How a fitness business kept 20+ franchises united during lockdown

14 min read
Martin and Denise from didi rugby shared how they kept morale high amongst their franchise kids' rugby business during lockdown. Learn more about their successful marketing strategies and how their software helped them stay connected online across the UK.

Martin and Denise from didi rugby shared how they kept morale high amongst their franchise kids' rugby business during lockdown. Learn more about their successful marketing strategies and how their software helped them stay connected online across the UK.

If there is one thing the team at didi rugby want to achieve it's to always go above and beyond to give their customers an unbeatable fitness and educational experience. Their clientele of hundreds of children ages 18 months to 6 years old and their parents throughout the UK learn the fundamentals of sports, rugby, physical activity, and how to be part of a team.

However, when the pandemic began, the team at didi not only had to figure out how to keep their kids and community active at home but also how to get all 20 of their fitness franchise businesses online to offer the same engaging experience the kids depend on.

We have spoken to many of our TeamUp customers over the past year about experiences running businesses during the pandemic and the obstacles that came with motivating customers to attend fitness classes online.

Although they too were met with challenges and some resistance and hesitancy, as a result of their immediate action, passion, booking software, and commitment to keeping their customers engaged online not only has didi kept their business alive, but many of their franchises have grown and their business as a whole has become a beacon of inspiration for the entire nation.

We got a chance to sit down with didi rugby's Denise McCormack and Martin Crowson to discuss how they navigated the UK's numerous lockdowns and the important role marketing played in encouraging the kids, parents, and individual franchises. Follow along as they discuss the past year, share how they were able to get everyone online so quickly, and what their keys to success and future plans are for growing their program.

image of didi rugby outdoor kids class


Photo Credit: didi rugby

Denise: My name is Denise and I have managed the operations and development of didi rugby since launching in 2013, and I work with the TeamUp side of things and Martin is our social media and marketing guru.

Martin: I have been working with didi rugby for three years and I write for the website and do social media marketing as well as mentor our franchisees through their social media usage. We help them grow and know what they should and shouldn't be doing and I also work with them to find stories to share on our website.

Denise: At the start of the pandemic we decided to go online straight away and within a week we were delivering online sessions. Our immediate concern and aim were to keep all of our customers engaged as well as keep the cash flow coming.

We wanted to give people access to what they had before knowing that they were going to need even more to keep their children engaged and active and maintain a healthy lifestyle during this period when everything was totally restricted.

Initially, I was manually sending out Zoom links and then TeamUp was so quick at getting the Zoom integration launched. It was a big bonus and really simplified the process and made it work well.

Martin: It was a case of trying to engage with our customers publicly as well. Many of our competitors shut down and basically said we'll be in touch in June because we can't do anything. But we were very keen to stay engaged with our customers at all times even if it meant we couldn't do something at that moment we were going to do something very soon.

When we started with Zoom classes we made sure we got together a routine so the parents knew exactly what time of the week we'd meet and be able to plan the classes into their weeks. It really helped to get that in place so quickly and to let the parents know their kids could rely on our classes every week.

What was the initial response to going online amongst your franchisees?

Martin: In the beginning, there were lots of franchisees who were hesitant about online and had never run online classes before so they were nervous. Very quickly we had a meeting between ourselves and all the franchises and said this is the way we need to engage with our community and what we have to do.

Although some were still hesitant, a very very large percentage of them bought into doing online classes and I think if we look back we can say that was one of the big successes, getting that up and running so parents didn't have time to forget that our business was still there to support them and their kids.

Denise: We run didi sport in the Midlands as our flagship business and use that as a model to support our network of franchises. When we got on Zoom in the first week of the pandemic, we were able to use our model and encourage everyone else to be as responsive as we had been.

For the franchises who were hesitant about using Zoom, we told them that they could invite their customers to our sessions so that if they weren't ready to host their own online classes, their customers could still engage with ours. We wanted to keep the engagement going across all the franchises whether it was us delivering the classes or them.

Why was it important to your business to have all the franchises go online individually rather than under the flagship business?

Denise: The idea was that because every franchise has local coaches delivering local sessions, the children recognise and are familiar with their local coaches. We wanted to give them as normal of an experience as they are used to and they recognise their coach's voice and activities.

But we were there to support them with our sessions until they got to that point where they were comfortable online. Some franchises also hosted daily or weekly 10-minute challenges before getting on board with online classes that were more comfortable for them at the start.

Martin: Vicky Macqueen, the CEO and Founder of didi rugby, is absolutely fantastic in front of a screen and we were able to show our franchises how she ran online classes. You couldn't pick a better person to demonstrate what to do and how so we had that as a huge plus point. 

What were your biggest keys to success in getting the kids and their parents to participate in online classes?

Social media engagement and interaction

Martin: As the franchisees got more and more confident we asked them to ask the parents to take photos of the kids doing the classes from home and we were very keen to get everyone to participate. We said if the kids didn't have a ball they could use a rolled-up sock or household item. We didn't want there to be any financial barrier to getting parents and the kids involved at all.

Over time we started getting some fantastic pictures from parents of their children in front of a screen with their local coach in it, taking online classes. As you could imagine from my point of view that is marketing gold to put out on our social media and website to show this is the effect that our classes are having on people.

We were very aware there was going to be some drop-off and there was because at home people are going through their own nightmares figuring out what was going on in their own personal lives and home environments.

Once we started getting videos and interacting on social media and our communication channels, it showed people how engaged we were and how exciting it was for their children. That sparked something in the parents that hadn't come and they'd start getting their kids into online classes, and that certainly helped.

Denise: Social media has been amazing and they use the most amazing software to create great content to share across our channels.

Martin: I was able to use social media metrics and data to back up what I was saying to people about getting online and interacting with their communities over social media. I had stats that showed if they posted videos they would get more engagement and that would bring in x amount of customers. That evidence encouraged them to be more active on social media because they saw results of how it helped.

Relationships with the parents

Denise: Another key to our success is the relationship and engagement we have with the parents and our interest in their child's development. All of our communication is with parents on behalf of their children and we do things that would be good for the children both in terms of routine and exercise and having something to do during the lockdown period.

It's noticeable that when you have engaged parents, you have much better results from the children in the sessions. Because they are so young, the parents participate in the classes and sessions of the first two age groups. We find it gives some personal development to the parents as well. Most parents are really good at motivating their children and keeping them engaged. We just build the best relationships we can with parents and really focus on the benefits of keeping their kids involved and demonstrating how to engage with the children.

Brand ambassador program

Martin: Vicky used to play for England's Women's Professional Rugby team and has a vast list of contacts and members of the current team that she keeps in touch with. Early on Vicky called a few people and asked them to be an ambassador for her new kid's rugby business and that's all it took for them to get on board. We are extremely lucky to have such an amazing group of ambassadors, many of which are household names and still play for the women's pro team. It started with a couple and now we have about 20 ambassadors.

When we saw how successful online classes were we started coming up with other ideas for things we could do online and Vicky asked many of the ambassadors to participate. One of the first to participate in online sessions was Heather Fisher who still plays for England. She would go on Facebook live once a week and read a bedtime story at 6 pm for 20 minutes so the kids could listen right before they went to sleep.

That grew into 10-minute skill sessions that the kids could learn and practice at home, and those became super popular. We started having a different ambassador come and read stories and do a 10-minute skill session once a week and they did a fantastic job at keeping the kids engaged. The numbers were just incredible and we were reaching 15,000 to 20,000 people during each 30-minute skill and storytime session.

During lockdown we were running a national class a week delivered by Vicky, a class at least once a week by a local coach and the storytime and skill sessions with an ambassador. Offering those three options online during the week set us in very good status as a business and looking back we wouldn't have had that pull if our ambassadors weren't so well known and hands-on. That's a testament to the relationships Vicky has fostered. Sometimes it just comes down to who you know. We also support the women's team as they support us and that's been brilliant.

Denise: In the past, some of the ambassadors have come to annual presentations for the kids at the end of the year where we celebrate the year and honour the graduates, the ones who are leaving didi and moving on. We give them a medal and certificate and a big send-off, and the ambassadors come to those and the parents love having their photo taken with an England player, too.

Interaction with the kids during classes

Denise: Vicky demonstrated to others how to be very interactive with the children. We would ask the parents to change the Zoom name to the child's name and location so that there was direct interaction between the coach and the child. Calling them to the screen as they would in a session and asking them to come to close up to talk to them, would help keep their attention. In the sessions, they give small bits of instruction and ask the kids to respond.

The mute and unmute is also important, especially when giving instruction, but to also unmute at times during the session so that they can say how many catches they've gotten or what they've done and then in the beginning and end of the class when they can say hi and bye to their friends.

Martin: The coaches are such role models to the kids and they hang off every single word that their coaches say, so this is why we were very keen to not just have a national Zoom session, but get all the franchisees to do it so they could have their local coach coming on to teach the children.

How has software helped you run your business and each of the franchises?

Denise: When a franchise comes on board we have a very structured setup and launch process that includes using TeamUp. All franchises run the same membership model and organisation with a direct debit. When Vicky first launched didi she had a mix of things she knew she wanted to do with franchises. We defined the launch program pretty quickly and it's very structured. I start off the process by screening all the people and applicants we talk to. Then they go through a process of doing some business planning scenarios.

The model itself in terms of the way it looks and the brand has always been about being a member of the didi organisation and being a didi star. Even as a member of an individual franchise, those kids and their parents are members of the entire organisation. Our whole model is the same across the board with the same membership model and their membership includes classes that their direct debit pays for and we supplement their memberships with bonuses including the storytimes, skill sessions, presentations, and more. It is a full package rather than paying for a few classes where they can turn up here and there.

How do you maintain the integrity of the brand across all of the individual franchises?

Denise: Part of the induction process is about the materials and structure of how things work, and how to keep the sessions engaging. Our sessions include warm-ups, skills and development, games, and obstacle courses. A lot of it is about that feedback to the kids. The parents tell us that the kids come home and tell them things that happen in the sessions.

In the final moment of the sessions, they always get a sticker the final moment of the sessions they always get a sticker about what they did well that day, and they take that home and tell their parents and grandparents "look what I did" and "I did this" and it can be anything from being nice to the other kids to skills.

Martin: Denise mentors the franchises through the Teamup software and Vicky will also visit franchisees every so often when she can to watch classes and sessions and give feedback and see what's going well and what can be improved. We're very keen as a business to say there you go, here are all the tools, and stay in touch and keep on top of what they are doing.

Thank you very much Denise and Martin for sharing with us! Check out didi rugby on their Instagram and Facebook pages.

Video: Why the didi rugby team chose TeamUp to manage their kids' franchise rugby business



I would recommend it and I say certainly when we talk when I'm talking to potential franchisees, it is part of the sales process that we have this comprehensive online booking and booking payment system, which means they're not having to be concerned about taking cash and getting coaches, taking cash and sending it in or whatever. And it also gives them the opportunity to do reports and analysis.

To learn more about using TeamUp for your franchise fitness business, check out our franchise software, here.

Thanks for reading!

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