No limits to keep working

Mike Smith and his wife, Emma, bought a rundown Caboolture gym business at a bargain price in early 2018 and turned it into a successful business – Limitless Combat Sports (LCS). Mike explains that this was “a passion purchase”. Mike is passionate about martial arts and wanted to focus the gym on this “small and resilient niche” of fight training and fitness.

They started off as a Muay Thai and kick boxing gym and then broadened the scope of the business, adding a variety of new fitness classes. They have now separated the martial arts training and competition component of the gym (making up 5% of clientele) from their main focus of fitness and fun. The gym is family oriented, which Mike says gives them a competitive advantage. They have mixed classes for all ages, some women only, and a kid’s corner one night per week.

Mike, Emma, and their young daughter work at the gym. In addition, the business employs a full-time trainer and two contractors: for stretching classes, massage and cupping, and nutrition advice. This way, they keep overheads low.

Early in 2020, they started developing an additional revenue stream by retailing gym accessories and equipment, such as boxing gloves and shin guards. This aspect of the business was ready to be launched and was awaiting arrival of the shipment of equipment from Pakistan when COVID hit.

COVID impacts

The COVID 19 restrictions meant LCS had to shut down the physical gym for about 5 weeks. The business lost 60 per cent of members on the first day of shutdown. International and domestic border closures had a flow on effect for the retail business, delaying the shipment of retail products by three months.

Mike and Emma viewed the shutdown as temporary and concentrated on retaining members and fostering a sense of community.


The LCS team got up and running quickly, despite the restrictions. Within 24 hours of the gym lockdowns, they had the first session of their programs available online. The programs comprise martial arts training via video conferencing and specific classes, using alternative equipment readily at hand in most people’s homes, such as food cans as training weights. The business then supported members by lending out equipment, so they could train at home.

Mike and Emma viewed the shutdown as temporary and concentrated on retaining members and fostering a sense of community.

To develop the business online quickly they bought a standard digital camera, and already had a microphone. Mike said the team went for a quick, simple and cheap approach: “We didn’t need to make it perfect. One person would type the session plan while the other conducted the training in front of the camera. We didn’t need to spend a lot, just on what was needed to function.”

LCS developed a new revenue stream with the business’ online development. The team has created a social media portal for members that houses all the live video workout sessions on fitness, strength and technique and sessions on food nutrition. The team’s fitness also improved in the process, as they had to do all elements of the workouts, rather than just some of these in the face-to-face classes where they mostly walk around guiding the classes.

While the physical gym was closed, they built an outdoor training area, allowing for more space, ready for when restrictions eased.

A sense of community

They were a close team to start with but their COVID response brought the LCS team of five even closer. They put their heads together to come up with ideas to help the business and their member community. Their activities and team collaborations also brought the members closer. During lockdowns, they held regular online social drinks sessions with members, where they sought feedback on what works and what could be better. As a result, they shifted and molded classes to fit with what members want.

Since reopening the physical gym, they have had a substantial increase of 40-50 per cent in membership than before. Most existing members returned. The gym benefitted from the shutdown of other sports across all age groups. Martial arts used to be seasonally popular in the football off-season, but in the winter of 2020 when team sports were stopped martial arts became a safe option.


The retail side of the business went live on their website at the beginning of August once the shipment of gear arrived. The team will continue developing and maintaining the members’ online portal and are prepared for a return to lockdown measures.

1 Be creative: “Don’t be afraid to try things. There’s no need to be perfect”.
2 Build capacity: “Build simple IT or digital capacity – have some level of IT experience to shift into online”.
3 Be aware and wary of third-party providers: “Read up on what they can and can’t do on behalf of your business. For example, Ezy debt had a mass cancelling of membership payments and didn’t account for individual businesses and their relationships with clients.”
4 Be prepared: “Have a plan on how to move ahead that you can shift to.”
5 Nurture customer loyalty: “Focus more on value for customers. Be more helpful and flexible in how you can support them - shift prices for parts of service, give away free services or training. Be flexible in accommodating the client; it creates loyalty.”
6 Personalise customer service: “Create a more personalised service to make people feel welcome and make them want to keep coming back.”