Son Inspires His Dad to Start an i9 Sports Business

Son Inspires His Dad to Start an i9 Sports Business

Duane Gray shares the process of how to become a franchise owner

Before starting his i9 Sports® business, Duane Gray was the executive pastor at a church in Columbus, Ohio. Duane was already an entrepreneur, having started his own IT business when he was 25, before going into the ministry.

His son Dante worked at an i9 Sports business in Columbus and went on to get his degree in sports management. Duane’s family has always been involved in sports, and he and his wife Karen were interested in Dante’s experience with i9 Sports.

When another territory opened in Columbus, Duane researched i9 Sports, its business model, and how to become a franchise owner. “We were immediately sold,” Duane says, “because we understand the importance of sports in the development of a young person’s life.”

Starting a franchise

The Grays bought their franchise in 2017. Duane says owning an i9 Sports is all about building relationships in the community. With his background, Duane had connections in the church community, and he set out to build relationships with school staff.

His proactive approach includes gestures like delivering Cheryl’s Cookies — a local cookie brand — as a token of appreciation to school custodial and administrative staff after every season.

“Building relationships takes some uncomfortable moments, just walking into an organization and introducing the business. You come bearing gifts. Once you get in the door with them, you have to show appreciation,” Duane says.

How to become a franchise owner

Duane and his staff show appreciation in other ways. He says that when they use a venue, they stay behind to break down any equipment that the staff set up for their use, and leave it better than they find it. 

The number of venues they use depends on the season, but for this spring, Duane has seven. Because he can’t be everywhere at once, he trains his staff and volunteers to run the venues when he can’t be there.

Community outreach

Duane also builds relationships with community groups and other business owners.

This summer, he and a staff member are volunteering at a Community Day for a lower income neighborhood, partnering with the Sheriff’s Department. Duane plans to run clinics for the kids at the event.

He’s also volunteering at this summer’s Columbus Art Festival, which he says draws about 6,000 to 7,000 people. “The head of this year’s festival asked us if we’d like to be there,” he says, adding that he’s planning an obstacle course, some soccer, and a pass-and-catch station.

“It feels good for folks in the community to see us and recognize that we’re an asset.”

Giving back

Duane is a member of i9 Sports’s nonprofit arm, and has partnered with Jimmy John’s, Dicks Sporting Goods, and Chick-fil-A to donate funds for scholarships for kids who would like to play, but whose families don’t have the means for it.

More, the scholarships don’t require playing with i9 Sports. Kids who play at local schools are also eligible to receive scholarships.

Franchisee support

Duane has high praise for his business coach, Kelvyn Hemphill. He says Kelvyn recently helped him make a business decision about when to start the spring season at one of Duane’s larger venues. 

Duane was thinking of starting the season late, and Kelvyn pointed out that because of family travel plans, many families wouldn’t register if the season started late. Duane says he was thinking in terms of logistics, not registrations. But Kelvyn brought a different perspective.

Duane says the plan is for i9 Sports to be the family business. Both of his children are grown and have other jobs, but they help with the i9 Sports business. Dante works as a site manager on the weekends, and Duane’s daughter Evie does a lot of the marketing and HR for the leagues.

Learn more

To learn more about i9 Sports and how to become a franchise owner, look at our free ebook for more information.

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