At the end of June (the 27th – 28th, 2014) I had the opportunity to attend JAM Brands annual “education conference” – JAM U.  It was held in Louisville, KY (where the JAM Brands headquarters is located) at the Kentucky International Convention Center.  It is promoted as “A UNIQUE Conference Experience”, and I would definitely have to agree with that.

                They release the list of “Professors” (speakers) that will be at the conference, and they code them by what the “Class” is angled for (coaching, choreography/scoring, hands-on class, and management/owners).  I went along with the owner of our gym, the director, and one of the coaches for our senior teams (I also do the business management at our gym), and while the other three did more of the other three types of classes, I took the management-angled classes.  The array of speakers that we had access to was amazing!  There was Kristen Rosario (owner, Top Gun), Mack Hirschberg (owner, Mac’s All Stars), Elaine Pascale (owner, World Cup), Kelly Halcomb (owner, Atlanta Jayhawks), Lance Stoltenberg (owner, Elite Cheer), Shea Crawford (Tumbling Director, Florida Wildcat All Stars), Brad Habermel (owner, Cheer Athletics) and Joey Mastrocola and Jeremi Sanders (with JAM Brands – Judging & Scoring Department).

                I had the pleasure of attending classes conducted by Kelly Halcomb, Elaine Pascale, Brad Habermel, and Mack Hirschberg.  I am here to state that I was NOT disappointed!  The information that was spoken about by each was amazing to hear.  There were ideas shared, exchanges with other gyms in attendance – what works, what doesn’t, and what creative method is being used.  Kelly Halcomb’s first class that I attended on Friday, “Divide and Conquer” was so informative to be at.  She discussed how she delegated jobs in her gym, and WHO she delegated them to.  She spoke how she used her “team representatives” (she didn’t use “team mom” because there were dads that also took on the role) to handle things like athlete check-ins at competitions, collection of money for events run through the gym, and she also discussed how she had NO booster club (she found it to be more of a hassle than what it was worth).  She has a team mom doing the receptionist work, another that handles primary business management of the gym (from scheduling classes to books to tuition collection).  She has an All-Star Director that is essentially her “right hand” in gym operations, which handles everything from scheduling competitions to ordering uniforms and practice wear.  

jamu4                Next on Friday was “Creating a Family Atmosphere & Building Traditions” with Elaine Pascale.  All of the “professors” for the entire event were wonderful and so informative, but Elaine has a way of bringing you in and making you feel a part of her family.  There is a reason she has what she has, and she spoke about this particular topic.  She was very informal, calm, engaging, and just an uplifting person.  I spoke to another gym owner that had been in the class with me, and he stated, “When I had gone in, I was frustrated and so ready to just throw in the towel and call it a day.  After hearing Elaine, I am excited to get back to my gym and just hug all my athletes.  She just lifted me up personally and made me love this sport again.”  And she did just that!  I remember posting on my personal Facebook status right after her class that I loved Elaine Pascale, and if everyone in the world was like her, the world would be a much better place.  I am a firm believer in that.  She is nothing but positive.  She has no “attendance policy” for her athletes in her gym (“My athletes WANT to be there. . .  Who dictates that if you miss three practices you are out of the program?  Not at my gym.”), and she also has a “Straight A Club” where athletes present their report cards with straight A’s and they get a t-shirt that is unique to the club.  No one can buy it; no one can win it; you have to earn it with straight A’s.  I remember when she started the class, she made a statement – “Back in the day (cheer) was easy so no one quit.  Today they quit because it is tough.”  That truly hit home for me.  I think we all have heard all of the excuses for leaving a gym or quitting cheer altogether, but in the end her assessment was most correct.  People quit when it gets tough.  If you love it, you are going to stick it out; if it gets tough, or things don’t go your way, you leave.  And she was honest – there wasn’t anything anyone was going to do to stop people from leaving your gym, but you make your gym how you want it, and the customer you want will come.

                For my final Friday class, I headed back to Kelly Halcomb, this time the topic was “Separating Yourself From the Competition”.  Again, Kelly had a lot of insight on this topic, encouraging us all to find the gym that we had wanted to sell to the customers, and then do it.  Conduct your gym as a business.  This was a theme that went for the entire event with every speaker making the statement at least once in each and every one of their lectures.  “This is a business”.  So many gym owners, they start this out of a love for the sport.  The ones that don’t survive are the ones that don’t see their gym as a business, and make decisions based on their “heart” as opposed with logic and with their head.  Kelly encouraged everyone to keep every promise they make to their customers, and that they shouldn’t make a promise they can’t keep.  Another thing that each of the lecturers stated was that winning was not the sole reason for the gym.  “If winning is your sole purpose your program will fail,” Kelly stated.  She did concede that winning is very wonderful, but that can’t be the sole purpose of what the gym is about.  There are programs that win, but that is not their sole purpose – it is a byproduct of their business ethic and what they have chosen to have as their mission.  She discussed numerous things she has done to promote her business, to make money on the “off-season” and during the times that the gym is not hosting practices for teams.  I was impressed with the creative things there were to make money at your gym that were not expensive or time-consuming.jamu1 

                After the final class on Friday, there was time to head back to the hotel rooms and either plan your evening with your group that attended with you or if you chose to, you could head over to the event that JAM U hosted for attendees of the conference – Downs After Dark, hosted at Churchill Downs, where there were races to bet on, drinks to be had, and networking to be done.  We chose to go to one of the many different restaurants that Louisville had to offer its visitors and then enjoy an evening exploring the city.  Our hotel was connected to the Convention Center and it was right off of Fourth Street, which seemed to be where the nightlife was for the city, with numerous bars, restaurants, and live music held in the middle of the street (where the street was shut off to traffic and a stage set up in the middle for the public to enjoy). 

                Saturday morning classes began at 9:30am, where I got to start things off with Brad Habermel.  He is a very smart businessman, again stating that you have to operate your gym as a business.  He spoke of the issues that he has at his gym (which are the same as every other gym in this nation of every size) and how he has overcome so much of it.  He encourages “hugs and high fives” to his athletes.  He gives a number to his coaches, and then they have to give that many hugs and high fives to their athletes during the week.  There is no negativity spoken in his gym by anyone working for him.  He does not believe is talking behind someone’s back, and will call out the perpetrator to the other person if he hears it being done.  In “Business 101” he discusses basic business ideals – like one person can’t do everything, so don’t try; delegate things out when you can; and keep in contact with your staff.  He has “staff outings” quarterly where they do things like paint ball games, and other team building activities.  He addressed creating a brand and brand recognition within your gym and your business.  He did a lot of discussing what he does to hire and retain good staff (it isn’t about how much you pay them), and had a lot of great ideas to grow your business.  

jamu5                Kelly Halcomb was next with “Growing in a Tough Market” (if North Central Wisconsin isn’t a tough market, I don’t know what is!).  Again Kelly encouraged running the gym as a business, and not a hobby.  She states that her teams maintain things, but the classes are her “money maker”.  She went over how she times her classes, and how she keeps staffing down for them.  She also discussed day camps that she runs, and how she uses her gym from 9am to 4pm (the times that practices are not running and typically a gym would be closed).  She talked about how to get your name out into your community, how to get the brand recognition out there and how to get others interested that otherwise might not be.  She also gave ideas on how she grew the coed part of her program to get males into her gym.  Again, she had a lot of valuable information. 

                 My final three classes with JAM U where with Mack Hirschberg – “Budgeting”, “Brand Image” and “How to Sell to New Athletes and Parents”.  All of them were right up my alley, as I am a Marketing/PR/Advertising major.  Mack is very business-savvy, and also very personable.  He joked that he had the most boring topics, but I found that his classes were the most participated in classes and he was the most open to participation.  “I am not an expert in any of these things,” he starts off each of his classes.  “I was asked to speak on this topic, so I am speaking on how I do it.”  He also continually asked for ideas from us as “students” on how we did things.  I enjoyed his classes the most solely because there was an exchange more than just him speaking.  He had a wonderful Power Point presentation, which was nice to follow along with.  He also spoke about not giving anyone anything; “I don’t do scholarships; I may have them work off their tuition, or they will give something in exchange for their tuition, but no one gets a free ride.”  He also was the one that stated if you remove the heart from your decisions you will survive as a business much longer than the person that makes business decisions with their heart.  He stated he has a reputation of being “strict”; he doesn’t see himself as strict because that is negative – he is “determined”.  He has expectations from everyone involved in his gym and communicates them all up front before they join.  “No secrets in my gym.  I tell them the price, how many days a week they will be practicing, all expenses, and where we will be competing.”  He also gave out his email address so that we could get copies of the presentations as well as ask him questions.  He spoke highly of the USASF (he is on the board of the USASF and used to be on the PAC), the PAC (Parent Action Committee), and all of the resources that are available and out there for everyone in the business of cheer.  He also spoke of how he utilized his gym during the “off-season” (is there one?), how he ran camps and all of the other things he uses to bring income into his gym.  A very wise businessman Mack is and one I would love to sit and pick his brain to see what else is in there. jamu6

                Would I recommend JAM U?  Absolutely!  There was so much to offer in training, certifications, ideas, networking and so much more!  They made things fun, very casual and accessible.  Dan Kessler (one of the owners of JAM Brands) even came into a couple of the classes and chatted a bit with us all and the instructor.  He was very accessible as well.  It was wonderful to have that kind of access to someone that you usually only see at big events or hear about.  There were vendors there to allow people access to the up and coming product for the new season as well as the vendors access to gym owners and coaches (who order their product in quantity).  There was “swag” (a nice bag full of JAM Brands product from all of the different events that they own), there was a “graduation ceremony” (complete with hats), and fun had by all.  We all found a lot of information and inspiration from the event and one that I am glad I was given opportunity to attend.  Gyms – put this event on your calendars for next year – it is something that everyone can learn something from; all while having a fun time and meeting some great people from all over the nation!


                For more information about JAM U, visit www.gojamu.com.  

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                  At the end of June (the 27th – 28th, 2014) I had the opportunity to attend JAM Brands annual “education conference” – JAM U.  It was held in Louisville, KY (where the JAM Brands headquarters is located) at the Kentucky International Convention...