Blogcast #14: Claire Munday and How Tippy Toes Became a Franchise

SRebecca: Hi, and welcome to the Entrepreneurial Journey. Today I have Claire Munday with me who runs a really great company called Tappy Toes, and I just love the name of it and it’s a children’s activity franchise. Hi Claire, how are you?

Claire: Hello, Rebecca? Yeah, I’m great. Thank you so much for inviting me on.

Rebecca: Yeah, no, that’s a pleasure. Now we’ve invited you on because you were a finalist with the Great British Entrepreneur Awards recently. Which categories were you nominated for? Claire? Yes,

Claire: I was a finalist in the Creative Entrepreneur for the East of England, and we had a fabulous black tie event last Monday, actually. Yeah, it was fantastic to be part of.

Rebecca: Yeah, definitely. And you’re for an award or two tonight as well, aren’t you? Yeah,

Claire: I know they all come at once, it’s

Rebecca: Like, yeah, they do. They do.

Claire: But yeah, tonight I will be driving up to Coventry later for the What’s On for Kids Awards, which is quite a big award in our kind of sector. And I am up for Remarkable Achievement, which is lovely. And also most loved dance and performing arts, and one of my franchisees is up for best franchise as well.,

Rebecca: Yeah, good luck. I hope you do well at that. Definitely. Alright, so tell us what Tappy Toes is.

Claire: Yeah, of course. So Tappy Toes is a dancer movement franchise for babies and toddlers. It started off just for kind of two year olds and it’s expanded out from there. So I created Tappy Toes for two year olds, and then it just expanded and expanded from there. And we kept getting asked for classes for a 1-year-old, and then it was like, oh, but my baby, she loves bopping about can she’d come and join in? And so I created a baby syllabus as well, which is all about bonding with your baby, dancing with your baby, and it’s more sensory based. So we expanded out to that. And then most recently we’ve expanded into schools taking all the way up to year two with our dance programme in schools. So yeah, it’s kind of grown and grown from what it initially was. It was just little old me almost 20 years ago, I think when I first started it in where I lived at the time. Never kind of meant to be a franchise at that moment. It was purely, I created a lesson plan for that age group. I just love that age group and I love dance. And so yeah, it’s just kind of grown from there really.

Rebecca: I love that. So, okay. You were a professional dancer for many years, weren’t you?

Claire: Yes. Yeah, that’s right.

Rebecca: And you’ve done some pretty awesome stuff. Come on, isn’t it your time to shine, Claire? Tell us what you’ve done.

Claire: Oh gosh. I mean, oh, it’s been many, many years now, but I did dance professionally for 10 years. I travelled to the world. I started on cruise ships and then I did a lot of what they call commercial work, which will be things like we had top of the pops, the Britt Awards, MTV stuff on MTV, that kind of thing. So yeah, I mean, it was a long, long time ago now.

Rebecca: That was amazing.

Claire: It was great. Yeah, I had a lovely time. I really enjoyed it. But my first love was always teaching. I always loved to teach. And so even when I was, I think 14, I used to really look up to my dance teacher and think I want to be like her. She inspired me so much and I had said to her, I want to be a dance teacher. And it was her that said to me, well, do you not want to perform first? Why don’t you audition for dance college? And so that’s how I got into that really. It was her encouragement to say, look, go and audition for a college and see where you go because you can teach afterwards. And so that’s what I did. So yeah, I’m back to my roots. Amazing.

Rebecca: That is amazing. Yeah, because dancers, it’s punishing on your body, isn’t it? It’s not an easy profession to keep going. And what was the catalyst for you to go right? I’m going to set up on my own now and teach it professionally to move away from actually dancing.

Claire: I was quite young when I first started, when I created Tappy Toes. I think I was around 24, something like that. And at the same time, I launched a dance school, which I still run and own and Run now, which is called Rise Studios. So I launched Rise Studios, I created Tappy Toes, and then it was a natural, I suppose, a balanced shift from dancing professionally to doing less of that and more teaching to eventually just stopping the dancing. I think it is a tough world. You are constantly auditioning, you’re constantly having to prove yourself. You go to a hundred auditions, you might get one job. So it does take its toll. You’ve got to be very thick skinned, and I suppose self-assured to keep going. And yeah, I think at some point you just kind of go, okay, I’ve done that now. I did it for 10 years, and I was lucky enough to have a career that I was dancing a lot, which is great. Then it was just a natural progression over really.

Rebecca: Yeah. So I interviewed a young woman yesterday. 24, started her own business. In fact, I think she was a bit younger when she got started. So going back to your younger self, what advice would you give your younger self now, do you think?

Claire: Oh, yeah, I mean, that’s such a great question. I think when I started, I just did everything myself, but I think it’s a Catch-22 because you kind of have to, you haven’t got the cashflow or the investment to hire people. But for example, when I started off, all the bookings were kind of manual. All the payments were cash. It was a different time. And when I kind of invested in a system, like a software system, a booking system, and decided to bite the bullet and pay that monthly fee to have that, it was game changing for my business. So it’s little things like that where you think actually you feel like you can’t afford to do whatever it is, whether it’s hire a VA or whatever it is, but you have to think, well actually, I can’t afford not to because without those things in place, you can’t actually grow. I think I wish I had invested earlier in help, and I still don’t have a lot of help. I do a lot of the business myself, but I do have lots of systems and software in place now that just makes my job so much easier.

Rebecca: Oh, lovely. Yeah, very nice. Well, she’ll calm down a minute. That’s fine. Yes, she’ll, it won’t hurt to have some time away from mommy. It’ll do her good. Yes. All right. Okay. So yeah, you’re absolutely right. I think now there are so many more options for business owners, aren’t they? In that way back, I had to hire a bookkeeper, but now there’s zero, there’s QuickBooks, there’s all the online banks that make that side of things so much easier. And like you said, there are tech systems for bookings and payments and diary booking systems and all kinds of things that just didn’t exist. You still need people though, don’t you? Because I think there’s that mental load as much as anything else. Yeah,

Claire: I think it is tough being a business owner. You, they say it’s lonely at the top, and it is true because you don’t have anyone to bat the ideas off against or share the worries and all of that stuff. And everybody, especially with the franchise network, everybody is looking to me for the answers, and I’m the first to admit, I don’t always have all the answers, but I’ll do my best to find out. But yeah, so it is important to have people around you, and even if that’s like other people in your industry that are doing a similar thing, I mean, what it’s like in other industries, but in the children’s activity industry, it’s very warm and welcoming. It’s very nurturing. People are willing to share. So even other franchises that people could say are my competitors, we will share best practise, we will talk. We help with tips and advice, and I think that’s really important. Surround yourself with people that understand what you’re doing because they’re either on their own business journey or they’re in the same sector.

Rebecca: Yeah. I interviewed the lady, I can’t remember her name, but she is the MD of Puddle Ducks. Do you know her?

Claire: But I know the brands. Yeah,

Rebecca: Yeah. So yeah, sharing best practise, somebody who’s going to buy a Puddle Ducks franchise isn’t going to buy a Tappy Toes franchise. Completely different interests, isn’t it? Yeah,

Claire: Absolutely.

Rebecca: But there are commonalities with working with young children and babies and families and things like that. Yeah, I can see that. That’s nice that the industry has that sharing ethos. Definitely. So when did you start your first franchise, and what was the trigger for that?

Claire: Yeah, so I created the classes and I ran them myself in Watford for quite a while, for a good few years with not really any thought of franchising, but then lots of people in neighbouring towns were wanting to come to classes, and there was just such a massive demand for the classes that I started to look into how I could broaden what I was doing and expand. And it was actually when I got pregnant with my first child that I was like, oh, franchise heavily pregnant. Why wouldn’t you? So yeah, I was pregnant with Ethan, and I decided, right, actually I’m going to start franchising. And I started, I didn’t spend very much on marketing, but I got everything put in place and ready. So the franchise agreement, the operations manual, all the stuff that you need to take it to market, so to speak.

And then I just did a little advert on a, I think it was a dance teacher’s directory or something like that where he got sent out to all the members and somebody found me from that. And I can remember with this newborn baby in a car seat going for a meeting with somebody who was interested in franchising tap. I mean, it seems crazy when I look back at that, but that’s what happened. And so that first year, I think there was about two or three franchises, sort of pilot franchises. So is considering franchising or looking into franchising, it’s always good to have a couple of pilot or tester franchises to just make sure that actually the business can work without you at the helm. So that’s kind of what they were, were the pilot franchises. One of them did it for 10 years and has recently sold her business. The other one is still with me. So it showed that it had legs,

Rebecca: Definitely. And

Claire: I then sort of focused on my family. I had my second child, so I wasn’t actively recruiting or marketing. And we had five franchises for a couple of years. And then both my kids started school and 2020 the pandemic hit, and I think it was 2020 that I said, right, I’m ready to build this now. I don’t know what spurred me on at that moment. My husband thought I was mad. He’s like, it’s a lockdown, it’s a pandemic. Nobody’s going to invest in a business right now. And I was like, I dunno. I disagree. I think reevaluating, I think it’s the perfect time. And I put a little bit of money into marketing, and suddenly we sold 11 franchises during lockdown.

Rebecca: It just

Claire: Took off. And since then, we’ve grown at the same rate really. So we are now at 31 franchises. We’ve got classes operating out of almost a hundred locations in the uk, and we recently launched over in Dubai. So I think when I made that decision, and I guess this would be a tip or advice, when I made that decision to focus on recruiting and building it, it happened, I think before. Sometimes you’re so busy. I know it’s a famous phrase of working in your business instead of on your business, but it’s true. You’re working in the weeds, you’re trying to put out fires all day long of all this stuff that needs to get done. But actually when I shifted my focus and went right, I’m ready to grow, I’m ready to recruit, that was all I was kind of thinking about, and it worked. So yeah,

Rebecca: It does. Yeah, it does. You get more of what you focus on without a shadow of a doubt, and you are right. That period of lockdown was really interesting because people had time to explore and really think about what they wanted out of life and work. And those people who were working with a regular salary and were able to keep their jobs were storing up cash, they had nothing to spend it on.

Claire: I think also there was quite a lot of redundancies as well. So people had cash to then invest in something and were like, well, actually, I don’t want to work for a company and be made redundant at the drop of a hat. I could build my own business. And I think franchising is kind of underutilised in that sense, because a lot of people don’t realise starting up a business is tough, and a lot of them do fail, whereas starting up a franchise, most of them succeed. So it’s like, yeah, it’s, I think educating people on franchising and the benefits because still a bit of stigma attached to franchising. I think

Rebecca: Only in the UK, Claire, only in the UK, and I’ve still yet to understand why that is. I mean, our model, we nearly went down the franchise route, but because our coaches and consultants can really work anywhere, so they can deliver their coaching and consultant on Zoom all over the world, so we couldn’t lock people into territories. It wouldn’t have worked. And so a franchise just didn’t make sense at all. But when I looked into it, some of the biggest businesses in the world are franchises, and some of the most successful business owners, multimillionaires are franchise owners, franchisees, and people don’t, in the uk, they don’t understand that at all. I

Claire: Think they just see it as this huge corporation rather than a local business. But it could from the truth, because all of, for example, our franchises, they’re local people, mostly moms that are in their local area, in their communities delivering these sessions. So it is very, very local, but it’s under a bigger umbrella, which means we have more power online to make sure our website is coming up top. When you’re searching for baby or toddler dance classes, we’ve got more money as a whole to market and advertise. Yeah. And if you were just doing that by yourself, it’s much much harder to fill your glasses and raise awareness of your brands. So yeah,

Rebecca: Obviously,

Claire: Because that’s what I do. But

Rebecca: No, one of my good friends, Susan McCafferty runs a great franchise consultancy called Platinum Wave.

Claire: I know her, yeah.

Rebecca: Oh, do you know Suzy? It’s

Claire: Very industry. Yeah,

Rebecca: She just won Scottish Business Woman of the top 100, actually. And well-deserved amazing, which to me, I think means that franchising is beginning to be recognised as in inverted a proper business. And one of our licensed coaches, melody has a great domestic home care business. They specialise in looking after dementia patients at home, and she’s franchising that as well. And it’s a great way to grow a business and get the brand out there and ensure that consistency and things like that. So on the little bio he sent me, Claire, it was clear that you’re very ambitious. Where’s this going?

Claire: Yeah, I guess I probably am. We want to expand in the UAE. So currently we’re in Dubai and we want to branch out from there. We do have the trademark for Australia and for Europe. So eventually we’d love to be a global brand that everybody kind of knows and loves. So yeah, I mean, watch this space. It takes time. But the focus at the moment is to build the UAE brands. We are actually known as Tole Toes over there. I mean, that’s the other thing with business and trademarking and all of that stuff. We couldn’t get the trademark for Tappy Toes over there because there is a nursery that runs. So we had to think outside the box. We had to rebrand, we had to recreate a new website and all of that stuff, but we managed all of that. So there’s always some hurdle isn’t there? But we

Rebecca: Managed. Yeah, there’s always something. Yeah, there is always something. Definitely. Yeah. Again, a top tip for people out there, because our podcast goes out to entrepreneurs, business coaches, consultants. The UAE is growing massively. It

Claire: Really is. I would say if you look to go into that area, do your research before, because there’s a lot of rules and regulations out there that aren’t apply here. And so it’s been a real learning curve taking a business over there because everyone thinks there’s no taxes to pay over there. And it’s all great, but there aren’t any taxes. But you do have to have a business licence, which is thousands of pounds. So that is kind of your tax. So you have to really factor in all of those costs that are different to costs in the uk. And obviously the culture is different too, so you have to figure out where, it depends what your business is, but how is your business going to work and be received out there, because it’s a very different culture. So we are still figuring that out as we go. But yeah, it’s definitely been a huge learning curve.

Rebecca: A few of our learners have said, look, because our training is called the Kick-Ass Culture Coach and consultant training, and a few of our learners in the Middle East said, we can’t use that. And have said, well, how about use no nonsense coach and consultant or no nonsense culture? And they’ve said, right, okay, we can use that. So yeah, you have to be quite sensitive, very different. Are you going to expand into the us Do you think they have a huge franchise culture?

Claire: Yeah, they do. And I mean, that would be wonderful. The problem with the US is there’s so many rules and regulations regarding franchising over there. So every state has a different law about franchises. So in order to launch over there, you would need a lot of money. Yes, you do. So I think that would be the end goal, I suppose once we are launched in other countries and we know that it works and before investing big amount into taking it over to the states. But I think it would do really well over there. I really do think they would love the classes, the syllabus. But yeah, that’s a biggie.

Rebecca: We’ll see. Again, we looked into it, and as you say, you have to do it state by state. And before you’d even done anything, it was going to be 25 grand in lawyer’s fees, and then another 10 grand for your ops manual. And we went and an easier way.

Claire: And there’s other documents and stuff you need over there that you don’t need here.

Rebecca: Yeah, no, definitely. Okay, so how old are your kids now?

Claire: They’re nine and 10.

Rebecca: Right. So getting a whole lot easier. Definitely. Did they attend your classes?

Claire: Yes. Yeah, absolutely.

Rebecca: Right.

Claire: Yeah, so I actually, I used to live in Epping and I had classes running in Epping. And when I had Isla, I actually set up a class specifically so I could do it with her. I could take her and our NCT friends. So we did a little class. It was just meant to be for us as a small kind of free class rather than a community class. But actually it grew and grew, and it ended up being another class that was kind of fully booked, and she just used to come and do it with me. She loved it. Yeah.

Rebecca: Oh, that’s really nice.

Claire: Still dancers now to this day.

Rebecca: Yeah. And I’ve read on your website, it’s really good for children’s development. Tell me a little bit about that side.

Claire: Yeah, well, I mean, it has so many benefits. I mean, firstly, the fine and gross motor skills is obviously it’s brilliant for that, but also what people might not think about is vocabulary, communication skills, social skills, babies and toddlers who are just kind of finding their feet in the world, so to speak. It’s socialising them, they’re seeing other kids, they’re getting involved. It brings out their confidence. It is an amazing improvement in a child that comes from the first week to the fourth week. You just see this improvement where the first week they might not even join in. They might not do anything. They’re kind of shy, clingy and just won’t say a word. And by week three or four, they are running in the door, grabbing the props, singing along. It’s just wonderful to see them kind of blossom. And that is the lovely part of our job.

Rebecca: Yeah, no, I think that’s amazing. And again, you mentioned during lockdown, you put them classes online, didn’t you? Yes.

Claire: Yeah. Oh, I mean, it seems like ages ago now, but it was such a crazy time, wasn’t it? But suddenly it was like, right, we can’t have classes. What are we going to do? And at that moment, in the beginning, we thought it was all going to be okay after Easter. Do you remember? It was

Rebecca: Like, yeah, we did.

Claire: It’ll be back after Easter. It’s fine. So in my head, it was like, all of these customers have paid because they pay for the term. So they’ve paid until Easter holidays, so we’re going to have to offer something, or we’re going to have to refund everybody. And that’s just, we can’t,

Rebecca: So

Claire: We literally overnight moved our classes onto Zoom. We had no knowledge of Zoom. I’d never used it before then. I had no idea how to kind of play my music through it or anything. So it was, I’d say the first class was a bit of a nightmare. I think probably people couldn’t properly hear the music or they couldn’t hear me speaking. But then we learned how to use it. We invested in kind of wireless head mics so they could hear us over the music. And there was a class where I had 32 children on my screen. I couldn’t even see them all on one screen, dancing at home with their parents, with me in the lounge doing Tappy Toes. I mean, it was insane. We made it work, we kept it going. And then when we realised that actually things weren’t opening up anytime soon, we then had regular classes on Zoom where people could pay a membership to join whatever classes they want. And it just kind of got our franchisees through that period. I didn’t charge them royalties or management fees throughout that time, just to help them survive it. And actually, we didn’t lose anyone. We didn’t lose a single franchisee through that period. So

Rebecca: That’s fantastic. Yeah, that’s amazing. And you probably saved the sanity of quite a few parents, I would

Claire: Imagine a lot of people that they looked forward to their weekly session because it just gave them a bit structure in their week and was something to do. So I think it was a massive help.

Rebecca: And

Claire: Also don’t wish to repeat it, but

Rebecca: No, no, none of us do. But also for the children, because developmentally, a lot of them children lost milestones, didn’t they during that period? Yeah, really

Claire: Did. We saw a big change. I’m sorry to interrupt you.

Rebecca: No, no, go on. No, carry on.

Claire: We saw a big change after that period where we came back to classes. And actually, like you say, they hadn’t reached some of those milestones they should have been at. They were completely different children that were coming in because they’d never been in a class with people. They’d never been around other people. And suddenly we had all these children coming to class that would just attach to their grownup and wouldn’t leave their side. But I will say it didn’t take long for them to children bounce back, and they suddenly, after a few weeks, they were back to joining in and getting involved. But it was really noticeable, the difference before and after the lockdown. Yeah.

Rebecca: And do you think those coming back like that, do you think they caught up on those milestones?

Claire: I mean, from our point of view in the classes, we feel like things are back to normal, like the children progress as they should. But I know that there has been in nurseries and schools, reception, age kids and all of that, there has been a knock on effect. And it definitely has had an effect for all kids, I think. But we’ll get back to where we were and where they should be.

Rebecca: I mean, kids are resilient. My youngest daughter missed out on her P seven graduation going into high school, and I think it took her a couple of years to really readjust and get back into things. And the penny dropped for her just in June this year, actually. And she finally reengaged aged, and it just took a couple of years to get back on track. And I think she’s fine now, and she’s coming up for 15 and all.

Claire: Yeah, that was a tough age to be locked,

Rebecca: Isn’t it? Yeah, it was definitely. Anyway, onto Happy notes, your success. You have an award ceremony this afternoon, which is fantastic. And expanding Australia, the Middle East, more across the uk, I would imagine there’s more space there. Definitely.

Claire: Yeah. Yeah, definitely. We’ve got two new franchisees launching in January at the moment. So yeah, we are still continuing to grow here as well.

Rebecca: Brilliant. I think that’s amazing. And I also wanted to add, again, if there’s any entrepreneurs out there listening to the news would make you think, oh, we’re heading for recession. This, people have got no money. There’s always money in the system, and there’s always, when people want something, they’ll find the money to do it, won’t they?

Claire: Yeah, yeah, definitely. I mean, I’m not going to lie. It is, I would say harder now to get people to commit to a full term, for example. So we’ve always sold our classes in term blocks. It’s definitely harder to convert people that are trying the class. We do a three week trial to then convert them. They’ve got to pay out quite a sum of money for the full term, so say 80 pounds for, and that’s a lot of money for people to pay in one go now. Whereas before, most people wouldn’t have flinched at that and would just say, yep, we love the class. Let’s book. We’re having to adapt and make changes to make sure that we are not losing customers because that’s putting them off. And so we offer a direct debit payment, for example, where we didn’t used to need to do that. So now if somebody’s not wanting to convert to the full term, we can say, look, if you’d like to split the payments over the next few months, we can break it down for you, if that helps. And normally that’s really helpful. So I think as a business, you’ve constantly just got to be aware of what’s going on, and you might have to change a little bit what you’re doing. You may have to adapt things to suit your customers, and that’s what we’ve always tried to do, I think.

Rebecca: Yeah, no, I think that’s fair comment. Definitely. And also, people are used to paying monthly for things now they, it’s just in our cycle that yeah, I can deal with monthly stuff. Yeah. Yeah, definitely

Claire: Changed. I mean, I remember all those years ago where people would turn up with an envelope of cash for me to pay for the term. It’s like, wow, we don’t even take cash anymore.

Rebecca: Or a check. Let me write you a check. Yeah, absolutely.

Claire: Yeah. I’ve about

Rebecca: Check when was the last time you used your chequebook? Right. Okay. Now, if your business had a personality or a character, who would it be or how would you describe it, Claire?

Claire: Oh, so I like to say that Tappy Toes is pure joy. It’s just happiness. It’s just at, my husband has quite a stressful job, and I look at what he’s doing and I just think, oh my God, Tappy Toes is just joyous. The parents love it. The kids are entertained. The children come out in and out bouncing. They love it. And every session is just joy and happiness. There’s no negativity to it at all. So yeah, I would just say pure joy.

Rebecca: Oh, wonderful. I love that. I wish you all the best of luck tonight. I hope you win something you deserve to definitely. Even

Claire: If not, it’s just nice to be in a final amongst all those amazing people.

Rebecca: Definitely. Brilliant. Well done, Claire. Thanks.

Claire: I’ll go out.

Speaker 5: Coming up soon, my interview with Josh Nielsen, the founder of zencaster, the podcast recording and hosting software that we use here at Cress. So to say I was a little nervous about interviewing the founder of the guy who knows everything there is to know about recording and distributing podcasts was an understatement. However, he was kind on me. He’s a great guy. You’ll learn about how he bootstrapped his company in the days and how he’s growing it for a platform for real creators and people who want to get their podcasts out there, listen and enjoy.

Speaker 4: Thanks for listening. Everybody did. At Tri Cress. We’ve built a kick ass culture coach and consultant programme. So if you are a business coach or consultant and you’re looking for something new, add to your toolbox or even escape the nine to five. Join us at our next event. Links in the information on the podcast. See you there.

Speaker 1: The podcast, we’re talking business and building a culture that’s kickass where we make it happen. Grab your seat. Let’s have a blast at the Entrepreneurial Journey Podcast.