The franchise's founder credits the success of the brand to its ability to galvanise an eclectic squad of female entrepreneurs
On the eve of its 18th anniversary, Little Kickers won not one but two awards at the Global Franchise Awards 2020, which for many within the franchising fraternity is the “pinnacle moment” within this fast-moving business sector.
Here, Little Kickers founder, Christine Kelly, was asked what aspect of her pioneering business, that’s quickly established itself as the largest global provider of educational football programmes for pre-school children (currently operates in 34 different countries with 330-plus franchises), had made her most proud?
Kelly’s unequivocal response was the success her business had enjoyed galvanising an eclectic squad of female entrepreneurs (one-third of Little Kickers franchisees are female) from every imaginable country, walk of life and career background to grasp the Little Kickers nettle and create a dynamic financially self-contained business for themselves.
Little Kickers was conceived by ex-risk manager and new mum Kelly back in 2002 in Clapham as a result of her feeling constantly frustrated by the depressing dearth of activity-orientated initiatives available for inquisitive pre-school children.
“It still surprises me,” said Kelly, “that 18 years down the line and despite all our collective success that many onlookers still perceive Little Kickers to be the perfect part-time work opportunity for a young mum keen to earn a little extra money on the side.
“There’s certainly an amazing diversity of experience within our blossoming squad of franchisee owners, however, it’s worth noting that within our number we have an ex-managing director of an events company, a chartered banker, a university lecturer and professional ballet teacher – incredible career women who came into the business for a variety of different motives, but who in some instances are generating annual sales in excess of £1m.’”
Nicole Robinson explained why she became a franchisee: “I realised that I needed to make some serious career changes having missed out so much on my family life and children growing up. The relentless work schedule and travelling were taking a toll on the family and I craved a better work-life balance. I knew after a year that I’d made the right decision because we were able to get a dog, join a gym, eat together as a family and live a happier and healthier life.”
“We discovered Little Kickers with our children when we lived in Bristol and realised that Chilean children didn’t have the same opportunity, so decided to export the Little Kickers model to South America,” said sisters Carolina Caffarena (a pre-school teacher with more than 20 years working in childhood education) and Paula Caffarena Barcenilla (a PhD history teacher and researcher). “We believe that children need to learn and play in tandem and need access to ‘team’ play without needing to compete against one another.”
Julia Levene, ex-chartered banker and now Little Kickers franchisee explained: “When I had children I thought I could do it all, work full-time, be a hands-on mum and enjoy every special moment, the reality was somewhat different and it took me a little while to accept that a career change was needed.”
On the topic of whether Levene had ever experienced any ‘what do women know about football’ moments, she admits she did early on but that the moment quickly passed as her reputation grew. “Fortunately when I look at my children’s generation I see that such attitudes won’t be tolerated and for me, this is real progress,” she added.
Lisa Granshaw’s (Brisbane) back story was very different, starting Little Kickers coaching during her first year at university. Granshaw studied sports science and initially spent a few years as a strength and conditioning coach for rugby league teams. “Initially taking on a franchise was daunting, however, I set my initial target to get 50 kids onboard a week which would enable me to pay the rent and feed myself week to week,” she said. “It was all worth it in the end because I still cherish the moments when a child says their name or gives their first high-five after weeks of silence. Looking forward I’d like to run some classes for disadvantaged kids who aren’t afforded the same life opportunities.”
For professional ballet dancer Courtney Lyman (Toronto), Little Kickers was the perfect antidote to her professional ballet career winding down. “Taking on two Little Kicker franchises was perfect for my young family and ultimately resulted in my husband Kevin quitting his corporate career to join me,” she said. “I stand behind my dad’s motto: ‘Wherever you go, there you are’. In other words, you can’t run away from yourself so you’d better figure out what to do with what you have.”
Little Kickers is an example of a business that appreciates and empowers women in the UK and abroad to shape their careers and celebrate their business acumen.