Gymnasts learn all the right moves - East Valley Tribune: Business

Gymnasts learn all the right moves

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Posted: Sunday, September 11, 2005 6:31 am | Updated: 9:46 am, Fri Oct 7, 2011.

Forget chalkboards and desks. In this class, the students are encouraged to laugh and play.

Little Gym, a Scottsdalebased franchise company, teaches gymnastics to help build motor skills in children between the ages of four months and 12 years.

Through a series of curriculum-based lesson plans, the little gymnasts develop better coordination, balance, rhythm and flexibility, while enhancing their socialization skills and intellectual growth.

Since 1992, Little Gym International has expanded to 220 locations in 16 countries.

The company began as a single gym in Bellevue, Wash., by educator Robin Wes in 1976. Wes wanted to use his background in music and gymnastics to help children build self esteem and motor skills.

In 1992, Wes met Berry Fowler, who had founded Sylvan Learning Centers in 1979. The two decided to take Wes’s concept and franchise it, basing its headquarters in Scottsdale. In 1993, Bob Bingham joined the company as its chief executive officer, and has been running the company ever since. Fowler later sold out his interest in 1994.

Bingham, like many of the current franchise owners of Little Gym, was once a proud parent of a Little Gym student.

"My wife and I were tremendously impressed with the value that our son was getting out of the program," Bingham said. "We were exhaustingly telling all our friends, ‘You need to sign up for this program!’ "

As much as he loved the place, the Little Gym CEO said he never expected to end up in the position he is in today.

"If you had told me then that I would someday be professionally involved with the company, I’d look at you like you were crazy," Bingham said.

He started out as a radio time salesman, out of college. When he was 25, he became the general manager of a radio station in Seattle. Through the 1980's and the beginning of the 1990's, he started his own business, Bingham Broadcasting Company, which he was planning on selling right about the time Fowler offered him the position at Little Gym.

"It was not only a smart business decision, but in a small way I felt I was making the world a better place," Bingham said. "It has more than fulfilled my expectations."

As the franchise company took off, however, it met a few bumps in the road.

"It was like most businesses. In our first few years we made our fair share of mistakes," Bingham said.

Once they worked out all the kinks in the program, Bingham said the company has experienced a double-digit year-over-year rate for the past eight years.

The secret, Bingham said, is putting the franchise owners first.

"My philosophy has always been, if we as a franchise company focus on the success of our franchise owners first, then our success as a company would follow," Bingham said.

The company is selective about who it picks to be franchise owners. Little Gym wants to ensure that they’re running the program exactly the way it was designed.

Every franchise needs to by synchronized with its lesson plans, so that the third week of class at any Little Gym location in the world will be teaching the same curriculum.

Mindy and James Broadley, franchise owners of the Little Gym on 92nd Street and Shea Boulevard, have just opened up their second location in Paradise Valley. Mindy Broadley said they feel tremendous franchise support from the company.

"You really feel like you have a partner in the business. Your success is their success and their success is your success," Broadley said.

Classes are taught from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. Mondays through Fridays, and 8:30 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Saturdays. Saturday and Sunday afternoons are also available for birthday party reservations.

For more information, visit www.thelittlegym.com.

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