With the under-18 crowd making up over a quarter of the U.S. population, catering to kids can really pay off. But it's a crowded market, so standing out can be tough. New franchisors are finding unique ways to target the children's market--and attracting parents by teaching kids important skills and values.
Jason Webb and Jeremy Sorzano met as soccer teammates in college and later played together professionally for the Charlotte Eagles. It was during this time that they formed the idea for Soccer Shots. Both men wanted to share their love of soccer, and they saw a niche that wasn't being filled: classes for kids ages 3 to 8.
In 2002, they started programs in Charlotte, North Carolina, and Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, offering soccer classes to preschools, day-care centers and after-school programs. The classes teach soccer skills, teamwork, self-esteem and healthy living habits, making the program especially appealing to parents and school directors. Franchising since 2005, Webb and Sorzano, 31 and 33, respectively, hope to attract entrepreneurs as well.
When Ann Gray Graf was young, the only acting opportunity for children was in musicals--and she couldn't sing. As an adult, she drew upon her experiences as a comedian and actress to start The Actor's Garage in Manhasset, New York, in 2004. Her classes teach TV and film acting to kids in a noncompetitive environment. Word spread quickly, leading Graf to start more classes in the Northeast; she began franchising in 2006 and also added stand-up and improv classes to her offerings. Students perform for an agent during their last class, and some have even landed roles in films, but the classes aren't just for aspiring actors. Kids learn confidence, interviewing skills and teamwork. "As adults, that's what our lives are all about," says Graf, 49, "and nobody really teaches us those things."
A Franchisor's Makeup
With her 10-year-old daughter, Karley, as inspiration, Lesli Prine came up with the idea for The Party Image, a place where girls under 18 can experience a spa-like, but age-appropriate, atmosphere. Neighbor Marianne Bedard had business experience and her 12-year-old daughter, Sara, gave her stamp of approval as well, so the two women worked together to open the business in 2005 in Round Rock, Texas.
Girls choose from services such as manicures, pedicures, facials and hairstyling. Though their business may seem to focus on outward appearances, Prine and Bedard, 38 and 43, respectively, strive to emphasize the importance of inner beauty to their young clients. They partnered with the Dove Campaign for Real Beauty in 2006 to run a self-esteem summer camp. Initially, they planned to wait a year before franchising, but demand has been so high that they began offering franchises in early 2006.
The Right Ingredients
Julie Burleson and Suzy Nettles had a strong desire to run their own business and had made several attempts, including selling herbs and hair accessories. It was while working on a catering business, with Burleson's then-4-year-old son trying to help in the kitchen, that the idea for Young Chefs Academy struck. With a shared love of cooking and Nettles' 10 years of teaching experience, they finally found a business that fit them perfectly. Young Chefs Academy teaches cooking to kids ages 4 to 14 through classes, camps and birthday parties. Along with the creativity, math and science skills that come with hands-on cooking experience, the kids learn kitchen safety, etiquette, table setting and more. Burleson and Nettles, 45 and 44, respectively, started small in 2004 with weekend-only classes, but the Waco, Texas-based business grew quickly. Since they began franchising in June 2005, more than 50 Young Chefs Academy franchises have opened across the U.S.