Becoming a mother changed everything for Fiona Simpson, founder and managing director of ARTventurers, the children’s arts-class franchise. Having established a career as a family lawyer, her priorities changed with the birth of her two kids. “Instead I wanted to do something more flexible that I could fit around my children,” she says. Drawing inspiration from playing with her son and daughter, Simpson realised that there was a gap in the market for fun art classes where parents could be creative with their kids. Not one to rest on her laurels, Simpson founded ARTventurers in 2009 to bridge that gap. “Did I think it would become as it big as it is today?” she says. “No. I actually believed I’d eventually return to the law once my kids became older.” However, as the company grew in popularity she realised that her days as a lawyer were over.
But her success didn’t happen by itself: Simpson invested a lot of time and effort in spreading the gospel about ARTventurers. “I’m a big a believer in getting out there and speaking to people face to face,” she says. “No one can communicate your passion for your company the way you can.” So instead of posting messages on Facebook and Twitter, Simpson went old school in her marketing efforts. Armed with leaflets, she championed her venture at baby shows, playgroups and spoke with other new parents. And given how quickly her customer base grew, Simpson’s efforts certainly paid off. The experience also taught her a lesson she’s more than willing to share with her franchisees today: move beyond marketing your brand on social media. “You can do a lot behind a keyboard but it doesn’t beat meeting your customers in person,” she says. “Obviously our classes are brilliant but parents also buy into the person running the classes. They need to know, trust and relate to them.”
By 2013 the business’s growing popularity left Simpson with a challenge: finding a way to scale things up to meet the demand. “People had begun to talk to me about franchising,” she says. “However, I wasn’t entirely sure if that was the right route for us.” To assure herself of the viability of her model, she decided initially to license the ARTventurers brand to three mothers. This provided the licensees with the freedom to try out new things and their feedback gave Simpson the essential insight she needed to perfect her franchise before it launched. “This made me confident that franchising could work and showed me how much support and guidance franchisees would need,” she says. Having launched the licensing model in early 2014, Simpson felt ready to take the full step into franchising by the summer of 2015.
While her experiment with licensing had prepared her exceptionally well for this next step, Simpson recognised that transforming ARTventurers into a franchise could still be a challenging endeavour and enlisted the help of a franchise consultant to help her refine the model. “He really helped me pull everything out of my head and turn it into a proper franchise package,” she says. With the guidance of the consultant, Simpson was able to not only perfect her operations manual but also to get all the legal documentation out of the way. “However, the biggest benefit was that he helped everything move along much quicker,” she says. “He pushed me to produce everything by certain deadlines.” And in August 2015, ARTventures became the UK’s newest playtime franchise.