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adapting to fit new markets

How businesses in the activities sector are adapting to fit new markets

November 24, 2023

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One of the key areas for growth is moving your business into new markets. Whether it’s new geographical regions or adapting to the changes in the market so you can offer the right skills, adaptation is key. This week, we introduce two companies: Edstart and Rugbytots.

Rugbytots is a global phenomenon, that provides children with their fix of rugby training and skills, with franchises in 27 countries. Chris Irwin founded Edstart, before selling his stake to his two largest franchisees. Their thoughts on adapting to new markets show that learning on the job is essential.

So how have they adapted to new markets? Read on to find out…


Investing in franchisees for growth

Ash Greenhalgh and Adam Rowles were passionate sports coaches. They became franchisees at Edstart before buying Chris Irwin’s share of the business. Now, as Managing Directors, they have the same lived experiences as franchisees. As two of the most successful franchisees in the business, they’re developing new processes they need to make Edstart a successful business.


“I’m a Rochdale franchisee, and Adam is franchised in Bury, but we’re franchisors of the whole business as well. We’ve been here from the beginning. We know what franchisees are thinking when they come, and we know the procedures, and we know that everywhere is totally different.”


The power of their model is their knowledge. They adapt the processes, situations and scenarios to suit each area and understand that the sports coaches on the ground are their greatest knowledge hub. As regional managers, they supported all geographical regions of the business. It became the strength of their pitch when they were negotiating to buy out the business.


Capitalising on a passion for the franchise model

Max Webb was swimming in advice when he was deciding how to grow Rugbytots. As the founder and CEO of the business, he had advisors, accountants and fellow entrepreneurs at his disposal. Max wanted to control their growth so that no matter what region they found themselves in, they could still deliver a quality service.


“Initially, we had an organic growth model. We were recruiting area managers in places like Derby and then Cornwall. It was going well until we lost a few in these regions. Suddenly, we had no local knowledge and no understanding of the venues, how to recruit, or even what areas to put our leaflets and posters in.”


He opted for the franchising route at that point, and he had plenty of people telling him it wasn’t the right move. But, he met what would become a master franchisee in Scotland. Seeing their passion, they realised that investing in the motivated people in the business as a franchise was the right move.


Finding and catering to consumers

Max knew that the Rugbytots model worked. Not only were they teaching rugby skills, but all types of foundational skills in movement and personal and social development. With the first round of leaflets and posters, they weren’t marketing to single consumers but a rugby community.

“Suddenly, children started arriving at the park. We realised quickly that people had been looking for something like this. Rugby is a community, and parents had been looking for something that was based on their passion for the sport. Parents we spoke to had been driving from Brighton to inner-city London to go to classes that were sub-par and disorganised. Rugbytots was exactly what they needed.”


At Edstart, Adam and Ash were introducing new processes – Updating their website, refining their recruitment and brokering partnerships with local universities and colleges. They are building relationships with prospective employees by reminding them of what companies like Edstart could offer their future.

“We’re growing organically as a company in different areas because we’re getting noticed by schools. Schools are contacting us now to have us work in their schools. The more business we get, the more skills we have on board, the more people we need on our books.”


Developing your business culture

Learning as you go is essential to understanding the cultural differences in any geography. For Adam and Ash at Edstart, this began with their own experiences as sports coaches, regional managers, franchisees and then Managing Directors. They lived the experience and understood that trial and error would be their best friend.

At Rugbytots, the key to their growth was adaptability and flexibility. Why? Because going into international markets meant understanding what types of cultures and systems you’re working with. What works for one country might not work for another.

“If you look at somewhere like Australia or New Zealand, there is a completely different ethos around sport. The market is saturated, and it’s an outdoor game. It’s harder to sell any type of program there. We’ve even done things like created different user adaptations of the booking system for the challenges of working in new markets.”


To find out more about taking your activities business into new markets, listen to The Drive Phase podcast back catalogue, or why not check out our shorts on YouTube? Get a dose of inspiration to start your journey into a new market with The Drive Phase.

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