Explore five franchises offering activities for children to exercise and play
By Georgie Binks
Parents know the importance of giving kids outlets for creative play and exercise. For an entrepreneur, a franchise that offers this outlet can be a rewarding way to build a successful and purpose-driven business. From swimming lessons to dramatic arts to sports, we take a look at franchise brands across the country that have made it their mission to get kids moving.
There’s no better sound than the pitter-patter of little feet—unless it’s the splish-splashing of little feet. Just ask Shawn Goldmintz, the president and part-owner of Water Babies in Canada. Goldmintz, who was previously a commercial lawyer, was so impressed with Water Babies’ teacher training, he brought the British-based business to Canada in 2016. Two years later, he started franchising it.
He says the brand’s biggest benefit is that you’re helping people every day. “You feel really good about what you do.”
Water Babies teaches swimming and water safety skills to children right from birth to age five. “Our classes are taught with a carer in the water with each child, which provides an incredible opportunity for families to bond,” Goldmintz says. “We’re different because we’ve developed a program that allows children to learn swimming skills at earlier ages, and we invest a lot of time training our teachers.”
He adds, “Our franchises aren’t small businesses the way people think. If you run your franchise properly, you’re going to have 500 to 600 students, and four to six pools, with $1 million in revenue.”
Classes are delivered in pool facilities with flexible hourly contracts, keeping overhead costs down. Goldmintz says this helped quite a bit during the pandemic. “We weren’t carrying these huge leases which made it easier for us to weather the storm.”
The biggest challenge during the past two years was pandemic closures. “Any time we were open, we experienced massive growth, which made the following shutdowns and restrictions all the more frustrating.”
Water Babies has four franchises in the Toronto area and is looking to move into urban and suburban areas across Canada, with an eye on Calgary or Ottawa next.
An ideal franchisee needs a good work ethic, is able to pitch in at any time, and willing to follow the Water Babies system. Goldmintz says, “Work hard and take care of the people around you and everything else will fall into place.”
Little Yogis Academy
What could be cuter than a child holding a yoga pose? Hundreds of little kids in yoga poses. And that’s what Michelle Faber, the founder of Little Yogis Academy, introduced to Canada when she launched her business in 2019. She began franchising in 2022.
“Our tagline is ‘Positivity & Movement for Busy Minds’ as we aim to improve physical, mental, and emotional health through our curriculum,” says Faber. “We partner with schools, childcare centers, non-profit, and for-profit organizations to improve the health and wellness of communities. We’ve taken all the benefits that yoga provides and crafted a fun and memorable experience that children love.”
She adds, “With children’s mental health and wellbeing at the forefront post-COVID, now’s the time to launch a children’s program that focuses on the tools to help children thrive.”
The pandemic has been a challenge for Little Yogis franchisees. “Most of our business depended on access to schools, childcares, and community centres for in-person instruction,” explains Faber. “We quickly adapted and transformed our curriculum for virtual instruction. We were still able to teach our students via a screen or smartboard in the classroom. COVID also allowed us to expand our reach into global markets.”
The ideal franchisee is passionate about yoga and mindfulness practices for children, organized and business-savvy, and positive and driven to succeed.
Little Yogis Academy provides four days of training for franchisees and their business partners. Franchisees always have access to their Little Yogis Academy Business Coach.
Faber concludes, “If you’re passionate, driven, and want to succeed, then your business will grow. All you need is a love for yoga and children. With the right mentors and time dedicated to growing your business, success will be inevitable.”
British Swim School
Whether you’re three months or 60 years old, British Swim School is a learn-to-swim provider that wants everyone to get their feet wet. Ashley Gundlach, president of British Swim School, explains that under the brand’s unique program, students learn first how to survive a water accident, then move on to more advanced stroke development skills.
Under the brand’s model, rather than owning costly pool facilities, franchisees “partner with pool facilities in their neighborhood, typically hotels, fitness centers, and retirement communities,” Gundlach says.
The franchise began in Manchester, England in the early 1980s and began franchising in 2011 in North America. Gundlach says, “One of our key differentiators is our ability to launch new franchisees quickly, given the unique nature of our model—typically in less than 120 days. Our key areas of focus this year include supporting our franchisees’ hiring efforts, adjusting our training flow to account for virtual learning, and ensuring our technology is top-notch to meet the expectations of our consumers.”
The franchise shut down temporarily in 2020 but was able to quickly re-open in most parts of North America. “We knew that, pandemic or not, kids and adults need to learn how to swim.” Gundlach says that since reopening, the majority of franchisees have met or exceeded their pre-pandemic performance.
The ideal franchisee is determined and focused. An aquatics background is not required, and new owners are assigned a business coach to support them as they open and ensure the health of their business going forward.
“We often talk about the quality of having grit and a willingness to solve problems, even when they require creative solutions,” says Gundlach. Potential franchisees are encouraged to use the team’s support and “maintain an entrepreneurial spirit when they encounter challenges.”
Most importantly, she says, “Our franchise gives owners the opportunity to make a living and drive financial independence, while also making a meaningful difference in their communities.”
Little Kickers—what a descriptive and fitting name for a franchise that teaches kids soccer skills along with other life skills! The franchise began in the U.K. in 2002, and arrived in Canada in 2009. There are now 54 franchise units in Ontario, B.C., Alberta, and Manitoba, with a total of 300 worldwide.
Frank Stanschus, managing director in Canada, says, “The brand was built around a ‘fun first’ attitude.” The Little Kickers philosophy is to educate kids not only in how to play soccer but in other vital early learning areas. That’s why, Stanschus says, experts in child development as well as qualified soccer coaches helped develop the brand’s programmes, creating methods “that would deliver high quality soccer skills, combined with important pre-school learning concepts such as colour and number recognition, sharing, and following instructions, all while using their imagination.”
During the pandemic, like many other service industry businesses, he says, “we were hit very hard, being shut down for many months. Overall, the key lesson for all of us has been resilience, resolve, and a focus on resurgence. We’re starting to feel more positive about a post-pandemic future. I think our main lesson has been the old cliché: ‘we are stronger together’.”
An ideal franchisee loves the idea of giving kids an opportunity to participate in high quality, fun programs that are tailor-made to their age group. Franchisees typically have skills in one or more aspects required in running a business, and love the idea of being part of their local community.
There’s a four-day initial start-up training period as well as ongoing training for franchisees.
Stanschus says, “Our customers—parents and children—can tell when our franchisees are really engaged and love our business. So, all the qualifications in the world can’t help if the franchisee’s heart isn’t in it.”
Stagecoach Theatre Arts
If you’ve ever wanted to be that person who says, “Kid: I’m going to make you a star,” being a franchisee with U.K.-based Stagecoach Performing Arts may be just for you.
Lauren Goddard, marketing manager for the franchise, explains that Stagecoach franchisees manage performing arts schools alongside teams of experts who teach children and teenagers how to sing, dance, and act. The franchise inspires students with its program called Creative Courage For Life®.
The franchise began in 1988 in the U.K. and now has more than 300 franchisees worldwide, 11 of which are in Canada.
One of the key areas that sets Stagecoach apart from others in the market is the support offered to franchisees, says Goddard, adding, “To help franchisees overcome the impacts of the pandemic, we launched stagecoachathome to offer parents an online streaming service to keep their children entertained and engaged with singing, acting, and dancing. We also created a digital toolkit for franchisees to share across their online channels, including emails and social media templates they could personalise.”
Goddard says franchisees can run their businesses alongside other commitments, making for a great part-time franchise opportunity.
She says, “We look for franchisees who are passionate about performing arts, children’s education, and building their own business. Not everyone has experience in each of these areas, so we fill in any gaps in their knowledge with our comprehensive training program.”
Goddard explains, “If you’re looking for the freedom to fit a business around your life, while gaining financial independence, have a passion for helping children grow and develop into well-rounded individuals with the skills to tackle life’s ups and downs, and you have a passion for all things performance—then Stagecoach is for you.”