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Bergen Record Article August 2, 2021

Fighting their way to the top of the pack

Sunday, August 2, 2021
Last updated: Tuesday August 11, 2009, 2:16 PM

The Record

With their new 8,000-square-foot martial arts facility in Saddle Brook, Richard and Faith Raciti have set their sights on the increasingly popular combat sport of mixed martial arts as a way to stand out from other schools.

The Racitis hope the new home of The EDGE Ultimate Martial Arts — more than double the space of its previous location in Elmwood Park and a $25,000 to $30,000 investment — will build their reputation in the mixed martial arts (MMA), while increasing the number of adult and child students.

"Our goal is to teach MMA to the masses," said Richard Raciti. With the additional room, the Racitis have added classes and a $15,000 enclosed cage — the MMA version of a boxing ring and necessary for holding MMA competitions.

A 30-year martial arts veteran focusing on tae kwon do, Richard began breaking from tradition and mixing different styles about 15 years ago. He blends those with self-defense techniques.

Richard and his instructors gear their classes toward self-defense and fitness training for "combat conditioning," to build endurance for muay Thai and Brazilian jiu-jitsu styles used heavily in televised MMA matches. Children are taught respect, self-discipline and strategies to protect themselves in situations such as carjackings. Teenagers and adults are taught to defend themselves.

Rebecca Davis of Elmwood Park said her 15-year-old son, James Connolly-Davis, has trained with Richard since he was 4.

"He loves the self-defense aspect and has gotten trouble from other kids in school and has defended himself on three occasions," she said.

The Racitis are working to increase their visibility within the MMA community by building relationships with fighters to train students, managing professional and amateur competitors and finding sponsors among local businesses — such as Signature Financial Mortgage LLC in Elmwood Park — to help pay for their training.

"People see how good we are, and that brings in more students and people who want to compete," Richard Raciti said.

Now with the larger space and the cage, the Racitis will be able to host MMA matches once they get their promoter license from the New Jersey State Athletic Control Board. Tickets for MMA fights can range from $35 to $55, said Faith Raciti.

Additionally they've agreed to have the Abu Dhabi Combat Club, which trains in submission fighting in the United Arab Emirates, hold its referee certification event there, and they plan to offer bodyguard classes in September.

Several factors distinguish the Racitis from their competition. Their 200 students are more than the average of 70 to 150, according to the National Association of Professional Martial Artists in Clearwater, Fla., a trade group.

Another is an enrollment split evenly between children and adults. Of those practicing martial arts, younger children are about 70 percent of the market, according to the trade association.

With the additional space, the Racitis can add a new age group, 3- to 4-year-olds. They also will add fitness classes for parents at the same time as the children's classes to encourage new customers.

"We don't cater to just fighters or just kids," said Richard.

A third distinguishing factor is that the Racitis' new facility is about twice the size of most schools, according to New Jersey retail brokerage firm The Goldstein Group. This allows them to hold three classes simultaneously, have a fitness/workout area with equipment and devote an area to displaying apparel for purchase.

As with any small business, the Racitis rely on word of mouth for new customers. They offer parents free classes, and students can bring a guest for free. Faith is building MMA-enthusiast groups on several social networking sites, and they mailed post cards with discounts to established customers about the new location.

They designed their new Web site themselves, and Richard invested about $1,000 to buy software and vinyl splicing equipment to create and produce their own external and internal signs.

"You have to use your imagination in bad times," said Richard. "That's what we've done."

Faith said they became more aggressive in recruiting new customers about three years ago when interest in martial arts began to decline. It has since picked up, according to the NAPMA and other trade associations, fueled by the popularity of MMA and styles used within it.

It's taken 28 years and eight moves for the Racitis, who first opened in Wanaque, to build their business and create their ideal facility.

"If there's no risk, there's no reward in business," said Richard.

Advice: Richard Raciti says for small businesses, customer service is the most important tool to retain customers and gain new ones. "Your customers are your best salespeople," he says. His tips: Make it easy for them to tell you what they want or what they don't like; get to know your customers' families; know what customers will want and expect and then provide it; offer promotions and discounts to your customers, not just potential ones. "Most businesses are so intent on gaining new members they forget about the ones they have," says Raciti, but it's cheaper to retain them than to get new ones.

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