marketing seminars where one pays thousands of dollars for advice on how to extract more money from your students, how to treat people like walking dollar signs, how to make money from quick-and-dirty over-hyped instructionals and cookie-cutter websites. I have enormous respect for Lloyd Irvinís martial arts accomplishments, and those of his students, and for McLaughlin. I have zero respect for Irvin's hucksterism, which degrades the quality of the internet and accentuates the worst aspects of the martial arts business. Thereís nothing wrong with making money from martial arts; but itís important to do it with respect for the people weíre doing business with, and to avoid deceiving or manipulating them.
However, the training is great. Precision MMA has well-run classes and plenty of them. The instruction is good, the facility is good, thereís copious drilling, friendly training partners, blue belts and purple belts and boxers with fights under their belts and kickboxers with championship belts on their waists, and well-enforced hygiene rules. If you can stand the sales pitch, itís good martial arts.
Hereís the question Mr. McLaughlin needs to ask himself: does he value his students as people, or as wallets to pump? Heís already got our money. So far he is doing his best to prevent himself from getting our trust as consumers.
What a disgrace it is for a man to grow old without ever seeing the beauty and strength of which his body is capable. -Xenophon's Socrates
Posted On:11/19/2012 10:45pm
Brian pulled me aside between classes yesterday and told me that he and several students had seen this review. He made it clear that he felt insulted by what I wrote, and said it was unacceptable for a member of the school to say things like this about the school publicly.
He gave me the option of taking this review down or quitting with a full refund. Feeling that I could not in good conscience take it down, I took him up on his refund offer. I feel that as a consumer, what I wrote needed to be said. Therefore I am no longer a student. This makes me sad. I was very much enjoying training with his students and from Brian and his instructors.
Perhaps I should have worded things softer, or perhaps it was simply beyond the pale that I expressed displeasure with aspects of the school, or perhaps he just can't live with details of his marketing funnel in a public space. But I reiterate that the process I went through to become a student, and that I saw other prospective students go through, insulted me. I felt deceived (or the attempt at deceit) at several points. I felt that detailing that process was the only way to make my point clear.
I am now in the process of making sure my membership with the billing company is fully cancelled, since I want to make sure they do not start billing me monthly in six months. I couldn't get my password to work, so I used Forgot Password. The temporary one they sent me didn't work (!!!). I called yesterday and they were closed, hours being M-Th 9-9, F 10-6. I will try again. Their "contact us" page gave me a 404 the other day, but worked today. I sent a "chat" (actually email) through that form. I am hopeful that this gets sorted out in a straightforward fashion.
Posted On:11/19/2012 11:52pm
Style: Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu
I feel in my time as your instructor I can honestly say in all my interactions with you I treated you with respect and dignity. I treated you as a valued member of Precision MMA.
I care about my students and training partners as much as I do my own family and I feel you will have no problem finding hundreds of past and former members who will support this statement.
Each month I teach about 10 hours of private lessons to my fighters free of charge to help them pursue their MMA dreams. All I ever asked for was a testimonial if they enjoyed the training, since my reputation means everything to me.
In exchange for the hospitality you received from my fellow coaches as well as myself you posted this:
"McLaughlin needs to ask himself: does he value his students as people, or as wallets to pump? He’s already got our money. So far he is doing his best to prevent himself from getting our trust"
I consider this the most insulting thing anyone has said about me in my entire martial arts life.
I am also proud of my staff and facility. I have trained MMA since 1999. I have endured 8 broken bones, 4 surgeries, over 40 combined staples and stitches in my pursuit of martial arts knowledge.
I skipped my prom to stay late training at the gym. I spent my 21st birthday in a sauna cutting weight for a competition. I went without textbooks in college so I could pay for private lessons. To this day I travel 90 miles each way to train at the AMA fight club several times per week (3 hours of driving round trip).
My students are the recipients of these sacrifices and I happily work to pass on everything I know to them.
I refuse to have someone call my school or anyone involved in it "Horseshit" or "vomit". Especially if they are training on my mats.
I didn't ask for an apology I just asked that you keep your highly inflammatory and insulting comments off the internet.
In 8 years of teaching martial arts this is the only time I have asked a student to leave (in my opinion he CHOSE to leave since he had an option). I am a principled man and some things are more important than money.
I told myself I would not reply to this but I am shocked that you cannot see the level that you have personally disrespected me.
Another thing to remember is you train for FREE (without paying the student activity fee) at a college club which I started, under students I instruct at a university you do not attend. I suppose that impropriety does not upset you though since they had a web page to your liking.
A word of advice - do not bite the hand that feeds you. Treat your future instructors with a greater degree of respect.
Posted On:11/20/2012 12:47am
Style: BJJ/ MMA/ MT
It appears you have neither addressed nor acknowledged the issue 1point2 had with the school, HVJJ. It was stated that the instruction, facilities, instruction and training partners are of high quality. That is where your source of pride should stand.
The issue is your marketing practises. As a salesman myself, those tactics described would piss me off, there is nothing I hate more than having a sales game run on me. Especially if I am pretty much already sold on the product. Due to your reaction to the perceived affront, I am assuming that you were a part of designing this "process" and thus you feel that it is disrespectful to you personally. It should not be so, if anything it could serve as a catalyst for change. I'm assuming the process was designed for the purpose of securing long term contracts, of which there is no shame, long term contracts allow a company, of whatever industry, to plan ahead for things like maintenance, new ideas and strategy. Again, the contracts wouldn't be the issue, it is how the contracts are sold.
I would suggest that 1point2 was very respectful, in that he actually ran your gauntlet of marketing and sales tactics because he wanted to train with you. Some people, myself included, would have seen your 1 on 1 "consultation" as coercive and you would have lost yourself a student before you even saw them on the mat. I think this is the 1point2's point.
A couple of things that were brought up which, if you addressed or even just acknowledged, would go a long way to making this review of your marketing practises a workable commodity for your business:
1. Have a schedule on your website- it helps your students, both potential and current.
2. Offer a Trial class or two- it doesn't even have to be free.
Hey, maybe this business model works for you and you can afford to **** off the minority of students who would balk at your contracts before having the opportunity to train in a trial period. I'm not here to criticise you on that. ****, it appears that $190 registration for a month trial is steep to me, I'd walk on that alone. But that's me. I'm not looking to train at your school. I'm just lending weight to what 1point2 has said.
Maybe that is how your business model works and if it is, good for you. If that isn't how you want your business model to be perceived, review it and make changes where necessary.
GET A RED BELT OR DIE TRYIN'.
Posted On:11/21/2012 3:13am
Style: Brazilian jiu-jitsu
Kind of hard to make something a "catalyst for change" when it is brought to someone's attention by a third party. You actually have to offer the criticism in a more direct way, perhaps in person, in order for it to even have a chance of being constructive.
Posted On:1/22/2013 9:28pm
I'd like to note that this post from an ex-Lloyd Irvinite captures several of the points I was trying to make. I particularly noticed several phrases and sentiments that we both used:
In fact I thought it was fantastic and I still think so today...
CONSTANT UP-SELLING THAT INSULTS YOUR INTELLIGENCE
I am not against making money. I'm not against being prosperous. I work really hard so that i can provide a good life for my family. What I'm against is money being an idol and the ultimate pursuit above the well being of others. I'm against having a utilitarian view of people.
As I said in my review above, I thought Precision was fantastic and still think so today, I felt my intelligence was insulted by Precision's marketing (learned from Lloyd), and I am not against making money, but am against a utilitarian view of people (which I suspect was also picked up from Lloyd).
I also noticed this in the reddit comments:
Lloyd advised doing the big box gym trick of having an activation fee that you can waive if they sign up right then.
That was one of the marketing techniques used at Precision that definitely put me off.
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