The results are in for the Canadian Franchise Association’s 2015 Awards of Excellence in Franchising, and the Grand Prize goes to....Little Kickers!
Little Kickers is a soccer training program for boys and girls starting at 18 months of age up to their seventh birthday. The company was established in the U.K. in 2002, entered the Canadian market in 2009, and now has 230 franchises in 18 countries, including 30 in Canada. Little Kickers provides children with a posi-tive introduction to sport and the foundation to lead a healthy and active lifestyle. We spoke to four Canadian franchisees and asked them to share their thoughts on why Little Kickers has received the prestigious Grand Prize Award of Excellence again, for its second year in a row.
Although each person came to the franchise from a different background, bring-ing different experiences, skills, goals and expectations, they all cited similar reasons for loving this franchise: the feeling that they have a positive impact on children’s lives; the level of support and immediacy of response they receive from Christine and Frank Stanschus, who started Little Kickers in the U.K. and now hold the Cana-dian master franchise; opportunities to have meaningful input into how Little Kickers operates as the franchise grows and evolves; and the relationships and mutual support network they enjoy with other franchisees.
Larissa Gibson was (and still is) a part-time figure skating coach. She used to work for a soccer supply com-pany where she dealt with Little Kickers franchisees. “They always spoke so highly of the brand. I knew it was something I wanted to be a part of,” she says. Now she and partner Sean Cuthbertson own a franchise in North York. They believe that, “We make a difference in the lives of the children that we coach. Our goal is that when they leave our program they have been instilled with confidence.”
When Krystal and Mark Nicholson lived in the U.K. they enrolled their son in Little Kickers. After moving back to Guelph, Ontario, Krystal, who worked in market-ing and account management, wanted a career change that would give her more family/work balance – which Little Kickers definitely does, says the mother of three. “I’m having a lot of fun working with families, providing a fun and positive introduction to sport and encourag-ing healthy, active living for young children, and I love working from home and the flexibility of managing my own schedule.
”Vancouver’s Vaughn and Chie Schaus met in Japan, where Vaughn taught for 10 years. A friend who runs a Little Kickers in Australia recommended the franchise to them. Having played soccer his whole life, Vaughn says, “I love coaching children and seeing them grow into fine young soccer players.” Chie, who works full time out-side of the business, does a lot of the bookkeeping and administrative tasks. “We like the fact that we can set our own hours, hire who we choose and have complete control over day-to-day operations.”
Rutul Sharma was an entrepreneur and business con-sultant who worked and travelled abroad quite a bit and needed a break. He purchased his central Toronto fran-chise four years ago. “I had worked with children in the past, and a friend in Australia introduced me to Little Kickers. Originally I was looking it as a part-time side business but it took more time, and was generating more revenue, than I expected. This was my first experience with franchising and I’m very happy with it. The busi-ness gives me the flexibility to do other things I enjoy – for example, to teach business classes part-time at Dur-ham College.”Gibson, Nicholson, Schaus and Sharma all speak enthusiastically about the Stanschuses and their fellow franchisees. Christine and Frank are described as “down to earth”, “very kind”, and “readily available, with an open door policy, and always a prompt response.” Because the Stanschuses also run a corporate Little Kickers franchise, they have a hands-on perspective that the franchisees find very help-ful.
After their initial training, franchisees cite the ongoing support and advice, coaching and session planning, website, marketing materials and other operational supports as being critical to their busi-ness’ success. In addition to ongoing franchisee/franchisor communication, there are Canada-wide discussions and international forums for franchi-sees to participate in. Little Kickers also encour-ages franchisees to get to know, support and share their expertise with each other, and that happens regularly through email, phone calls, Skype, online chat boards and occasionally in person.“We could never have built this business on our own,” says Gibson, noting that everything from games and coaching guides to IT and administra-tive systems to marketing support are provided by Little Kickers. “Being part of a proven system with constant support far beats opening any business competently on your own.”
The company is continuously fine tuning its business tools, with direct input through interna-tional forums where franchisees make decisions for the whole system. Individual franchisees are also encouraged to try new things and communicate the results with the global network via an online dis-cussion board. At this virtual ‘water cooler’, fran-chisees from around the globe post questions and share ideas that have worked well for them, from coaching strategies to customer loyalty initiatives.
This is also the place for friendly banter, and even a little friendly Fantasy League competition, as fran-chisees build relationships with each other. Opportunities for face-to-face socializing for fran-chisees and their clients in the GTA include attend-ing Toronto FC soccer games. Schaus and his fellow to Vancouver Whitecaps games in the near future. When asked what qualities are needed to be suc-cessful, and what advice they would share with people considering a Little Kickers franchise, the franchisees’ responses were very similar:
Franchising is a great way for first time business owners to get a foot in the door, since it provides structure and systems that have been proven to work. But it is critical to research the franchise, the competitive landscape, etc., to determine whether the business model will be a good fit for you per-sonally. Be passionate about what you are doing – each of the four talked about the joy they derive from seeing the positive impact Little Kickers has on children’s lives. Be prepared to wear a lot of different hats, and to be flexible and ready to switch hats on the spot. Be patient – running a franchise, or any business, requires many hours and a lot of hard work. You will only get out what you put in. When you decide how many classes you want to run each week, how much PR you want to do, etc., your revenues and profits will reflect those decisions.
All four franchisees say that knowing what they know now, given the opportunity to go back to their decision to join the Little Kickers system, they would definitely do it again. Nicholson points out, “The Little Kickers business model has been proven across diverse communities.”And all four are proud that Little Kickers is being rec-ognized by the CFA for excellence in franchising again this year. As Gibson notes, “I always knew we were part of an exceptional brand, but Little Kickers winning the CFA Grand Prize lets all of Canada know it too!”
By: Kym Wolfe
Canadian Franchise Association