Founded in 1986 by Carlos Gracie Jr, Gracie Barra has since become the most prolific Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu training program in the world. What started as a local martial arts school in Brazil has now expanded to over 800 schools globally through a franchise model. While the school initially focused on competitive sport, their impact now is more inclusive and far-reaching. Their mission is to ‘teach JJ for everyone’ through the total mind, body, and spirit transformation that BJJ facilitates.
These days, Gracie Barra schools teach Jiu-Jitsu to ‘absolutely everyone,’ with students ranging from 3 to 70 years old. While 85% of their students are male, they note that women are ‘taking over.’ There has been an explosion of female interest in the sport in recent years — which the team attributes to the rise of the women’s empowerment movement. Unlike most other martial art styles, Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu does not involve striking. As Gracie Barra’s executive director Flavio Almeida puts it, “It’s the triumph of human intelligence over brute force.” This more inclusive and welcoming approach has helped Gracie Barra attract people from all walks of life — not just athletes.
Bringing the benefits of Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu to the people all over the world has meant scaling quickly. Since their franchise model began in 2005, Gracie Barra now has schools in six different continents and has become an industry leader worldwide. However, this rapid acceleration has not been without its growing pains.
Having hundreds of schools across the globe means that their visual brand identity is in the hands of many different franchisees. Many of these school owners — as well as employees at their HQ in Phoenix, Arizona— lacked the time or expertise to properly utilize the brand guidelines.
This made it difficult to achieve consistency across their marketing efforts and diluted their positioning as a premium martial arts brand. “The designs that were being pushed out digitally and physically, they were just not expressing the quality of our brand,” says Flavio. “It was a lot of Comic Sans font and a thousand different colors,” adds Ryne Gray, Gracie Barra’s graphic design and brand manager. “Just like you would expect of somebody that has no idea what they’re doing, trying to stumble their way through Photoshop or Adobe Illustrator”
In an attempt to tame this ‘disorganized and time-consuming process’ the organization hired freelancers to assist with some of their marketing campaigns. However, the results still failed to do the brand justice. “They did their best, but the outcome was inconsistent with the high-level experience that we want to offer our community,” says Flavio.
When Ryne joined Gracie Barra early in 2021, one of his first initiatives was rolling out Canva for Enterprise across the company. This encompassed both the 30 team members at the corporate headquarters and franchise owners worldwide. “The first thing we did was use Canva as a way to make design guidelines accessible to everybody,” says Ryne.
The company saw an immediate improvement in brand consistency across the board. Finally, they had a way to effortlessly communicate their premium brand identity and customer experience across all visual assets — both internally and externally.
The Canva rollout has received ‘wholly positive feedback’ from employees at corporate HQ, who now use it for ‘everything.’ Not only have the simple design tools proven to save time and effort, but they have assisted employees in unleashing their inner creativity.
In particular, staff who previously felt uninspired to create presentations are doing so now with confidence. “There’s a couple of people [in the office] specifically that, before this, had no design skill whatsoever and were struggling to come up with [a presentation design],” says Ryne. “And now they’re able to quickly make amazing presentations that blow away whoever they’re trying to impress.”
Canva For Enterprise has also been instrumental in encouraging better collaboration between teams — particularly when working remotely. “[Canva has] made [the] collaboration process a lot faster.. a lot of times I’m working from home and somebody else is in the office or vice versa,” says Ryne. “We can still be there together, collaborating, working on a project together.”
Canva’s been equally embraced by Gracie Barra’s busy franchise owners. It’s become an invaluable part of the company’s franchise model, supporting the schools to grow their businesses with on-brand graphics.
“It’s been getting glowing reviews since [we launched]. More and more people continue to join the platform every day. .. And nobody has canceled,” says Ryne. Now, the schools use the design tools for everything from brand kits and social media assets to marketing materials like posters and stickers.
“We used to spend hours creating professional and interactive content for social media,” says Sebastien Garnier, a franchise owner in Marseilles, France. “All I have to do now is log in on my GB Canva account, choose a template, change the dates and info and pictures and it’s done.”
Not only does it save time, but Canva has also allowed franchisees to create high-quality designs that would have previously only been accessible to professional designers. “Canva allows you to make black belt level designs with white belt level skills,” says Ryne. “ I love it.”
But, even the more design-savvy in the Gracie Barra community rave about the benefits. “I did graphic design in a past life for 17 years and I can tell you, Canva is a game changer,” says Michael Bruner, a school owner and program director in Arondale, Arizona. “It literally takes the creativity process out from under the school program directors and makes it very easy.”
Canva for Enterprise has become the nucleus of Gracie Barra’s global marketing efforts. Ryne has spearheaded these efforts by establishing a simple workflow that allows for easy two-way communication between corporate and franchisees. All templates are created at Gracie Barra Central Office, then distributed to franchise owners. From here, franchisees customize the templates with their own messaging and images, then send them back to Ryne for approval. “They send a message to me and say, ‘Hey, how does it look? How is this following those branding guidelines?” says Ryne.
From here, Ryne can not only offer feedback or suggestions but also collaborate with franchisees in real-time. “We’re both on the document at the same time and I’m walking them through what I’m doing and showing them little tweaks they can do to make their designs better,” says Ryne. By turning collaborative design into these teachable moments, Ryne is able to
guide franchise owners to create even better graphics in the future.
For Gracie Barra, the biggest return on investment from Canva for Enterprise has been the gift of time. “We’re able to get things done [more efficiently] that would have taken longer,” says Ryne. This frees up both employees and franchise owners to continue to do more of the big-picture work that is going to continue to see the empire flourish.
Baking a Canva subscription into their franchise model has also led to a direct cash injection back into the business. Gracie Barra offers multiple subscription tiers to their schools to help them grow their businesses, including software like Canva. “We came up with a solution that is scalable [for us] and affordable for them,” says.
And, it’s only the beginning. “What Canva is going to do for us as we grow is just going to take the brand to a whole new level,” says Flavio. The company has ambitious plans to have over 1000 schools open by October 2021. “We want to get there and we’ll be able to through [Canva],” says Flavio. “It’s the heart and soul of all our graphics now.”
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