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Owners Manual

Owner’s Manual: Danielle Johnston of Twister Sports

Owner’s Manual: Danielle Johnston of Twister Sports

Less than a year after starting Twister Sports, co-owner Danielle Johnston has made the leap to full-time to foster her all-star gym’s rapid growth.

Vital Stats:

Name: Danielle Johnston, co-owner and coach

Gym: Twister Sports

Location: Warrensburg, MO

Founded: March 2013

Size: 320 athletes

Gym size: 14,500 square feet

Debrief: Though the program began just a year ago, Twister Sports has grown rapidly to 300-plus athletes—necessitating a gym expansion and the full attention of co-owners Danielle Johnston and Angie Fritsch. In light of the enthusiastic response, Johnston quit her job of seven years in October to focus on the gym full-time.  

The Dish: I’ve always been used to a very busy schedule, having worked full-time for the last seven years and also having gone to college for several of those years. My journey toward running an all-star program started in 2009, when I began helping a friend who coached rec cheerleading at our Air Force base. I volunteered that first year, running two squads with her. The following year, my friend moved away and the base offered me the contract.

After graduating college in 2011, I started devoting a lot more time to the program—adding dance to the curriculum and doing some major marketing efforts. By 2012, our enrollment had grown from six to 35 kids, and as a result, the local community center offered me a position. I started teaching cheer and coaching a competitive squad there; they were very supportive but we quickly outgrew the space. It was also missing a spring floor and the right equipment to teach tumbling properly.

The popularity of the community center’s competitive cheer program sparked the idea to start Twister Sports. I’d been dying to start my own gym, but had never really seen it as a possibility—there was already one other gym in our small town of 21,000, plus another dance studio. Once I saw that it could be a reality, I reached out to Angie [Fritsch, now co-owner of Twister Sports], who taught tumbling at both the base and the community center.

Together we had a combined number of about 100 students, and last January, we signed a lease for a 9,000 sq. ft. space in the back of a shopping center. I marketed like crazy on Facebook and through email, but tried to save any money for the opening expenses. I knew I’d have to keep working, and really, I didn’t start Twister Sports for the paycheck—anyone who knows anything about cheer doesn’t do it because it makes a lot of money. We do it because it’s what we love.

We opened the doors to the business in March, and by May, we had outgrown our new space completely. It had only been two months, but our program required major expansion. We got with the landlord and arranged to break down the walls to expand to our current size. On my end, the growth was exciting but also challenging, since I was working about 90 hours per week between the gym and my full-time job in public relations at the base. On top of the two jobs, I am also a reservist in the Air Force, so I was also balancing the requirement of one weekend a month for that.

At first, it was really hard—the biggest challenge was finding time for the “easy” things. I have four kids, ages 3 to 10, and I still had to pay bills and wash dishes and do laundry; also, on top of all that, I have an obligation to stay in shape for the Air Force, and while cheer and tumbling are very athletic for coaches, they’re not the right kind of exercise needed for the Air Force.

The biggest thing that saved me was writing down everything and scheduling almost every single minute. I had to be extremely prepared in the morning to make sure I had everything for the whole day (from clothes for the gym to food for my kids). What I learned is that there’s no way to have a successful gym without sacrifice, and holding down two jobs is often part of that. One job pays you, and the other will take your money if you don’t do it right—both are equally important. A new business is a lot like a baby, so if you have a business partner, make sure it’s someone you could live with…literally. Luckily, Angie and I work extremely well together.

In October, I quit my full-time job at the base to go full-time at the gym. It was a big leap of faith, because [my former job] was fantastic with good retirement benefits—but I had to go with the job that made me happiest. Also, I believe that you get to a point where your business will plateau if you don’t go full-time to take it to the next level. We can’t wait to see where it goes!

Owner’s Manual: Andrea Fagundes of Athletic Perfection

Owner’s Manual: Andrea Fagundes of Athletic Perfection

In our “Owner’s Manual” column, we ask gym owners to take us “under the hood” and give us their secrets to what keeps their gyms running so smoothly. Find out how Andrea Fagundes and her co-owners at Athletic Perfection handled the transition from small gym to large gym in style:

Vital Stats:

Name: Andrea Fagundes, co-owner (with Jennifer Moore and gym founder Julie Van Os)

Gym: Athletic Perfection Cheer

Location: Tracy, California

Founded: 2003

Size: Eight all-star teams and two all-star prep teams

Gym size: Approximately 6,000 square feet

Debrief: Last summer, Athletic Perfection hit a peak number of 115 athletes—the most the gym has had in its 10 years and a growth of more than 30 percent from the previous season. We spoke with co-owner Fagundes about how her gym is handling the exponential growth—and how they plan to ride the wave of success.

The Dish:

As the class sizes started to grow, Julie realized she couldn’t do it alone, so Jennifer and I came on as partners in May 2012. The biggest thing for the three of us has been to find a balance as far as our respective areas of expertise. In general, I work as the all-star teams director, choreographer, curriculum director and head of merchandise design. Jennifer works on all finance and sales. Julie is call director, along with working on advertising, marketing and choreography. We hold regularly scheduled weekly meetings, which are crucial because they allow us to openly discuss any issues. They also give us time to inform each other of what’s been happening on our end during that week.

Being 100% upfront and organized has been a huge key to our growth. Calendars, conferences and emails are how we stay focused. The three of us had an eight-hour meeting in December during which we planned our entire calendar for 2013. Now we know when picture day is and what days we are open; we have a clear picture of what we need and what we have to offer. The worst thing is for a new face to walk into your gym, and you don’t have an answer for them or a way to keep them in your program. Staying super-organized means that when prospective customers call, we have schedules and dates to share—and they can immediately join a class, team or camp.

Being organized also ensures that, when the gym opens at 5 pm, it’s not a crazy madhouse but instead organized chaos! There are times where it does start to feel a bit crowded in the gym, so we always communicate who will be working—especially during busy hours.

Even as we grow, it’s important to maintain a high level of personal attention. Just like schools have parent-teacher conferences, we offer monthly owner-parent-coach conferences. The gym will not run smoothly if parents are talking about issues among themselves, so we open up the window of conversation. When parents have something they want to address, they can sign up for a 10-minute time slot. The three of us take turns each month [meeting with parents]. We also make sure that at least one owner is available at all times to communicate with parents and kids during business hours.

One of my top pieces of advice would be to never be afraid of having these face-to-face conversations. I probably have meetings once a week with an athlete or a parent. So much of what goes on is usually caused by miscommunication and things getting taken out of context. Ask the parent and see what’s going on—that way, they feel they can get on an even level with you. You get a real read of the struggles an athlete might be facing.

Each staff member is encouraged to choose different athletes each practice and praise them so they know that their work is being noticed. We hand out “You Rock!” postcards, and behind the scenes, we keep detailed binders on each athlete. If we see athletes that haven’t received one in a few months, we do our best to recognize them so they don’t go a whole season without receiving some sort of affirmation.

With more athletes in the equation, it’s important to take a heavier hand in helping them and letting them know that they are part of a family. One of the biggest rewards has been seeing decals for our gym on cars or seeing girls wearing our logo—just knowing that they love Athletic Perfection.


Owner’s Manual: Darlene Fanning of ICE All-Stars

Owner’s Manual: Darlene Fanning of ICE All-Stars

In our “Owner’s Manual” column, we ask gym owners to take us “under the hood” and give us their secrets to what keeps their gyms running so smoothly. Find out how Darlene Fanning finds her balance by keeping high schools happy below:

Vital Stats 

Name:             Darlene Fanning

Gym:               ICE

Locations:      Aurora IL, Fort Wayne, IN and Mishawaka, IN

Founded:        1998

Size:                350 athletes; 18 teams (cheer and special needs)

The Dish

I really like to work with the high schools. I encourage [our athletes] to cheer for their high schools because that’s something that others outside our gym can see and say, “Wow, this child has these skills and that’s great.” Sometimes high school coaches are worried that we will try to pull them away from high school cheerleading, but that’s not my intent at all. It’s to make them better so that they can do something for their school. Both of my daughters who cheered all-star also cheered at school and we made it work. There were a few weekends where they missed games for competitions, but there were also times when they missed my practices to cheer at games.

Coaches working together is the key—as long as high school and all-star coaches are willing to do that, I think it can be a win-win situation for both. That’s what I really try to push for. I like to talk to the high school coaches and say, “Is there a camp coming up? Is there something you’ve got that I need to change my practices?” It’s all about letting your ego and everything go and saying, “Okay, what’s best for the kids?”

Sometimes high schools practice right after school, so we start our practices later so that they can get to the other one first. Obviously, as an all-star coach, I have to work around their schedule; however, high school coaches have to understand that they need to do the same in order to allow the kid to do both. Otherwise what can end up happening is that high schools lose their most talented kids—and that’s a shame. Many times when athletes are made to choose between competing and cheering at games, those more talented kids will choose all-star. They understand that’s where they’re challenged cheer-wise. A lot of high schools don’t compete, so [that style of cheer] is more just supporting the team and your school.

As far as recruiting, you don’t want to get a bad reputation as a gym owner who steals athletes or takes them away from high school programs. That’s not good for the kids or for either program. Even when high school cheerleaders are training in my gym and taking classes, no coach is allowed to approach them. Only when a kid comes to us and says, “I think I’m not going to do high school cheerleading next year, I’m going to do all-star,” will we talk to them. High school coaches need to know that their athletes can go to ICE for training and not have to worry about the kids being recruited.

I haven’t had a problem with high school coaches because of that rule. I’m a smart enough business owner to know that you don’t shoot yourself in the foot by trying to recruit a few of those kids and making the high school coach mad. That’s why we’re so diligent about that, and that’s how we strike a happy balance.

Owner’s Manual: Tara Cain of Maryland Twisters

Owner’s Manual: Tara Cain of Maryland Twisters

In our “Owner’s Manual” column, we ask gym owners to take us “under the hood” and give us their secrets to what keeps their gyms running so smoothly. Find out how Tara Cain puts her own “twist” on attracting athletes below:

Vital Stats

Name: Tara Cain, Owner

Gym:  Maryland Twisters All-Stars, Inc.

Location:         Glen Burnie, MD

Founded:         1998

Size:                500+ athletes; approximately 26 teams (cheer, dance & special needs)

The Dish

As a business owner, I’m not just looking at filling up my teams—I’m also generating business for camps and classes. Unlike many all-star gyms, we welcome athletes from everywhere to participate in our classes, private lessons and/or camps. You do not have to be a Twister to benefit from our training. Professional, high school, recreation & other all-star athletes are a part of our training curriculum. We really want everyone in the cheer arena to feel we are the primary training facility in Maryland; so far, that has worked to our benefit. Some of our classes include stunt class, flyer flexibility, tumbling classes by level, trampoline class and open gym.

In previous years, before we grew so big, we focused on attracting new athletes with many creative plans. We would go to various fairs and places our audience would be and perform or set up a booth to generate awareness about all-star cheerleading. (Some people still don’t even know what it is here in Maryland.) We also provided a referral fee as an incentive during certain times of the year. At one time, we also had a direct mail piece to everyone who has ever walked in the doors—once around tryout season to promote tryouts and another at the beginning of the year to create awareness of summer camps. It was sent to anyone who has ever taken a class or attended at camp at Maryland Twisters. Those are the people you’re actually targeting, as they’ve already been to your gym and met the staff.

We have partnered with our county recreation programs to “train the trainers” on stunt technique, safety, and other types of cheer training. Some of those programs have also rented our floor space for their teams as they prepare for county competitions. We have explained to our rec friends that we are not a threat. All-Star isn’t for everyone—but cheerleading and gymnastics is. We would like to continue to strengthen our sport throughout Maryland with no attempt to recruit. Inevitably, a few of their more serious athletes may transition to our all-star program, but that is few. [We want] those coaches to know we are not doing it for our team gain; we are really there to help & be a resource to them as well.

In addition to our teams and class business, we also have developed a dance program that houses two competitive hip-hop teams. That has also extended our business into dance classes (tap, ballet, hip hop, jazz, etc). We are still growing that division, but it has certainly attracted kids who are not at all interested in cheer or gymnastics. It’s another great avenue for those all-star athletes who are ready to “retire” and transition into something less demanding.

We pride ourselves on NOT recruiting all-star athletes at other gyms during events or competitions. If a parent or athlete approaches us, that is one thing.  But we don’t proactively seek them out.

Creating a certain atmosphere for walk-ins can also be a good recruiting tool. We have three viewing areas for parents and articles written about us up in the lobby, along with a display of our Worlds trophies. The employees in the front office are trained to create the right first impression. Having the right staff in place will also attract families to not only feel welcome, but stay within our Twisters family for the long-term.

Owner’s Manual: Jennifer Burke of Burke’s Tumbling Academy

Owner’s Manual: Jennifer Burke of Burke’s Tumbling Academy

In our “Owner’s Manual” column, we ask gym owners to take us “under the hood” and give us their secrets to what keeps their gyms running so smoothly. Find out what gets Jennifer Burke in gear below:

Vital Stats

Name: Jennifer Burke, Owner

Gym: Burke’s Tumbling Academy (BTA)

Location: Swampscott, MA

Founded: 2004 for tumbling; cheer added in 2010

Size: 300 students; 80 cheerleaders

The Dish

The best part of owning my gym is watching the athletes improve on their skills, have fun and fulfill their dreams. Also, I love watching the younger kids fall in love with the sport. Tumbling has always been my favorite part of cheer, so I serve as the head tumbling instructor at BTA. I consciously am not a head coach of any specific team—I enjoy working with all of them!

One of the biggest challenges is having cheerleaders from other gyms coming to me to improve their tumbling skills. That’s often frowned upon by their own coaches. However, nothing makes me happier than seeing these young ladies out there in different uniforms, accomplishing their individual and team goals. My advice to other gym owners is that this is about people, not places.

Also, being a young gym owner has its challenges. My personal goals are to have satisfied athletes that continue to develop. The high expectation in this sport for winning by the coaches, parents and athletes is important to a gym’s success. However, for me personally, sometimes this collides with my own goals, so it’s all about striking a balance.

Watch this Patch.com video featuring Jennifer and BTA!

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