Part of Unleashed Brands, The Little Gym franchise has 400 locations across the globe and is continuing to scale
As the fitness and wellness industry continues to churn out a variety of modalities for those at all different physical levels, one company is building lifelong fans of movement through gymnastics, music and imagination: The Little Gym International.
Part of Unleashed Brands, a youth-focused company that includes Urban Air Adventure Park, Snapology, Class 101, Premier Martial Arts and XP league, The Little Gym offers enrichment and physical development centers for children ages four months through age 12.
Business is bustling for the high-energy brand, with The Little Gym recently partnering with investors to acquire seven existing gyms in North Carolina, South Carolina and Tennessee to expand its footprint and develop additional gyms over the next few years.
The first Little Gym was introduced in 1976 by Robin Wes, an educator, and by 1992, The Little Gym International formed to franchise the concept. It’s since grown to nearly 400 locations in over 31 countries.
Nancy Bigley joined The Little Gym International after Unleashed Brands acquired the youth enrichment business in 2021 and was selected to lead The Little Gym through the transition and into its next growth phase. It was an organic move for Bigley — the idea of one platform consisting of the best children’s enrichment brands was something she says she knew she had to be part of.
Bigley, CEO and president of The Little Gym, spoke to Athletech News about being a significant part of the development of children’s lives, combating the loneliness that comes with being in a top leadership position and managing stress.
Athletech News: What was your journey like to get to this point?
Nancy Bigley:I’ve been in franchising for the last 30 years in various executive roles and have worked at some amazing brands. I was honored to launch my own franchise brand back in 2011 as the co-founder and CEO and successfully sold it in 2018 to my largest competitor. I stayed on the team as the company COO and ultimately their CEO after we acquired two additional companies. I am privileged to now be a part of Unleashed Brands, where I have an amazing opportunity to have an impact on the foundational development of children’s lives by leading two great brands, The Little Gym International and Snapology.
ATN: What is your greatest strength?
NB: Perseverance. I’m not a quitter, and I will continue to think, collaborate, and try options until I find the best solution to solve a problem or reach a goal. I’m a natural collaborator and decision-maker, both traits that help me move through large workloads.
ATN: What motivates you?
NB: Success. I am motivated when we accomplish goals we have set for the brand or a project. I am motivated when I see a member of my team grow in their leadership when they take risks to stretch their decision-making and accomplish their goals. I get motivated when my franchisee’s businesses are growing and they tell me how proud they are of what they have accomplished. I’m also motivated when something doesn’t go so well, but I am able to collaborate with coworkers, other departments and/or franchisees to find a solution. Coming together during tough times to find a viable solution makes me feel empowered and accomplished.
ATN: What are some of your daily habits?
NB: I’m a very routine-minded person, and I like structure. I wake up at 4:25 a.m. every morning so I can get my workout in before I start my day. That means I need to be in bed by 9:30 p.m. to get enough sleep to recharge. I also have a routine of making my to-do list in my planner before I end the day. This allows me to jump right into work after my workout and get some wins on my list immediately, which is a great way to start the day. It also allows me to knock out projects and reduces the risk of missing critical deadlines. Finally, I’m an avid reader, so I set goals to read every week. Sometimes, it’s a business book that inspires me; sometimes, it’s a book that helps me work on myself; and sometimes, it’s just a trashy, fun book to take my mind off business and work. I typically have 3-4 books I’m reading at the same time.
ATN: What is your greatest accomplishment?
NB: Starting, growing and successfully selling my business was my greatest accomplishment to date. Starting a franchise company from the ground up takes a lot of hard work, determination, risk-taking and skill. It tested my leadership and business skills many times over, but I’m proud of the team I built, the brand I created and the opportunities I was able to provide others. I learned so much and came out on the other side as a much stronger, more compassionate, and humble leader.
ATN: What would be the title of your biography?
NB: “Conversations With My Younger Self.” I think at times, we are our own worst critics and can often be our own worst enemy. Launching a business and running companies requires tremendous courage, strength, and the need to drive for more all the time. This can easily leave us feeling that we are not doing enough and need to accomplish more.
I’ve often said being in a top leadership position can be very lonely. It’s our job to stay calm and be stoic for our team and customers, but who is there to be that for us? So, sometimes I pause and think back on what I was doing five, 10, 20 or 30 years ago and imagine what advice my younger self would give me. Usually, my younger self says, “Give yourself a break. Look at all the challenges you have made it through. Look at how many goals you’ve crushed. Look at how much you have grown as a leader. Now, take a breath, give yourself a break and enjoy life a little bit more.” I’d love to explore all that I’ve learned along the way that has made me a better person and leader that my younger self would be proud of.
ATN: Where do you accomplish your best work?
NB: I’ve been a remote worker for the last twenty years before it was a thing. I’m super disciplined, so it has always worked great for me and allowed me to get really focused. However, I do need in-person face time with my teammates, and being able to pop into someone’s office and talk out a problem and solution makes me feel accomplished. Either way, I work best with my two to three monitors, keyboard and mouse. I have multiple full offices set up wherever I am, as that’s when I feel the most productive. Working just on my laptop for too long can frustrate me.
ATN: How do you manage stress?
NB: My morning workouts help a lot. Getting solid sleep and eating healthy helps, too. Ultimately, following my task list discipline is key. It helps get the stress of, “What am I forgetting?” out of my head as I know everything is on my to-do list. I’ve also just worked really hard at not letting people rile me up. No matter the problem, I take a deep breath, link in with whomever I need to, and solve the problem as quickly as possible. All of this keeps me in pretty good balance. When all that fails, red wine helps A LOT.
ATN: What was your first job?
NB:Well, my first paycheck job was at a local ice cream store when I turned 14 and a half. That was the earliest I could legally work. I couldn’t wait to start. I’ve always been very independent. Prior to that, I was an entrepreneur at heart, looking for any way I could to earn and save money. Picking weeds in the neighborhood, cleaning neighbors’ houses, babysitting, lemonade stands, selling tickets to neighbor kids to play my board games, and my favorite at age 5: cutting flowers out of my neighbor’s yards and then trying to resell those same flowers to those neighbors. The last venture didn’t last long.