Franchise Players is Entrepreneur's Q&A interview column that puts the spotlight on franchisees. If you're a franchisee with advice and tips to share, email firstname.lastname@example.org.
They fell in love in Iraq, of all places. She was with the Air Force Reserves; he was an Army soldier on his second deployment. Then these two newlyweds, JD and Britney Lott, came home to Lubbock, Texas, where they bought a Little Gym franchise, offering healthy activity for children. Little Gym proved a good choice, considering Britney's background in gymnastics and dance. For new franchisees, the company through December is also offering a 50 percent discount off the franchise fee to former active duty vets. And their new lives were, and are, oh so different from Iraq. "It’s so enjoyable to daily watch children grow and develop," JD says today. Of course there was also that annoying little issue with management: As JD puts it: "People in the military respond differently to leadership than do college students!"
Name(s): JD and Britney Lott
Franchise: The Little Gym, in Lubbock, Texas
How long have you owned a franchise?
(JD responds) Britney and I opened The Little Gym of Lubbock nearly four years ago.
The thing that piqued my interest about franchising is that it would provide me the tools to learn how to operate a business. I’ve always been entrepreneurially focused, and a franchise would allow me to "cut my teeth" by owning and operating a business, and shorten the learning curve, allowing us to achieve financial success a little more quickly.
Thankfully, with a lot of hard work and some tremendous support from The Little Gym, we became profitable in our first fiscal year of operation.
What were you doing before you became a franchise owner?
Britney and I met in Iraq. She was on a six-month deployment with the Air Force Reserves, and I was on a 12-month deployment as an active duty soldier, that being my second deployment to Iraq. I had previously spent 15 months there on another deployment, and this would finish my enlisted four-year active duty tenure.
We married after my return, and returned to Lubbock, Texas. After the military, I made short work of my remaining university coursework, and we started looking towards our next step.
Why did you choose this particular franchise?
We considered a multitude of different options to pursue after college: law school, master’s programs; finding a job in the corporate arena; doing something ourselves. I didn’t want to get into the corporate framework, which, in my mind, at least, is comprised of living to work, then retiring, hopefully with benefits!
Britney and I wanted a sense of community, being active, connecting with other people and having a great environment in which to work; and we wanted more control. We wanted work to not seem like work.
Don’t get me wrong: While those were our ideals, managing employees and the various facets of owning and operating a business are work, but at least I’m in control of the environment/culture, and more importantly to me, my own success.
Also, Britney had worked at a Little Gym in San Antonio while in college. She mentioned how much fun her work was and her love for the job. She suggested it as an option and we went down the “rabbit hole.”
How much would you estimate you spent before you were officially open for business?
All in all, including the franchise territory fee, training events, equipment package, furniture and office equipment, it was approximately $175,000.
Where did you get most of your advice/do most of your research?
First, we did our own research on the company. I realized The Little Gym had a proven concept and that there was a void in my area for the high quality of program it offered. After meeting the members of the support team during Discovery Day and talking with other owners, it just seemed like the positive, fun environment I wanted for myself. I spoke to several owners, both successful and not-so-successful, in order to get the best picture of what it would be like to own a The Little Gym.
Britney and I continued to discuss everything we learned and determined that we thought the business would work for us. Once we committed, The Little Gym International’s (TLGI) franchise team provided great advice and recommendations to help us become more educated and prepared. We studied the demographics of the area, made conservative estimates (preparing for the worst-case scenario) and considered the number of children in the area.
What were the most unexpected challenges of opening your franchise?
After talking to owners of various different businesses throughout the years, I would say that staffing continues to pop up as a challenge. We now have a viable and consistent staffing strategy.
For me, there was a significant learning curve to managing employees. People in the military respond differently to leadership than do college students -- one of the incredibly valuable lessons I’ve been able to learn through owning this business.
For example, we hired someone right away to be a part of our team and attend the various pre-opening training events, but she just wasn’t the right fit. Just before we opened, our “Fast Start” trainer recommended we let her go. We decided not to, but she ended up quitting three months later.
With this franchise, I didn’t have to focus on time-intensive things like creating marketing pieces or a website, distracting myself from the operation of the business. I was able to focus on the business and the lessons I could learn to make it better.
What advice do you have for individuals who want to own their own franchise?
Do research. Timing is everything to the success of a business. Make sure the market is ready for a product or service. Educate yourself to minimize the risk of the unknown. If you are fearful or anxious about something, that comes from a lack of knowledge. Don’t just avoid that red flag; be aware and let it lead you to a solution.
It’s better to have gone after something you’ve desired and fail at it than to never attempt to pursue a dream. Life provides continual lessons, especially in failure. We must be sensitive to them and use them to make us better.
What’s next for you and your business?
I didn’t expect this business to be such an enriching and life changing experience for me when we started.
At first I was focused on making the business profitable, but really that was easily accomplished with the guidance of the franchise support team. What I found after getting under way was that the real relationships that we were creating with the families in our community were so fantastic. Our environment is fun, positive, and nurturing for the children. It’s so enjoyable to daily watch children grow and develop.
This is a far stretch from my time in the military, which I truly appreciated, but it is a place that I’m excited to come to on a daily basis. This is a business about relationships: building, growing, and maintaining wonderful connections with the broad spectrum of different people we have the privilege of connecting with, and I love it!
Moving forward, I’d like to keep operating The Little Gym and use the lessons I’ve learned to pursue additional business opportunities in the future. There are still so many lessons to learn, I want to keep learning and keep making it better.
In my mind, there are different phases of operating a business: start-up, optimization and maintenance. Currently we are in the optimization phase, so my goals now are to make it run well by placing the appropriate team members where they need to go, and focusing on improving marketing and training strategies. The storm of opening has passed, and we are trying to trim the sails for maximum speed -- revenue!