A Case for Small Schools in Small Towns


I live in the great state of Wisconsin. It’s a wonderful place about eight months of the year, and all year long if you like snowmobiling and ice fishin’ (I don’t).

We have some world-class “big” cities like Madison and Milwaukee, and we have some schools kickin’ butt there (400+ students), but we also have a ton of small cities and towns in the 10,000-50,000 population range. Over the years, I have owned and helped open many schools in the “big cities” as well as these small towns (about 25+ of them). Most people would recommend opening a school in a larger market because it makes sense: more people, more lease space available and more employee’s to recruit.

It sounds good at first glance. After all, there are 10 million people in New York, yet only 30,000 in Neenah, Wisconsin, so why in the heck would you want to open a school in Neenah Wisconsin?

But…what if you don’t want to live in New York? What if you don’t like traffic, crime and smog? What if you don’t want to raise your children in a big city with all the associated problems? Can you still be successful?

Let’s look at three small Wisconsin towns are see what’s possible;

We’ll start with a small town called Appleton in the northeast corner of the state, about 30 miles south of Green Bay (Go Packers!) with population of only 70,000 people.

I started a Karate America school there in 1994 and years later sold it to a Black Belt student of mine named Jeff Denu.

In the past 20 years, Mr. Denu has been able move out of the original school and build a million dollar 8,000 sq. ft school. His student body is in the 400+ member area and his income is about the same as the local brain surgeon. He owns a beautiful home, has rental property and is able to provide a great future for his three children. Not bad for a little town is Wisconsin.

Next let’s look at Greenville, located about 8 miles from Appleton. This small town has only 10,000 people.  I started this school in 1996 and again sold it to one of my Black belts named Shawn Fargen.

Mr. Fargen has been able to buy the building AND the one next to it, has a beautiful home and is able to travel, hunt, and provide a future for his twin children. He’s now expanding into the after school/summer camp market and his income is more than four times what he made as a public school teacher.

Next is Neenah, about 10 miles south of Appleton. I started this school in 1995 and later sold it to Matt Schaefer. This small town has only 25,000 people, but Mr. Schaefer has built a student body of 400+. He recently built a great brand new home for his wife and four (yup, count ’em, four) kids. The school is extremely profitable but more importantly, Mr. Schaefer has built a team that allows him virtually unlimited time to spend doing his favorite thing, which is spending quality time with his kids. His level of income is five times what is was as a police officer (and 10x as much as he made as a micro-biologist, which he also was). Needless to say, he lives a very comfortable lifestyle, is able to provide a home for his mother and is secure in knowing each of his four kids will be able to attend the college of their choice.

What does this tell us? First, it tells us that we can live a wonderful lifestyle comparable to the best paid earners in the United States, and we can also have the “small town” lifestyle that families love.

Now, some things need to be done a little differently in “small town America,” but some people actually like the “difference” of living in a small town.

I’ll discuss some of the differences between running a school in the big city vs a small city in a later post, but for now–Go Packers!

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I’ve dedicated myself to finding and sharing the ways and means to balance success and personal goals; learning to “play to your strengths” and follow your heart. And the journey has been truly amazing.


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