Anyone who’s read our “Starting a Gym 101” series on the CheerProfessional website knows that launching a new all-star program can be a massive undertaking—from setting up the logistics to securing the right insurance to attracting clients. To find out what it really takes for a successful start-up, we spoke with three cheer professionals who’ve just completed their first year at the helm. See how Ideal Cheer Elite’s first season went…and what they learned.
First Year Case Study #2: Ideal Cheer Elite
Location: Duluth, Minnesota
# of athletes: 60
Chelsie Waller and her co-owner Ashley Penny are bringing legitimate all-star cheerleading to the Duluth area for the first time—and working with local families to realize its potential.
CP: You bill yourselves as the first USASF gym in Duluth. Has that helped you position yourself and get more credibility?
Waller: Being the first USASF-registered gym in the Duluth area is a really great credential. It catches people’s ear and makes them want to learn more, and kind of validates what we’re doing. However, with the exception of a small rec-style league about 40 miles away, there’s never been an all-star program in Duluth. So when we say we’re the first USASF-registered gym, a lot of people don’t know what that means. We’re doing a lot of educating.
CP: How did you first get started?
Waller: To properly convey passion, you need to meet people face to face. In March, we had a couple meetings where we invited parents, athletes and potential coaches to come in and meet us. At that point, we already had a lot of our business stuff lined up—we had tryout packets set, costs set, uniform prototypes. We did as much as we could to get them to catch onto this craze that we’re so excited about.
CP: What was your biggest challenge along the way?
Waller: For us, it’s a constant struggle explaining to people what all-star is. Even when they see the things we do on the news, read about us in the newspaper or come to an exhibition, people still don’t necessarily get it. We had someone come in to one of our open gyms and ask what color our pompons were. So it’s been about branding all-star and getting people excited about it as a competitive athletic sport.
CP: What advice would you give someone who’s preparing to open a gym?
Waller: Remember that if you’re opening a gym, you’re opening a business. We cheer people get so passionate and so busy with the uniforms and the coaching and the choreography, music and competitions [that] it’s easy to leave behind the business aspect—and it’s very important not to do that. I think it’s important for anyone that wants to open a gym to know that you do not need to do it all by yourself, nor should you. As a business, you should hire an attorney, an accountant, a bookkeeper and a payroll service. Don’t be afraid to ask for help on the business side.
CP: What have you learned this year?
Waller: We learned the hard way that if you don’t tell parents that they can’t do something, they probably will. We never thought to make it a point to tell people that they can’t put our logo on things until we went to a competition, and there was a group of parents that had hand-drawn our logo onto some T-shirts using puff paint and spray paint. We kind of looked at each other in horror, because there was nothing in our code of conduct or gym rules that they couldn’t do this. So we’ve learned to make a rule for everything, even if it seemed silly.
CP: What are your goals for year two?
Waller: Growth. 100% growth. I’m looking to grow the program in athletes, looking to grow the program in teams, I’m looking to grow my athletes in skills, and I’m looking to get the teams to grow closer. We didn’t do a lot of outside bonding events last year, and that’s a shame, so it’s definitely something I’m focusing on this year.