ARTventurers is an award-winning business founded by entrepreneur Fiona Simpson that runs colourful, creative, art and messy play classes for babies, toddlers and children.
Since it was first founded in 2011, ARTVenturers now has over 25 branches across the UK run by its team of successful franchisees.
So how did founder and Managing Director Fiona turn ARTventurers from a start-up into a successful franchise business with over 25 happy franchisees? We caught up with her to find out.
Tell us about your business? What made you start your own business and how did you go about starting up?
We run colourful, creative art classes, events and parties for babies, toddlers and children across the UK – we’re all about learning and development through art and creative play, and often getting quite messy in the process!
The business was actually inspired by my own two ARTventurers Erin and Isaac. Before having the children I did something completely different – I was a solicitor specialising in family law. However like a lot of parents, once I had the children my priorities completely changed!
I set up ARTventurers in 2011 – I wanted to create a fun business that would make a difference to the children and families who came along to our classes, and on a personal level to create a flexible business that would allow me to spend more time with my children and take them to school and pick them up every day. I started with just a couple of classes a week in Sunderland and initially grew the business gradually around the children. However as word spread and demand for ARTventurers classes, events and parties increased, I made the decision to expand the business through licensing initially and then developing a franchise model in 2015.
Since then, ARTventurers has really grown! We now have over 25 branches running across the UK with a fabulous team of franchisees building their own fun, flexible and family-friendly businesses.
What has your business achieved over the last year? What is your favourite success story to date?
We’ve had an AMAZING 12 months at ARTventurers. Not only have we opened several new branches and developed some fab new programmes and services, we’ve also won some great awards!
We won the award for Best Small Business of the Year at the North East Press Echo Awards and were thrilled to also win two major awards in the Working Mums Top Franchise Awards 2017 – Most Supportive Franchisor of the Year to recognise the innovative package of support we provide to all of our franchisees, and Overall Top Franchise 2017!
In addition, we gained two accolades in the What’s on 4 Kids Awards 2017, which is our industry awards ceremony, recognising the best children's activity providers across the UK. We won the awards for Best Baby/Toddler Development Activity and Best Preschool Activity 2017 (under 25 franchisees) which was absolutely amazing and a great testament to the hard work that our entire franchisee put into the ARTventurers classes, events and parties.
What have you learned from your journey in business so far? Is there anything you would do differently?
It’s been a rollercoaster journey but I think any entrepreneur would say the same. There are lots of lessons I’ve learned along the way – one big one being to trust my instinct when it comes to making decisions! Another has been to have a clear business vision, but also to make sure that I share it with the rest of the team. We have a very collaborative, team-focused approach at ARTventurers and I want to make sure that they feel part of the wider business, that we’re all working towards the same vision and goals and also that they can see any decisions I make about the business as Managing Director is in-keeping with this shared vision and our goals.
What would I do differently? To be honest, there’s nothing major that I would have done differently. We’re at a really crucial point in the growth of the business where we’re establishing ARTventurers as a truly national brand and as part of this I am working with a marketing coach who has been introduced to me through Transmit Startups. His insight and advice has already proven invaluable – he’s helped me to identify where we might have some weaknesses in our marketing strategies and branding, and it’s made me realise that investing in professional expert advice at an earlier stage certainly would have been very useful.
Have there been many challenges you’ve had to overcome?
Yes - on both a personal and a professional level. I started up the business with two young children in tow so it’s been a constant juggling act between home and business, which is always a challenge for any working parent! However I am very lucky to have a strong support network of family and friends.
From a business perspective, one of the biggest challenges has been developing a workable franchise model that is structured enough to protect the ARTventurers brand, but that is also flexible to attract the type of franchisee we aim for and to reflect the fact that ultimately we’re a business that is all about creativity.
It’s always been important to me that our franchisees, who are all creative individuals, are able to put their own stamp on their business and bring their own creative ideas into it too. As a result our franchise model is quite non-traditional in certain senses but it works well for us and I think it’s that flexible approach to franchising that has won us the awards that we have!
Would you recommend a Start Up Loan from Transmit Startups to other businesses? How beneficial was the free business support?
Absolutely. I took out the loan in the early stages of our franchising journey to fund some marketing and advertising work and the entire process was really quick and simple. Transmit Startups has been a great source of support for ARTventurers and I really appreciate all of the ongoing help that they have provided, putting me in touch with some really helpful contacts.
If you could give one tip to a new entrepreneur, what would it be?
I am a firm believer in networking and collaboration. Starting a new business can not only be stressful, but quite isolating at times and it’s really important to connect with other people who are going through, or have gone through the same journey. There are loads of brilliant networking groups and events out there, it’s about trying a few and seeing which ones sit well with you and your business. And it’s through networking, either online or face to face, that you can find other businesses to work alongside and collaborate with – a great way for any new business to get their name out there!