Imagine having a nationally syndicated television show promoting your business model each week for free. That’s what Jon Taylor enjoys every time “American Ninja Warrior” airs on NBC.
“Most people that come in here love the TV show. The reason they’re here is they want to be on the show,” Taylor says.
His gym, Republic Warrior Sports, is an unofficial training ground for fans of the prime-time reality show that features amateur athletes navigating extreme obstacles in the hopes of winning $1 million.
“It’s like the things we used to do on the playground as kids, but on a whole ‘nother level,” he says.
More than a fan, Taylor was one of the first people to train at Warrior Sports LLC in Springfield before competing on season eight of the summer series, which is now casting for the 10th season.
“The kids look up to a lot of us who’ve been on the show – like we’re some kind of celebrity,” he says.
After appearing on “ANW” in 2015, Taylor says he was invited to speak at several area schools. Combined with the wide network of connections he has as a salesman for Atlas Security Service Inc., Taylor says he parlayed his exposure toward the purchase of a Bolivar ninja-training gym in June 2016. He opened the gym in his hometown that November, but later closed Bolivar Warrior Sports, citing building problems.
Taylor continues to juggle his two jobs.
“I like to joke around and say ‘security by day and ninja by night,’” he says.
The Republic gym, at 830 E. State Highway 174, is located just blocks from three schools, and the interior is painted in the school colors of orange and black. Staff members lead afternoon and evening physical fitness classes for children and adults.
Taylor, a Drury University business graduate who holds several personal-training certifications, says the nontraditional sport is attracting children away from mainstays like soccer.
“They’ll find a niche doing this stuff. It’s kind of the same group that maybe does skateboarding and does rock climbing – alternative sports,” he says. “It’s you against the course, kind of like golf.”
Kara Tag, of Fair Grove, has been bringing her daughter, Ashlyn, to Republic Warrior Sports for three months. After years of taking gymnastics lessons for 16 hours a week, she says Ashlyn decided to try something new – and Kara has been saving money ever since.
“She was on the [gymnastics] team, so it was more than most people pay,” she says. “I think we paid about $160 a month. We pay about $50 here.”
For others, the workouts complement their team sports.
Yes, there’s the “warped wall” made famous on the show – Republic’s is a 14.5-foot curved ramp – and other aptly named obstacles: the “devil steps” climbed by hand while hanging from the underside of the staircase, the “spider jump” off a trampoline to land midair with legs and arms stretching between two walls, and “cannonball alley” with a variety of hanging rock-climbing style holds for users to swing across.
The obstacles can be completed by both youth and adults, though Taylor says the target market is children.
“We have Preschool Warriors, which is 3-to-5-year olds; we have Junior Warriors, which are 6-to-12-year olds; and then we have Ninja 101 class, which is 13 and up,” Taylor says, noting social media analytics show most of the people researching his gym are moms likely seeking children’s activities.
During the first year in business, Taylor says birthday parties – starting at $100 – have become a major factor, with 300 held in 2017.
“Everything for us really builds on the birthday parties,” he says, declining to disclose first-year revenue. “The kids love it and the next thing, they are asking us about classes and memberships.”
The 4,000-square-foot gym now has about 100 members, paying $50 a month, Taylor says, and 75 children enrolled in 12 classes throughout the week.
One full-time and four part-time employees help run the gym while Taylor is working for Atlas. Manager Kim Proctor and fitness trainer Sean Saunders were both chosen to compete on past seasons of “ANW” – from among 70,000 people who apply annually for 600 spots on the show.
“People ask, ‘How do you get good at Ninja Warrior?’ I’m like, ‘Two years of training, and doing it twice a week or three times a week,’” says Saunders, who also is a PGA pro and owns SWS Golf Academy. “You don’t want to hurt yourself. Too many people train too hard, too fast. So they get overuse injuries. So that’s what, as a trainer, I try to prevent. Kim does, too. You don’t want to hit the same muscle group every day.”
Republic Warrior Sports is part of a network of gyms in the Ultimate Ninja Athlete Association that host local and regional tournaments. Springfield’s Warrior Sports, owned by Andy Mariage, covers tournaments for the sport’s other dominant organization, the National Ninja League.
That coordination to offer two tournament circuits locally is a sign of the camaraderie between the two business owners. Taylor says he consulted with Mariage when opening the Republic gym just miles from the south Springfield site where he used to train.
“The last thing I wanted to do was compete with them,” Taylor says, adding the similar gym name is a form of co-branding.
Mariage says he also helped launch the Bolivar gym.
“I’d already gone through the pain of opening a new business startup. So I just kind of tried to steer him away from some of the mistakes that we made and things we’ve learned,” he says, noting the demographics of the clientele surprised him. “When I first started opening it up, I thought we were going to be training the next year’s competitors on the show. As it turns out, we’re very kid oriented.
“We do a lot of birthday parties every weekend. So, you know, it’s the mindset of what you’re going to be doing with the business. We do train adults, and teenagers have aspirations of being on the show, but there’s a lot of kids that love watching the show and want to come do it.”
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