Sports Xtra: The franchise opportunity

The leading children's sports company outlines how it gives prospective franchisees the chance to capitalise on an £11bn market opportunity...

Franchise: Sports Xtra
Description: Sports Xtra is a leading children’s physical activity and sport company with a fresh and innovative approach, inspiring children to be more active.
Started in: 2002  – franchised in 2008
Founder: Gareth Lippiatt
No. of franchises: 35+ (25 franchisees)
Coverage: UK-wide
Average cost per franchise: £12,500 + VAT
Website: www.sports-xtra.com

Sports Xtra was founded by Loughborough and Cambridge graduate Gareth Lippiatt in 2002 and developed into a franchise business in 2008, with the aim of being the leading children’s physical activity provider. Subsequently, alongside the acquisition of another like-minded business, a national footprint of over 400 coaches was built across the UK.

In 2015, Sports Xtra merged with A-Star Sports; the award-winning multi-sports specialist, to bring together a network of over 35 franchises. The combination of the market-leading Sports Xtra ‘Xperience’ and A-Star Sports brands enables us to create unique strategies and partnerships that stand out in a competitive market. In particular, our products are delivered direct to families, which leads us to communicate with and directly support the needs of thousands of families with young children.

Moving into franchising

So how did you move into franchising and where did the business open its first franchises?

Sports Xtra opened its first business in Cambridge in 2002 and developed this into a franchise model as a means to practically and ethically expand the business, launching through Sports Xtra (Franchising) Ltd in 2008 in Cambridge, West Hertfordshire & East Hertfordshire.

Following a major local acquisition in Cardiff, the business then merged with three year old franchise start-up A-Star Sports in 2015, adding the start-up’s original flagship Chester territory and 15 others to its portfolio.

How successful were those original franchisees?

All the original territories continue to be successful operations with Cardiff and Chester still holding Sports Xtra’s top two performance titles.

The franchise opportunity

What makes the franchise different / unique?

We have a fresh and innovative approach, inspiring children to be more active through creative non-traditional routes as well as established ones. Our products are delivered direct to families, which keeps things very simple for our customers and our venues. Our customers book with us directly, which gives us the opportunity to build valuable long term relationships and to action important feedback.

The strength of our brand family also means that we can build strong national partnerships through which to develop a lasting impact.

What services do you offer?

The Sports Xtra brand family brings together the very popular physical activity Xperiences and the fully developmental A-Star Sports multi-sports programme. For children aged two to 12 years-old, our product range is delivered predominantly through weekly classes, extra-curricular activities, holiday clubs and parties.

How big is the market opportunity?

Our health and children’s health is a priority for a large percentage of the UK population. Such public concern, as well as increased media interest, has seen a surge in the growth of the sector in recent years to an £11bn market for extra-curricular programmes in the UK.

This has been further highlighted by research which links children’s health, wellbeing and educational attainment, as well as physical activity and sports leading, to children’s improved attention span, social skills, self-esteem and confidence.

How many franchisees do you have today?

We currently have 25 franchisees operating in over 35 territories across the UK. 70% of these territories have been successfully operating for three years or more.

How is the brand marketed?

We have a well established launch programme for each new Sports Xtra franchise with continued central support on a national scale through online, social media and e-marketing channels. Franchisees also have access to a branded marketing portal through which franchise partners access all their print marketing, clothing and merchandise.

Additionally, we work in partnership with major brands, which have included Vertigo Films’ The Unbeatables and Warner Bros’ Tom and Jerry Spy Quest, both through product development and wider promotion.

How do you divide the regions?

Each exclusive franchise territory is professionally mapped to a planned set of demographics, offering the best viable business opportunity for that area.

The perfect franchisee

What do you look for in potential franchisees?

We have successful franchisees from a diverse range of backgrounds including sales, accounting, banking, IT, operations, project management, teaching, coaching and more. Our franchisees have the ability to establish and then build relationships with parents, family members, coaches and other education professionals. A franchisees’ background is important, but less relevant to their potential success than their ability to follow our successful model to build these relationships, facilitate great activities for children, identify staff that they can develop and have lots of fun along the way!

So do franchisees work from an office, or are they home-based? Is it part-time or full-time?

Our franchisees tend to work full-time from a home office but are often out in the field with customers, sourcing new venues and ensuring high standards of delivery.

How are franchisees vetted?

We follow a safe recruitment policy for all franchisees, including a full/enhanced DBS and thorough follow-up of appropriate references and background checks.

What do you offer franchisees that sign-up?

Sports Xtra franchise partners hit the ground running with:

  • Full training programme – starting with six days at head office and continuing throughout the start-up period
  • Comprehensive business and coaching manuals
  • Equipment starter kit
  • Marketing portal for promotional materials, adverts, clothing and merchandise
  • Use of the Sports Xtra registered, trademarked brands
  • Exclusive access to business operations, systems and processes
  • Fully supported website and social media management
  • Exclusive, defined territory – professionally researched and mapped throughout the UK in order to provide an equal opportunity for every franchise partner and offer the potential for sustainable business growth

Plus, ongoing strategic support and mentoring from an experienced network that provides the best springboard from which to develop your successful business. This includes:

  • Regular mentoring contact, including business review, analysis, advice and guidance
  • Highly experienced business and coach mentoring
  • Assistance with the initial recruitment, training and deployment of coaches and apprentices
  • Ongoing comprehensive, bespoke training programmes, including reference and training materials, and CPD guidance
  • Award-winning brand recognition
  • National marketing and research to ensure campaigns with the best return on investment
  • Launch PR and ongoing media support
  • National call centre and online booking system
  • Fully optimised website with national and local SEO
  • Engaging social media activity and support
  • An expert advisory team to support business development
  • Conference and events with a growing network of experienced and friendly franchise partners

How much do franchisees pay and what are the ongoing franchise fees?

The cost of a Sports Xtra franchise is £12,500 + VAT. Ongoing fees include the management service fee (12.5% of gross sales) and the marketing levy (2% of gross sales).

Success and growth

How successful are some of the franchisees today?

A number of our franchisees have achieved recognition via externally judged and voted regional awards and have taken on additional territories as a result of their success.

Their profitability is in line with the positive national picture of franchising in the latest bfa/NatWest survey.

How is the brand looking to grow?

We are looking to grow through significant franchisee recruitment and retention as a result of a unique, high quality offering, extensive training and support, creative product development and strong brand partnerships.

What is the potential of the business?

We have 240 territories professionally mapped out across the UK and plan to expand considerably over the next two years.

What will the challenges be in achieving that?

For any growing franchise business, success factors always rely on knowing your customers, ensuring that high quality standards are maintained and having an innovative position within the market.  These are key challenges but ones that we diligently prepare for.

What awards has the business won?

The team has won awards and recognition for successful start up and marketing through to entrepreneurship, coaching and making a positive difference to local communities.

These have included the national Franchise Marketing Awards, HP Smart Business Awards, the Guardian’s Small Business Network’s Best Practice Exchange, and listing of our A-Star Sports brand in Startups.co.uk’s Startups 100 index for the last three consecutive years – rising 66 places to number 27. We have also received recognition from Theo Paphitis and Lord Young for innovation and entrepreneurial spirit.

Regionally, we have won Coach of the Year and Women in Business Awards plus finalist places in Small Business Awards and Entrepreneur of the Year.

To what extent are the founders involved today?

Sports Xtra founder Gareth Lippiatt is the current chairman. A-Star Sports’ founders Gary and Sharon Bassett are the product & quality and brand & marketing directors working alongside managing director Rob Oyston – the original founder of the Cardiff acquisition – in the senior management team.

Finally, is the company a British Franchise Association (bfa) member

Yes. Sports Xtra is an associate member of the bfa.

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