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Franchise frenzy Featured

9:52am EDT November 22, 2005
Combine the sports knowledge of a former Olympic coach with the expertise of two successful businessmen and you get a thriving business that provides athletes with advanced sports training.

Velocity Sports Performance, created by David Walmsley, Richard Kissane and former Olympic track and field coach Loren Seagrave, helps athletes of all ages reach their athletic potential through training programs scientifically designed to maximize sports performance.

“It’s been a great business to be involved in, where you can do something that is really new and also do something that is really beneficial to people,” says Walmsley.

The company began franchising in 2002 and now has 54 centers throughout the United States. Walmsley, CEO of Velocity Sports Performance, expects that they will continue to open franchises until there are as many as 500 nationwide. He also plans for the company to expand to develop and distribute products, as well as offer more services.

Smart Business talked with Walmsley about how he manages the fast growth of his one-of-a-kind business that is changing the way people exercise and athletes train.

How do you train franchisees?
We have a training program that takes them from the time they sign the franchise agreement all the way through grand opening and beyond. They also come into our offices for a two-week immersion course in our systems and our culture.

We divide the businesspeople and the coaches. On the coaching side, the folks who come in are really receiving almost like a master’s degree in exercise science or sports performance training. And then the business director and the franchisees come in and take two weeks of business training.

We also send our on-staff exercise scientists and field consultants out to continue training.

What are your business strategies, and how have they helped your company grow?
On the ground (level), our approach to sales and marketing is really grassroots. It’s a lot of time with sports leaders in the local community, youth league administrators, coaches, athletic directors, people who work in the schools and things like that.

We do a lot of sponsorships and local advertising and periodicals and publications that report on the local sports scene.

At the corporate level, our growth strategy is to continue to attract and sign up top-notch franchisees. We are now at a scale with 54 locations throughout the country; we are probably within an hour to an hour-and-a-half drive time of 50 (percent) or 60 percent of the U.S. population.

What that has enabled us to do is really start forging relationships with national brands and other national organizations for the benefit of our franchisees. Right now we are in discussion with two of the biggest sports brands here in the U.S.

What obstacles did you have to overcome as your company grew?
Real estate is very difficult for a company like ours. We are typically in spaces that average 12,000 square feet to 15,000 square feet. In order to keep rental rates down, we are often going to a mixed-used, kind of light industrial flat retail space, as opposed to putting our locations in strip malls or high-end retail that’s more expensive.

It probably takes us six months to get retail signed, whereas if we were a different kind of concept, like a sandwich shop, you could get retail signed in two weeks to 30 days.

Our concept is a new concept. Sometimes when we go into a new market, people don’t really understand what we do and how we are different from health clubs. There is decent amount of education that is required to help people understand that we are really in business to help people who play sports get better at playing sports.

Educating the market in some areas has been another challenge for us.

How do you educate people?
A lot of our marketing involves making presentations to high schools and middle schools and club teams. And getting out there in the community and hosting events.

We also have a lot of literature. Our literature and marketing materials we use tend to be pretty copy-heavy so we can really educate people about what we do.

What do you hope people say when they talk about Velocity Sports Performance?
Two companies that I strive to emulate are Sylvan Learning Center and Starbucks. Sylvan because we would like to do to physical education what Sylvan has done for math and English.

Sylvan started off just offering math and English programs. Now they are a billion-dollar publicly traded company that has a worldwide presence. We want to have a similar kind of growth pattern.

The other one is Starbucks, because we are a new concept and we are trying to really transform people’s perceptions of what coaching is all about. We want to change people’s perceptions of what it means to have functional training that will keep you healthy, help you enjoy sports more, help you play longer and help you achieve your personal goals.

We are really trying to raise the bar in terms of quality of what is available to people when it comes to sports training and physical fitness.

HOW TO REACH: Velocity Sports Performance, (678) 990-2555 or www.velocitysp.com