Why fans of a brand can make great small business owners

Starting as a customer gave Atlanta-area franchisee Craig Magram a strong understanding of what i9 Sports brings to the table

Sometimes the best way to understand what a business offers is to start as a customer. Many of our franchisees, like Atlanta-area franchisee Craig Magram, had their first experiences with i9 Sports when they enrolled their own children in a program. For Magram, opening his i9 Sports franchise provided the opportunity to move closer to his extended family, enjoy the flexibility of being a small business owner and offer the same great youth sports experience his own kids had enjoyed. Here’s what he had to say about the opportunity.

i9 Sports franchisee Craig Magram and his wife, Sheri.

i9 Sports franchisee Craig Magram and his wife, Sheri.

How long have you been an i9 Sports franchisee?
I’ve been in this a long time now, since 2006. Before this, I was a business manager with Enterprise Rent-A-Car. I was in the accounting side, working on financials and customer service and things of that nature. I was with them for 13 years prior to taking the leap of faith.

What inspired you to open your i9 Sports franchise?
I started with Enterprise in Atlanta, and then got promoted out to Colorado. I had a little guy that was just born out there, and one who was about four years old and getting interested in sports. I heard about i9 Sports from a friend, so we decided to check it out online and enrolled in flag football. I was a parent for a couple of seasons, and then kept seeing the gentleman that was in charge of the program out there. I had befriended him, started talking to him and asking questions about the program. My background is business related, but I also have a master’s in Sports Business Administration.

After playing for a couple of seasons and really enjoying the program, we decided to make a change and move back to the southeast where our family lives, and buy the franchise. It just seemed to play into what we were looking for. We moved back around Labor Day of 2006, and we bought the franchise in November that same year.

What do you enjoy most about running the franchise?
The flexibility is great. When we first started it, my kids were in elementary school. Being around for them was nice as well as being able to manage my own hours and be responsible for my own workload. After being in corporate America for so long, it’s nice to be able to be my own boss.

It has been great seeing these families that started with our program develop and move up through the different years of growth, seeing them succeed with the sport and just seeing them become more confident in themselves and have more self-esteem. That’s the core philosophy of i9 Sports, and that’s probably been the most rewarding thing.

Some of them have even started working for us, which has been pretty cool. Now they get to take what they’ve learned and pass it on to other families in the program.

How does the corporate team support you?
I think the team is great. From the start, they’re engaged. After 11 years, the way they support me has transitioned. I don’t need to talk to the corporate office on a weekly or monthly basis. We talk to touch base financially and set up goals, but even those conversations are not set up with, “Here’s all the documents you need to fill out. Tell me your last year’s revenue, all the different sports you’re running and the different registration fees, and how many kids.”

I talk to my business coach and say, “Can we just talk?” He’s like, “Yes, absolutely.” We just talk it through. I don’t have to spend hours trying to put all these documents together when it’s the same stuff over and over. Having that flexibility from them is great for me.

What kind of experience do you think it takes to be successful with i9 Sports?
Flexibility is number one, probably. Things change so quickly in our environment, with staffing, with families, with their schedules. Sometimes things may change during the week or even on the field.

The customer service aspect is also huge. That’s what we really are. We’re a customer service-oriented business. Sports knowledge is very helpful, but for example, I didn’t play soccer as a child. I think I played one game, I got hit in the face with a ball and I retired. But I’ve been able to run soccer programs. I was afraid, but after talking to some folks I said, “Okay, let’s do it.” We did it. I’ve gone out and I’ve coached multiple teams. I’ve officiated games. I’ve run the programs. I’ve learned over time.

Though the sports aspect is important, it’s not necessarily the backbone of the business. It’s more the customer service, the flexibility to adapt and being willing to listen and do what’s right for the families and the kids at the end of the day.

It’s not about the almighty dollar, because those will go away if you don’t do the right thing. It’s about what’s right for the kids. If you do that, then you’re able to reap the benefits of running a good program. That gets the families coming back, which will then pay forward to your own goals and expectations with your family.

Three young boys in i9 Sports flag football uniforms attempt to catch a football.

The experience his own kids had with i9 Sports helped convince Craig Magram this would be the right opportunity for him to become a small business owner.

How do you market the business? How do you grow?
That has also evolved over time. Initially, it was knocking on doors and businesses and trying to promote. We still do flyers; that’s our main avenue for advertising. We also partner with some of the elementary schools to provide them some assistance, and in return, we get to participate in activities with them like fall festivals. Working with some business owners in the area, we do some cross-promotions. Pizza places or haircut places fall right into our market base. We’re all about kids and marketing to the moms.

It’s a lot of work. It takes time to build the marketing strategy. Once you get it, you’re stabilized and then you try and add some more. It’s forever changing. I have a full-time marketing person who helps me with that, because after about five years or so I wanted to move away from doing all that myself.

It’s important to find staff to help you do these things as time goes on. That’s allowed me to be more the overseer of the programs and marketing and touch all the different pieces, rather than getting caught in all the different day-to-day operations.

From a customer perspective, why do people choose i9 Sports over their other options?
I would say 80% of the people want the one-day-a-week commitment. It’s a combination of things. Today’s economy is getting better, but a lot of families still have two jobs. Both parents are working, they have multiple kids, they don’t have the time to take them to the park multiple days a week. That’s the first piece.

The second is that as youth sports is becoming more crazy and competitive, the families that just want to get out there and do something and have fun get lost in the shuffle. Those families just want someplace they can play and feel comfortable and not have to worry about the craziness, the yelling and the screaming, and their child will always get to play and not just sit on the bench. i9 Sports opened up a whole other world for these families.

How do you feel about the future of the brand?
As long as parents are having kids, we will be fine. The brand is unique and it sets itself apart. I think the biggest challenge we have comes from competitors who have partnered with professional leagues. It’s tough to compete from an eyeball view – on the surface, it’s “Wow, they can wear this cool jersey from their favorite team,” but then you go to the experience. Once you peel back the layers of the onion, those brands have very competitive programs that probably don’t care whether your child plays or not, and it’s not a locally owned operation, it’s a nationally owned operation.

Those are also all for individual sports. They offer just football, or just basketball, or just soccer. With what we’ve developed, if you have a family that wants to play flag football, boom, they can play with us. They want to play baseball next season, we’ve got that. How about basketball when it’s cold outside? Yes, we’ve got that, too. Soccer? Sure. And they know what experience they’re getting in each of those sports.

The question I always get from families when they find out that this is a franchise business is “You can actually make money doing this?”

I say, “Yes.” It depends what your personal goals are. If you’re looking for flexibility and being able to take care of your family, pay the mortgage, go on vacations here or there and enjoy owning your own business, then absolutely.

Learn more about small business ownership with i9 Sports

If you want to learn more about becoming a small business owner with an i9 Sports franchise, fill out the form to download our free franchise report, continue exploring our youth sports franchise research pages or visit our blog for the latest updates and profiles of current franchise owners.