Festival of Female Entrepreneurs: Gabrielle Lixton, Turtle Tots

Festival of Female Entrepreneurs: Gabrielle Lixton, Turtle Tots

Posted: Wed 28th Sep 2016

Gabrielle Lixton and Caroline Sparks are the co-founders of Turtle Tots, a company providing innovative swimming programmes for parents and their children including aqua-natal yoga for mums-to-be.

Here, Gabrielle shares the story behind the brand and explains how franchising has helped her business grow.

How did you come up with the idea for your business?

After having a water birth with my daughter Nuala, the idea for Turtle Tots was born out of a growing trend for baby swimming from birth in the UK and the opportunity within the market place to create a programme with a difference.

Our innovative and unique swimming programme begins with aqua-natal yoga for mums-to-be and continues with specialist and progressive baby and toddler classes. Not only does it focus on teaching babies, toddlers and young children to swim, the programme also promotes pre-natal and post-natal fitness, including providing an excellent toning workout for mums. And of course dads are welcome too.

Why did you decide to go down the franchise route and how did you ensure your business was ready for franchisees?

On launching Turtle Tots in Bristol, and seeing how successful it became, I knew that I had created a proven business model that we could franchise across the UK and internationally.

Having launched in Bristol a year before we first franchised we had already developed 'a business in a box' including our operations manual and best practice documents. These documents cover all aspects of the business such as health & safety, human resources, PR and marketing, accounting etc.

By the time we had decided to franchise the business we had also developed a bespoke Turtle Tots Aqua-yoga baby and toddler programme. We had thought of every policy and procedure that was required for the business, and created an exciting and vibrant brand with a fantastic programme and great website.

The support that we give our licensees and franchisees is second to none. We have been there and done it so there is rarely a question that we haven't come across before. All of this upfront support is great for our new franchisees as on launching their business they can concentrate on marketing and growing their business and offering the best customer service.

I also spent a lot of time on our business plan, three year cashflow forecast and worked with our solicitors to develop our license contract.

How did you get your first franchisee on board?

Our first franchisee was one of my first lovely clients, Joanna Wood who became our Bristol and Wiltshire franchisee. Jo's business is now one of the biggest and most successful within our network of over 43 franchises jointly teaching over 8,000 babies every week!

We have been lucky to grow organically in that 40% of our licensees have joined us after coming to our classes whilst they were pregnant or with their little ones. The other 60% have found us through online advertising and social media marketing.

We have franchisees from all different careers including doctors, accountants, sales directors at Calvin Kein and Mars, midwives and HR specialists. Many of our licensees were on maternity leave when they came across the Turtle Tots opportunity. and many were looking for a more rewarding, flexible lucrative and scalable business instead of going back into the corporate world and experiencing high childcare costs.

What advice do you offer other entrepreneurs looking to franchise their business?

If you have a successful and proven business model with a great brand then franchising or licensing your business is a perfect way to grow it nationally and internationally. Before you sign up your first franchisee I would advise that you take an objective look at your business and ensure that you have a comprehensive operations manual and a solid franchise contract.

Surround yourself with positive people and network with other business owners for support and sharing best practice. Choose your franchisees well, ensure they are self starters and, really importantly, fantastic ambassadors for your brand and business culture.

Do you think enough is done in the UK to support female entrepreneurs?

We have experienced a lot of support over the past years, not necessarily because we are female. I do believe that rising child care costs are an issue for women who work generally as well as female entrepreneurs.

Which other entrepreneur inspires you and why?

Richard Branson is definitely an inspiration for me and I love his book, Business Stripped Bare. He talks about how most new start-up businesses are not brand new ideas; they are born out of a desire to offer a product or service and do it better. I think one of the reasons for our success at Turtle Tots is that we always concentrating on our customers.

If you could start your business again, what would you do differently?

I'm not sure there is much that I would do differently, I had a very clear vision and business plan from the beginning and I feel that we have achieved many objectives and exceeded our financial estimates year on year.

If I were to do anything differently I think it would be to have explored internationalising earlier, as we are having great success and lots of interest in other international markets where there is less competition. Having said that we have spent the last five years growing and consolidating the UK market with an established head office team. This now gives us great scope to replicate our success in other countries.

What are your three top tips for business success?

Trust your gut feel, choose your business partners well and if you are passionate about your product or service and being the best, then you'll have a great franchise business.

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