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We recently sat down with one of our clients, John Liles from Premier Martial Arts, to talk about how their business is responding to the Coronavirus pandemic and how Applied Payroll Solutions is helping them “live life without payroll.”

Question: What was your background before starting this business?

John Liles: I was working in a warehouse, it was just an 8-5 job. I lived out in Wolfforth, and at the time they had a volunteer fire department. My next door neighbor and I went down and joined the volunteer fire department, which was cool. You carry a pager, in the middle of the night the pager goes off, you jump up, drive your vehicle to the station, everybody piles in a fire truck and you go ripping down a chute with lights and sirens. Just a cool adrenaline rush – it was awesome. They also had an ambulance there, too. And at the time, in the outer counties, they were really struggling with having first aid available, because It was all volunteers. So the state decided to pay people to get their EMT, which is basic, just a little bit above CPR certification. And they would also pay for special skills, which was learning how to start IVs and learning how to intubate somebody if they weren’t breathing. So, I took those classes and they were awesome.

Question: What was the impetus to shift gears and try something different?

John Liles: Well, my boss decided he was gonna close all five or six of his locations and retire. And we were all shocked – 80 of us no longer had jobs. I decided I’m gonna pursue the medical side. So I went to work for Flight for Life, and it was run out of what used to be called St. Mary’s Hospital. I started off in dispatch, kept getting promises that I would move to helicopter, but it never happened. So, I went to work for an ambulance service in town. I went to the college in Big Spring because you could get college credit at the same time as doing your paramedic certification. So I went down there and worked for the ambulance company while getting my certification. Flight For Life was bought out by Aerocare, went over there. And then shortly after I got promoted up to flying on their fixed wing, so I would do the long transports from Lubbock to Albuquerque. Lubbock to Georgia. That’s how it all came about.

Around 1986, after a couple of years of college, I had just opened a martial arts school on the side. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles came out and karate schools just exploded with kids. Prior to that, there weren’t a lot of kids in martial arts, so I had to choose whether or not to be a paramedic or to do martial arts full time. And obviously I chose martial arts.

Question: What certifications do you have in martial arts?

John Liles: I’m currently an 8th degree black belt.

Question: Is Karate the only discipline you have?

John Liles: Well, my main discipline that I trained in is the combination of Taekwondo and a system that’s called Ni-Goju, which took Taekwondo, Judo, and Aikido and brought them together. The way martial arts were originally taught, and I’m talking a long time ago, you didn’t study just Taekwondo. You didn’t study just Judo, Aikido, whatever – the person learned all of it and it was just an overall way of protecting yourself.

Nowadays, when you say karate, that’s like saying I drive a car. It really doesn’t specify what you’re in anymore.

Our system actually brought it back to what is called a true mixed martial arts, which mixes all those back together again to bring it back to a whole. My main background is in Taekwondo and Goju, which brought them all together. Then, I also have been studying Judo, Aikido. I also have a black belt in Krav Maga, which is an Israeli self defense. And as well as Jiu Jitsu, I’ve started building in that as well.

Question: How long have you been in business?

John Liles: I’ve had Lubbock Karate since 1986 and then joined the Premier Martial Arts franchise about 10 years ago.

Question: Do you have any interesting stories about your most loyal client?

John Liles: I have one guy whose mom drove him for 15 years from Tahoka to Lubbock to train 2 to 3 days a week, every day. Non stop. Any event we had, he was there to support it. Any fundraiser we did, he was there. Any type of volunteer work, he was there. So, he’s probably one of my most loyal students ever.

Question: How do you differentiate your company from your competition?

John Liles: The biggest thing is the programs that we offer. Almost everybody does punching and kicking. But for our children, we have special programs that not only incorporate punching and kicking, but we’re working on character development. We have 18 different lessons, one per month. That might be anything from positive self esteem to anger management to self discipline to nutrition. They have homework that they turn in once a month. Part of their testing is they have to do this work.

Then we also have skill developments where we’re actually working on motor skills, different age groups, different types of motor skills. Ours has evolved a whole lot more than just the traditional punching and kicking, which so many schools still do.

When I started martial arts back in the 80s, I was the third youngest in the group at 16 years old. Well, now you’ve got four year olds. The material that was taught to me was already for an adult. Now we’re taking that adult material, and we’re trying to teach children, and it just doesn’t work. So, we have changed and continuously modify and keep things on the cutting edge for these students so that they can continue to learn and continue to grow.

Question: How are you adapting to this current Coronavirus crisis?

John Liles: Well, we kind of saw this coming between all the owners within the Premier Group and we had a pretty good idea that we were going to get shut down. It was just a matter of when. So, we asked ourselves, “what are we gonna do?” Well, let’s start doing something like streaming classes. Well, the only problem with some streaming services is they can see us, and they can type little messages to us, but we can’t see them. So, we can’t really tell if they’re doing the material right. Are they just sitting on their couch and waving at us and not really working out? What are they doing? So, we decided to go with Zoom so we can actually hold classrooms and watch these students train.

I’d sent out a notice that we’re gonna start live streaming March 30th. Well, things started progressing much faster in the bigger cities than what they anticipated. We talked it over and decided that we’re not waiting. Let’s start it March 23rd. So, in just four days, we pulled it all together and started running it from there. In the home, they download the app. Each Sunday I send them codes, they get on there and they start training with us. We can watch them. We can encourage them. And we watch it on the big screen and we can see exactly what they’re doing and they can see us. It’s kind of working really well.

Students participate in their training sessions over Zoom

We actually closed down before the city asked us to close down. We saw classes falling and we saw parents concerned. Our classes are 30 to 40 kids at a time, plus another 30 to 40 parents. That’s not gonna work for us. And we were really concerned and worried about how the parents would feel about us shutting down. Well, we got so many positive letters like, “thank you for thinking of our kids ahead of time and shutting down versus being told to do it.” So to me, that was a really smart move in doing that.

One week before we shut down was our graduation. This is a huge event. We had 250 kids waiting to get promoted. So, we held promotions on Zoom. And I’ve been doing that for three weeks. Normally, I do an entire graduation in an hour and half. We rent out a huge gym. We have a DJ playing music. We make it huge. We’ve got red carpets and these banners. They come out and get their pictures made with their new belts and it’s a heck of a deal. They love it.

“…the parents, once again, were more than supportive.”

And you know, I’m sitting here thinking this thing is not gonna last long. We’ll hold a big party afterwards. And then we went to stay at home orders. So, we called each and every one of our customers and said, this is what we’re gonna do. We’re gonna come to your house. We’re gonna put your belt and certificate on your porch. We’re gonna ring the doorbell. We’re gonna step out to the curb, and when you answer the door, we’re gonna yell congratulations. We did that with every one of our customers. We even drove all the way out to Petersburg to drop one belt off. If you could just see their faces. And the parents, once again, were more than supportive. That’s just a little bit of customer service that goes a long, long way.

Question: How has this crisis changed your thoughts on delivering service to your existing customers?

John Liles: It’s obviously much harder, because now we struggle with the dog running across the floor, distracting the kids. Kids not really giving 100% – just kind of half doing it. So, we start changing and modifying things. Today I decided we’re going to start holding some smaller group classes for those kids that are struggling and having a hard time paying attention on Zoom. For 80% of them, there’s no problem. They see us doing it, they’re doing it. Everything’s rocking and rolling. But you’ve got some of those younger kids where it’s hard enough for them to sit there and stare at the TV, much less figure out what we’re doing. We’re gonna hold some classes with maybe three kids at a time, and we can critique them as they go along. With a smaller group, you can say “you didn’t quite kick high enough, you gotta get that kick higher or you’re using the wrong leg.” We’ll be able to stop and give them more individual attention. So our big thing is, any time we see what’s going on, we try and get on it immediately and try to take care of it before it becomes a problem.

Question: How is Applied Payroll Solutions helping you run your business?

John Liles: It’s actually a whole lot easier now because we only have two people clocking in and clocking out because everybody else is at home. But with that being said, I’m still paying these guys as if they were on that floor and they’re working out. Everybody is still getting paid.

There was a night that I texted Martin at seven o’clock at night and said, “I need this [Payroll Protection] stuff ASAP. How soon can y’all get it?” He goes, “we’ll get it to you right now.” I don’t know for a fact, but I can almost promise you the previous payroll company I was with would not have answered my call after five o’clock because it was such an act of Congress with those guys. I was just a number. I wasn’t a person or an individual. I mean, they just lost their customer service.

That’s where Applied Payroll really stands out. They’ve got amazing customer service. I texted him at seven o’clock at night and by 7:05 [Brittney sent me] all the information I needed to send over to my banker. You know, everyone right now is filing out their PPP papers. I already have my money sitting in my account, waiting on payroll. It’s been taken care of that fast.

Question: Are there other ways that Applied Payroll helps you live “life without payroll”?

John Liles: The clocking in of employees is fabulous. Prior to that, it was all by hand. Everyone would come in and clock in and clock out by writing it down on a sheet of paper. I would put their hours into the computer. The old payroll company had a clock system, but they charged an arm and a leg for it. I could hire a person to do it for what they were gonna charge. So, the clock system was great.

Martin got on there and figured out ways that we could put in parameters so that you could only clock in 10 minutes before your shift started. And when your shift ends, it automatically clocks you out.

Everything is just so efficient. I have so little to do with the payroll anymore, which used to consume two hours of my time every payroll. Now it’s just a matter of looking at all the hours and going, ”yep, it all looks right” and push a button and send it over to them. I’m done.

How can people get in touch with you?

John Liles: Our website is www.premiermartialartslubbock.com and it has our contact information and social media where you can follow us.