This month we catch up with babyballet founder Claire O’Connor
She set up babyballet on her own in 2005 with no capital investment and can now lay claim to it being the UK’s leading pre-school dance concept. Her company is a prominent player in the franchise market and a recognised children’s brand, and she is a sought after public speaker who has won numerous awards. Claire has exciting plans to expand babyballet worldwide.
SO WHERE DID IT ALL START?
“Years ago I realised that there was a gap in the market for non-competitive ballet classes that not only accepted the best and have spent the last 11 years spreading the word that ballet can be enjoyed by everyone and not just the elite. We now have 70 franchisees across the country with over 11,000 children attending hundreds of classes each week and we are still growing. There’s not a day goes by where I don’t thank my lucky stars that babyballet is helping babies, toddlers and children to fall in love with ballet from such a young age. Also, I am so privileged to work alongside such a dedicated team of head office staff, and inspiring franchisees and teachers who all believe in what babyballet is all about.”
WHAT IS YOUR BACKGROUND?
“I was born into the world of ballet – my mum Barbara Peters was a Royal Academy of Dance examiner – and I attended traditional classes but gave up at 14 because I felt I was the wrong shape and not good enough. It left me with a lack of self-confidence and poor body image. I didn’t want this to happen to others and babyballet was born. The success of babyballet proves that shape, size and ability are not barriers to ballet.
Last year a wonderful story appeared in the Daily Mail about one of our pupils, three-year-old Archie Aspin who has Down’s Syndrome. Archie struggled to walk but his mum Amanda credited babyballet with sending his confidence soaring and helping him walk, jump and hop – skills once thought too challenging for him. These sort of stories really warm my heart and make all the hard work building and running the business so worthwhile.”
WHAT DO YOUNGSTERS GET FROM YOUR CLASSES?
“We provide a happy and safe environment for youngsters from six months to six years to learn to dance while having fun. Babies develop through being active and exploring their environment so babyballet classes help babies and youngsters develop key skills in all areas of their development such as coordination, balance, flexibility and strength. Ballet also teaches youngsters discipline and confidence which can help with emotional development. Our lessons help expand vocabulary, improve memory by learning new steps and routines and improve social skills and encourage our babyballet stars to form new friendships.”
TELL US ABOUT YOUR BRANDING
“I’m extremely proud of the branding and the ethos that everyone involved with the brand stands by. The brand is personable and it’s so wonderful that people can identify with it and want to be part of it. Alongside classes we retail branded babyballet uniform and merchandise through the franchisees classes or online. We have developed soft toys, CDs and a DVD and we are extremely excited that a new and exclusive range of babyballet uniform will be available towards the end of 2016.
Our own loveable characters, Twinkle and Teddy the bears, Flutterstar the Fairy, Chuck the Cowboy and Grandad Jack who take part in numerous children’s festivals across the country and are on their way to becoming `superstars’ in the pre-school world.
TELL US ABOUT SOME OF THE HIGHLIGHTS OF THE LAST 11 YEARS?
“One of my proudest moments was being handpicked to take part in the controversial Channel 4 reality show, Big Ballet which was fronted by Wayne Sleep and Monica Loughman. It followed a troupe of plus-size amateurs as we trained to realise our ambition of performing scenes from Swan Lake. It was watched by millions and got rave reviews. I brought Wayne and Monica to the babyballet HQ in Halifax, West Yorkshire, to meet staff, class members and franchisees.
It’s also great for everyone involved with babyballet when we get recognised and win awards. We have won awards including ITV’s This Morning, Loved By Parents, Netmums, WO4LO, Mum and Working and Forward Ladies as well as many local awards. Last year I was over the moon that we win two awards in one day at two different award ceremonies. That was an amazing a day!”
We have been featured on CBeebies, Nick Junior, ITV and Channel Five too which are major highlights .
ARE YOU PROUD OF YOUR FRANCHISEES?
“Absolutely, they are amazing. As well as being recognised for helping children to explore, learn and grow, babyballet is well known for its family-feel and close relationships within the franchise network. All the franchisees are passionate about the brand and building their own business and for those with children, having a babyballet franchise gives them the opportunity to have a family and run their own company at the same time, something I am extremely proud of because I have four children myself.
The success of the company is definitely down to team work. The head office team and every franchisee works hard because they love the brand and want to see it grow. We offer exceptional training and support (we have 8 in the head office team) not only on how to run a business but how to combine working to achieve a healthy work/life balance and working whilst bringing up a family too. As well as holding classes, franchisees can also hold babyballet parties and yearly stage shows where youngsters get the opportunity to perform on stage with the babyballet characters.“
DO YOUR FRANCHISEES EVER GET THE CHANCE TO MEET?
“Yes we have regional meetings and once a year we have our annual conference, which are all provided for by head office. We all love getting together - the annual conference is a highlight for franchisees as they learn how to build their business, network with like-minded, friendly franchisees and listen to our informative and inspirational guest speakers. This year’s was the best yet. Award-winning entrepreneur Clint Salter came all the way from Australia to be our main speaker. Clint is a marketing genius who helps dance academy owners turn their passion into profit. His talk was a huge hit and our franchisees left feeling motivated and determined to grow their businesses to the next level. The conference gives them the chance to network, share ideas and make new friends. Lots of them brought their pink babyballet cars too, which was fun to see them all in one place at the same time!”
WHERE DO YOU GO FROM HERE?
“I want to keep on growing the business and the brand with our strong ethos and values. My vision for the future is shared by everyone around me and includes doubling the amount of franchises we have, having 50,000 children at classes within the next five years and turning the babyballet characters into global children’s favourites. I am in talks with people in Australia and the United States, and taking the company worldwide is something I would love more than anything else so that children all over the world can enjoy and benefit from our classes and brand.”
HOW DO YOU BECOME A FRANCHISEE?
“For anybody interested in joining our franchise family, we’d love to hear from you. There is a vast amount of information on the website, www.babyballet.co.uk where there is also an initial application form that you can fill in. Or, if you would like to speak to myself or a member of the team, you can contact us at head office on 01422 329471. The email address for new franchise enquiries is firstname.lastname@example.org.
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