Eddie Ray, founder of Progressive Sports, has loved sports since he was young. As a child, he never enjoyed the academic side of school, but physical education classes were his favourites.
Soon he began playing sports outside of school, going on to study it at college.
“Throughout the college course, I got involved in coaching kids, and I was like, yeah I like this. And the rest was history.”
We spoke to Eddie about his business journey, the challenges he faced along the way and how he maintains his original company vision.
The inspiration behind the idea
College was a pivotal time in Eddie’s life and helped him realise sports coaching was what he wanted to explore.
“I suppose I got a bit of inspiration from my employer at the time. I learnt what I wouldn’t do and what I would do differently.”
That wasn’t the only inspiration Eddie had. Growing up, he was surrounded by business-minded individuals.
In fact, Eddie’s father and uncle both had their own businesses. Although a little smaller in nature, Eddie learned a lot.
“In the back of my head, I knew I would run a business one day and I married the two together.”
Taking the plunge
Fast forward a bit and the time had come to set up his own business. Still working for his employer, Eddie knew he could do things better and decided to give it a try himself. In 2006, Progressive Sports was founded.
“There was no grand plan. We certainly do a lot more planning nowadays. But I think that in those early days, there was ignorance and naivety. But sometimes that is a good thing in business.”
Hitting a crossroads
In 2009, Progressive Sports was thriving. Only being three years into the business, they were achieving double the turnover year on year. That’s when Eddie knew he was onto something.
“Business was going well, so there was a crossroads really, where we could continue to organically grow or go down the franchising route.”
This wasn’t a decision Eddie took lightly, and he researched each avenue carefully.
“I did a bit of googling and looked at other people, businesses and industries that have been through the whole process of franchising. We also had a conversation with a consultant.”
Part of Eddie’s strategy was to get people from the local area to try out their services. It provided a good sign of whether it would be a service the community would use. The trial was successful.
“The next step was getting the business ready to a point where we could market it as a franchise. We needed a proposition that people could buy into.”
Marketing the new venture
Initially, marketing was through word of mouth. It naturally evolved from there.
“We found directories were the most effective – we went from one to four franchises quite quickly. We still do most of the things that were done back then. We use lots of traditional forms of marketing.”
Nowadays, their marketing strategy has been carefully developed. Attending exhibitions, advertising in magazines, and paid advertisements on Google have also helped the growth.
Maintaining the vision
As the saying goes, your business is only as good as the people you have. This rings true for Progressive Sports.
Some of Eddies’ employees and industry connections bought into the franchise straightaway.
“We’ve got about 25 franchise territories in the country, with a presence in a lot of the main cities.”
Maintaining the high standards that Eddie strives to achieve meant that the people he brought in needed to equally care.
“When someone takes your baby, takes it to another area. Then you want to maintain those high operating standards. We didn’t want anyone to dilute what we were doing, so we regularly provide support.”
The training and support infrastructure at Progressive Sports is impressive. Eddie has worked hard to create a supportive network for franchisees.
“We put in place support for all those touchpoints. From monitoring visits, online resources, meetups, and regular communication, to help them to feel supported.
“We have to maintain that because you know what happens in London or wherever can damage the reputation of the business. So we’re very mindful of that, we monitor it carefully.”
Eddie doesn’t just monitor franchisees when they join. He starts this at the selection point.
“You have to get the right people in to share that passion with us for physical activity and sport with children. If they haven’t got that, then they might not be in it for the right reasons.”
Qualifying franchisees is a vital step. Selecting the right people to represent your brand is critical.
The challenges along the way
Over the years, Eddie has learnt a thing or two about the challenges franchises often face.
As with most businesses, not everything runs smoothly. Progressive Sports is no exception.
“Aside from the pandemic, the part I found the most stressful was the financial pressure. Mentally, it can be the most challenging thing to go through as a business owner. Especially when you’ve got to meet payroll and all these other things.”
“There was a period in 2012-2013, early into our franchising journey where I had to borrow money from my parents and plug it into the business to support it.”
That being said, Eddie had the passion and consistency to navigate the business through this difficult time.
“In the early days I got a bit impatient and I think that only comes through experience of running a business. You need to be consistent and persistent when executing the plan and don’t take your foot off the accelerator.”
A final piece of advice
“If my friend was coming to me to ask me for advice, I would say you need to have deep pockets. You need to have that working capital behind you. Without it, it can slow people down and limit the business.”
“You can sink huge sums when it comes to advertising and marketing. So you do need that capital. It gives you the best chance of making it a success.”
A big thank you to Eddie for speaking with us about Progressive Sports. Do you have big business plans? Here are some handy things for you to get started.
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