July/August 2018

Child’s Play

Kids today have so many technology-based distractions at the ready, but it’s still vital to their development that they regularly participate in physical activity. The following five franchises are making it easy for parents to encourage this exercise, by providing unique, fun, and engaging ways for youngsters to get outside the house and get moving.

Adventure Facility Franchising (Funtopia)

Funtopia, the family-oriented recreation concept that started in Bulgaria a few years ago, and has since spread to the United States, Australia, and Israel, is expanding to the Canadian market. The active entertainment franchise is currently working on implementing new locations in Canada, says Marketing Manager Zarko Drljaca.

“One of Funtopia’s main strengths is its capacity to appeal to an extremely wide array of people. We strive to offer something for everyone, regardless of age or skill level,” says Drljaca. All activities involve both mental and physical challenges, and can be adapted for groups and teams.

Each Funtopia location is unique, designed to make best use of the physical space. There may be funwalls, ninja or rope courses, caving systems, trampolines – but no gaming systems. Funtopia encourages people to unplug from screens and to “Have Fun, Be Active.”

The Canadian market is wide open, but Funtopia will initially focus on cities with a population of 250,000 or more. The ideal franchisee has a business or entrepreneurial background, and enjoys working in a family-oriented environment. The company provides thorough training in all aspects, from preliminary planning to everyday operations, as well as hiring and training of staff – which Drljaca cites as one of the main challenges of running this franchise.

“Aside from running a lucrative business, it is very fulfilling and rewarding to contribute to the well-being and healthy development of kids and families,” says Drljaca. To help get those families in the door, the franchise provides a complete and efficient marketing program with materials that are constantly updated.

Goldfish Swim School

Goldfish Swim School specializes in swimming and water safety lessons for children aged four months to 12 years. Lesson are delivered in a “tropical environment” year-round, in purpose-built facilities with a Hawaiian beach house feel.

The brand has taken everything that science says is the ideal way for kids to learn, and has developed lessons rooted in The Science of SwimPlay®, says CEO Chris McCuiston, who founded the company with his wife Jenny in Michigan in 2006. “Swimming is one of the best ways to stay active. Through swim, we’re giving kids exactly what they need to boost cognitive development and critical life skills in and out of the water.”

Target franchise locations are markets that have more than 15,000 children within a 15-minute drive. The first Canadian franchise opened in Oakville, Ontario in November 2017, and McCuiston predicts the brand will grow quickly.

Ideal franchise owners have strong sales and customer service skills, are effective communicators who can motivate employees of all ages, are passionate about teaching children how to swim and to be safer in and around the water, and are driven to succeed while following the Goldfish Swim School systems.

“We provide complete training and support every step of the way, from site selection, design and construction, and our comprehensive Goldfish University training program, to local and regional marketing support, pre-opening support, and training on-site at new locations. We know the importance of setting our franchisees up for success,” says McCuiston. “Once open, our franchise team continues weekly calls with each franchisee, and visits individual locations at least four times per year to coach, retrain, and ensure we are providing the safest environment around.”

Little Kickers

Little Kickers started in the United Kingdom in 2002, when Christine Kelly couldn’t find pre-school ‘football’ (soccer) classes for her son, and decided to run them herself. The business grew quickly, expanding across 25 countries, and arriving in Canada in 2009. By 2017, more than 10,000 kids were attending Little Kickers classes in Canada every week over the summer.

The program blends physical activity with early learning education goals. It’s aligned with Canada’s Long Term Athlete Development model, and uses FUNdamental building blocks that enable each child to learn at his or her own pace. The franchise offers thorough initial training, followed up with ongoing support calls and online forums.

“Every business owner needs drive, determination, and to be a self-starter,” says Little Kickers Canada CEO Frank Stanschus. “Our best franchisees understand that our business is about making our customers – parents and their children – happy. They are passionate about our brand, and what it stands for, and constantly strive to make the company, not just their own franchise, better.”

There are common challenges to running any businesses, says Stanschus, “How do I manage cash flow? How do I attract and retain great staff?” One particular challenge comes when a franchise starts to grow, and the owner’s role shifts.

“Franchisees need to analyze data, manage teams of coaches, and they need to delegate. Our support function at head office understands that this transition can be a big change, and offers tools and processes to help franchisees along this journey. We have started working with an HR consultancy to help all of our franchisees with the complexities of HR law, and also support franchisees individually to tailor support to their own specific needs.”

Play It Again Sports

Keeping growing kids in sports equipment can be an expensive undertaking, which is one of the reasons why Play It Again Sports, which opened 35 years ago, continues to be a thriving retail concept.

“Play It Again Sports combines quality used and brand name new sporting goods, which makes us unique in the sporting goods industry, and provides a concept that is recession-proof,” says Franchise Director Patrick Quinn.

Perhaps the biggest challenge for franchisees is acquiring quality used sports gear to resell. “At times, our customers believe our stores have a warehouse where they go and pick up more quality gear every day. But the fact is, our quality used sports gear comes directly from our customers.” Stores buy quality used sports equipment, all day, every day, from their local community to keep up with the demand.

There are franchise opportunities available across Canada, with the ideal candidate being someone with a passion for sports, who is involved in the local community, and who can follow the brand model. “First and foremost, they must be financially qualified to open and successfully operate the business,” says Quinn. “They do not need to have retail or business experience, as these topics and more will be part of the training and support that we provide.”

On an ongoing basis, regional operation managers are assigned to provide small business consultation to each region’s stores, and regionally-based meetings focus on operations and products. There’s also an annual system-wide conference and tradeshow, where franchisees attend and learn about best practices and new ideas from their peers, along with corporate initiatives.

Quinn advises new franchisees to follow the Play It Again Sports ‘Best Practices’ and to learn and use the many tools and programs that the company has developed.  “They are designed to help franchisees achieve their business goals.”


Carmella and Mark Gelgor drew on their education and business experience, along with their passion for playing a variety of sports, when they established Sportball in 1995. The multi-sport concept develops children’s physical literacy by offering methodology-based, developmentally-appropriate, non-competitive sports instruction for children from 16 months to 12 years of age. The company has its own coach certification process that ensures uniformity of excellence in teaching at the almost 900 Sportball locations across Canada, as well as at international branches in the U.S. and Singapore.

Winnipeg and secondary markets across the country have been targeted for new Canadian Sportball locations. The ideal Sportball franchisee will be an innovative and entrepreneurially minded owner-operator who is interested in working with the community, and who possesses leadership capabilities and a strong work ethic. A thorough onboarding process is supplemented by on-site visits by the franchise training team, webinars, and access to an intranet site that hosts all of Sportball’s proprietary information.

The franchise has embraced technology, empowering franchisees to better build their businesses with an e-commerce driven website and the ability to track marketing initiatives across social media platforms. “We have an open-door communication policy, from owners and operators to staff at headquarters, who are always available and personally invested in the success of our franchisees,” says Carmella.

To be successful, she advises franchisees, “Be clear about your goals, apply a focused approach to all you do, remain hands-on, systemize your operation, and live the brand!”

By Kym Wolfe

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