i9 Sports Franchise Review: Alisha & Charleton Grant of Charlotte, NC

The Grants couldn’t seem to find the perfect time to open an i9 Sports franchise. So they dove in head-first and made NOW the perfect time.

Charleton and Alisha Grant and their two children
Alisha and Charleton Grant have three i9 Sports venues in the greater Charlotte area, two kids under the age of 4 and one big dream. When they started thinking about running their own business, they weren’t sure it was the right time. Their first baby was still around a year old, and the timing wasn’t quite there. But would it ever be? Find out why they signed on the dotted line on May 11, 2018, in this i9 Sports Franchise Review.

Alisha Grant: We’re working on our third season right now, so we have not completed four seasons yet but we are working on our third at this point. And we currently have three venues, so we’ve grown from one in our first season to three areas of play now. We’re offering basketball, flag football, baseball and soccer, and we are looking into adding ZIP Lacrosse™ after our first full year of operating.

What were the two of you doing before owning your i9 Sports franchise?
Alisha Grant: I have my MBA in finance and I’ve been working in my field for some years now. I worked for about six years with a company called Premiere, which is located in Charlotte, before I decided to step down.

Charleton Grant: I’m currently still working full-time. Hopefully sooner rather than later I can be at i9 Sports full-time, but I currently work at Wells Fargo as an analyst working in the security section of the bank. I’ve been here since 2010.

Alisha, when you stepped down did you have in mind that you wanted to go off and be an entrepreneur or were you thinking about working with kids or in youth sports? What is it that led you to i9 Sports?
Alisha Grant: I did not have any intention of stepping down initially, but Charleton and I, we both were coaches at our church. We kind of revived our athletic department because it was nonexistent for a few years, and we decided to revamp it. We started out with just about seven kids our very first year. And after four years, we grew that seven to over 50 kids. We love to work with low-income communities, just giving children another opportunity to come out and do something fun. And after we saw how it grew, we did have an interest in working with children.

At that time, we didn’t have any knowledge of what we were going to do or how we were going to do it, but we knew we enjoyed it and wanted to do it eventually. And Charleton is the one that found i9 Sports, so I’ll let him talk about his experience with it.

Charleton Grant: We were looking for opportunities to invest either in ourselves or some kind of outside opportunity. Since I work in investments, it always made sense at some point. We’re kind of spreadsheet, financial geeks in a lot of ways. I finally started putting things on a spreadsheet of opportunities that could exist, whether it be real estate, paying down debt and a few other opportunities outside of i9 Sports. I just honestly typed in a Google search of “youth sports leagues” and i9 Sports was one of the first things that came up.

The first time we looked into it, we had just bought a new home and had a brand new baby. I think Alisha had just gotten promoted to a new position. We just thought it’d be too much to jump into a new business venture at the time.

Two years later I still occasionally received franchise emails from them. We started talking about it again and looking at different opportunities and where our lifestyle would be and how comfortable we were in our current position. And once we started, it snowballed very quickly. I think we started the initial conversations at the end of December, and by March we went to Discovery Day. And then by May, we signed the contract. So, it went from zero to us finding a franchise very quickly.

At what point did you and your wife decide that one of you would keep their full-time career for steady income coming in and the other would work on ramping up the business?
Charleton Grant: Well, that conversation happened kind of immediately after Discovery Day. Like I said, we did a lot of due diligence outside of just i9 Sports. We had a godson that participated in i9 Sports so we were kind of familiar with the model and we thought that that part worked. When we did Discovery Day, we asked a lot of people what the options were — how much work do you really have to put into it?

What is your normal day?
Alisha Grant: We quickly realized how much marketing and how much time you have to put in. Honestly, you don’t have enough time in a day to just do i9 Sports, let alone i9 Sports and a normal job.

What does your day look like?
Alisha Grant: Some days I’ll get started around 5 or 6 a.m. just answering emails. And then that allows me to have a couple hours to get up, get dressed, get the kids dressed. We eat breakfast and I take them out to daycare and then I’ll get started with my day. So, I can plan when I have a couple hours of down time and then I can ramp it back up. That’s one thing that’s really different when it comes to having a nine-to-five where you’re there to just work. You can take a couple breaks but you need to be working at all times. That’s something I do appreciate.

Do you use your financial background in your day-to-day with i9 Sports?
Charleton and I split the duties as far as with the bookkeeping and things like that. So, I’m not heavily using my finance background. However, when I’m looking at the numbers I do have a really good understanding of everything, so that perspective really does help me out a lot. And my Excel skills that I had from my prior job do help me. But I honestly feel that anyone would be able to do this part of the business, whether you were in finance, you were a teacher or whatever just because of the tools that we were provided.

What kind of support have you gotten in your first year as business owners with i9 Sports?
Alisha Grant: We initially started out with weekly calls with our business coach, and those were pretty helpful. When we had those bad weeks or had a lot of questions, those calls kind of helped us make sure that we were on the right track. And they do provide us with a lot of different webinars. Those tools are very helpful.

Do you interact much with other franchisees?
Alisha Grant: Yes. We try to have a pretty good relationship with everyone that is surrounding us. We have two other franchise owners that are actually in Charlotte, and I talk with both of them a few times a month on different ideas that we may have. We discuss partnering up with certain things. And then Charleton actually talks with people that are a little outside our area but still in North Carolina.

Charleton, you said you hope someday to be able to join your wife full time in the business. How large would the two of you like to grow your franchise?
Charleton Grant: We kind of have a 2020 plan that we’re eyeing right now. That plan can get expedited as much as we want if everything falls into place. When we first sat down, we had ideas of how quickly we could grow the program. Our business coach is helping us stick to our plan. When my wife took the leap of leaving her job, she had a number in her head. I told her I would have a number in my head that just makes sense. So, we’re kind of on that track.

As you look back on your first year in business what advice would you give to someone who was considering investing? What do you know now that you didn’t know then?
Alisha Grant: Know the value of marketing. Marketing yourself and just helping to spread the word that you are actually there. I knew it was important, but for me, just seeing how our members grew so quickly once we started marketing in certain ways, it was really eye-opening.

Charleton Grant: We were nervous about that when we first started of being maybe judged before people got to know us. We were like, ‘Well, we don’t really want to put our face out there. We want our employees to be the face of the program.’

But once people started actually knowing oh, you guys are the owners, you guys are here, that shows that we care. And then they see us coaching and setting up the goals. I think being at ground level and being able to talk with parents and they see my face and see that I’m trying my best to make sure they have a great time, I think it speaks for itself. And then our employees can see that, too. They can see me out hustling and I’m doing the most menial jobs. You know, help cleaning up after the venue’s over with, help picking up trash. Once our employees see that, they can see that I’m not asking you to do anything more than what I’m willing to do myself.

Is there anything else that you think would be important for someone to know if they’re considering this investment?
Alisha Grant: I would say don’t allow the fear of the unknown to stop you from taking your leap of faith if it definitely is a passion for you. That fear of the unknown will make you stop in your tracks, but if I had to go back, I would do it all over again and I would do it almost the same way. I’m happy where we and I’m definitely glad that we made the decision.

Charleton, anything to add to that?
Charleton Grant: You have to have a passion for this. I would caution anybody, if you don’t like kids and you don’t like being involved with kids, this is not the best business opportunity for you. It’s not going to work because people can sense your passion. Even when we make mistakes and when we mess things up, we’re parents and they can see my sincerity when resolving those problems. But if you don’t care or you don’t have that fire to help kids and to be the best possible sports league, it’s not going to work.

And to piggyback on what Alisha said, if that is your passion and something that you want to do, tomorrow is never going to come. You have to act today. That would be my advice. If you keep pushing it off and you say “I’ll do it when the best time comes,” it’s never going to be the best time. It’s always going to be something that’s uncomfortable. You may not have all your ducks in a row or you’ve got two small kids and your day is already filled with all kinds of obligations that you have to finish. It’s never going to be the perfect time to start, so you have to start. You have to act today.

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