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How One Entrepreneur Has Built A Multi-Unit, Multi-Brand Empire In Youth Sports With Brittany Bennett

by | Oct 2, 2023 | Podcast

FM 3 | Youth Athletes United

 

Success in youth sports isn’t just about scoring goals; it’s about finding the right team, nurturing passion, and creating champions in life. Join us as Brittany Bennett takes us through her journey of building a multi-unit, multi-brand empire under the Youth Athletes United franchise platform. Brittany shares her and her husband’s story, from their humble beginnings as personal trainers striving to make ends meet to becoming a dynamic force in the youth sports industry. She reveals her strategies for finding the perfect coaches, scaling a business empire, and more! Tune in now to learn, be inspired, and embrace the power of passion, hard work, and unwavering dedication in the world of youth sports.

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How One Entrepreneur Has Built A Multi-Unit, Multi-Brand Empire In Youth Sports With Brittany Bennett

In this episode, I’m joined by Brittany Bennett who is a multi-brand franchisee under the Youth Athletes United flagship. Brittany owns Amazing Athletes, Soccer Stars, Little Rookies, and Karate Zoo. They are all unique, non-brick-and-mortar-based businesses that work with kids of all ages. We’ll dig into a little bit of that. Brittany, welcome to the show. Thanks for joining us.

Thank you for having me.

You’re busy running three different businesses. You’ve got four kids and a dog. How do you balance all that stuff?

I have a lot of spreadsheets. I am very organized in most areas of my life. I color-code most things and I am very forward-thinking. I like to start with the end in mind and think backward about what I’m going to need by this certain time. I also have a lot of help. I don’t do it alone. That’s the key. I don’t balance it. We do.

You felt like one of the good moves that you’d made early on was you were able to recruit some key employees who have been cornerstones in your operation over the years. That is a topic that we can dig into in terms of how you know when you’re interviewing these prospective employees where you can see potential in them that sometimes the employees don’t realize that they have and then how you can onboard, keep, retain, and help them grow with the company and all that kind of stuff. Before we get into all that, I want to understand how you got into franchising and what it was that inspired you to start building your business.

It’s a cool story so I’m glad we’re starting here. For the last couple of years, I was a personal trainer. I lived inside gyms, mostly boutique gyms. I would have maybe about 30 people in group fitness classes only. When I say personal trainer, I should rephrase to group fitness trainer. During my time in the gym, one of my clients came up to me and said, “I own a preschool. I would love for you to come and do a kids’ fitness boot camp at my school.” I was like, “Sure.”

At this time, I had two children and I was divorced. I went over and found out quickly that I was good at it. I was good with kids, probably from having my own, and I also saw there was financial potential. It was very fruitful. I was there for 30 minutes. At that time in my life, I made over $100 for 30 minutes. I was like, “This is great the more kids I get.” It was a per-child thing so I said, “Maybe I could scale this a little bit.”

I started to try to create my brand. I reversed a little bit within that school. They also lost their soccer coach. It was their son who moved to school. They asked me, “Can you come teach a soccer class?” I found out not too long ago how a soccer game started so I knew nothing about soccer at all, only enough to teach a preschooler. I would educate myself and google things. I would teach myself and ask around.

I grew a little bit within that one school. I would try to create my brand from there and my flyers. I kept going to square one. I found out pretty quickly that most other areas of the business, I wasn’t versed in. Although I did graduate college with a business degree, I found that my gift was working with children and having health and fitness as a pillar in my life. I switched out of the gym and set it into an in-home personal training.

I walked through an Amazing Athletes class that was being held by Mark Ebbing, the Southern Palm Beach Amazing Athletes owner. I was like, “This looks similar to what I’m already doing over at this one preschool.” I grabbed a flyer and held onto it in that messy closet of mine. I then met my husband. I was blown away by his gift of the ability to work with children.

He was a server at a restaurant. He still is there. It has been a couple of years at the same restaurant in Delray Beach on The Ave. I pulled out that flyer and said, “What do you think about this?” I was killing myself, waking up at 4:00 AM, personal training clients in the gym, teaching classes all day, picking the kids up from school, doing homework to leave them again to go back to the gym, getting home, and working from 4:00 AM probably until 9:00 or 10:00 at night.

He was like, “Show me what you do.” I invited him to a class at that one preschool and the kids loved him. He was the goalie and he fell asleep inside the goal. The kids wanted to go kick the ball. He’d wake up and growl at them. They thought he was Blippy. I don’t think Blippy was around at that point. They thought he was phenomenal. The rest is history.

We called the number on the flyer, Janee Henderson, the Creator of Amazing Athletes. This was in 2019. I’ll add a little thing in there too. My daughter, Haley, was born in January of 2019. I already had my two children from the previous marriage and they were in elementary school. We started in February of 2019. I had a baby and then I had another baby. That’s pretty much the beginning of this journey.

What was that like? Typically, they say one major life event at a time but you went all in.

I have a problem. I might be addicted to busyness. Honestly, I knew it was my life’s purpose and my husband’s too at that point to reach children through the use of sports. We were teaching them how to use sports as a foundation, that they were fun, and to not be intimidated by things like a lacrosse stick, a tennis racket, or a golf club, although it can get a little dangerous with a lot of three-year-olds in golf clubs. They may be intimidated by that.

FM 3 | Youth Athletes United

Youth Athletes United: Use sports as a foundation that they are fun and don’t be intimidated by things like lacrosse. stick or a tennis racket and a golf club.

 

Honestly, I stayed home with the baby and he went up to New York for training. I have my mother-in-law here who is a big pillar in our life support. I have my teenagers who were younger at the time but they helped quite a bit with the baby. I would pop her in the car and we’d go school-to-school. He’d stay in the car with the baby. I’d go and do my sales thing. I’d get back in and feed her on the way to the next school. We like to do things. My husband and I climbed the Grand Teton. That’s where he proposed in Jackson Hole, Wyoming. It was the hardest thing I’ve ever done in my life. I look at that experience that I went through and I’m like, “If I could do that, I feel like I could do anything.” It was difficult.

It’s interesting you say that because life’s a journey. Business ownership is a journey. Everything’s a journey. No matter how you try to plan it out as perfectly as you can, there’s never a perfect time to do anything big in life to make the leap, jump in, and trust yourself. It sounds like you have prepared yourself very well for this type of business. You’ve been familiar with it. You’ve been following it. You’ve been in it.

There's never a perfect time to do anything big in life. Click To Tweet

It sounds like you’ve built a strong connection to a personal mission that you found through this of connecting with kids and helping kids learn life through sports and making an impact in their lives through what you’ve been able to do. Everything builds upon itself. Every little event in our life, if you look for it, the dots can be connected to be ready to jump on an opportunity, even if it’s not maybe the ideal time when opportunities present themselves, which is usually when they do present themselves. Well done.

Thank you. Going back to the beginning of the journey a little bit more, there is a point in life where having too many irons and a fire is not good. I used to call myself a jack of all trades, master of none. I would go from place to place. I worked at the YMCA, teaching deep water aqua boot camp. That was one outfit. I’d then go inside and assist a sensei with her class. She owned a karate and kickboxing school. She would come and do what we’re doing and bring her services to the kids at the Y. That was another outfit.

I went to a real estate office and helped with their marketing. That was another outfit. I am a mom. I pick the kids up. That’s another outfit, another hat, or however you want to put it. I thought, at that time in my life, that it was a bad thing but I look back and I see how it’s helped me to have the confidence to start karate or go out on a limb and do soccer when I knew nothing about it. It worked. I connected the dots, looked back, and went, “That’s why I was doing all those things.”

It’s interesting what you said about feeling like you were the jack of all trades and master of none. Was there something that changed or something that happened? You have those moments of clarity. Those are some of those defining moments where your mindset shifts, you connect the dots, or whatever it is. You see things differently. Was there something that happened that you can point back to and say, “My mindset shifted when this thing happened?”

My mindset shifted when I met my husband because I felt the support of not doing it alone anymore and having to wear all those hats by myself. My dad and my husband came with a little bit of the financial portion of things so that helped. I was a little personal trainer trying to make ends meet. That was a big life change or a big crossroad, for sure.

You have expanded your business, which originally started with Amazing Athletes off of a flyer of a class that you walked through. It sounds like that was a moment of, “This is what I’ve been doing. This is what I’ve been envisioning. This is the opportunity that I’ve seen.” What has it been like to expand your business into these different brands as you guys have grown?

It’s exciting and nerve-wracking. I have a lot of wonder and doubt if I’m doing the right thing. Doing it the way that I’m doing it is beneficial because I’ve become my own competition. I also see that our programs, although they bring enriching experiences to the children of the locations that we’re in, can also be a nuisance to the schools because sometimes, they take registration so they have to track registration. It’s an added workload in a sense in many different ways.

When I come to a location and say, “I’ve got these four programs. I hire amazing staff. I’ve got all my I’s dotted and my Ts crossed as far as insurance, background screenings, and all of those things. I have great communication, quality, and curriculum. All of these things that are buttoned up,” it’s allowing me to go deeper rather than wider. I’m a multi-brand and multi-unit owner, which means I own a lot of different ZIP codes. I can go pretty wide. They made up a term for James and myself. They call us MUMBOs, which means Multi-Unit, Multi-Brand Owners. I’ve started a trend.

It makes sense from a strategy standpoint. I make this stuff sound a lot simpler than all the work that went into this but you can bolt on, it seems like, a lot of the additional franchises under the platform to the same preschool. They can offer more value to their kids and the parents that are sending their kids there. You make it easy for them to administer a lot of this stuff internally. You’re able to cross-sell in a way to the clients that you already have at the preschool, which is genius.

Thank you. I don’t know if I’d call myself that but the franchise has evolved and given us these opportunities. It is cool to see how it unfolds and the differences between location to location. What I like about it is that it helps us with retention. Let’s say there is a child who’s been in our program for a few years in Amazing Athletes, for example.

We have this new program and they were maybe getting ready to unenroll because their child’s tired of it because it’s the same old, same old. Although there are ten sports, still, after years of doing it, they might want to try something else. Maybe they found what they liked within that program. It happens all the time. You might see it as robbing Peter to pay Paul but I also see it as customer retention

You can keep those customers happy and keep them in your business, whichever brand they’re a customer of. Are you teaching classes or do you have a team of people that are teaching the classes on a day-to-day basis?

Yes and yes. Our goal is to not be in the field. If I’m out in the field, that means I’m short-staffed or at least short-staffed within that certain time of day. It’s like a puzzle. It’s very tricky. Probably the trickiest part of this whole thing is figuring out who to hire, where they live because we’re all over the map, and how much they’re willing to drive. I teach two classes per week so I’m not doing too bad. They’re both karate classes. That’s been the hardest thing to find as far as senseis go.

I have a lot of people who come with a deep martial arts background but they don’t have that added key element of working with children. They might think they do but they’re very strict and by the book. It’s not what we’re looking for. We want a combination of both. With my husband, I’m trying to think how many times he is out in the field. Maybe it is 3 or 4 times a week at this point. That’s his thing. That’s his superpower. He is getting older though. We do always have the goal of replacing ourselves.

Definitely always have the goal of replacing ourselves. Click To Tweet

It sounds like you’re building towards that. There is no doubt about it. James can be as involved as he’d like to be as you guys continue to grow. It sounds like when you’re hiring your folks, it’s more about attitude, their love for kids, and their ability to connect with kids. It’s not as much about the direct experience that they have in whatever sport it is that they may be teaching classes within. Is that accurate?

Yeah. I always tell all of my staff, “You can cross-train between our programs. You don’t even need to have a martial arts background because we have a curriculum and videos that you watch to teach you what the lesson plan is. I guarantee you that you can do it as long as you can touch your toes. You need to have a little bit of flexibility.”

One of my head soccer coaches teaches karate as well and he does very well at it. We are looking for both but it’s more essential to have the experience of working with children and that element of excitement and enthusiasm. That’s because the children reflect the energy that you bring to the class, for sure, most of the time.

What are some of the things when you’re interviewing potential coaches? Are there some tips and tricks? It sounds like you’ve done a very good job of finding some key people who have stuck with you for a long time, which we can get into. If I’m a new franchisee and I’m thinking about building a team of people in any kind of business, are there some tips that you’ve found over the years through your hiring process, key questions to ask, or whatever it may be that gives you some insight into the attitude and the mindset of the people that you’re talking to?

Are they smiling is a huge thing. Are they smiling while they’re talking to me? Do they bring energy to the interview? Some people sound like they just woke up and it is like, “Are you sure you work with children or you must have kids keeping you up all night?” I can take it back to a few of my head coaches and their interviews. I love telling his story. He was my first hire ever from the very beginning, which was a long time ago.

I posted an ad on Facebook, or not even an ad. It was nothing special, no pictures, nothing. I wrote, “I am on the hunt for a soccer coach or a multi-sport coach working with preschoolers. If anybody knows anybody.” It was in a mom’s group. His wife replied for him and said, “My husband’s trilingual. He’s a certified soccer coach.” I contacted her and got his information. He was my very first interview ever and he has been with us since day one. It is amazing.

He had ideas within the field. We were out with the kids to come watch a class. I’m losing the kids, to be honest with you. He pulled all of these games out of his back pocket and was like, “How about we do this? It’s the coconut game. This is how it goes.” I still use that game. We’re sweating alongside each other. I look over at him and say, “What do you think?” He’s like, “It was great.”

I was dying out here. It was 90-degree weather in the summer heat in Florida in a cotton shirt. At the time, they didn’t even offer Dri Fit for Amazing Athletes. Those are some key things. They have big personalities, bubbly personalities, and the ability to adapt and work well on their toes. If the kids aren’t going along with your curriculum, you have to pivot and figure something else out. Otherwise, you’re going to lose them and your class is not going to be good.

Another girl told us that she had no experience working with children at all. This one is cool too. She’s been with us for a few years. She said in the interview, “I have no experience working with children but when I go to a party and there are kids there, they all want to play with me.” That’s like my husband. He’ll go to a kid’s party, my nephews, and all the kids want him to go down the water slide with them and do all those fun things.

They have it. Sometimes, they don’t realize they have it. Those are the clues that you listen for that aren’t going to show up on a resume or a job application. You get on the phone, get to know somebody, and poke around a little bit. If you hear some of those clues and then get face-to-face with them, you recognize it before they do. That’s cool. You’re able to give these folks this opportunity too which is fulfilling for them as well as employees in your organization and company.

I have to say that I didn’t even find my other head coaches. My first hire did. I gave him the opportunity to start interviewing, hiring, and duplicating himself. That was a way that he was able to grow within our company and make more money other than the hourly coaching rates. That’s cool to me. I’m like, “I found you. You found him, her, and him.” He’s got a gift for finding the people who have it.

You also empowered him and gave him an opportunity. You gave him a lot of rope. You said something earlier about how you are your own competition. What did you mean by that?

With this type of business, there are two ways that you can run your business. You could do both. You could do one or the other. One is contracting with schools and you bring your programs to the schools. My daughter’s school is in Boca. We go there and bring our programs there. The parents have the option to sign their child up for our classes.

We have a roster. We go to the class, take them out of classrooms, and then perform the class right there on campus. We’re not a brick-and-mortar. We don’t have a facility. We have big duffle bags and my garage is full of balls, lacrosse sticks, and all the others. That’s one way, contracting with mostly preschools. For some, we have private schools that go up to eighth grade.

The second way is to find parks and rec or even permit a park and have classes there. We call it open enrollment. People from anywhere in the community can sign up for those classes. I became my own competition mostly at my schools because there are other programs competing for those registrations. They have dance and swimming. Some have tennis, golf, and a karate program. There are many others that we call enrichment programs out there, even soccer.

When I come and offer my schools all four of my programs, they’re like, “I only have to deal with one vendor and your quality. My kids and parents know you already and can speak to that quality so done. Where do I sign?” Some of them have maintained relationships with their other vendor’s enrichment programs for years and they won’t let them go regardless of the quality. We’re going to be there to pick it up when they exit the industry.

That’s brilliant that you can make life easy for your customers and still have a broad impact on the kids coming through the preschools and all the other organizations that you’re working with. What’s the grand plan for you and your business?

An important part of a business plan is your exit plan. We’re halfway through our contract. We have a ten-year contract. All the programs that we’ve added on along the way go for the remainder of our contract, although we bought a new one that we have ten years for that soccer one particularly. It is to try to find those needles in a haystack. That’s what I call all my people. I’m like, “You guys are needles in a haystack.”

FM 3 | Youth Athletes United

Youth Athletes United: An important part of a business plan is your exit plan.

 

Sometimes, you reach in and you can pluck one right out as I did but sometimes, it takes a lot of time. I want to be able to make sure I can trust whoever I hire to step away and take over the operation. We do have a potential plan to buy some Utah territory. My husband loves to ski and he hasn’t been able to do that since we’ve had the little ones. He used to go all the time. That’s a dream for him. There’s a potential opportunity there for us.

As you think about scaling this up and getting it to a point where it’s ready to exit if you ever want to sell it, I’m going to ask you a question and feel free to answer this in any way that you want. Do you feel like the limiting factors are signing up more preschools, hosting more community-based events, and getting more kids signed up in your business, or do you feel it’s more about finding the right coaches? You can go get the business and it’s a matter of finding the right people. Is it something else? Is there something that you generally focus on for this next phase of growth for your business?

You can go get the business. It's just a matter of finding the right people. Click To Tweet

I mentioned going deep rather than wide. We’re doing a little bit of both. We are layering in these other programs within our facilities and contracts. We’re also buying more territory so we’re getting wider as well. Something that can be a little limiting is finding not even another coach because we have been pretty successful in that area. I hear some complaints about finding good staff reliable and things like that.

It’s finding another me. I worry sometimes when something happens to me if this thing can stand. It sounds a little vain and I don’t mean to sound like that but I do a lot of the operations and a lot of the relationship-building too. I want to make sure that someone else knows exactly what I do on a day in and day out and could take my place. I’d also like to relieve a little bit of that burden.

It is trying to figure out a way to replicate yourself. You’re probably not replicable but figuring out how to structure it in a way where you can plug somebody in to handle a lot of the general management is what it sounds like.

Especially if they go out into the Utah territory. Operating remotely is a whole other ballgame.

It’s not that I’m an accountant but maybe James’ ski trips can become a business expense. I get the idea there. As you guys thinking through the idea of potentially operating remotely? What would be the plan? Would somebody fly in for 1 month or 2? How would you structure it?

We’re not there yet. We did talk a little bit about it because the opportunity represented itself back in December of 2022. I launched all these other programs after that conference that we went to in California with the franchise. I told my husband, “You could send me out there. It’s okay. You can take care of the kids.” He’s like, “I’d come visit you a lot.”

We have a staff member who’s flexible. She has no kids or pets. She does have a significant other that would have to be taken into consideration. I’ve mentioned in a joking manner like, “What do you think about Utah?” She’s someone I would trust sending out there to go and start contracting. She does sales for us here. She’s very good at it. She does hiring for us here. She does amazing coaching. Her jam, which is how she would say it, is Amazing Athletes.

It’s not that I’m trying to coach you here but she seems like she might have some elements to fill some of the roles that you’re doing. Do you feel like she could be somebody who could take on some of what you’re doing?

Typically, I’m good at identifying people’s superpowers. That’s one of my superpowers. I was wrong about her once. I thought she might not have the sales superpower and then she proved me wrong. It’s hard to say. A lot of the burden that I spoke about is mostly computer work. It’s a lot of customer relations stuff and marketing. The franchise offers a lot of support for that too. It’s a matter of taking those resources and having someone who is versed in using them. She is not first on my list for that. She’d be great at going out, hiring staff, and getting some contracts out in Utah for us. I’d still be operating from home here on my computer.

She likes to be out in front of people. That’s where she gets her energy from. If you put her behind a computer, it might drain her energy and superpower pretty quickly.

She’s unknowingly funny. She’s organized in most ways, except with equipment and things like that. I need someone who almost has OCD.

That is a different person than a salesperson or a people person. It’s those op folks that have that, which is not me. The ability to handle details day in and day out drains my energy even thinking about it. That’s cool. That’s exciting though to start thinking about that opportunity and whether it’s the right thing for you guys, your family, and your business or not.

One of these things within franchising, there are typically always these non-conventional types of expansion opportunities, whether it’s continuing to go wide like you’re doing with acquiring more territory and your backyard, layering in additional franchises under this unique platform of Youth Athletes United, or going halfway, if not more, across the country and saying, “Let’s replicate this.” The beautiful thing about it is you don’t have to find a location. You don’t have to deal with the brick-and-mortar and all that kind of stuff. You’ve got team members that you know and trust. That’s fun. That’s exciting to think about.

I feel like what we didn’t talk about too much is letting go of something. Part of the scaling of this is taking a good hard look at what we are doing and what we should trim away. There’s a tree out front that was dying. I went up and snipped all these things off of it. I came back from New York and it was in full bloom. It’s a good analogy. Sometimes, you need to cut some things away for it to bloom.

FM 3 | Youth Athletes United

Youth Athletes United: Part of scaling is taking a good hard look at what we are doing and what we should trim away.

 

Another way that we grow is by partnering with some clubs. We partnered with a soccer club in Palm Beach Gardens. They’re pretty big. They have a huge rec program and travel soccer. They have 1,200 kids. All they have to do to get our programs filled is to send out one email. I guarantee you’ll be bursting from the seams. That’s a huge deal. They deal with mostly five and up. We would act as their feeder program. We teach the children how to follow directions, listen to the coach, and fall in love with soccer, and then we pass them on to them.

With that analogy you gave, which there’s a ton of wisdom in that analogy about trimming some things to let them grow, are there some things that you found over the years? Maybe you could give us a couple of examples where sometimes where you’ve applied that, thinking to your business, and it’s worked out.

It’s always hard because you have the unknown. It is like, “Could it have been something more than it was?” There were a few locations where we had trouble getting enrollment up. Their variety of program offerings was too large. Although we were of quality, a lot of the time, we’re not in front of parents so they may choose another program not even knowing what they’re getting. It’s only by word of mouth and reputation that they can say or their kids coming home all excited and happy that they went.

We’ve had to trim away a few schools and locations where the enrollment was low. We had enough to pay our coaches and maybe make a little bit off the top but the stress of staffing with that and then having that coach tied up there versus somewhere else that is more fruitful. Making those decisions are often hard, especially when you’re working with the kids who are enrolled and you see so much potential in them and how much fun they are having in it. You’re like, “Maybe this will grow,” but at some point, you do have to walk away. Hopefully, they’ll find your program at another facility or somewhere else. It has happened a few times. That’s it.

It’s like firing a customer in a way. That sounds a little harsh. Not all customers are created equally. Sometimes, it’s the customers that aren’t the most lucrative that can take up a lot of time, resources, and effort and distract you from the other stuff. Those are the ones where, for whatever reason, always bubble up to the top of the list every day and you find yourself working with them. Letting go is not an easy decision but it’s for your business to continue to grow.

It’s even building up one or more of our coaches to someday have their franchise because we see so much potential in them. We want them to grow and benefit. We can’t do it all. We’re not superhumans. There is a lot on our plate, that’s for sure. I want to make sure that I am not working my life away. I want to enjoy what I’m doing, which I do.

My husband would call me like, “How was class today?” There are a few times here and there when a kid wets their pants. It wasn’t the best experience but most of the time, I’m like, “It was awesome. Why don’t I teach more?” I even enjoy seeing the fruits of my labor through the backend stuff or the behind-the-curtain stuff come to fruition. I do like that I am in charge of my schedule. If I want to cancel a class and spend time with my daughters or my son, then I can do that if I so choose. I like that freedom.

You’re building. You’ve got a plan. You’re marching forward. You’ve got good people within your organization that can create all kinds of opportunities. You have an amazing superpower of picking people and helping them identify their superpower. I imagine the loyalty that creates and your employees are pretty powerful. That’s why they’ve stuck with you for a long time. You guys are MUMBOs. It’s interesting from the franchising perspective what you guys have been able to do and how you’re building your business. It’s an interesting example. Especially as you think about expanding Utah, that sounds fun. I appreciate you jumping on here and sharing your story.

Thanks for the opportunity.

If people want to get in touch with you, how can they reach you?

You can email me at NPB@AmazingAthletes.com. NPB is for North Palm Beach.

Brittany, thank you very much for joining us. I appreciate the time.

Thank you so much, Dru.

 

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