Business Success Is All In The Family
JW Tumbles CEO Ash Robinson Purchases Company at Age 26: She Learned Early On What it Takes to Succeed
January 25, 2008 // Franchising.com // (San Diego, CA)---Twenty-six-year-old Ash Robinson, president and CEO of JW Tumbles, seems as though she was destined to lead the franchisor of children's fitness and learning centers.
Her grandfather, a successful antiques dealer, and his three sons – including Robinson's father, Mark – have become self-made millionaires in the facilities management, restaurant and real estate development industries, respectively.
"I think it's safe to say that the entrepreneurial gene runs in our family," said Ash.
On June 1, 2007, an investment group headed by Robinson purchased San Diego-based JW Tumbles, whose franchised gyms throughout the United States promote physical activity and fun in children ages four months to nine years old, while at the same time developing athletic skills and self-confidence in a non-competitive environment.
Robinson began her association with JW Tumbles as a part-time business consultant in 2003, eventually becoming vice president of franchise development and COO for the company that was founded by Jeff and Melissa Woods outside San Diego in 1985.
However, the founders – who had been community focused and content to operate six gyms in the San Diego area for much of their ownership tenure – began searching for a buyer in late 2006 after being overwhelmed by the demands of their franchising program, which they had launched in 2004 in an effort to join the boom in kids' fitness concepts.
Though she had already been working with several interested parties, Melissa Woods called Robinson into her office one day and said, "Why don't you buy it, Ash?"
The question wasn't met with trepidation. Actually, Robinson's reaction was quite the opposite, but it should have come as no surprise given the entrepreneurial roots of Robinson's family tree.
"I've never been afraid to get out of my comfort zone and take a chance. I knew the business inside and out and knowledge is power when you're making a decision," Robinson said. "I realized the company's potential. The only decision I had to make was for myself. But I've never had any 'company people' in my family. What would have scared me is having someone telling me what time to come to work, what to wear and where to sit. JW Tumbles was a young franchising company. I just knew I would have to push, push, push. That's all I understood."
Today, JW Tumbles has 32 gyms in 10 states, with 15 additional locations in development. Projections call for 20 new franchisees to be added in 2008 and 100 locations to be open in the United States by the end of 2010. JW Tumbles, which has gyms from California to New York, is targeting major metropolitan markets across the country for its continued growth.
Aggressive international expansion is also on the docket. With two locations in Singapore and one each in Hong Kong and Mexico, Robinson wants to open 20 JW Tumbles across Asia over the next three years. Expansion to Canada is also possible.
"It's a huge potential market for us," Robinson said of Asia. "We already have some of our top-performing franchises there. Asia is going to be a major focus of our international expansion."
It all might seem like a challenging agenda for a 26-year-old, but Robinson sees otherwise, as do those in her investment group.
"I acknowledge that I am a young CEO, but my investors are the type of people who look for ability and commitment within the company's management team and my team is as solid as it gets," Robinson said. "At that point, my age is irrelevant. To be honest, I think my primary investor committed simply because I told her that my 100 percent commitment is a formidable opponent to failure."
Robinson's moxie can be traced to her father. Mark Robinson and his twin brother, Matt, were formerly franchisees of a popular steakhouse chain that went bankrupt. Turning misfortune into opportunity, Mark launched his own facilities management and maintenance services company – ServiceMax Corporation in Chattanooga, Tenn. – that today serves clients such as Federal Express and Pepsi in 50 cities across 10 states. Matt became a successful managing partner of an Outback Steakhouse.
"I saw my father fall down and come back to build a multi-million-dollar enterprise. But more than anything else, that experience taught me the importance of family and other people you surround yourself with," said Robinson, who washed trucks and learned business basics while working for her father when she was younger. "Plus, being a service-based company, my father's business had a lot in common with franchising. That's where I really learned."
Robinson has brought that sense of "family" to JW Tumbles, which not only offers franchisees a strong potential return on investment, but also an enjoyable and rewarding business opportunity. With more than 20 years of experience in the children's gym business, JW Tumbles has garnered the reputation, knowledge and expertise to spur its growth across the nation and world.
"But we're still close-knit and we like to call ourselves the 'Tumbles family,'" Robinson said. "We have a great support network amongst our franchisees that represents the spirit of franchising. A lot of other companies say the same, but we truly practice it."
The estimated initial investment to operate a single JW Tumbles gym ranges from $141,500 to $198,000 and area development packages are available. Growth is expected to come from a 50/50 split of both single-unit operators and multi-unit developers.
Robinson said her franchisees come from all walks of life but share a common trait: the ability to manage a successful business with five to nine employees while living up to JW Tumbles' community-centric focus on children and their parents. About 60 to 70 percent are husband/wife teams.
The company's training program is comprehensive, lasting 21 to 30 days and including 35 hours of classroom training and 117 hours of on hands-on gym instruction. During a franchisee's first year of operation, JW Tumbles trainers make three to four onsite visits to critique program delivery and perform additional training in specific areas of operation. Veteran owners are also assigned to new franchisees through a mentoring program to provide guidance in business operations and curriculum development.
"Our product is our service," Robinson said. "We don't have to teach our franchisees about managing inventory or other such things, but they need to know how make their product - our service - the best it can be."
Robinson had recently returned from a business trip to Asia when she was reminded of the first time she attended a national franchising convention. She walked into a seminar for management-level executives on creating a sales team when she suddenly felt as it everyone in the room had turned to look at her because of her age. Recalling the experience, she said the industry has definitely changed.
"There are more women involved today and also younger people because the industry has been booming," Robinson said. "I have had some franchisees tell me I could be their daughter, but I think you earn respect, it's just not given out, and I believe that's what I'm out there doing every day."