Franchise Cultivates Culture of Caring for Kids
The thing that sets The Little Gym franchise apart from its competition is the brand’s culture, which is aimed at bettering the lives of the children it serves.
While the franchise has over 300 locations spread across 30 countries, the culture inside those locations is consistent regardless of what part of the world a franchise is in, President and CEO Ruk Adams said during a recent interview from the company’s headquarters in Scottsdale, AZ.
“It’s an interesting culture that surrounds our business,” Adams said. “It crosses not only from small towns to big cities, but it crosses from country to country. It doesn’t matter if we’re sitting in a class in Hong Kong or a class in New York City or one in Tulsa, Oklahoma or in Kuwait or Dubai or points in between, the kids all act the same. The way the lesson plan is designed is very universal in terms of reaction to the stimulus.”
The Little Gym offers classes for kids from the ages of four months to 12 years that incorporates its “Three Dimensional Learning” approach of “Get Moving” for flexibility and coordination, “Brain Boost” for listening and decision making, and “Citizen Kid” for teamwork and leadership. The classes include sports skills, developmental gymnastics or simply an introduction to movement. It also has parent-child programs for kids under three where children come with a parent or caregiver and take the class together.
Each class is designed with a specific curriculum to build off the classes that come before it, just like how it would work in a school. The classes, which were all developed by early childhood development experts, are broken into short four-week learning units and over the course of a season or school year children will come for 40 classes. These classes last from 45 minutes to one hour and kids are grouped together with other children in their age range.
In the Beginning
The Little Gym International has been in operation since 1992. The original concept was started in 1976 in Bellevue, WA by Robin Wes who is still with the company today, playing an instrumental role in creating the company’s proprietary music and holding the title of Founder and Keeper of the Culture. Wes was a kinesiologist and an elementary education professional who was also involved in music and gymnastics. He grew up in South Africa and travelled throughout Europe and the United States in the late 60s and early 70s, ending up in Seattle where he developed The Little Gym concept.
“He wanted to create an environment where kids could come and learn physical activities, but in a non-competitive environment,” Adams said.
From his days competing in gymnastics, Wes was quite familiar with competitive environments and he believed kids needed a place to grow up without the pressure of competition. So, he created The Little Gym’s movement based program to teach kids basic life skills in a group environment that espoused the philosophy that kids need not be the best, as long as they try their best.
After 16 years of running The Little Gym, Wes met the founder of Sylvan Learning, W. Berry Fowler, and the two of them started franchising the concept of The Little Gym.
Adams said an ideal The Little Gym franchisee would have to be driven by a desire to create a better life for kids, as it’s not a hands-off business. They should have some background in customer service management, sales and marketing.
“The thing that is most common is that they have a desire to own a business that is engaged in their community that will make a difference in kids’ lives,” Adams said.
Within the United States, the company has just over 200 locations in nearly 40 states in cities as big as New York to as small as Fayetteville, NC. Although The Little Gym has a presence in all the major metropolitan markets in the US, there are still locations available basically everywhere, including New York, San Diego, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Portland and throughout Nevada. Plus, all of Canada is open for new franchisees.
A Safe Place
The need for a place like The Little Gym has never been greater, Adams noted. When he was young, the CEO recalled, his mom used to kick him out of the house if the sun was shining to go play with friends and wouldn’t expect to seehim back until dinner. Today, though, parents perceive the world as being a less safe place than it was in previous decades. The Little Gym gives parents the ability to provide a safe environment where kids can engage in physical activities with others in an organized fashion that teaches them valuable skills that they may not get from their everyday unstructured play.
“We help prepare kids to participate in other things that they’re going to go do,” Adams said.
Apart from structured curriculums and a broader age range than their competition, The Little Gym has been able to develop exclusive partnerships with Kindermusik, which offers early childhood music education; LEGO, which the brand uses to help develop kids’ cognitive thinking and fine motor skills; and Nickelodeon, which provides The Little Gym with recognizable characters for children to identify with as they celebrate birthdays.
Training and Support
The Little Gym works with franchisees to determine the best business structure for their location and helps them with their insurance. The company has real estate services to find the right space and negotiate a lease and partnerships with architectural firms to get the build out done as efficiently as possible. Plus it also offers owners access to a dedicated Business Consultant and full marketing support.
The brand has a four-step training process that takes seven to eight weeks to complete. The training covers business operations, hiring and curriculum training. In addition to that, the company provides training for franchisees’ employees both on-site and online. Plus, The Little Gym helps owners who want to purchase multiple locations by making sure their managers are savvy enough to run the locations themselves.
“We have special training for their general manager so they can focus on building their business in more locations,” Adams said.
By focusing on its company culture, The Little Gym has created not only the ultimate learning environment for children and parents, but a culture of success for its franchisees.