Small children can be big business. From sports clubs to fitness franchises, participation in sports improves self-esteem and builds strong minds and bodies. Check out these children’s fitness concepts that got in the game and climbed, kicked, and tumbled their way to success.
Funtopia offers a unique spin on traditional sports. The interactive playground combines fun and fitness with a variety of challenges as patrons climb, jump, and slide their way through an adventure wonderland.
“We created Funtopia with the idea to provide a way for children and adults to spend time having fun while engaging in health-benefitting exercise,” says Yassen Nikolov, Co-founder and President. Children get a workout while climbing, caving, gliding, mastering rope courses, and improving their stealth ninja skills.
With locations in Bulgaria, the United States, Malaysia, Australia, and Canada, the concept is quickly gaining traction. “Our attractions are designed so kids will not only see it as a workout, but as a cool and fun thing to do. In other words, we are bringing a new, original way to train while playing.” Not just physical, the majority of the programs also foster an educational component geared toward improving learning skills.
As the concept grows, one of its challenges is finding the right buildings. “You can put a coffee shop in practically any building, but we are restricted by many parameters, mainly height requirements. Finding the perfect spot can take anywhere from six months to a couple of years.” The benefit of owning a Funtopia franchise? “It’s a pleasure knowing you are contributing to the well-being and healthy development of kids and families.”
In addition to expansion plans in the United States, Funtopia is also spreading its wings in Canada, with locations in the works for both Ontario and Alberta.
Nikolov says that while certain success profiles, like a business background, may offer advantages, he is confident that the system can teach franchisees everything they need to know to be successful, as long as they are driven. From initial training to daily support and interesting new challenges, Funtopia continues to support its franchisees every step of the way. “We consider them to be members of the Funtopia family.” His advice to perspective franchisees? “Believe in yourself, work hard, and results will come!”
Once a competitive gymnast and coach, Yael Kravetz started Gymalaya in December of 2006. Her goal? To create a dynamic gym environment for kids, without the competitive pressure.
“I wanted to open a gym that was fun for the kids and fun for myself, something that would be rewarding,” says Kravetz. “Our gyms are much smaller than a regular competitive club. It’s colourful, it’s clean, it’s fun. We incorporate a lot of play equipment, and keep the kids moving while teaching all the basic skills they will need as they evolve and grow.”
After opening a second location with business partner, Eugene Rakita, Kravetz worked with franchise specialists to fine tune the concept and ensure it was franchise-ready before expanding. Though the current focus is expansion in the greater Toronto area, Gymalaya is open to awarding territories across the country as opportunities arise. “We want to be hands-on, especially at the beginning, and we can offer a great support with fewer locations during this time.”
Experience in gymnastics or education is a plus, but ultimately, Kravetz looks for franchisees who want to be more than just investors. “Great customer service and a love for children is important. If you don’t like being around kids, this isn’t the business for you.”
Gymalaya helps determine area demographics and business placement, as securing a 6,000 sq. ft. space can be expensive and challenging. From there, the team is on hand for as much pre-opening training and ongoing support as needed.
Kravetz advises that franchisees should be hands-on and emotionally involved. “Hire a good manager and team of coaches. Be willing to trust the franchisor, who has taken the time and made the investment to develop a good system.”
Little Kickers started in the United Kingdom in 2002, and has grown to include 250 franchises in 21 countries. Classes for children ages 18 months to 7 years teach soccer in a fun, pressure-free environment, and help foster early learning goals, like counting and following instructions.
“We don’t really advertise,” says Frank Stanschus, COO. “Our growth is word of mouth. When we start to develop a presence, it’s a nice way to sell to and work with like-minded people.”
Educators and sports enthusiasts alike can blend their love of working with children with running a business. “For a lot of our franchisees, it’s their dream job,” says Stanschus. With no bricks and mortar locations, franchisees rent part-time facilities to roll out the program, adding coaches and locations as the demand grows.
Once on board, a four-day training program takes franchisees through every aspect of operations, from sourcing venues to calculating a break-even point for classes. “It’s a feel-good business, but it has its challenges, and it’s not a guaranteed success,” says Stanschus. “It’s important to understand that if we work hard, use our joint experiences, and do a good job, success will follow.”
He adds that a new business is something to nurture and treat with respect. “You have to work diligently to make something good happen. Starting small and developing high-quality classes and infrastructure from the outset is the best recipe for success. You need to treat your first class with the same manner of professionalism and quality as you do when you have 30 classes running.”
Stanschus says that Little Kickers is a nice community-based business. “I think my organization is the kind of business that local communities are proud to have as part of their landscape. It adds value, and creates good jobs and great opportunities for budding entrepreneurs.”
Jennifer and Hendry van der Wath researched several investments before choosing one that embraced their love of health, fitness, and working with children. A mobile business that operates in daycare centres, schools, and recreation centres, Monkeynastix is a fun, challenging program that develops physical literacy in children.
In September of 2009, the first Monkeynastix location opened in Barrie, Ontario. “That first semester, we had over 280 kids registered, and we saw that there was a need for kids to learn physical literacy and fundamental movement skills, and to help children learn how to jump, run, skip, hop, throw, and catch,” says Jennifer. From there, the franchise expanded to over 15 locations, including Oakville, Niagara, Toronto, and the newest addition, Calgary.
“The flexibility is brilliant,” says Jennifer. “It’s home-based, and you’re able to move your equipment from place to place and set your own hours.” Hendry adds that without the overhead costs of traditional bricks-and-mortar locations, running costs are significantly lower. “It’s in over 20 countries, and it’s been working for 25 years.”
Successful franchisees are those with a keen sales ability. “The challenge is making sure franchisees understand it’s a full time commitment, and the basis of success is building relationships with parents and schools. It’s very much face to face.”
The team offers a variety of support tools from sales and marketing strategies to lesson plans and insight into the latest trends. “Our franchisees are very well equipped. The only thing we cannot equip is business savvy, and an understanding of what it is to have your own business. If a franchisee thinks it’s going to be part-time endeavour, they will have difficulty,” says Hendry.
Territories are divided by postal codes, or FSA’s, and franchisees can choose a large or small area to suit their comfort level. After an initial one-week training course, Hendry helps with the program marketing and walks franchisees through sales visits. “We show them what works for us. Relationships start when you knock on the door, and sometimes it takes multiple visits before a school signs on and we become a regular feature. We’ve been a regular feature at some schools and daycares for six years now.”
Hendry’s advice? Be a community partner. Attend festivals and give your time. Show people what you can do. “Be visible, and make people understand that it’s about more than money; it’s about making a difference.”
By Gina Makkar