Building a Tight-Knit Community as a Small Business The owners of The Little Giant Muay Thai revolve their business around building a community, helping them rank #3 in Fitness & Instruction our America's Favorite Mom & Pop Shops List.

By Emily Washcovick

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

Courtesy of Little Giants Muay Thai

Thanat Tanchon (also known as Kru Chon) and Nate Bennett, the owners of martial arts facility The Little Giant Muay Thai, decided to focus on one very important aspect of their business when first opening: community. They knew that by building the right tight-knit culture, customers would return for the individual attention and sense of belonging.

"Providing that community aspect and making people wanna be here [makes customers] look past the small space that we have, which is great. And it worked out too because it's The Little Giant—little place, but we're giant, big hearts," Nate said.

Nate and Kru Chon's commitment to giving each and every student the attention they deserve earned them the #3 spot in the Fitness and Instruction category on Yelp and Entrepreneur's America's Favorite 150 Mom and Pop Shops list.

It's this very commitment that inspired reviewer Samantha N. to write a 5-star review. The Little Giant was actually the third gym she visited when searching for a place where her three children could continue their Muay Thai training. While initially unimpressed with the smaller facility, it was seeing the engaging and fun way the coaches interacted with their students that won her over.

"When you come through, they make sure to greet every single person, acknowledge the fact that they're there, and it shows a lot of respect," Samantha said. "If you can go somewhere and they already have respect for one another, you know there's gonna be great things that happen there."

Nate, who is an active MMA fighter with several titles under his belt, understands that people who are not familiar with martial arts can have the idea that it's violent and aggressive. However, he wants to change that perception of the sport to a more positive impression focused on discipline and mutual respect between opponents. He hopes to foster that perception through how he treats his customers and students at The Little Giant.

"There's a misconception for a lot of martial arts gyms where it's just like we're just trying to beat everybody up. But we really try and preach good, healthy habits [like] being disciplined and a decent person. That's how we run our school," he said. "Most of the people that come here, they just want to work out. They wanna learn. They wanna be part of a great community… When they come here, we want them to be happy and feel special and feel like this is a place where they can be themselves and have a good time and work out."

Nate and Kru Chon employ small strategies to make sure every customer feels special, focusing on one-on-one communication. Subtle things like knowing everyone's first and last name and going above and beyond typical small talk to facilitate a more personal rapport can go a long way in building a connection. Nate credits his and Kru Chon's previous experience in the service industry with helping him build his customer service skills which undoubtedly contributed to The Little Giant's reputation as a business with exclusively 5-star reviews on Yelp.

While Nate is grateful for the lack of critical reviews, he knows that the longer they're in business, the more likely a customer will have a complaint or critical feedback. That being said, he understands the importance of having a platform for customers to voice their concerns as well as their support. His mission is to try his best to keep his customers at The Little Giant feeling like they always just walked away from a stellar experience.

"We're trying to keep these five stars forever, but we can't make everybody happy," he said. "We can only do our best. It's not always gonna be perfect, but we're always gonna do our best."

Other tips small businesses can learn from The Little Giant Muay Thai include:

  • Always be ready for a potential new customer to walk into your space. Know what makes your business unique, and make sure new customers can pick up on your key differentiators quickly.
  • Don't be afraid to make the "jump" and take risks in order to grow your business. Sometimes growth means taking risks and being brave enough to face the discomfort of the unknown.
  • Critical reviews aren't always negative. They can be a helpful way for you to improve your business and clarify what your business does and doesn't offer.

Listen to the episode below to hear directly from Nate and Samantha, and subscribe to Behind the Review for more from new business owners and reviewers every Thursday.

Available on: Spotify, Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, Stitcher, and Soundcloud.

Emily Washcovick

Small Business Expert at Yelp

As Yelp’s Small Business Expert, Emily is meticulously focused on helping local business owners succeed and grow. Her expertise lies in customer engagement, reputation management, and all things digital marketing. Through speaking engagements and thought leadership, Emily shares industry insights that entrepreneurs in any business category can leverage for the growth and well-being of their businesses. She is also the host of Behind the Review, a podcast from Yelp and Entrepreneur Media, where each episode features conversations with a business owner and a reviewer about the story and lessons behind their interactions.

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