Carrick gym owner wins business award

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A martial arts expert from Carrickfergus has scooped a prestigious accolade at the inaugural Disruptive Franchise Awards.

Lee Savage, the founder and owner of Savage Martial Arts, picked up the Disruptive Franchisor of the Year 2023 gong at the event, staged at The Oxfordshire Hotel in Thame on June 13.

The business, set up by Lee from a gym in Larne in 2007, now operates 80 martial arts schools across the UK and Ireland, as well as having a presence in Spain.

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The Ballycarry resident, who grew up in the Ransevyn area of Whitehead, before moving to Carrick, stated: “It’s a massive accomplishment for the company, industry and personally. It’s validation on the amazing work we’re doing to win such a prestigious award.

Lee Savage was presented with the Disruptive Franchisor of the Year award.Lee Savage was presented with the Disruptive Franchisor of the Year award.
Lee Savage was presented with the Disruptive Franchisor of the Year award.

"I started teaching in 2007 in Larne while having a full-time job in a factory. I went down the engineering route and spent five years working full-time in a factory and knew it wasn’t for me and that I wanted to teach full-time martial arts.

"I didn’t know anyone who was able to do this- most do it part-time, or as a hobby. The day I passed my apprenticeship was the day I handed my notice in and I embarked on my martial arts business. The business has expanded and there are now over 100 instructors and franchisees.

"We have 84 schools, 30 of which are across Northern Ireland. The rest are in Republic of Ireland, Britain and Spain.”

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Detailing the positive impact the training is having on communities across the province and further afield, Lee explained: “Our motto is ‘Transforming lives through martial arts.’

"We help children gain confidence and in extreme circumstances get back into mainstream schools. We help families become connected through the power of martial arts and we strive to help students become leaders in their own lives, making great decisions and building a ‘yes I can’ mindset.

“It humbles me to see the amazing work our company does. We’re all very invested in every student and we use martial arts as a veichle to become better in life.

"Our instructors are much more than instructors. I call them ‘personal development professionals’ as the lives they touch and change is heartwarming.”

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After facing a number of challenges when founding Savage Martial Arts, the former Downshire High pupil has aspirations of making the business the “world’s biggest martial arts company”.

He said: “There were many challenges. I’d no income or funding to invest in growing the business and I didn’t have any prior knowledge in business.

"People were still bouncing back from recession and I wasn’t seeing other examples of another full-time successful person in martial arts. I’d also to deal with online criticism and the naysayers.

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“When I set up Savage Martial Arts I just wanted to do what I loved and replace my full-time income. It’s been a long journey, but I pinch myself daily.

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"There’s still a lot more to be done as our goal is to be the biggest martial arts company in the world.”

Offering advice to anyone else wishing to set up their own business, Lee added: “If you’ve found your passion, that’s the hardest part. You need to focus on what you want and do everything in your power to accomplish that dream.”