Sarah Beattie set up her holiday club business Fun Fest to solve her own personal problems as a working parent. Last year she launched it as a franchise and it is not only growing fast, but has scooped this year’s workingmums.co.uk Top Franchise Award for Best Newcomer.
The judges praised it for the way it had put in place support for franchisees to understand how to maximise their profitability and to update their training. They stated: “It is a well-constructed business which provides a solid business model and offers a good variety of extra-curricular activities.”
Sarah set up the original Fun Fest business around 10 years ago in Solihull for working parents like her. She has three children, a girl and two boys, who all have different interests. She found there was no one holiday club which would suit them all and that many were only open from 10 till three. Moreover, too many were not very inspiring – kids were either doing things like watching tv or colouring. “I thought, this is their holiday. You feel guilty enough as a working parent leaving them,” she says. “I wanted something that would excite and interest them.”
At the time, Sarah, a former regional bank manager, was running a day nursery – something she still does alongside her work for Fun Fest Franchising. That experience means she knows about caring for children and could see there was a big gap in the holiday club market. This is backed up by government research which shows a lack of quality holiday club provision. Three and four year olds at pre-schools are especially uncatered for, says Sarah, as most holiday clubs are registered to take children from age five. Getting an Ofsted licence for younger children is difficult, but as Sarah runs a nursery she knew how to do it and had a good relationship with Ofsted.
Her nursery runs on a school site so could provide wraparound care for the school over 51 weeks of the year. Sarah says schools don’t have the resources to offer the same provision and because the school is lying empty in the holidays Fun Fest offers them a much needed additional income, given recent budget cuts. “We are a total solution,” she says. “All we need is premises. We have our own staff, licence and resources. We pay rent. It generates income for schools without them having to do anything.”
Around five years ago Sarah realised that the franchise model was the right way to develop the business. “I could not be everywhere,” she says. Because her co-director is a full-time teacher and Sarah has a full-time job, it took a while to put a manual together and get everything right for franchising the business. She invested money in an online billing system which offers franchisees value for money. It means customers can book holiday club sessions in the same way they would book a film.
The franchise model was launched last April and Fun Fest now has 13 clubs in 10 territories. Sarah wants to double that on a year by year basis. The emphasis of the clubs is on fun. There is no screen time, just sports, arts and other sessions, including scavenger hunts, a bling session, cupcake making, pottery and various sports. Small clubs offer two options at any one time; larger clubs offer three. Siblings can do different sessions, depending on their interests. Safeguarding is something the business takes very seriously alongside quality, all at a reasonable price of £30 a day for a full day from 8.30am to 5.30pm.
One of Sarah’s main challenges is getting the right franchisees so she is fine tuning the interview process and psychometric testing and has lengthened the training and induction process from three to six months. “It takes into account that franchisees need to learn about Ofsted and working with children. Many are mums from a professional background who are looking for a better work life balance. It is a big learning curve. Others come from teaching and need to learn the business side,” says Sarah.
She says franchisees’ attitude is important. They need to have a good rapport with children. Even if they are not managing the club themselves but hiring someone else to do it, they need to know how to recruit the right people. They must also be prepared to work hard, particularly in the first year and be ethical. The business runs during the holidays, although there is some administrative work during term time. That means people can do other work on the side. Some franchisees run other franchises or businesses or work in schools.
Another challenge is getting the Fun Fest message out to schools. Once she gets her foot in the door, Sarah says no school turns down what Fun Fest is offering, but it is hard to get a meeting with the right people. She has been trying different routes such as advertising in magazines and is trialling different venues.
While the core business is holiday clubs, the franchise is also trialling after school clubs in two locations and running Fun Fest parties to give franchisees an extra income stream. In addition, it is partnering with other providers such as a go-carting business to provide a more cost-effective service. Sarah is also looking at exporting the model abroad – the franchise has already been approached by people in different countries who are interested in the model.