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Martial arts studio evolves to blend the best of online and in-person training

Martial arts
Martial arts

By the age of 20, Chris Davison knew he wanted to work in the martial arts world. By 25, he had co-founded the first Silver 7 Martial Arts location in Barrhaven. Over the next few years, Silver 7 added a second location in Kanata. 

Silver 7’s guiding principle is that “martial arts is much more than just self-defence or physical activity – it’s a path to a healthy, fulfilling lifestyle and a vibrant community.”

It’s also very much an in-person kind of activity. That left Silver 7 vulnerable when the pandemic struck in March 2020. By this point, Silver 7 had become an entirely family-run business between Davison, his wife Delphie Dugal-Tessier and brother-in-law Etienne Dugal-Tessier.

“We hit a big wall,” Davison said. “It was almost a depression, to see what we had worked so hard to build over 11 years practically disappear in a month.”

During those initial weeks of Ontario’s first lockdown, Silver 7 remained reluctant to try and take its classes online, hopeful that this would be a short-term situation. 

“Martial arts are very tactile, you need a partner,” Davison said. “The pivot to online was challenging for us as owners. Both our instructors and our students also wanted to come into a location, because this is a community and people wanted to continue feeling part of it.”

Circumstances, of course, made that impossible. To make online classes work, formats changed to focus on drills and routines that did not require two people working together – anyone at home alone could still train with some investment in their own equipment. The bonus, of course, was that online classes could be recorded for on-demand access whenever it was convenient for the student.

When lockdowns were lifted, the Silver 7 team was ready with measures and practices in effect on site that go “above and beyond” to ensure safety, Davison said. But despite a core group of “dedicated students who stuck with us,” it proved to be a challenge to convince people to sign up for online classes.

Stronger digital presence to draw more online students

Then Davison learned about Invest Ottawa’s partnership with Ontario’s federal-government-funded Digital Main Street (DMS) program through the Barrhaven BIA. Silver 7 applied for the program and was approved in December. 

The DMS digital transformation team got to work and put Silver 7’s team through their paces during an intensive two-week exercise. Activities included optimizing Silver 7’s website for a better SEO ranking in Google search results, developing blog content and a blog schedule, web page updates and new graphic designs.

The transformation team also created a guideline and graphics for YouTube to help Silver 7 open and manage its YouTube channel to gain visibility. Finally, the team created a social media best practices guide and customized recommendations for Silver 7’s Facebook and Instagram accounts. 

“Chris had many of the digital pieces; we helped get all those pieces working together for better SEO and stronger digital presence,” said DMS business advisor David Bird. “His blog, graphics and YouTube improvements will go a long way!”

It all came down to trust, which enabled the DMS transformation team to be creative and bring a personal touch while delivering real and practical solutions for Silver 7.

“I am happy with everything I have received from them and I just want to keep moving ahead,” Davison said. “People are finding their fit between in-person or at home and loving the option and the flexibility either way.”

As we look beyond the pandemic, Davison and his team find themselves with a new hybrid service delivery model – that growing library of on-demand classes has expanded Silver 7’s reach beyond its immediate community.

What is Davison’s advice to other business owners? Don’t hesitate to take advantage of what DMS has to offer.

“Listen to them, have an open mind,” he said. “Everything they are prepared to do is amazing. All they want to do is help. Even if you don’t use it all, you are getting something, or they are reigniting something you already knew to help grow your business.”