The Story Behind Little Kickers

In today’s Behind the Biz interview I’m chatting with Christine Kelly, the founder of Little Kickers – they teach high quality football skills to children in a fun, friendly and pressure-free environment.

But first, here’s a little overview of the business.

Little Kickers is a global, football-themed activity initiative for inquisitive pre-schoolers, a bona-fide market leader in its field that began life back in 2002 as a tentative, one-woman pilot scheme in Clapham.   

Today Little Kickers stands tall as one of the UK’s most forward-thinking and dynamic franchise institutions, a positive first introduction to sport for inquisitive pre-schoolers which also teaches invaluable learning/life skills such as number & colours recognition, sharing, following instructions and taking turns.  

Seventeen years down the line from its tentative launch, Little Kickers now operates across 34 countries (330 franchises), providing classes for 65,000+ children each & every week

Little Kicker’s focus is appealing to health-conscious, sports-loving parents who subscribe to active, healthier living regimes and who want a similarly positive first exposure to fun-based, group-orientated activities for their children.

What did you do before Little Kickers?

I joined Price Waterhouse in 1993 as a trainee chartered accountant.  I knew early on that I hated this career path and jumped ship at the earliest opportunity. 

From there I talked my way on to JP Morgan’s (1995) graduate scheme to become a risk manager. I absolutely loved my time in London and Wall Street and yet as fun as this high octane lifestyle was, it simply wasn’t conducive to settling down and starting a family.            

In 2002 I had the unenviable distinction of moving to Enron, just four months before it made history as the biggest ever corporate capitulation.

Did you always intend to set up your own business?

I’ve always had an eye for an opportunity and have never been afraid to change career direction however you won’t hear me knocking corporate life because it was the ‘full on’ work environment that shaped me and if I hadn’t had exposure to such an all-encompassing career path, Little Kickers wouldn’t be the brand it is today.

What inspired you to set up Little Kickers?

The idea came about when as a young mum I found myself getting increasingly frustrated by the depressing dearth of activity-orientated initiatives for inquisitive pre-schoolers.

The idea of turning my back on a well-paid career to launch Little Kickers filled me with dread, especially since at that moment in time I had zero spare cash to fund even the most basic set up costs.  

As a result my two ex-business partners and I each invested £300 and hoped we could establish a dynamic, self-funding venture, which thankfully was the case.  

That said, with proper financial backing at the outset we could unquestionably have got to where we are today a lot quicker.

Please share a business high and low with us.

I was recently awarded an honorary Doctor of Business Administration by my old university (Aston) for my contribution to entrepreneurship which was from a personal perspective very moving.

It’s an ongoing frustration of mine (although change is definitely afoot!)  just how hard it remains (esp in some overseas markets) to convince parents that exposure to football-based activity is as good for girls as it is boys. Today 20% of our young attendees are girls, which is a big improvement on the ‘early years’ but not good enough. I was someone who was brought up believing that being female shouldn’t be a barrier to anything and so making Little Kickers appealing to everyone remains an ongoing priority.

What would you tell tomorrow’s aspiring entrepreneurs?

Always play to your strengths as opposed to being an alright all-rounder.  In the early ideas we had the idea of spreading our thinking into other pursuits like rugby and dance and yet the simple reality is that football-themed activities, always was & is our specialist subject.

How have you helped change your marketplace?

I think we’re doing our bit to show franchising in its most positive light.  Franchising has unfairly been frowned upon in some quarters as perhaps an unsexy field of marketing and yet the opportunities remain infinite!

Whilst it’s pivotal that head office remains the guiding custodian of the brand, (standards, tone, priorities) we’ve brought a genuine collaborative approach to proceedings, involving franchisees in the wider decision-making process, adopting best-in-class suggestions and nurturing a respectful co-operative environment for all. It’s certainly no fluke that many of our best ideas (party offer, an English language learning programme… ) came from our franchisees or that our staff retention track record is better than most.

What will be a lead priority in 2020?

We believe it’s critical that we establish a meaningful and sincere socially responsible arm to our business. We’ve made a commitment to become the eco-friendly Football Club in the world by the end of 2020, which an array of schemes including: the championing of eco-friendly kits (we order 100,000 a year) made from plastic from the ocean and sending used kits (plus balls, goals…) to half a dozen to orphanages in Africa.

You can find your local Little Kickers class over on their site and discover more about the biz on Facebook, Twitter and#morethanjustfootball.

Thank you to Christine for taking the time to be involved with Behind the Biz. I really enjoyed hearing about her business journey and the story behind Little Kickers.