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    Gareth Lippiatt is a Loughborough sports science graduate and Chairman of Sports Xtra, the children’s physical activity experts, which he has seen grow from the company he founded in 2002 as a freelance coach to a multi-million pound brand licensed to hundreds of coaches and business partners with nationwide coverage. He completed an Executive MBA at Cambridge University in May 2013.

    In my opinion the sport and leisure industry has to change its ways to reflect the consumer behaviour seen in the wider economy, but actually if you look closely, that process has already begun. It’s no longer enough to provide a great service or product. To be a leading brand in your market sector, you have to be able to deliver a great experience too. As someone looking to carve out a career in the leisure industry, understanding how you could apply that for yourself could be a real eye-opener as you seek your next opportunity.
    What I’m describing has already been happening for decades at Disney. They see their customers as ‘guests’ that are woven into a performance as they walk around the theme park. I’ve been to Disney a few times and it is always a fantastic experience but I was fascinated to see that including customer participation as part of their purchase has now reached our own high streets!
    Last month for my daughter’s fourth birthday, I took her to a shop called ‘Build-A-Bear Workshop’ to not only choose her birthday present, but she also helped to customize and create it. Whilst she was enthralled by this process, I watched on as the staff encouraged her to add more and more accessories and the smile on her face left me powerless to intervene.
    As my daughter proudly clutched her new, but most prized possession as we left the store (my wallet somewhat lighter) I could only admire the manner in which they had not just sold me a teddy bear, they had given my daughter an experience for which I was (almost!) happy about paying a premium. Had we just bought the finished product, it may have cost a quarter of the price, but where’s the fun in that? Guess what she already wants for Christmas!
    It’s a brilliant business model, and one I think we can draw lessons from. The staff in that store are not shop assistants, they are ‘performers’, but with a sincerity in their approach, almost acting like a ‘big sister’ to the little girls (and boys) as they excitedly build their bears through the magical experience that is created for them.
    If you stop and think about it, the same pattern has already begun to emerge in the health and fitness industry. The bubble has certainly burst on traditional ‘health club’ model, which is inevitable when a market reaches maturity. Look at the developing areas that seem to be thriving at the moment: Zumba, military-style ‘boot camps’, dance, martial arts/boxing related products are all themed and offer a customer experience as well as the physical benefits.
    What you will also notice about each of those success stories is that they are also built on innovative business models that largely involve the licensing of a brand. This way of growing a business works well for both the brand and many people who might otherwise have been looking for the traditional ‘employed’ role.
    Licensing a brand and ‘working for yourself’ provides highly motivated people with an opportunity to earn far better money and fulfillment that could be achieved as an employee, but you’ll also develop business acumen and gain invaluable experience along the way.
    Sports Xtra are market leaders and the experts in children’s physical activity, which in contrast to other sectors within the leisure industry, is growing rapidly!
    We’re looking for highly motivated professionals to take on our Activity Professional License across the UK. We provide full training, business support, a mentor and can access start-up funding for you if you are aged between 18-30 (ish!).
    If you’re someone that can also provide our customers with an experience that they’ll remember, I can guarantee you an opportunity that you’ll love, and it is that principle of having a passion for what you do on which I’ve built the Sports Xtra brand from being a coach myself in a handful of Cambridgeshire primary schools into a market leader.
    Find out more about the great experiences we offer children through physical activity at www.sports-xtra.com




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