Little Kickers, an amazing story for football enthusiastic kids between 18 months to 7 years, started in London, where Christine Stanschus, a former investment banker, was searching options for her son Lukas to play football (2 years at this stage).
Christine simply couldn't find an organized form of playing for children below 5 years as this type of activity is usually offered in the numerous football clubs in London above the age of 5 years.
Driven by this lack Christine set up a pilot project named Little Kickers in 2002 offering parents and their children in this age group an opportunity to play football with certified coaches, a project which in the meantime has developed across 4 continents with much potential to grow. Soccer Services has recently talked to Christine Stanschus about Little Kickers' success story and its future.
Founder & CEO Christine Stanschus operates Little Kickers today as a global business
Soccer Services: Christine, what was your motivation to set up Little Kickers?
Christine Stanschus: My son Lukas loved football and I realized that there was no organized form of football and no qualified coaches for children below 5 years of age. Coaching kids of this age group is very different to coaching older children so we needed to do a lot of work on developing the program and ensuring that would actively engage preschool children and that the skills it taught were appropriate for the age group.
Soccer Services: Tell us about the start-up of Little Kickers in London!
Christine Stanschus: We started a pilot project for children 2+ years of age in 2002 and have adapted this programaccording to the needs of pre-school kids introducing early learning skills such as colour and number recognition and social skills such as sharing, taking turns, following instructions. The program has evolved over the past 10 years, and we are constantly introducing new innovations to the network of franchisees.
Soccer Services: How do you attract kids to love the game of football?
Christine Stanschus: Usually qualified coaches don’t embrace the teaching skills for pre-school kids as they are used to coaching purely technical skills to kids in clubs aged 6+ years. We train these coaches so they are able to introduce early learning skill elements to the classes, which are critical to successfully coach the age group between 18 months and 6 years.
Little Kickers totally excited to start their football session
We invent games, which in addition to introducing children to the basic technical aspects of football, also fire their imaginations so they learn while they are having fun. Whether the games involve travelling by train or boat, pretending to be animals or pirates or recovering stolen treasure etc.they all have a sound technical basis so that the children learn football skills without realizing they are doing so.
Little Kickers learn to have fun playing football
Soccer Services: It seems that Little Kickers captured the attention of many parents and you filled a gap in the market. How did you transform Little Kickers from a pilot project into a business?
Christine Stanschus: Once we saw how popular the program was becoming, we decided that the best way to grow the business without compromising the quality of the program was to franchise it. We liked the fact that franchising enables a company to distribute their product or service through a dedicated network of committed business owners, all of whom have a strong interest in ensuring the classes they deliver are the best they possibly can be.
We took on our firstfranchisee in London in 2004 and since then the network has grown to over 200 franchisees in 14 countries. Interestingly, we don’t generally advertise for franchisees – people tend to approach us because their children have attended our classes or perhaps they have worked for Little Kickers as a coach.
Soccer Services: What are the investments/costs for a franchisee?
Christine Stanschus: Usually interested franchisees pay a one-time fee of around 8,000 GBP + sales tax to start a franchise and we supply them with all necessary tools and training to run Little Kickers successfully.
In addition, a management fee of 10% of gross revenue is paid by the franchisee each month. This covers Little Kickers’ ongoing costs of managing the infrastructure (IT systems, website, marketing and advertising collateral, merchandise, ongoing program development etc) for the network.
Soccer Services: How is the communication flow between franchisees and the management of the head office?
Christine Stanschus: We also work very hard to listen to our franchisees and customers so we can stay at the forefront of trends and new ideas. For example, we recently developed an English Language Program in which children are taught English while developing their football skills. We’ve found that this is a particularly effective method of teaching young children (particularly boys) languages, and have started rolling this program out across many of our non-Anglophone locations.
Soccer Services: How do you promote Little Kickers?
Christine Stanschus: Our data suggests that once a franchisee is established in an area, approx.. 80% of their customers come through word-of-mouth – ie people recommend Little Kickers to their friends. As a rule, our franchisees don’t tend to spend much on advertising as they find that low cost techniques such as running free trial classes in nursery schools or parks, works better than high cost advertising campaigns. The rapid growth of Little Kickers has shown us that this has been the right strategy so far.
Soccer Services: When did you start to internationalize the business and where are the franchises operated around the world?
Christine Stanschus: In 2006 South Africa was the first market place outside the UK and we now operate through a network of over 200 franchisees in 4 continents, with classes running in Australia, New Zealand, Canada, Ecuador, Malaysia, Saudi Arabia, Cyprus, Ireland etc. The UK is still the largest overall market with approx. 40% of total number of franchises being operated there.
Soccer Services: How is the feedback of franchisees in regards to their experience running Little Kickers businesses?
Christine Stanschus: We recently had an independent survey conducted in the UK to gather data around how happy Little Kickers franchisees are based on various aspects of the Little Kickers business and support provided by the Franchisor. 94% of franchisees said that they would strongly recommend the franchise to their friends, 98% were very happy with the products and services, and across all categories the business gained an approval rating of 87%, which was very positive compared to other franchisors who were surveyed.
Soccer Services: Football is a global business and there are many stories of professional football clubs recruiting players already in an early stage of their childhood. Did some clubs on this level contact you?
Christine Stanschus: Indeed, Manchester City FC and Chelsea FC made some requests and we were really thrilled to receive inquiries from them. This shows us that the Little Kickers’ concept captures attention and we had the feeling that these clubs hoped to copy details of our program. Still, it seems that professional football is focusing more on the drill aspect, which Little Kickers does not, and that we have developed a high level of expertise in an area where the larger clubs have shown less of an interest in focusing.
Little Kickers - in the focus of Premier League Clubs
Soccer Services: Let’s talks about Germany which is a huge market for football. Are you planning to launch Little Kickers in the near future there?
Christine Stanschus: We would be delighted to launch in Germany. Based on the recent success of German Teams in the Champion’s League and other competitions, we can see that there is a real passion for football in Germany and we would love to introduce our program so that children can develop an interest in the game at an even younger age than they do at the moment. Ideally, we would like to find somebody to start a franchise in Germany and, over time, to expand their role so they would function as a country manager to develop Little Kickers across Germany through a network of franchisees.
Soccer Services: What do you expect from franchisees to start a business for instance in Germany?
Christine Stanschus: No prior experience in either coaching or running a business is required – we provide full, very detailed training and a high level of support to our franchisees on an ongoing basis. We look for people who are passionate about working with children and promoting children’s sport.
Running your own business can be hard work, so we look for people who are determined to succeed and ambitious. Good computer skills are important, as we have invested heavily in IT systems, to minimize the amount of time our franchisees need to spend doing administrative tasks. Good communication skills are also critical, as is the ability to work as part of a team.
Soccer Services: Christine, thank you so much for your time and we wish you all the best in the future for Little Kickers.
Little Kickers - the small Messis and Ronaldos start to play football here (for more information please click here http://www.littlekickers.co.uk)