Ignoring the noise: How to make your children’s activity business stand out

99% of children’s activity programmes, services and businesses aren’t unique.

That may sound like a bold statement, but it’s more a simple observation. Twenty years ago, when things were a little less competitive, some businesses in the children’s activity sector could claim to be totally unique and they’d be right in that assertion, but fast forward to 2021 and it’s simply no longer the case. Copycat brands and a boom in similar service offerings have led to a very competitive (sometimes saturated) market place.

In fact, it’s much the same for many industries.

Even the companies or brands who are perceived to be the most pioneering are often not that unique in their product or service. Google wasn’t the first search engine. Amazon wasn’t the first online marketplace. Nike wasn’t the first to make athletic shoes. They may have gone onto be market leaders, but you could argue they aren’t unique. Even Apple, widely considered a pioneering organisation and clear market leader, didn’t create the first handheld music device, nor the first smartphone or the first computer. They got ahead in other ways.

With the sheer number of children’s activity services now available, customers (parents in particular) are less discernible to the differences between offerings. They’ll just as likely choose an activity with a convenient time, location and availability over one that may have a superior programme.

Simply put – it’s harder to stand out from the crowd today.

The good news is, that’s totally fine. Competition is good. In fact, it’s a sign of sector maturity and growth. We’d argue this competition will lead to a stronger sector, with excellence not average the barometer for success.

Perhaps you’re thinking that’s all well and good, but I want my business to be highly profitable and don’t want rivals taking customers away. Of course you do, and there’s a few things you can do to ensure your children’s activity business stands out still and remains competitive.

1. Deliver extraordinary customer serviceNotice we’ve underlined the word ‘extraordinary’ here. Good customer service is standard (or least should be). Excellent or indeed extraordinary customer service is much less common. Ask yourself if you’re really going the extra mile for your customers and if not, why not? Regular communication and swift responses isn’t enough. We mean making sure every child in your classes, clubs or camps feels like a VIP every time they walk through the door to your venue. We mean ensuring your service continues to serve a key need and solve a pain point in ways nobody else can. We mean offering added value that doesn’t necessarily add to your profit but will better serve that customer in a way that they didn’t even know they could be served.

2. Address your customer’s pain points
Whatever you’re offering, you need to continue addressing your customers problems. Currently, that might mean offering your services online as an alternative to in person. In more normal times that might mean specifically offering a service that caters for parent and child needs. You’ll know that while some customers attend your activities for mainly the child development aspect, others will use it more as a social event or childcare service. Understanding your customers needs is a critical and ongoing challenge. What worked yesterday may not work tomorrow, so being proactive and creative to discovering and solving customers pain points should never be far from your mind.

3. Focus on YOU and nobody else
Sometimes, particularly if you’re new to an area or launching your business for the first time it can be intimidating when there are more well known or dominant brands already established. Perhaps you’re established but fearful of being out muscled by your rivals? Securing the best venues, the best time slots, best schools etc can be a challenge, but we suggest that is something to embrace not be nervous about.

Being hard working, determined and focused tends to lead to success for most people. Getting distracted by others is a surefire way of failing to hit targets.

4. Create a ‘Positive Audience Experience’
We’ve long spoken about the importance of creating a positive audience experience – one that customers enjoy from start to finish – from the moment they click on your website or social profile to the moment they leave your activity feeling upbeat and energised.

Want to stand out from the crowd? Invest in your website, remove the friction points and make it user-friendly. Ensure customers feel comfortable and happy at all times. Build rapport and relationships to increase loyalty. If you do all these things consistently, over time you will create a positive audience experience – one capable of propelling your business much further than anything else you do.

5. Care more about the customers you have, than the ones you don’t
It’s really important to understand that creating a highly successful and profitable business is a by-product of creating a great value exchange with customers. That value exchange is their money for your service. Something key to growth and especially to substantial growth is boosting that value exchange even more. Providing that extraordinary customer service we already spoke about, naturally leads to greater levels of word of mouth marketing and online reviews, which in turn leads to new customers. So while it’s not to say you shouldn’t focus on attracting new customers in a more direct manner, you absolutely should, but understanding how to maximise the value each customer gets and what you get in return is essential to the type of exponential growth many people desire.

6. Brand awareness, attitudes and actions
This is sometimes referred to as the three ‘A’s’ of branding; awareness, attitudes and actions. It’s a simple funnel process in the sense that strong promotion leads to greater awareness of your service, strong messages and communication leads to a positive attitude towards your brand, and strong value offering leads to customers taking action (buying). Each part of the three ‘A’s’ needs the other parts to excel.

You might have great promotions but fail to back these up with messaging to influence your customers attitudes or perhaps you’ve got the right communications approach but haven’t put enough into your awareness efforts. One without the other will ensure you don’t end up with customers buying at the level you want them to. Take a moment to think about how you’re promoting your brand, how you’re communicating with your customers and audience and is your value offering compelling enough to make them want to buy once they know, like and trust you. If not, find out what’s missing and fix it.

Final thought…
We started this piece by saying 99% of children’s activity programmes, services and businesses aren’t unique. If we took that statement in isolation, it wouldn’t look very promising for the sector.

However if providers can embrace the idea and critically acknowledge the things they can do to still stand out from the crowd and capture market share they stand the greatest chance of success.

By becoming a member of ICAP you’re joining a community of like-minded professionals and business owners in the children’s activity sector working towards excellence

Pip Wilkins

Pip Wilkins is the Chief Executive of the British Franchise Association (bfa). With 25 years’ experience in the franchise sector, Pip has worked her way up within the Association, gaining insight from all areas of the business and the franchise industry. She is well-known and highly regarded in franchising for her dedication and depth of knowledge. Pip regularly speaks at conferences and seminars both domestically and internationally, as well as writing on franchising matters for national, local and franchising trade press. Pip is also a regular judge for the annual bfa HSBC Franchise Awards, the Franchise Marketing Awards and Global Franchise Awards. Pip represents the UK at both the European Franchise Federation (EFF) and World Franchise Council (WFC). The bfa has grown to be one of the largest franchise associations in Europe, and one of the most successful associations in the world.

Theo Millward

Theo Millward is a graduate of Lancaster University with a BBA in Management. In 2016 Theo purchased UK swim school, Swimtime from the founders which teaches 20,000 children a week. Following a multi-award- winning digital transformation, during the global pandemic, Theo and his team founded Franscape, a saas that digitally transforms Franchise brands. FranScape won New Business of the Year at the UK Business Awards.

Andy Georgiou

Andy is the Founder of ICAP and a leading UK Franchise Business Consultant. He is fiercely committed to helping children’s activity providers build successful and profitable businesses. With qualifications in Business Management, Digital Media and Marketing, he has helped build, advise and grow leading 6 and 7 fiqure children’s education, sports and activity brands in the past 17 years.

Frank Sahlein

Frank has been active in the Children’s Activity Center industry as an athlete, coach, business owner, consultant and business broker. He is a native of San Mateo, California and graduated from San Jose State University in California (USA).
Frank was a pioneer of the Children’s Learning Opportunity Center concept from 1976 – 2016 at the Wings Center in Boise, Idaho (USA) – a blend of Sports Instruction, Arts, Education, Entertainment and Outreach programs.
As a business management innovator, Frank has delivered over 1,000 presentations for a variety of Children’s Activity Center industries such as gymnastics, swimming, cheerleading, dance, martial arts/ninja and child care/education.
3rd Level Consulting is a Business Development and Service Provider Partner for private industry companies, associations, and organizations in the USA, Australia, Canada, New Zealand, Singapore, the United Kingdom, Mexico, and Panama.
Two-time recipient of the National Business Leader Award from USA Gymnastics, Frank is the author of “Building Your Business Potential” and “Designing Your Empowered Life”. He is the creator of the SmartEDGE™ Business Applications and Management Certification Courses. He is the co-founder of LEAP Learning and the MetaSpheres Corp, and is the founder and Executive Director of the International Association of Child Development Programs.
His passions include his beautiful wife Lourdes Gonzalez, family, friends, fitness training, transformational reading and travel.