Kids Activity Providers: How to compete in a saturated market

I spoke to a kids activity provider recently who was super concerned about her ability to continue competing in her region due to what she perceives to be a saturated (or at least highly competitive) market. I think the majority of activity providers have at least had this thought come across their mind. Her view was that as a small business operating a few venues and staff, she rarely had the time to commit to learning more about key areas that would likely be critical to her success. Stuff like marketing essentials, branding advice and growth strategy.

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So I gave her some tips that have worked well for both the franchise companies I’ve helped dominate the market and my current consultancy clients. I thought I’d share them here:

1. EMOTIONAL RESONANCE – this is where you create a ‘pull factor’ for what it is you are offering. You need to tell stories, engage people on a deeper level so they remember you, feel a connection and become a loyal fan. If your brand doesn’t get people ‘feeling’ something positive about what you do, you’re probably not doing enough. Most people tell stories to their friends and family where they feel safe, loved and connected – why not try to do the same with your customers and community?

Real example: While working for a leading preschool football franchise, we launched an additional product when parents signed up; personalised football shirts. They would pay X amount for their child’s name on the back of the shirt they received when they joined. Not compulsory but acted as a fantastic keepsake that over 90% of parents chose to buy. The result; 100% mark up on the service which made a nice additional revenue stream but critically an emotional attachment to the brand for both child and parent (not to mention amazing brand awareness tool!)

2. BE SPECIFIC – this one refers to goal setting. You need to know where you’re going to track progress, iterate and continue driving forward. If you don’t have both short and long term goals, clearly written down, specific for different areas of your business then maybe don’t be surprised when you’re not really sure where the business is heading. If you can clearly identify some smart goals to aim for, with particular action points attached to them so they can be realistically achieved, then you’re probably a step ahead of many providers.

Real example: I helped launch a new kids brand in Australia and NZ, which was supported by an established programme but still an unknown to the market. We set a lofty target of signing up 140 children in classes per week within 6 months, while maintaining the other programmes we offered with the same number of staff. We hit that target within 5 months because it acted as a specific goal that we needed to reach and ensured we stayed accountable to doing the ‘things’ needed to achieve it. Perhaps we could have been more ambitious?!

3. POSITIVE AUDIENCE EXPERIENCE – I’d go as far as saying 50% of activity providers don’t pay enough attention to this. Having a great programme and classes, which everyone talked about and referred their friends is no longer enough unfortunately. You need to ensure the all round experience of what you are offering is better than competitors.

Real example: My wife and I went to a new softplay venue recently, 15 minutes further from our home than the one we usually take our daughter too. The venue was beautiful; bright, airy, clean. The customer service was on point; friendly, welcoming and available. The facilities were great; free parking, modern toilets and safe. It was dearer than our local softplay and the actual toys were probably not quite as good BUT we would 100% rate the new venue over our local one because we had a much more ‘positive audience experience’. We felt good when we arrived, during and after being there. Moral here is; don’t just focus on your programme USP, focus on your brand USP and all round service to customers.

4. INVEST IN SUPPORT – don’t try to do it all alone. While this is normal to start with as you launch a business, for you to reach growth, revenue and lifestyle goals it is difficult to do this without support. This might be in outsourced help, hiring more instructors or using a consultant for bigger projects. Don’t be afraid to reach out to people, network and find out how they can help you. Every successful business needs a strong leader to steer the ship, but it also needs that same leader to recognise when to make key decisions and delegate or invest in support.

Real example: A franchise consultancy client of mine recently switched accountants just before they started working with me because they felt their old one was fine, but didn’t really get what they were doing, didn’t offer practical advice or go the extra mile in anyway. The new accountant was three times more expensive but totally understood their business needs, gave advice far more reaching than just about numbers, and critically added more profitability to their business from the very first month so could very easily justify the increased spend.