Athletics, motherhood, franchisee to franchisor!
From athletics to messy play
My Mess Around journey started 6 years ago back in 2012, the year of the London Olympics! For me it was already a special year. The last thing on my mind was a messy play franchise business! Athletics has always been my passion and I had waited a long time to see the games brought home to Britain. At the age of 9, I started participating in athletics, running cross country at primary school and joined my first club at the age of 11 and haven’t stopped running since. I’ve got 35 years of running in the tank! I was fortunate enough to have a career in the sport, working for the National Governing Body creating pathways from schools to World Class programmes. Jessica Ennis being one of the athletes I was fortunate enough to support through the system.
I’ve always been a career kind of girl. Having worked since the age of 14 in various jobs from the record department in Woolworths, to coaching children’s athletics, working at summer camps to university and into a full time sports development job, I’ve always been driven to work.
However in 2010 I fell pregnant with my first daughter and as planned we quit the rat race and my partner and I left for the Isle of Skye to start a new adventure. He was going to dive for scallops and I was going to be a mum, my next big career.
Back to the rat race.
In August 2011 I gave birth to my first daughter and it was a rollercoaster ride. Having had a difficult birth, and my partner being at sea for most of the time, it was not a perfect start to being a mum and with family and friends being so far away in February 2012 we made the decision to move back to England, reality had kicked in, the honeymoon was over. My partner headed back into the rat race, determined to find a way back to the island, and I headed to pre-school mother and baby classes.
A whole new world.
I came across Mess Around when it was formerly called Make a Mess, run by Alix Hay at Stratford Armouries. I attended weekly sessions with my daughter and really enjoyed the group. At the time I was attending a lot of preschool groups from music, baby sensory, swimming and play groups – its was a whole new world that I knew nothing about. Mess Around wasn’t a franchise at the time, but Alix was working behind the scenes to create it.
Mess Around was born and I was pregnant.
In May 2012 Mess Around was born and had started to trade as a limited company. Alix was recruiting franchise leaders and I was one of the first to join the messy play franchise business team! I signed on the dotted line in October and at the same time I found out I was expecting our 2nd child; something I didn’t include in my business plan! I wasn’t going to let my pregnancy stop me starting my business, so off I went, hosting 4 sessions per week. At the time I was working Monday, Thursday and Friday mornings hosting sessions. It was a lot of fun and I really enjoyed getting my independence back.
However, with being pregnant and suffering with morning, noon and night sickness there was only so much I could actually physically do, but the one thing I could do was plan. I became a planning expert! Just like being back in athletics management, I planned everything I was going to deliver once the baby was born, all the venues, locations, themes, where I was going to market and advertise who I was going to partner up with. Back then Facebook was a largely unused resource, people simply had just a business page and posted a couple of times a day. Although I joined the Facebook train, I still used the traditional marketing methods: flyers on notice boards and word of mouth.
…the news came! My partner comes down stairs one night, while I was on the sofa watching the TV, as by this time I was the size of a small house.
“Guess what? I’ve got a job interview tomorrow.”
“Where?” I say.
“Isle of Skye,” he replies.
Now most people would say, when faced with the prospect of moving house and starting a new job at the same time as their partner was about to give birth, “I’m sorry, I can’t”, but no, not my partner. Up he gets at 3am and he sets off to Skye. It’s a 10 hour drive to get there from where we lived. The man is crazy! Two weeks later we still hadn’t heard from the company, then the call came. He had been offered the job! Not only had they offered him the job but they wanted him to start in July. This wasn’t happening as my due date with the 6th July and I wasn’t going anywhere. We negotiated the end of July – we like to give ourselves a challenge!
Back to Skye we go.
On the 14th July I gave birth to my 2nd daughter. She was a week late; maybe she didn’t want to move either. The lorries arrived a week later, we packed up the house and set off in the Mess machine back to Skye.
Six weeks after giving birth I was running my first Mess Around session on the Isle of Skye! I won’t lie to you it was hard work. I was feeding, cleaning bums, sleep deprived and running a business in between looking after a new born, running after a toddler and unpacking a house. People often ask me, how did you do it? All those years of running had finally paid off. I’ve got stamina!
From franchisee to franchisor.
In September 2013 the email from Alix arrived. Sadly she was unwell and unable to carry on with Mess Around and asked me if I would be prepared to take on the business.
My initial reaction was
a) I had a toddler who was not at nursery, so no!
b) I’ve given birth so and was in a zombie state of mind, so no!
c) We had just re-located to the Isle of Skye, which is a million miles away from anywhere. The nearest Asda was a 2 hour drive! So no!
d) I had only been in business for about a year and 9 months of that I was pregnant! So no!
e) We were just about to buy a house. So no!
f) I was exhausted. No!
I loved Mess Around! In my heart, I believed it had great potential and could be a big brand, and was up for the challenge and I knew I had the drive and ambition to make it a success. If I didn’t take it on I knew someone else would, so my answer was emphatically YES!
On the 24th September I became the owner of Mess Around Ltd – from franchisee to franchisor in less than a year!