Ted Smith runs a thriving i9 Sports franchise, and he discusses best practices for success.
Since Ted Smith bought an i9 Sports® franchise two years ago, sales and enrollment have surged, with almost 1,200 kids enrolled for the current season. Ted’s territory covers Orlando, Ocoee, Winter Garden, and Windermere in Florida. We asked Ted to share some tips with others who want to know what it takes to succeed as an i9 Sports owner.
What were you doing before you became a franchisee?
I worked in the hospitality industry in restaurant management. Then my wife, Stephanie, and I started having kids (Ted III, 9; and Gracie, 7; both play with i9). I went back to school and got my bachelor’s degree in sports marketing and media, then earned a master’s in public relations. I got both degrees in three years and was salutatorian both times. I bartended at night while I went to school.
How did you get started with the i9 Sports franchise?
My son’s best friend joined an i9 team, and his dad asked if my son wanted to join. After my son started playing, the same dad got me to coach. I loved it. I drove my wife crazy talking about it. I’m a big kid, and mentoring kids in sports is my dream job. Doing a good thing while generating revenue is the best.
I coached every season and had a following. I had 14 kids on my baseball team. I got to know the franchise owner – he lived in same community as I did – and he sold the franchise to me.
What does it take to succeed in this business?
Three things are key:
No. 1: Care. I tell everyone on my team that you need to care — that’s why I hired you. Care about the kids, about your co-workers, about the parents. You have to be invested. When I first bought the franchise, I was upgrading some equipment and decided to buy a piece of equipment that lays down chalk lines on the field. It was expensive, but it was worth it. When one of the kids saw the field, he told his mother, “Mom, this looks like a real football field!” That reaction told me everything I needed to know.
No. 2: Customer service. Everyone should get the same level of care, and every person should feel important. I hire former Disney employees because of their customer service training and ability to interact with kids. It’s important to make people feel seen. Make the time to engage with people when they want to talk. And with kids, the minute they feel comfortable, they will listen to you. Keep everyone happy about what you’re delivering. That is what we’re trying to do.
No. 3: Optics. Keep smiling. Don’t look distracted. When we’re using the i9 app on our phones, we explain what we’re doing so that when parents see us, we don’t look like we’re just playing around on our phones.
Make sure everything looks good. If your field looks bad, or if your equipment is worn, parents will notice. People want to know where their money is going, and the upkeep is worth it. It keeps kids and their parents happy.
You need to hustle and get people out there. Moms are the target market for i9 Sports. They want their kids to have fun and don’t care if their kids are great at sports.
We’re growing because we care and deliver exceptional customer service. I pay a photographer to come to take action shots during the season. I give parents the photos for free from social media, and that drives social media organically.
What do you like about the i9 Sports business model?
It’s not about winning at all costs. Kids just want to play and have fun with their friends. It gives kids an opportunity to learn life skills through sports. The franchisor has many great practices that work, but, at the same time, they let you be you. It’s not so structured that you can’t make your own choices.
Everyone in the home office is so open to communication and so positive. I feel like someone always has my back. My business coach, Kelvyn, is one of the greatest guys in my life. I feel that he’s one of my best friends. He is a sounding board and a confidence booster. It’s invaluable to have him in my corner.
To find out more about the business opportunity with i9 Sports, fill out the form on this page to download our free franchise report.