Charlie Graves has an extensive background in both business and athletics. Today, his job as CEO for Athletic Republic, a franchise system of sports training centres, combines these two pursuits.
“One of the central themes in my career has been a competitive drive, developed through sports, which has ingrained an understanding that you can affect the outcome of the game,” he says.
In his youth, Graves excelled at swimming, to the level where he was set to compete at the Summer Olympic Games. Unfortunately, his chance would have come in 1980, when the U.S. ended up boycotting the games in Moscow following the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan.
“My Olympic dreams were squashed, but business was on the horizon,” says Graves. “Athletically, I shifted my focus to running during the endurance boom of the early 1980s and became a top-ranked triathlete.”
With a business degree from Iowa State University, he started up and managed Inclyne Sports, an agency that managed and marketed athletes. Inclyne produced sports-based TV programming for major U.S. broadcast and cable networks, including ABC, CBS, NBC and ESPN.
After five years as executive vice-president (VP) of General Growth Properties, which managed shopping malls, Graves returned to the athletic sector as CEO of Connor Sport Court, a supplier of wooden and synthetic flooring materials for basketball and volleyball courts.
“After we sold the company and I had fulfilled my contract,” he says, “I started to look at sportsplexes, which were coming into local markets and opening up new categories of athletic training.”
One example was the approach of John Frappier, who had founded Frappier Acceleration Sport Training (FAST) in 1990. He licensed training protocols and products to independent facilities until getting into franchising in 2005.
In 2007, Graves and a new group of investors took a controlling interest in FAST. They changed the name to Athletic Republic, to help unify approximately 160 training facilities under a common brand, so new customers would know better what to expect. A further 70 franchises have been added since, with an increasing percentage going into sportsplexes and rinks.
Headquartered in Park City, Utah, Athletic Republic focuses on science-based performance sport training. Its franchises’ primary users are between 11 and 17 years old, with many planning ahead for athletic scholarships for colleges and universities.
“Their parents want to find the best coaches for their kids to help them succeed,” says Graves. “Many baby boomers are athletic and want their kids to be the same. Health and wellness have certainly moved to the centre of the national agenda here in the U.S. These trends have helped us as a franchise.”
The company combines its training programs with proprietary, patented equipment to deliver unique services.
“We have 4,000 pages of protocols that have been used to validate our approach,” Graves says. “For example, we teach the biomechanics of how to run, which no one else does! We identify strengths and weaknesses and work on movement skills, speed and symmetry to maximize athletic potential and help avoid injury. It’s a systematic approach and we provide a lot of resources for the franchise operator and the trainer. All of our facilities can test, teach and train the same way.”
One special area of expertise lately has been off-ice hockey training.
“As hockey teams travel, they see our facilities, which helps promote them as a point of competitive advantage,” says Graves. “Growth has been very organic because of the close-knit hockey community, where everyone knows each other. The rinks are adding fitness components and there’s been a push to improve conditioning through dry-land training.”
In addition to the U.S., Athletic Republic has focused on hockey training in Canada, where it currently has six franchises, following a variety of models. In Wilcox, Sask., for example, the Maier Fitness and Acceleration Training Centre is part of the Athol Murray College of Notre Dame. Another franchise is at a hockey academy in Cornwall, Ont.
“We also work with sports medicine and therapy providers, who bring us in to help create a more positive message for their clients,” says Graves. “They usually have appointments in the morning and early afternoon, so we’re complementary as an after-school business.”