From Childhood Dream to a Thriving Franchise
Four key catalysts can help aspiring franchisors turn their dream into a successful franchise reality.
Every little kid grows up dreaming of doing big things. Some kids dream of entertaining millions as rock stars or all-star athletes. Others idolize public figures and dream of serving the nation as president or serving their community as mayor or police chief.
My dream as a kid growing up in the late 1970s was a unique one: to create a youth sports league that emphasized fun, safety, good sportsmanship, and fair play over a cut-throat winning mentality.
The Foundation of a Franchise Business
The catalyst for this competitive youth sports alternative occurred after a Little League championship game my team lost years ago. My best friend, neighbor and teammate pitched poorly in the game and his father publically embarrassed him by screaming at him as soon as he left the dugout. I can also remember hearing my friend throw pitch after pitch that night until he had improved his mechanics and mental approach enough to convince his dad he was ready to win.
That was the first night I can remember thinking of creating a fair and fun sports alternative for children. While I certainly have fond memories of my childhood sports experiences, I remember seeing countless others, like my friend, burn out and lose their passion for sports due to pressure applied by hyper-competitive parents and coaches.
After a short career in medical sales, I decided it was time to bring that childhood dream to fruition. By the early 2000s, i9 Sports was born and has since grown into the largest youth sports franchise in America with more than 115 locations in 28 states.
Turning Childhood Dreams into Business Realities
We recently celebrated our 10th anniversary at i9 Sports and I’m very proud of how far we’ve come in such a short time. However, my childhood dream would have remained just that, a dream, without the years of hard work, focus and dedication the entire franchise family has contributed.
Many people would love to create a franchise business like ours, which enables corporate employees and franchisees to focus on their passion and take their career to a new level. To do so, aspiring entrepreneurs must make sure they focus on four key factors.
- Enter the Right Market at the Right Time. After my career in medical sales, I owned and operated adult softball leagues in New York to build my sports league management experience. In 1996, my wife and I decided we needed a change and moved to Florida. When we arrived, I realized there was a tremendous opportunity to become a leading youth sports provider. I believed it would be very gratifying to provide in-touch and involved baby-boomer parents with an effective alternative to old-school, cut-throat competitive sports. Therefore, it made sense to transition away from adult sports and create a franchise youth sports concept that focused on once-a-week commitments and family-oriented sports.
- Build and Commit to a Powerful, Unique Value Proposition. i9 Sports isn’t just a name; it is reflective of the nine principles that comprise our core ideology. Our approach is imaginative, innovative, interactive, integrity-driven, impassioned, inspirational, instructional, insightful and inclusive. We are able to carry out our mission statement (helping kids succeed in life through sports) every day because each i9 Sports franchisee, league manager, coach, etc. is fully committed to those principles.
- Surround Yourself with the Right People. This is one of the most difficult aspects of business ownership and it applies at both the franchisor and franchisee level. We have to make sure everyone involved with our family is willing to help us put the fun back into youth sports each day. We knew we needed to make this a top priority, so we engaged a national hiring analysis and training company to help us find corporate staff members and franchisees who were incredibly driven yet passionate about keeping sports safe and fun. We are very particular about the new employees we hire and the franchisees we bring on board. It makes all of the difference for us.
- Become a Go-to Expert on an Important, Trending Topic. From the beginning, we have been devoted to becoming a leading expert on youth sports safety. We strictly enforced a “when in doubt, sit them out” policy at all of our leagues years before the NFL and other major sports organizations created mandatory concussion safety procedures. We also include concussion safety information as part of our online registration process for parents and in mandatory training manuals for coaches and officials. Further, we have worked with our PR agency of record and our internal social media team to ensure we are always a leading contributor to all topics related to concussions and concussion safety.
Obviously, i9 Sports is just one example of a franchise business that was built based on a childhood dream. However, regardless of the specific passion or industry, those franchise systems can thrive if, and only if, their founders successfully blend the same undeterred childhood spirit that created the dream with smart and savvy business practices.
i9 Sports Core Ideology – Nine Principles
Frank Fiume, CFE, is the founder and CEO of i9 Sports. Find him at fransocial.franchise.org.