A true passion for sports and people drives golf pro to a great next chapter as an i9 Sports franchise owner
Baseball, football, basketball, volleyball, swimming, and, of course, golf. That’s probably an incomplete list of all the sports that golf pro Nick Cupper has played in his lifetime, most of them while growing up in Pittsburgh. Since 2019, he and his fellow golf pro business partner Steve Voguit have owned and operated i9 Sports franchises in Palm Beach County and Seminole County in Florida, and their eyes are peeled for opportunities to expand.
How did you find out about i9 Sports?
I’m a golf pro by trade. So is my business partner. One of the programs we work with is called The First Tee. The First Tee is a terrific organization. They aligned well with i9 Sports in the sense that it’s a nine-week program and there’s nine core values, so it’s more than just golf. We partnered up with the i9 Sports owner down here to do a beginner golf program. The owner is a golfer, so he spread the word and tried to help grow the game. Steve and I ran the program. We started that in the fall of 2016, and it was terrific.
It prompted me to look into the i9 Sports program a little bit, but nothing was for sale at the time. I started looking into different franchises and different franchise models. A couple of years later, after being out in the field actually coaching and teaching kids, we finished the season and I was like, “You know what? I want to buy an i9 Sports franchise.” So that really took us into the spring of 2019.
Eventually we bought the Wellington, FL, territory. We watched an opening day in Wellington, starting at about 8 in the morning. Nobody was there yet and they were just setting up. We proceeded to watch 375 kids over the next four hours go through multiple sports at this venue, and I looked at my business partner and I said, “Man, this is terrific. What are we doing just teaching golf?” And so that’s really the story and how it came to be, and the rest is history.
That’s really cool. So when you first signed up, did you know that you were going to delve into multiple territories?
Knowing my personality, I knew that’s the direction I wanted to go. We have a great corporate structure behind us, a great team up in Tampa, and if there’s an opportunity to buy a second, third or fourth territory, we could do that, as long as it makes sense and we’re ready for it.
Owning an i9 Sports franchise really gives you the opportunity to build and scale as big as you want to be, so that’s really what is appealing to me.
How do you and your partner divide your roles in the business?
We’re great friends with very similar upbringings. I’m from the west side of Pennsylvania, he’s from the east side. I’m from Pittsburgh, he’s from Philly. We’re very similar but also very different. I love meeting people, talking, being out in front. He loves handling things in the office and being organized. We’ve worked with each other for five years now, and we really complement each other’s skills.
I am full-throttle all the time: “What are we doing next?” And my business partner is the voice of reason, “Nick, hey, let’s think about this for a second before we dive in.” We’re both similar, but I’m a big believer in, “Just dive in, we’ll figure it out.” This balance has helped us be successful over the last five years.
As you’ve gone through this process, has there ever been an “aha” moment where you just said, “Oh, yeah, this was definitely the right decision for us.”?
Anytime you write a big check, whether it’s buying a house or a car, if it doesn’t feel right, you know right away. I’d done tons of homework on i9 Sports prior, and the reason is because I’m very much an impulse buyer. I knew as soon as the money was transferred that this was the right thing.
What was it about i9 Sports as opposed to another sports franchise that made you say this was the right one?
We looked at a couple, and I had experience with the local area directors, talking to them a little bit about the website. I didn’t know a whole lot about it going in. I did a little bit of research on the backstory of it. It’s a really cool story with (founder) Frank Fiume and the nine I’s. The one thing that I can’t say enough about is the support from corporate. They give us everything we need to be successful. Whether we’re successful or not, that’s on us, but there is so much support in every area.
What are some of the specific pieces of support that you find to be most valuable as a relatively new franchisee?
I was fortunate enough to be able to go to the national convention up in Orlando last summer, and I got to meet CEO Brian Sanders and our business coach, Nick Baxter. I was able to put a face with the name. It was great just knowing you have a team you can bounce ideas off of and really benefit from their experience. I probably call Nick more than I should. I’ve never seen Nick upset or react in a way that wasn’t a good reflection on the brand. We’re more than a year in, and we still have our Monday morning calls.
What have you found so far to be the most rewarding thing about owning an i9 Sports franchise?
I’m a big believer in the adage that you always need something to chase. Seeing the kids and giving back to the community is terrific, but I like the idea of coming up with a plan and seeing that plan executed, seeing how different venues pan out. I would say the challenge of it, and mentally how it challenges you to move forward. For me, that’s been the most rewarding. It’s like, “Okay, here’s a blank sheet of paper. I can draw you the picture of what we want it to look like in the next three to five years.” That, for me, is exciting.
The first sport that I loved growing up was baseball, so the ability for me to coach T-ball — not that I have to, but I can — it’s really fun. I don’t have to do that every week or even every season, but to be able to jump in and do that is really rewarding.
How vital is it, in your opinion, for kids to be involved in sports?
Extremely. And you have to be careful. I’m a super competitive person in everything I do. My wife , Veronica, and I have a 15-month-old daughter, our first, and I have to watch my competitiveness. I’ve had great role models around me. My dad always kids me; I don’t play as much golf as I used to, but he would say, “Remember, it’s a game, and you’re the one who wants to be out there. No one’s forcing you to go there.” I have to keep that in mind as I watch Isabella grow up. She’s super young, and we’re already talking about, “Oh hon, she could start soccer soon.” Just exposing her to as many sports as I can, and just encouraging that passion for whatever sport she chooses.
Is there anything else that you think a prospective buyer should know about pursuing an i9 Sports franchise?
You need business experience. You need to be a people person. You can always hire people to run the fields and do stuff like that, but you genuinely need to like being around people. And if you don’t, you have to hire someone who does.
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