Everybody is cutting back. Apart from one particular industry: companies that specialise in the provision of quality sports and leisure activities for children are bucking the trend, especially children's franchises such as The Little Gym.
There are a host of reasons why businesses in this sector are proving recession-hardy.
A stream of headlines warning of worsening childhood obesity and health time bombs generates parental concern.
But for parents anxious to get their children more active, there are generally surprisingly few high-quality options that also appeal to youngsters.
With OFSTED pressures, schools are often unable to include as much physical education in their curriculums as pupils enjoyed a decade or so ago. Local authority and private clubs are frequently oversubscribed and have long waiting lists.
Meanwhile, many classes only cater for very able children or specific age groups or appeal only to one gender.
As a result, any new clubs or facilities – especially those that cater for a range of age groups, for both genders and for all abilities – are met with a very positive response from both parents and children alike.
In addition to offering the traditional weekly class many clubs in this sector also offer bolt-on activities.
These include school holiday camps, which are proving increasingly popular; with many cash-poor stay-at-home parents now returning to work, school holidays can prove a nightmare in terms of quality childcare. Good leisure camps provide care, entertainment and tick the health box too.
For parents anxious to get their children more active, there are surprisingly few high-quality options that also appeal to youngsters
As well as media and financial pressure, the sector’s resilience during recessions is buttressed by parents’ reluctance to compromise their children’s health and wellbeing, preferring to cut back on nearly any other area of their life.
Even if parents are considering cutting back on children’s activities, there is yet another safely net: grandparents. In today’s economic climate the grey pound is king, with over 70% of disposable income accounted for by the over 50s.
Today, grandparents regularly supplement family incomes. Many also provide regular childcare and are often instrumental in researching and attending activities for their grandchildren, thus contributing further to the success of this area.
Within the last 12 months, interest in the child leisure industry has grown enormously.
More of us are facing redundancy and are looking for new ways to make a living. And many with an entrepreneurial spirit are seeing their new-found freedom as an opportunity to start their own business within this lucrative sector.
In unstable times, the franchising route offers a relatively safe option; a chance to set up on your own with a proven business model and take advantage of a wealth of global experience. Unlike sole traders, franchisees are often working with established brands, and can leverage central resources and marketing funds, allowing them to benefit from economies of scale.
According to research carried out by enterpeneur.com, in the US the number of children's franchises has grown by almost 600 since last year. Even in the worst of times, franchises serving children's needs are proliferating.
Lucrative career change
Annette Eckhardt, COO of The Little Gym Europe, says such explosive market growth isn’t restricted to the US:
“The same interest is reflected throughout the UK; at our recently opened Chiswick gym, full membership totalled over 500 in just three months, making it the fastest growing gym outside of America since the company was founded in 1976.
“Meanwhile, we’ve been contacted directly by a much larger number of people recently, all wanting to use a career change as an opportunity to become a franchisee.”
As well as providing a new opportunity for main earners, a franchise can provide a lucrative second income.
Parents of young families, returning to work, often find it difficult to re-enter the employment market – especially during a recession – or they’re unable to find positions that suit their needs. By running their own business, they can potentially be more flexible and improve their work-life balance considerably.
Collectively, the aforementioned factors make the child leisure market a hugely attractive proposition, either providing a lucrative main income and enjoyable business, or a flexible supplementary wage.
Established in 1976, The Little Gym has over 300 locations in 19 different countries worldwide. UK centres are located at Bishop’s Stortford, Harpenden, Chiswick, Hampton Hill, Westfield London, Wandsworth and Stoke.
Harrogate is scheduled to open later this year, with Buckinghamshire, Basingstoke, Guildford, Hampstead, Weybridge, Winchester and Windsor to follow.