Friday, September 21, 2012
Alex & María Martínez > www.i9sports.com
What do you need to be an entrepreneur?
For us, it was important to join an established franchise business that allowed us to operate as independent business owners. The i9 Sports home office gives us phenomenal support and allows us to run our business in a way that fits our local community – the perfect combination in our mind.
We also have a business coach that has been assigned to us by the home office who has directly contributed to our success. Our coach has helped us build our territory, market our business, and get our foot in the door with schools and other youth organizations who can drive registrations. Additionally, we are surrounded by a great network of franchisees in the Miami area who are always willing to share success stories and best practices.
Between the established franchisees, our business coach, and the i9 Sports home office, we couldn’t have been better trained or more prepared to operate our own business. From the beginning, everyone involved with i9 Sports has been more than willing to help us solve problems and grow our business.
What inspired you to start your business?
Quite simply, my husband, Alex, and I wanted to own our own business. We wanted more control and the flexibility to create our schedule around family priorities.
When we looked into owning a business, we determined that joining a franchise business was our best bet. And, considering Alex’s background in youth sports and community groups and my career helping young children as a school social worker, i9 Sports was the perfect fit for us.
How did you finance it?
We were lucky enough to be able to fund our franchise without taking out a loan or using any of our 401k funds. Alex and I had been planning to launch our own business for years and due in large part to i9 Sports’ affordable franchise ownership cost, we were able to fund our franchise with our joint savings and inheritance money passed down from family members.
Being Hispanic… Does it have any influence on your business?
Living in Miami, our Hispanic heritage and Spanish-speaking skills are vital components of our success. Many of our participating families and customers are Hispanic and are more comfortable speaking Spanish than English. Our Hispanic heritage allows us to relate and connect with families interested in our leagues much more effectively than other business owners who don’t share that heritage.
In the face of adversity, how do you decide to keep going?
We’ve been lucky, actually, and haven’t faced a lot of adversity or roadblocks as we’ve built this business. The i9 Sports business is relatively recession-proof and we truly understand how to market our business in the Miami area. This is our home – we know these people and often share similar backgrounds and cultural tastes, so it’s easier to market to and sell to our customers.
However, it hasn’t come easy – we’ve had to hustle and fight for our business and our livelihood. The adversity, though, is minimized because we've put our heart and soul in a business that we love. My husband and I are best friends who motivate each other each and every day and we have a strong support group from i9 Sports that helps us push through tough times.
What is the biggest challenge your business has faced?
Our biggest challenge has been keeping up with the competition and ensuring we are doing everything possible to keep our customers happy. It’s takes a lot of discipline to do the customer research necessary to stay on top of new trends and ensure we are satisfying customer needs. This is a daily challenge that consumes most of our time but we make it happen because we know how important it is.
Additionally, it has been a challenge to develop relationships with schools and other organizations that can help drive seasonal registration for our leagues. However, the i9 Sports home office helps us compensate by being ahead of the game as far as the traditional and online marketing support they provide us.
If you could change one thing about your business, what would it be?
If I could change one thing about our business, it would be to increase the size of our territory. We love this business so much that we wish we could reach out to more families in more communities. We will be ready and willing to expand if and when additional territories become available in the greater Miami area.
What was your childhood ambition?
My original ambition was to work as a social worker and I devoted my career to this working with kids at schools. I loved working with families and kids and enjoyed providing them with therapy and other services. While I did love helping people lead better and more rewarding lives, the daily grind of that demanding career burned me out.
When Alex and I decided to own our business, we both wanted to continue helping people but in a way that allowed us to focus on our family’s happiness and well being, too. That’s exactly what i9 Sports allows us to do every day.
Tell us about three entrepreneurs that you admire?
1. i9 Sports Owner, Greg Weinbrum – Greg is the Broward, FL owner and he has been our mentor since joining the i9 Sports family. He has always given us fantastic advice on how to make it as an i9 Sports owner and has been there for us anytime we face a tough challenge. He is a savvy owner from whom we’ve learned a great deal.
2. Five Star Jewelers Owner, Jorge Carvajal – Our dear friend, Jorge, built Five Star Jewelers from scratch. We learned a lot watching him turn a new concept into a multi-location success story. We admire his ambition and his unwavering drive to succeed.
3. Independent Photographer, Carlos Barquin – I speak with Carlos almost every week because he’s as devoted to goal setting and creating a vision for the future as I am. His visions and ideas are very creative and it’s helped my husband and I develop innovative solutions to tough problems. Like Jorge, he built his own business in Miami from scratch and has made it a success.
For business meetings: breakfast, lunch, or dinner?
In my opinion, breakfast is most productive because all parties are motivated and ready to act on ideas. In the morning, we are excited to start the day and are more open to new ideas. Plus, you have the whole day ahead of you to make progress and build off of good ideas.
What sacrifices on your personal life did you have to make in order to become a business success? For more than a year, I worked multiple jobs in order for us to open our i9 Sports location. Each and every day, I worked as a social worker throughout the day, took care of the kids in the late afternoon and evening, and spent my nights helping Alex with operational tasks associated with our i9 Sports business. This clearly took its toll on me personally and professionally, but it was well worth it to become a part of the i9 Sports family.
What is your favorite quote?
"It's who you know." There’s no ignoring it - the more connections you have in the community, the more people you know, the better off you'll be. If you know people in influential positions, you're more likely to be successful.
Is it difficult to be unconventional?
No – it's natural for us. It's what we are supposed to be doing. We were hungry to own our own business and control our own lives. In fact, being “conventional” would be harder.
Biggest mistake made?
We've made A LOT of mistakes getting this started, but we've surrounded ourselves with such great connections/resources that we've been able to fight through. It's been difficult to ensure that each parent, coach and kid affiliated with our programs lives up to the i9 Sports standards. At the beginning, we let too many people slide and it had a negative impact on our program. Now, we are much more strict about our rules, regulations and philosophy and it’s working.
Do you consider yourself an innovator? Why?
I guess you could consider Alex and I innovators. We are always networking with other professionals in Miami and are eager to discover new and creative ways to run our leagues. We aren’t afraid to shake things up or try new tactics if we believe it will have a positive impact on our business.
About the company
i9 Sports®, based in the Tampa Bay, Florida area, is the first and fastest growing franchise of youth sports leagues, camps, and programs in the United States . An i9 Sports league is in your area and growing strong. With more than 550,000 members nationwide, i9 Sports offers the most popular team sports for boys and girls ages 3-14 with a focus on fun, safety, and good sportsmanship.
Because each league is individually owned and operated by carefully screened and certified local franchise owners, participants enjoy the many benefits of a well-organized national sports organization with a personal touch in the local community.
Entrepreneur Magazine ranked i9 Sports #256 in the prestigious Franchise 500® issue and the 15th Top New Franchise in America; while the Franchise Business Review named i9 Sports the #1 Sports, Recreation, & Fitness franchise.
CEO Frank Fiume founded i9 Sports from his passion for youth sports and a desire to create a fun alternative to other youth sports leagues.
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