mergers

Behind the Merger: West Virginia Cheer Academy

Behind the Merger: West Virginia Cheer Academy

As the divide between small and large gyms grows wider, it’s not uncommon for gyms to merge in an attempt to pump up profits and competitive power. On the surface, the reasons to merge seem clear—building a larger membership base or having the means to form a stronger coaching staff. But dig deeper and you’ll find that a number of other motivating factors are often at play, from strengthening the local cheer community to wanting to benefit the athletes. For our “Behind the Merger” series, we caught up with three gym owners who opted to merge and discovered the real deal behind making the challenging yet rewarding move to become one. See the third in our series below (and don’t miss our first installment with East Celebrity Elite and second with Legendary Athletics)!

Merger #3: Twin City Stars + West Virginia Cheer Academy = West Virginia Cheer Academy

Locations: Big Chimney, WV, and Marmet, WV (suburbs of Charleston)

Reason for merging: Rapid growth, plus gym owners who were ready to leave the business

Combined number of athletes: 220 (80 competitive)

Kayla Wygal, co-owner of West Virginia Cheer Academy, caught the attention of Twin City Stars, and when they wanted to give up the business to spend more time with family, they gave Wygal a call.

CP: Your situation is unique; you absorbed Twin City Stars into your gym.

Wygal: It’s only our second season (we started in August 2012), but we saw an incredible amount of growth. It was scary; Twin City Stars was three years our senior. We had competed against them and they beat us, but the owners liked what they saw and were interested in turning over the business to us. On August 26, 2013, we took full ownership.

CP: Tell us about the logistics before the merger.
Wygal: We were the smaller gym and were 10 miles apart from Twin City Stars at two separate ends of town. We pull [kids] from eight counties in West Virginia with Charleston at the center.

CP: What were the steps you took to merge your smaller gym with their larger program?
Wygal: We built a relationship with the owners over a couple of months and decided to tell our parents first. There were hurt feelings—mostly the Twin City Stars’ parents were upset that the owners didn’t tell them. But then [the parents] got to know us, and the kids could still do what they wanted to do: cheer.

CP: How are you managing it now?
Wygal: We use the same name but maintain the separate locations. Seniors go to the original location of Twin City because the majority of seniors were from there, and juniors alternate between the two locations.

CP: How has becoming a larger gym helped West Virginia Cheer Academy?
Wygal: We were strong at all-star, and they were better at tumbling. They didn’t have enough to make full teams for all-star and now they do. All-star isn’t huge in West Virginia but we have created a buzz and excitement about the expansion. Gyms are talking about us.

CP: What were the reactions you’ve encountered with the membership?
Wygal: The kids are amazing. They are so resilient and do well. The Twin City location parents love us and have taken us in. I have taken on development at Twin City, and some of our parents feel like I’ve chosen them [Twin City] over West Virginia Cheer Academy. That was a surprise, but they are coming around and now the parents are mingling between the two gyms. The attitude is, “We’ve got to do this together if we are going to be successful.”

CP: Are there other challenges?
Wygal: I’ve learned that how you manage coaching staff is key to your success. We have head coaches at each location, and we want to make sure they know they are important. The coaches that share locations have merged. Getting all the coaches together hasn’t happened organically, and we are having our first “all coaches” meeting. Now we are stepping in and enforcing [the mingling]. It will be fine, and we won’t lose anyone; we just need to explain that together they are stronger.

CP: Looking back, would you do it all over again?
Wygal: I would do it all over again. It’s been fun, but it’s been hard. I work 14-15 hour days, but I’ve met so many great little girls I wouldn’t have met otherwise. It’s like with children—you never would have dreamed you could love the second one as much as the first.

CP: Any advice for gym owners presented with the opportunity to expand?
Wygal: Don’t be afraid to be ambitious; don’t fear the opportunity. Yes, it is extremely hard work and it’s expensive. But if you are in it for the kids, it is 100% worth it.

Behind the Merger: Legendary Athletics

Behind the Merger: Legendary Athletics

As the divide between small and large gyms grows wider, it’s not uncommon for gyms to merge in an attempt to pump up profits and competitive power. On the surface, the reasons to merge seem clear—building a larger membership base or having the means to form a stronger coaching staff. But dig deeper and you’ll find that a number of other motivating factors are often at play, from strengthening the local cheer community to wanting to benefit the athletes. For our “Behind the Merger” series, we caught up with three gym owners who opted to merge and discovered the real deal behind making the challenging yet rewarding move to become one. See the second in our series below (and don’t miss our first installment with East Celebrity Elite)!

Merger #2: Shine Athletics + Lake Mary All Stars = Legendary Athletics

Location: Longwood, FL

Reason for merging: Creating a new brand of all-star cheer for the community

Combined number of athletes: 300 athletes (in the all-star program)

Sydney McBride, former owner of Longwood, Florida-based Shine Athletics, spoke to us about her recent merger with Lake Mary All Stars—going from two small gyms in the same community (on the same street) to a powerhouse program with benefits more far-reaching than they originally intended.

CP: When did you decide to merge?
McBride: We merged in May [2013]. The gyms, previously run separately, merged together to create a new, larger program with a new name: Legendary Athletics.

CP: Before deciding to move forward, what were the benefits you felt you would realize if you merged?
McBride: The main benefit was to be able to have one large program under one roof and combine all of our awesome staff together as one. Both of our programs were really strong, especially when it came to staff and child/parent relationships. The majority of the kids were friends outside of cheer and went to school together. Combining the two programs helped us bring the entire community together.

CP: How did you structure the teams after the merger and utilize your staff?
McBride: For this first season, we put a staff member from each of the prior gyms together on each team to make sure kids from both programs feel comfortable.

CP: What were the challenges after the merger?
McBride: The biggest challenge was making everyone from both programs understand and adapt to the concept that the merger was an entirely new program. It wasn’t Shine and it wasn’t Lake Mary All Stars: it was a new, larger program with new concepts, new ideas and a new brand with a new feel.

CP: How did the kids and parents initially react?
McBride: Both of our gyms were previously very big rivals, due to the nature that we were so close in geographic location. So when we announced the merger, everyone was very shocked. But after that initial shock, most people understood and stated they were excited to be a part of a larger program.

CP: What other advice would you offer gyms considering a merger?
McBride: I would highly recommend creating a new name and brand if the gyms merging together are rivals. Also, I think choosing a brand-new location was very helpful in making it easier for everyone from both sides to recognize Legendary Athletics as a new gym and equal [territory] for all families.

 


Behind the Merger: East Celebrity Elite

Behind the Merger: East Celebrity Elite

As the divide between small and large gyms grows wider, it’s not uncommon for gyms to merge in an attempt to pump up profits and competitive power. On the surface, the reasons to merge seem clear—building a larger membership base or having the means to form a stronger coaching staff. But dig deeper and you’ll find that a number of other motivating factors are often at play, from strengthening the local cheer community to wanting to benefit the athletes. For our “Behind the Merger” series, we caught up with three gym owners who opted to merge and discovered the real deal behind making the challenging yet rewarding move to become one. See the first in our series below!

 

Merger #1: East Elite + Celebrity Cheer = East Celebrity Elite

Location: Tewksbury, MA

Reason for merging: Remaining profitable in a challenging economy

Combined number of athletes: 400+

Cheryl Pasinato, former owner of East Elite, discusses her gym’s 2009 merger with Celebrity Cheer and the payback of moving forward.

CP: Why did you decide to merge?
Pasinato: It was a mutual merger [between East Elite and Celebrity Cheer]. I knew them for a while; we were two of the biggest gyms numbers-wise in the area. But when the economy took a downturn, we both started to lose kids.

CP: What was the motivator, aside from the economy, to merge with Celebrity Cheer?
Pasinato: To stay competitive nationally, we felt we needed to do something. It was to position our gym as a bigger, non-local program competing at the national level. We also had a philosophy to offer our kids the best coaches and the best staff. With diminishing numbers, we didn’t think we could do this on our own; we felt we had to merge.

CP: Describe the landscape before merging.
Pasinato: We were 8-10 miles away from each other and, if a kid didn’t make it at one of our gyms, they would go to the other one. People [parents and kids] started to create competition between us. We were the worst rivals ever. Our staff didn’t get along; we were really competitive with each other. Essentially we merged with people we didn’t even speak with—but we did it for the business and the kids.

CP: The merger must have been challenging. How did you make it work?
Pasinato: We both had strong staffs with different philosophies and strengths. But we felt we could learn from each other. We also felt we could use each other’s strengths to come up with the ideal program. For instance, tumbling coaches are hard to come by, so combining our coaching staff would benefit our kids. It was a better talent pool.

CP: What else made the merger challenging?
Pasinato: Selling it to the parents. For the most part, everyone was excited after we made the announcement, but we had been rivals for all these years who wanted to beat each other. After a couple months, there were indeed issues, but mostly with the parents (loyalty-type issues on little things).

CP: How so?
Pasinato: It was pride-based—things that kept the parents separate like colors and competition. We had pride in our [respective] identities and names and our colors, but this went away after the first year because the kids had a really good year.

CP: What was the key to making it work?
Pasinato: Compromise. There was a facility issue: [Celebrity Cheer’s] was cheaper and more centrally located. We felt bad for the kids leaving their gym behind, but we had to compromise. We did things to help the kids feel comfortable, such as using their [East Elite] colors. We talked to the older kids and told them we needed their support to make this work and for them to be examples to the younger kids. We merged right after tryouts and kept all the teams separate except the minis and Junior 5 teams. After the second year, we merged everyone.

CP: Any other examples of how you compromised?
Pasinato: We were more conservative about attendance; they weren’t. Together we adopted a [joint] policy that was less conservative but one that motivated everyone to come to practice.

CP: What was most surprising to you after the merger?
Pasinato: What surprised me most was how the four of us [the original gym owners] got along. We all had these ideas about each other; that we were so different. But as we came together, we realized we were more similar [in our business and coaching attitudes]. We all had the same goals too: providing a better experience, fostering growth and more profit, making [cheer] a career.

CP: How has the merger made you more competitive?
Pasinato: We have a lot of different levels now—division and age groups at every single level. We are giving kids the opportunity to progress using their skills and offering them more opportunities.

CP: What is your advice for other gyms considering a merger?
Pasinato: I think you have to consider the reasons why. If it’s financial, that’s good; if it’s for a better name, that’s not a good reason. The name doesn’t necessarily bring the kids. A good reason is to be competitive and have more resources, such as revenue and cash flow.