Welcome to ValiantCEO Magazine’s exclusive interview with Nancy Bigley, the CEO of The Little Gym International and Snapology. With over 30 years of experience in the franchising industry, Nancy has left an indelible mark on the world of youth enrichment. In this enlightening conversation, she shares insights into her journey, her company, and the profound impact they are making in children’s lives.
Nancy’s passion for empowering women leaders led her to launch her own franchise brand back in 2011, which she successfully sold in 2018. Today, she leads The Little Gym International and Snapology, where both brands are a part of the Unleashed Brands Family.
At The Little Gym International, children aged 4 months to 12 years are immersed in movement-based learning programs that utilize gymnastics, music, and imaginative play to build confidence and essential skills during the early stages of child development.
Snapology, on the other hand, focuses on offering STEAM (science, technology, engineering, art, and mathematics) enrichment classes, parties, and camps to foster critical thinking, soft skills, and increased confidence in children.
Join us as we delve into Nancy Bigley’s remarkable journey and uncover the secrets behind The Little Gym International’s success in revolutionizing children’s education and empowerment.
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Table of Contents
We are thrilled to have you join us today, welcome to ValiantCEO Magazine’s exclusive interview! Let’s start off with a little introduction. Tell our readers a bit about yourself and your company.
Nancy Bigley: Sure, thank you for the opportunity. I’ve been in franchising for the last 30 years and have worked at some amazing brands and was honored to launch my own franchise brand back in 2011 and successfully sold it in 2018.
I am privileged to be a part of Unleashed Brands now where I have an amazing opportunity to have an impact on the foundational development of children’s lives by leading two great brands in the youth enrichment space.
The Little Gym International is a youth enrichment business designed for children ages 4 months to 12 years. Our programs are focused on movement-based learning utilizing gymnastics, music and imaginative play to help build confidence and skills needed in early stages of child development.
At Snapology we focus on offering enrichment classes, parties, and camps that teach children STEAM (science, technology, engineering, art, and mathematics) to help build soft skills, develop critical thinking, and increase confidence.
In the past year, what is the greatest business achievement you’d like to celebrate with your team? Please share the details of that success.
Nancy Bigle: I’ve been very proud of my team at The Little Gym in particular this last year. We are going through a lot of transitions of our systems and processes to build a stronger foundation to really expand into the future. Doing large changes with a 46-year-old brand can be uncomfortable for franchisees not used to a lot of change.
My team has shown strong leadership and professionalism in the face of adversity. They continued to listen, make changes where we could but always keeping the larger vision in focus. This is not easy but doing so while being able to experience double digit growth and record-breaking increases makes me so proud.
Quiet quitting, The Great Resignation, are an ongoing trend causing many businesses to struggle to keep talent engaged and motivated. Most are leaving because of their boss or their company culture. 82% of people feel unheard, undervalued, and misunderstood in the workplace. In your experience, what keeps employees happy? And how are you adapting to the current shift we see?
Nancy Bigley: I’ve always seen my #1 responsibility as a leader as building strong and high performing teams. If I don’t have them, I’ll never be as successful as I could be. I’ve certainly found it a lot more difficult to build such teams with so many remote workers. Keeping the team plugged in and engaged with each other takes more thought, effort, and creativity.
A consistent sentiment I’ve heard over the years is the team being unclear in their role and not feeling empowered to make a difference. I’m huge on personal accountability so I work hard to have clear measures of success for each member of the team and if they are missing on the execution, we need to find out why and help them get better. I also feel the more we can build a strong teamwork culture of everyone having everyone’s back it helps people feel more empowered.
At The Little Gym I had to find a way to blend legacy team members with new team members and remote workers with physical HQ office workers. To get the best ideas and perspective we decided to form a TLG Culture Committee made up of 5 members across our team representing all the diversity on our team. We meet monthly and discuss how we can better communicate and motivate the team.
What the group is hearing among team members and what we can do better to make the team feel empowered. We also focus on the nurturing side of the team. We recognize birthdays, work anniversaries, and teamwork “WOW” efforts that occurred that month.
On the last Wednesday of the month, we replace our weekly team meeting with a Wildcard Wednesday meeting. This occurs later in the day so we can include virtual happy hour and a virtual teambuilding event.
We’ve done trivia contents, scavenger hunts, virtual puzzles, Pictionary, etc. It’s a great way to get to know each other on a fun level, laugh recognize efforts and just have fun. At the company level we have a book club, work from home Wednesdays and flexible start times in the morning to help with traffic issues. We want our team to know we care about them as a person not just as a worker.
Overall, I’ve not found a magic formula, just that you need the help of many and you must keep trying different ways to get feedback and engagement. Never take it for granted that there needs to be a constant focus around team culture and communication.
Here is a two-fold question: What is the book that influenced you the most and how? Please share some life lessons you learned. Now what book have you gifted the most and why?
Nancy Bigley: I’ve had so many books inspire me over the years. A recent one that comes to mind is The Wisdom of Oz. It’s about ways to utilize personal accountability to succeed in everything that you do. One of the key concepts in the book is about how to work above the line instead of below the line.
Below the line thinking relates to behaviors like finger pointing, wait and see approach, ignore, and deny. A trap we can all fall into. Above the line thinking is an attitude of See it, Own it, Solve it, Do it. I’ve tried to be an above the line leader my whole career, so I was fascinated to dig into this book.
These lessons have really helped me look past challenges that pop up and focus on solutions. I’ve learned how to be a calmer leader because the team needs me to be, and I can’t find the solution when my hair is on fire. Getting really calm is the only way I’ll see the path through.
I’ve also learned not to react and lash out with blame, which is so easy to do. Sometimes no one is at fault for a problem and sometimes someone is. Getting angry and blaming someone doesn’t help find a solution. Again, it just wastes time. Once we fix the problem we can identify where we could have done better and fix that process. However, that’s not going to happen in the moment of high emotion.
The book spoke to me so much I sent a copy to 4 of my franchisees on my Culture Committee as we are working through ways to help navigate change occurring in our brand.
Others I’ve gifted a lot are Brian Tracy’s Goals and Eat that Frog and Brene Brown’s Dare to Lead. All are easy reads and give practical advice on ways to manage all that we have to as leaders.
Business is all about overcoming obstacles and creating opportunities for growth. What do you see as THE real challenge right now?
Nancy Bigley: Well, for many businesses we have a high level of uncertainty in the economy. Uncertainty can lead to paralysis and paralysis can lead to missed opportunities.
I’ve learned over the years in business no matter what is happening “waiting it out” is not often the smartest approach. Forward action, no matter what the action is, is necessary to keep businesses growing.
So, my motto has always been to first have a plan based on research, data and feedback. Then keep executing against your plan making adjustments along the way as you gain feedback, but never stopping to second guess where you are going.
The vision is important and confidence in that vision is critical. Then, lead with empathy and an open mind but don’t allow others to take you off course.
2020, 2021, and 2022 threw a lot of curve balls into businesses on a global scale. Based on the experience gleaned in the past years, how can businesses thrive in 2023? What lessons have you learned and what advice would you share?
Nancy Bigley: The years of COVID forced businesses to get really creative with how customers engaged and purchased. Some things worked, others didn’t. But I believe it accelerated our technological capabilities along with greater self-service functionality to a place where those functions are now expected in most businesses.
In 2023 we need to reimagine how consumer engagement should and could look not how it used to look. We’ve far outpaced 2019/2020 practices and behaviors and it’s exciting.
Taking those lessons, staying plugged into what our customers are telling us about how they want to engage with us is super important. It will guide us on where we need to get to in the next couple of years.
I also hope we remember how many amazing and creative ideas we came up with in 2020/2021 by not over thinking them. We didn’t have a choice, we HAD to do something, anything so we all forgave the imperfect. I hope businesses can embrace a little more risk and a little more imperfection to see how they can get to a greater place faster again.
What does “success” in 2023 mean to you? It could be on a personal or business level, please share your vision.
Nancy Bigley: We are moving through a lot of change management right now with both of the brands I oversee. So, success to me is us completing all of the infrastructural changes this year.
Because, once completed we can really accelerate the business with new foundational platforms. We had our best year ever in 2022 at both brands so I want to keep that record going in 2023 with record breaking revenue, profitability and new unit growth.
Jed Morley, VIP Contributor to ValiantCEO and the host of this interview would like to thank Nancy Bigley for taking the time to do this interview and share her knowledge and experience with our readers.
If you would like to get in touch with Nancy Bigley or her company, you can do it through her – Linkedin Page
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