Former fitness coach Kirk Bowyer and his wife Clare founded Mini Athletics after spotting a massive gap in the market around sport classes for tiny tots
From Serena Williams and Andy Murray to Laura Kenny (nee Trott) and Rebecca Adlington, many successful athletes have proven how essential it is to exercise from early-on. And whether one has the ambition to be an athlete or not – playing sports and having an active lifestyle has immense advantages. And this is what drove Kirk Bowyer and his wife Clare to launch Mini Athletics, the athletics teaching franchise for children between two and seven years old.
However, it wasn’t always his plan to spearhead a sports training franchise. The idea came only when Bowyer saw a dearth in children’s classes. Looking back, he was a strength and conditioning coach for teens with experience in training professional football and tennis players for 15 years. After he and Clare had their first child, he noticed there just weren’t any sports classes for his son to join. “[I] was keen to enhance his athleticism [and] sporting participation and Clare wanted him to build his confidence, social and cognitive skills,” he recalls. That’s when the two had their eureka moment and co-created the franchise in 2016. “There were many classes in football, rugby and dance etcetera but none in athletics,” he adds. Indeed, with franchises like Mini Professors, Water Babies and babyballet among others, the market for children’s learning has seen a slew of companies trying to disrupt the sector. Hence it’s easy to see why Bowyer is bullish about scaling Mini Athletics.
While Bowyer had a unique idea, it was far from easy to get the company off the ground during the infancy stages. Moreover, it took the couple circa six months to get the training programmes in order, plan the lessons and formulate the branding. “This was a new concept so we were unsure whether we would get any success,” he says. And, Bowyer didn’t stop after improving the business model and the classes. He even started providing after-school clubs and hosting birthday parties which helped build his client base.
However, in terms of scaling the brand, Bowyer knew he wanted to franchise from the get-go so more business owners could work at times suitable to their family life. This is because he personally saw how difficult it was to balance a nine-to-five job with giving enough time to young children. “When Clare was working full-time as a primary school teacher, the hours were significantly high,” he remembers. “For example, she would get to school at 8am and return at 5pm. She would then make dinner, put the children to bed and then continue with planning and marking in the evening. I was also working considerable hours and travelling a [lot]. Therefore, we wanted to create a business that worked for parents. Something that allowed them to work around their family commitments as opposed to fitting their family commitments around their work.”
As a result, he built a franchise model conducive to having a work-life balance. “We wanted to create an ethical franchise model,” he declares. To ensure he gets fitting franchisees, it was imperative to prove the business first. “To that extent, we ran a pilot franchise in Cambridge and Saffron Walden from 2016 [to] 2017,” he adds. “We wanted to see if the business worked i.e. whether it was profitable, popular and a business that would work for others.” Fortunately, the results surpassed his expectations.
One of the challenges that Bowyer faced after proving the business model was to attract clients. During the initial days, Bowyer capitalised on social media platforms to spread the word about the company. And he was “absolutely inundated with enquiries for our first class.” Furthermore, he invited his friends and family to come for the classes and realised the power of word of mouth. “This was handy for our launch because they told their friends and so on,” he says. To add on that, he also used the archetypal method of giving out leaflets and putting up posters. All these efforts helped him spread the word about the classes throughout the UK. Consequently, his franchisees had the opportunity to leverage the brand name. “We’re now becoming a national brand so franchisees are finding marketing easier and easier,” he says.
Indeed, the franchise is on an uphill trajectory on the scale of success. And the success of the franchise is evident by looking at the escalating number of franchisees. In fact, one of the pilot franchisees who was a former customer continues to be loyal to the brand today. “Around one year following the launch of our pilot, one of the Mini Athlete’s mothers, Hayley Jackson, came to speak with me after the class,” Bowyer recalls. “She said that she was due to return to teaching after maternity leave but didn’t want to go back. She asked [us] whether there were any opportunities.” And after trialling the Mini Athletics pilot franchise, there was clearly no going back for Jackson.
Inevitably, to be able to cash in on the franchise, potential franchisees are expected to have a few essential qualities before they’re taken on. While a sports coaching background or business experience isn’t necessary, being passionate about training children is. “The most important quality is being enthusiastic about enhancing athleticism and helping children achieve their early learning goals,” Bowyer says. “Our franchisees are incredibly enthusiastic about [accomplishing that.]”
And, Bowyer clearly takes pride in his current network of franchisees. With 19 franchisees already, the number will increase to 23 in September this year after the launch of four new territories. His main goal is to expand across the UK and Ireland with ambitions to go global as well.
Looking at the passion he harbours to get children moving and help them to develop physical as well as social skills, the sky is the limit for the Mini Athletics franchise. And Bowyer is set to change lives of children globally. “We want to inspire children across the world,” he concludes.