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Now at 400 Units, The Little Gym Continues to Evolve


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The Little Gym, based in Scottsdale, Arizona, opened its 400th location in June in Waco, Texas.

When Alex Bingham became CEO of The Little Gym in January, he brought with him nearly a lifetime of experience with the brand—literally.

A student at the original location in Bellevue, Washington when he was 2, Bingham later worked as a Little Gym instructor throughout college before moving into corporate development and eventually becoming chief operations officer. In his sixth month as CEO, The Little Gym opened its 400th location, and Bingham said more growth is on the horizon.

“We have at least 20 more locations expected to open both domestically and internationally, and we are working on adding more to the pipeline for next year,” said Bingham of the childhood development franchise that in 2003 had just over 100 units.

A continued focus on same-store revenue growth is one piece of The Little Gym’s strategy, along with aligned interests with franchisees.

“Rather than executing a top-down approach, we work to foster an all-inclusive culture that encourages owners to participate in the ideation and creation of new systems, methods and initiatives,” said Bingham. It’s that constant evolution Bingham said has helped The Little Gym continue to meet the changing needs of parents.

“While children are the same today as they were when The Little Gym was first founded, moms are not,” said Bingham, pictured to the right with his son Cam. “Moms today feel a sense of pressure to do it all, yet strive to characterize themselves as laid back, hands-on and fun. Ultimately, they want to give their child fun and positive experiences that will stick with them—both consciously and subconsciously—as they grow up.”

Improving the quality and value for parents has meant rolling out new class offerings over the years such as dance and sports prep, and enhancing parent/child program to provide parents with more opportunities to bond with their babies and build networks in their communities, noted Bingham.

“In order to stay relevant for parents and continue to play an important role for children, we recognized that we needed to reposition ourselves to be the place that kids start,” said Bingham. With so many options for children to pursue as they get older, The Little Gym aims to be a place kids can get introduced to experiences and discover their talents.

“We needed to be seen as the foundation for all other activities and not as direct competition,” he said.

International expansion has been key to The Little Gym’s steady growth since it began franchising in 1992. The brand is in 32 countries, with master franchisees in Europe, Australia, Brazil, China, Columbia, India, Mexico, New Zealand, the Philippines, Portugal, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam.

“Half of our growth has been in international markets and we expect that to continue to climb in the coming years,” said Bingham, noting while development abroad is rewarding, “you must do so thoughtfully and selectively.”

“International growth takes time and effort, and can bring new challenges that may not occur domestically,” he continued. Partnering with well-established entrepreneurs who are more familiar with the government, geography, financial environment and consumers in their own parts of the world is critical.

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Tom KaiserTom Kaiser is senior editor of Franchise Times. He can be reached at 612.767.3209, or send story ideas to tkaiser@franchisetimes.com.
 
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Nicholas UptonNicholas Upton is restaurants editor at Franchise Times. He can be reached at 612.767.3226, or send story ideas to nupton@franchisetimes.com.
 
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Mary Jo LarsonMary Jo Larson is the publisher of Franchise Times Magazine and the Restaurant Finance Monitor.  You can find her on Twitter at
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