Steve Butts Of NinjaTrix: Five Things I Wish I Knew Before Opening a Franchise

An Interview With Cynthia Corsetti

Community is Paramount

Fortunately, I learned this early on. We actively participate in community events, sponsor local teams, and host family nights and awards banquets. This not only builds brand awareness but also fosters a sense of belonging. We’ve seen families who initially came for a birthday party end up enrolling their kids in our programs because they felt such a strong connection to our community.

The world of franchising offers a unique blend of entrepreneurship and established business models. However, navigating the franchise landscape can be daunting, especially for those embarking on this journey for the first time. There are lessons to be learned, pitfalls to avoid, and success stories to be inspired by. As part of this series, we had the pleasure of interviewing Steve Butts.

Steve Butts is the President and Founder of NinjaTrix, with over 35 years of experience in crafting engaging and enriching experiences for kids and families under his black belt. Steve developed NinjaTrix to fill a crucial gap in traditional children’s physical extracurriculars. The unique program is not just about getting kids moving; it’s about shaping their physical and mental development through a carefully curated blend of movement, challenge, and valuable life lessons.

Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series. Before we dive into our discussion about succession, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you share with us the backstory about what brought you to your specific career path?

Martial arts has always been a part of my life. My dad was in the Navy, so we moved around a lot, but I had taken classes here and there throughout my childhood. Later, around the age of 25–26, I was working at Goodyear. One day, a colleague asked if I would take karate lessons with him. He had gotten into an altercation over the weekend and wanted to learn how to better defend himself. We both found a studio and signed up on our lunch break. While my colleague quit after two weeks, I was hooked. Martial arts resonated with me, and I decided to give it another shot. I started taking classes regularly and even began assisting the instructor early on.

Six months into training, the instructor asked me to help out with the kids’ classes. It turned out to be a great fit. I enjoyed the trust he placed in me and had a lot of fun working with the kids. This experience got me thinking about my career path. One day, while working on a doctor’s car at Goodyear, I was asked: “Why are you doing this? You need to be doing something else.” Sure, it was a good job, but there was something missing.

Around the same time, my instructor offered me an opportunity to manage a new location for his gym. This marked the start of my journey as a martial arts school owner. Fast forward, and we now have several schools with a wide range of students, from young kids to students in their late seventies!

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started your career?

One of the most interesting things that happened since I started my career involves the origin of NinjaTrix. With three martial arts school schools running, we were looking for innovative ways to expand beyond 1,000 students. That’s when we noticed the growing popularity of ninja-themed programs. We decided to incorporate this concept into our core curriculum, with our own unique spin, as a feeder system, and it became even more popular than karate and tumbling.

This success led me to a tradeshow hosted by Century, a major martial arts equipment supplier. There, I discovered the true potential of our NinjaTrix program over a casual dinner and simple conversation.

While dining with David Wahl, then the President of Century, he politely asked what we were up to and if there was anything new that we were excited about, and I told him about NinjaTrix. “When Steve told me about how he had combined the skills and values of martial arts and the sheer fun of parkour under one roof, I knew he had a program that would explode in popularity,” said David.

That conversation opened the door for us to serve a much larger audience.

Today, over 70 clubs have licensed the program, and we’ve since evolved into a franchise model to help even more entrepreneurs run successful kids’ fitness businesses with NinjaTrix.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Do you have a story about how that was relevant in your life?

My favorite life lesson quote is: “Somewhere right now, someone is training. When you meet them, they will win.” This quote perfectly captures the importance of constant improvement, which has been a core principle throughout my career in martial arts and business.

It reminds me that there’s always someone out there pushing themselves to be better. If you become complacent, someone who has put in the hard work will eventually surpass you. This applies not just to physical training like fighting, but also to business competition. Success doesn’t come by simply wishing for it — you need to be willing to put in the effort.

Another quote that I like is “Our life is either a warning or an example.” It emphasizes that results come from your actions. Are you setting a positive example through hard work and dedication, or are you a cautionary tale of what happens when you don’t strive for improvement? This powerful message resonates with me deeply.

Growth is a lifelong journey, not a destination. There’s always room to learn, adapt, and become better.

What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?

What truly sets our company apart is the kids that we attract through the inclusivity of our programs. You’ll find a very diverse group of kids at NinjaTrix, not just young athletes but also those who might need extra support.

We believe in the power of positive reinforcement. If you constantly tell a child they’re clumsy or uncoordinated or lack the ability to focus, it can become a self-fulfilling prophecy. We challenge that notion. We don’t let anyone’s perception define them and help everyone grow, focusing our curriculum on individual personal development.

Our programs are designed for individual growth, regardless of background or ability. If a child hasn’t found success in traditional team sports, that’s okay! We can tailor our program to their individual needs and help them thrive.

Let me tell you a story that perfectly illustrates this. When a student of ours, Nick, came to us as a young child, he was shy and quiet. But as he progressed through the program, he blossomed. Now, a young teenager, he’s found his confidence and developed a strong skill set. He’s been recognized by instructors for his talents and passion for helping others, and he even requested a job interview. He’ll be working with us this summer at our day camps.

Ok, thank you for that. Let’s now jump to the primary focus of our interview. What factors did you consider when selecting your franchise, and how did you determine it was the right fit for you?

Of course, I’m passionate about it and was excited about it. What truly resonated with me was the focus on life skills development. NinjaTrix is more than just teaching martial arts and gymnastics; it’s about empowering kids. Our programs help kids build confidence, strength, self-discipline, and respect. NinjaTrix is a fun and engaging tool that helps us achieve our core mission of helping kids feel better about themselves. It perfectly aligns with my own values and what I believe is important to instill in young people.

Can you share a significant challenge you faced while establishing your franchise? How did you overcome this obstacle, and what did this experience teach you about running a successful franchise?

The tragic passing of a team member as the school had just gotten established was a tremendous loss and a significant challenge. It was a reminder that life is going to happen and as it does, it’s important to have a strong support system in place.

This experience did show the effectiveness of our systems as we were able to minimize disruption to the business, get another coach trained, and keep the business moving forward.

This experience also reinforced two key takeaways. First, prioritize hiring individuals with a passion for teaching. Their enthusiasm allows us to effectively guide them and equip them with the skills they need to thrive on the floor.

Second, we understand that life throws curveballs. A strong support system, like the one provided by NinjaTrix, is crucial in navigating these challenges. Additionally, a strong belief in your mission fuels your passion and helps you weather any storm.

Looking back to when you first started your franchise, what was one aspect that completely took you by surprise? This could be related to the franchising process, customer interactions, or day-to-day management that you hadn’t anticipated.

In the past, for our other companies, I leveraged the power of established brands to fuel our growth. However, with NinjaTrix, we took a different approach. We wanted to enter new territories where we were unknown and build a successful program for people entirely new to the concept.

I soon realized that the marketing landscape has drastically changed in the past 35 years since the last time I started a brand. While I wasn’t initially caught up on the latest trends, I was open to relearning and finding true partners with up-to-date subject matter expertise to support our success.

In hindsight, what advice would you give to potential franchisees about selecting a franchise that aligns with their personal and professional goals?

They have to know what lights them up. What gets them excited to wake up every morning?

There is a saying about people spending their week working to buy enjoyment on the weekend, but if you truly find what you’re passionate about and do it, you’ll never work another day. Apply this wisdom to franchise selection. When you’re passionate about what you do, it becomes more than just a job. It’s a source of fulfillment and motivation.

Find a business that excites you. If you help enough people get out of life what they want, you will too.

How do you balance adhering to the established systems of your franchise with the need to innovate and adapt to your local market? Can you provide an example of a successful adaptation or innovation you implemented in your franchise?

Balancing standardization and local adaptation is a key aspect of successful franchising. Our NinjaTrix franchise provides a strong business system, including established practices for classes, birthday parties, retail sales, and summer programs. However, we also recognize the importance of tailoring offerings to the specific needs of the local community.

For example, we discovered a unique opportunity by partnering with a local banquet facility that runs summer camps near on of our locations. While our franchise model doesn’t typically involve off-site classes, we saw a chance to serve their rainy-day needs. With clear communication and a well-defined business agreement, we implemented a program where we could bring our NinjaTrix classes to their campers during their unexpected rain days. This adaptation not only adhered to our franchise standards but also opened up a new revenue stream and fulfilled a local need. This exemplifies our commitment to being open to new opportunities while maintaining the high standards set by the franchise.

What are your “Five Things I Wish I Knew Before Opening a Franchise”?

1 . Community is Paramount

Fortunately, I learned this early on. We actively participate in community events, sponsor local teams, and host family nights and awards banquets. This not only builds brand awareness but also fosters a sense of belonging. We’ve seen families who initially came for a birthday party end up enrolling their kids in our programs because they felt such a strong connection to our community.

2 . Build It AND Market It

The old “if you build it, they will come” adage does not work for business growth. You can have a really great class and core fan base, but if you do not invest in getting the word out in the community about what you’re doing, you are severely hurting your growth potential.

3 . The Importance of a Strong Team

Life throws curveballs. By investing in building a strong team with cross-training opportunities, you will be able to pivot without losing momentum.

4 . Choosing the Right Landlord

While site selection is crucial for your success, finding the right landlord is also very important as they become a long-term partner. Thankfully, the NinjaTrix franchise offers guidance and support throughout the site selection process, sharing experience and best practices. Ultimately, however, the responsibility of securing the ideal spot and negotiating with the landlord will fall on you, the franchise owner. Dedicate the time and due diligence to find locations that meet your specific needs and have landlords who understand the demands of the business.

5 . Numbers Are Important, But So is Adaptability

Financial projections and planning are vital. However, things rarely go exactly as planned. Learn to be adaptable, make quick decisions, be willing to say you’re wrong, and pivot again. Being open to adjusting your approach allows you to navigate challenges and achieve success.

As your franchise has grown, what have been the key drivers of its success? Looking forward, what strategies do you plan to implement to ensure continued growth and sustainability in an ever-evolving market?

Our franchise’s success can be attributed to several key factors, the most important is the people. The team you have in place is a critical driver to any business’s success; we have the right team.

Our standardized curriculum is also paramount to our success. We’ve meticulously documented and videoed our curriculum, creating Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs), allowing for flexibility and adaptability. If a key team member needs to step away, others can seamlessly step in and maintain program quality.

We foster a continuous learning environment for both coaches and students. We provide ongoing training opportunities to stay informed of industry trends and develop their skills. This translates into engaging and effective classes that keep students and staff excited and motivated.

We are constantly evaluating and adapting our offerings to meet the evolving needs of the market. Examples include summer camps for busy families and online Zoom classes during the COVID-19 pandemic. This responsiveness ensures we remain relevant and provide value to our community.

Looking forward we plan to expand our digital marketing efforts, develop new strategic partnerships, continuously refine our curriculum by incorporating new trends and feedback from instructors and students, and exploring the potential for new program offerings that cater to growing interests and demographics so that we can continue to thrive in the ever-evolving market while bringing fun and fitness to our communities.

Off-topic, but I’m curious. As someone steering the ship, what thoughts or concerns often keep you awake at night? How do those thoughts influence your daily decision-making process?

Good ideas tend to come to me at night, so I have a notepad next to my bed to write them all down. I’m always thinking about new ways to continue to grow our business and things to expand on.

You are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

If I could start a movement for the greatest good, it would focus on removing labels and empowering children through positive reinforcement and fun physical activity.

My experience with NinjaTrix, particularly with kids who might have developmental challenges in the classroom or other settings, has shown me the power of a different approach. Rather than labeling kids to explain their behavior, my dream movement would shift that focus. Imagine a world where every child feels valued for their individual potential and not limited by labels.

Through programs like NinjaTrix, we can create a supportive environment where every child can thrive, regardless of background or ability. This is the kind of movement I believe can bring lasting good to countless individuals.

How can our readers further follow you online?

Visit our NinjaTrix franchise website at or our consumer-facing website at We are also on social media at:

Thank you for the time you spent sharing these fantastic insights. We wish you only continued success in your great work!

About the Interviewer: Cynthia Corsetti is an esteemed executive coach with over two decades in corporate leadership and 11 years in executive coaching. Author of the upcoming book, “Dark Drivers,” she guides high-performing professionals and Fortune 500 firms to recognize and manage underlying influences affecting their leadership. Beyond individual coaching, Cynthia offers a 6-month executive transition program and partners with organizations to nurture the next wave of leadership excellence.