From play assistant at 17 to the first franchisee, Ryan Turner helped define Fun Fest

As Fun Fest's first franchisee and now a director, Ryan Turner worked with his franchisor to hash out the franchise model of the business he'd been part of since his teens

From play assistant at 17 to the first franchisee

Ryan Turner never set out to become the first franchisee of a children’s holiday franchise. Neither did he imagine himself ending up becoming a Fun Fest director. In fact, all he originally set out to do was to earn some extra money during his psychology studies at The Nottingham Trent University at the age of 17. “I actually started out working as a play assistant when it first set up in Solihull,” he recalls. But having gone on a journey that saw him become the head of the network’s Sutton branch, he has seen a side to the business many people don’t while playing a key role in the direction Fun Fest and its network of 18 clubs took.

Even though he didn’t set out to make it his career, Turner found himself being promoted again and again – first from play assistant to play leader and then deputy manager of Fun Fest Solihull before becoming manager of the company’s second site in Sutton. This meant he got to know Sarah Beattie, founder and managing director of Fun Fest, quite well. “I was a part of the company and knew Sarah from the offset so that gave me the opportunities and contacts to work my way up as it grew,” Turner says.

Having noticed how more parents were looking for holiday experiences for their children, it didn’t take Turner long after landing the promotion in Sutton to seek more direct ownership. “It was at that point where I said to Sarah ‘What are the opportunities in terms of taking this one on myself?'” he says. Franchising wasn’t at the tip of his tongue then but when Beattie came back with research showing it to be a great model for delegation, everything fell into place. “She knew someone who wrote a book actually in the sector and got him along [to provide] some inside knowledge and a bit of expertise and said ‘Yeah, basically, we’re looking at you [to become] our first franchisee,'” Turner remembers. Although he peeked at alternatives, Turner “never seriously considered going elsewhere” and became Fun Fest’s first franchisee at the age of 25 in 2014.

While Fun Fest’s franchisor had done some research before transforming the business into a franchise, Turner was very much a guinea pig testing how it would run. “[We] were creating [a lot of documents] as we went along because we were problem-solving and recognising what we needed,” he says. From rental agreements to operations manuals, Turner was at the forefront with his franchisor when hashing out the essentials. His experience also meant he was perfectly placed to help create the training for future franchisees. “I had more experience than anyone else because I grew up with Fun Fest from the first day it started,” he says. “Now, we put on website training and Ofsted training to grow the franchisees which were all things I knew as part of the role before I started.” Today, that makes Turner the network’s go-to for website training.

The foundations were laid for Turner and Fun Fest to burst onto the franchising scene. “It was an immediate success,” he recalls of the opening day of his franchise. It goes without saying Turner found marketing the business a breeze. It certainly helped that the franchise was ideally placed. “It was in a great area with great schools that really had a massive demand for the product and therefore was a good success from the off,” Turner says.”

But Turner wasn’t the only one with his finger on the pulse. “Sarah is very self-conscious and very protective of Fun Fest as her creation, her baby, and is very wary of people taking that on and I think she feels quite responsible for it,” he explains. It’s something Turner’s grateful for as it’s meant he’s had the franchisor’s support from the beginning. “It felt there was a real warmth and community of franchisors and people around to help me get prepared for things like the Ofsted process, for example, or when unusual queries came up from customers,” he says. “They’re always willing to help which was really comforting, especially as a young and inexperienced franchisee.”

Having added opening a second club in the same Sutton territory, acquiring the title of director and producing the highest franchisee turnover to his list of Fun Fest accomplishments, Turner is definitely happy about becoming a play assistant all those years ago as it led him to his current position within the network. “I think [for] a lot of people, especially at that young age, their lives are often moulded around a career path, around having to work very hard almost always but within quite strict parameters,” he opines. “Becoming a franchisee gives you so much more independence.” And there’s room for even more excitement for Turner, as he envisages the fresh young bucks from Fun Fest’s expanding network may one day give him a run for his money. “I like the competition,” he concludes. “I think it’s healthy. So now with all these new very good, very adept franchisees coming on board, I feel the need to try and up my game further.””

Angus Shaw
Angus Shaw