In our latest installment of the SBC’s monthly small business profile, we meet Guy Buzbee, 35, founder and owner of Tumble Tech Inc., a tumbling and competitive cheerleading facility located outside of Tampa in Oldsmar, Florida. Buzbee recently spoke with business writer Susan Caminiti about how he got into the competitive cheerleading business, the challenges that come with expansion, and how he effectively deals with the “Mama Bear Reflex".
SC: So how did a married father of two kids under three years old get into the competitive cheerleading business?
GB: During my senior year of high school I played baseball, football, and wrestled, but I knew I wasn’t good enough to pursue any of them in college. So a few buddies and I decided to hang out with all the good-looking cheerleaders and we wound up going to a cheerleading camp. I really liked it and was pretty good at it. When we got back, I got a call offering me a spot on this competitive cheerleading team called the Tampa Bay All Stars. So I was cheering for my high school team and this competitive team.
GB: I did—varsity for three years at the University of South Florida. When I graduated I was bouncing around a few different cheerleading gyms as a coach and wound up in the one that I own now.
SC: How did that come about?
GB: There was a woman here who was running a competitive cheerleading business and I was teaching tumbling classes in her facility as an independent contractor. I started building a name and reputation for myself, and my client list was growing. By the end of 2008 I was ready to expand and grow, so I made her an offer to buy out her lease and purchase her equipment. She agreed. I took over the whole facility and had 7,500 sq. feet. That’s also when I started my All-Star business.
SC: Can you describe the All-Stars?
GB: When I bought out the lease I knew I wanted to keep my programs separate. The All-Stars are my competitive cheerleading teams—we now have 10 of them. The other program is my tumbling business, which consists of training and classes. We recently took over a building next door so now we have 15,000 square feet of training space in two buildings. The All-Star teams practice and train in one building and the tumbling is in the other. And you don’t need to be involved in cheerleading to train there. Martial artists and dancers also work out this way. It’s a tremendous full-body workout that engages your core, legs, and arms. I keep my programs separate because I know there are dancers who want to train in my facility and don’t want to have to hear 60 screaming girls with loud cheerleading music playing the whole time.
SC: What are the ages of your All-Star cheering clients?
GB: We have the tiny teams that are six and under. I think we have one girl who’s four. And they go all the way up to 18 years old. We compete at nine events during the year and all but one is local because the costs of competing can add up pretty fast. We start training the teams in May and go all summer and fall until the competition season begins in December.
SC: What was the scariest part about expanding the business and the facility?
GB: Well, you’re always worried about going too far with an expansion. What if you can’t fill the space? My All-Star teams have grown to 180 girls so I knew we needed more space for them. As for the lessons and classes, that’s the part of the business we’re trying to build up. We put about $15,000 to $20,000 into the expansion and we’re trying to grow that part and bring in more clients. Right now is a stressful time and we’re just getting by, but we knew it was a calculated risk that we had to take and hope it will pay off.
SC: What kind of hours are you putting in?
GB: Generally it’s six days a week from about 10 a.m. to around 9 p.m. when we close. But during competition season I might go a month without a day off. Maintaining the facilities is lots of work, too, especially after we expanded. That part is just very taxing.
SC: Cheering is very competitive. Are the parents ever a challenge?
GB: Every day! With 180 kids on the All-Star teams and another 150 to 200 kids in the training program, there’s always some sort of an issue with a child. Our coaches really push our students. They have to in order to be successful in competitive cheering. Losing isn’t fun so we push the teams hard. So if a kid goes home and says “Mom, coach Mikey was mean to me,” well, then the mom comes in to see me.
SC: What do you do in cases like that?
GB: I have an acronym for these moms: MBR—Mama Bear Reflex. When a parent first comes in with an issue they are defending their child. And any time that happens I just let them say their piece and get it off their chest. It always comes out more aggressive than it needs to be, but after the fact they almost always come back and apologize. Then we can have a calm conversation. I tell them, we’re not trying to be mean, but they have to understand we have little kids being tossed 15 to 20 feet in the air, doing flips, and there is the risk of danger every day. We need for them to be good at this.
This interview has been condensed and edited.