i9 Sports franchise review: Area Developer Joe Russo of Novi, MI

Russo and his brother were working for another i9 Sports franchisee when they saw the light and bought their own territory in West Oakland County

Two men wearing short-sleeved shirts with an i9 Sports logo are standing on a soccer field holding soccer balls, one of them bald and the other one bearded and wearing a cap.

Brothers Steven and Joe Russo are Area Developers for i9 Sports in Novi, MI, just outside of Detroit.

Joe Russo and his brother Steven joined i9 Sports as franchisees in January 2016. After working in the recruiting and staffing industry, Joe saw the light while volunteering as a soccer coordinator for another i9 Sports franchisee in the Novi, MI, suburb just outside of Detroit. In this i9 Sports franchise review, Joe tells his story.

What made you decide it was time for a career change and look into business ownership?

Prior to purchasing my own territory with my brother, we worked for another i9 Sports owner. We were the soccer coordinators for i9 Sports in east Oakland County. We kind of looked into it and said, “Wait a second. There’s nobody running programs on the other side of town, on the west side of town.” So we decided to purchase our own territory.

What was your brother doing before he became a franchisee?

He’s a civil engineer, and still working right now, so I’m the one doing it full time. He assists me in running the territory. As the area developers, we’re basically tasked and responsible for saturating our territory, to get as many programs up and running within our territory as possible. Over the past two years we’ve been able to get quite a few programs off the ground. And we’re up and running four seasons, so we’re doing spring, summer, winter and fall programs.

What do you enjoy most about being a franchise owner?

Just seeing the growth. There’s been a lot of hard work that’s gone into it. You know, unfortunately, our business isn’t the type of business where you can just put stuff on a website and then just sit around and wait for the registrations to come in. It doesn’t work like that. There’s definitely a lot of competition in the area.

But for me, I think the most rewarding part is just to see the growth. We execute the strategy that our home office provides for us. And I think just following that strategy enables you to see the growth that my brother and I have seen here over the last two years.

What are some of the other ways that the corporate team has supported you and helped you grow?

The fact that we have a call center that is constantly fielding calls and taking registrations and answering questions for us, that’s huge. You have people that just have basic questions that they want to get answered before they decide if they’re going to register. So obviously having that call center is super helpful, freeing up our time to market our business.

And then the other piece I would mention is, you have a business coach. Every i9 Sports franchise is assigned their own business coach to work with at the home office. Every couple of weeks, you’re in communication with your business coach, and you talk about strategy, what’s going well, what’s not going well. Things like that. It’s just nice to have someone down in the home office that you can bounce ideas off of if you need to.

What kind of experience or what kind of personality do you think it takes to succeed with an i9 Sports franchise?

You have to be willing to roll up your sleeves right off the bat. Again, our business isn’t a business where you can just kind of put up something on a website, sit back and collect all the registrations. We’re out there pounding the pavement. We’re out there at any event where we can go set up a table at and pass out flyers. Any place that we can go and get the word out about our programs, we take advantage of it.

How do you market the business? You mentioned some of the flyers, some of the school events that you do.

There’s a lot of different ways that we market. Any time that you can do flyers within schools, that’s big. Any time that you can do an in-person event, we take advantage of that. When it’s warm outside, there are many festivals going on in our territory. A lot of times you can go to the festivals and rent booth space, and then we come, we put up our canopy that has our logo on it and we have a table there.

We have a prize wheel at our table. The kids love the prize wheel. Mom or dad just has to fill out our member sign-up sheet that has their name, email address and ZIP code. Once we have them as a member in our database, we are able to market to them. We also market our business online.

Why do people choose i9 Sports over park or travel leagues or other competitors?

We’re all about the experience for the kids. We’re all about making sure they’re having fun in our programs. We pride ourselves on being super-organized. Parents always know what time they’re playing and what field they need to be at from out emails and text message alerts. We really pride ourselves on just being very organized and we run really great programs. Hiring a good staff is a very important part of that.

About how many people do you have on your staff?

All of our staff is part-time right now. We have a part-time program director who manages a lot of our day-to-day stuff. And then we have basketball instructors, T-ball instructors, soccer instructors and flag football instructors. Typically, we’ll have anywhere between eight to 10 part-time staff members with us between spring, summer and fall. In winter, we have around five.

Would say that you’re meeting or on your way to meeting your business goals?

Definitely. Every single year so far we’ve set goals and we hit our goals.

Now that you’re a couple of years in, how do you feel about the future of the i9 Sports brand?

I’m excited. When you think about how many i9 Sports franchises there are across the country, about 140, and when you actually break that down and see how small of a number that actually is, there’s just so much room for opportunity, so much room for growth.

We’ve been up and running for two years. We’ve seen the growth. From a scorecard standpoint, we are probably a top 40 out of 140 franchises across the country. We’re working really hard, and we are hoping to be one of those franchises that’s acquiring another territory or two here to continue to grow. I think that’s the most exciting part to me.

Is there anything else you think a prospective franchise owner should know?

We get to work with kids and we get to work with sports, which are two things that I and a lot of other people that do this are incredibly passionate about. And it’s awesome, but it takes a lot of hard work in the beginning. We’ve worked really, really hard. We’ve seen our growth, my brother and I, and we know what it takes to do this. Our business is a very rewarding one.

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