Liam Power would love to tell you that his million-dollar company is the culmination of months of careful market research–putting together a glossy business plan and meeting financial benchmarks quarter by quarter, the whole story unfolding like a banker’s entrepreneurial fantasy. “There was no grand plan,” he admits. “I kind of fell into this.”
“This” is his eponymous soccer-skills academy, Power Soccer, which teaches the nuances of the beautiful game to Toronto-area kids, aged four to 16, through clinics, winter soccer schools and holiday camps. Its flagship elite development academy, an invitation-only program, trains athletes nearly year-round with an eye toward prepping them to play soccer at the collegiate level, internationally or even in the professional ranks. But the 46-year-old Irishman and professional footie player isn’t entirely accurate when he says he didn’t delve into the market before starting up.
Year founded: 1996 Home base: Toronto 2010 revenue: $1-million+, up from $60,000 in its first year Number of locations: 10 Number of employees during the summer: 75 (there are just six the rest of the year) Number of kids Power trained in 2010: 3,000+
Power came to Canada in 1988. His accent and soccer expertise–he spent two seasons as a reserve player for Galway United in the League of Ireland first division–quickly earned him coaching gigs with competitive clubs around Toronto. It was then that he realized there was a broader demand for what he was doing. “I kept having parents of the kids I was coaching offering to pay me to coach their other kids,” he says.
He started in a gym training a group of 14 players in 1996, and grew quickly enough that he could leave his career in sales and marketing a couple of years after that. Today, he’s planning Power Soccer’s 15th anniversary.
- Branding matters. Since he was blessed with a catchy surname, figuring out what to call his business wasn’t difficult. But Power wishes he’d been able to focus sooner on creating a logo. With a background in sales, however, the company’s early promotional materials were high quality, which helped distinguish his business
- Quality control counts. Power believes soccer is best learned in a high-tempo, game-oriented environment. Everything from fitness to strategy is taught with a ball at the foot of each student. It requires creativity and skills on the part of the instructional staff, which is why Power has resisted offers to branch out: He wants to hold the instructional experience to his standard.
- Exploit competitive advantages. Finding quality field space is a challenge in an urban, northern climate centre like Toronto. The parent of one of Power’s students had an in at Upper Canada College, a local private school, and helped Power get time on its new artificial turf field, which is domed in winter. Crescent School, which considers soccer to be a magnet sport for its international students, allows Power Soccer to use its turf field as a way to boost its footie cred.