As small businesses across Canada continue to be impacted by unexpected challenges presented by the COVID-19 pandemic, we reached out to Kristi Herold, founder and CEO of Sport & Social Group, now rebranded as JAM, powered by Sport & Social Group, to understand how her business has been uniquely impacted by COVID-19
In our short interview with Kristi, we learned about the dire early impact of COVID-19 and the organization’s lateral extension of its existing capabilities as a recreational sports league. Their successful pivot from in-person to online allowed them to engage with existing customers and find new ones.
Q: How has the coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic impacted your business? How did you respond in the early days?
The pandemic shut down our business entirely. In March 2020, when our business should have been celebrating 25 years of bringing people together playing sports, the shut down and stay-at-home orders prevented us from generating revenue through our sports leagues. I cried a lot in the early days. We had 40 full-time and 350 part-time employees and didn’t know what to expect. March and April 2020 was a scary time for our organization, and I was struggling to stay optimistic. Then we stopped feeling sorry for ourselves and started thinking about how we could survive, how we could pivot. We tried a lot of different things to see what would stick and knew that we had to think outside the box. You can’t take a soccer game or a beach volleyball game online, so we had to find different ways to connect people. We started offering online trivia games, bingo, and speed dating to our members, then started thinking that we could also offer these services to corporate groups for team-building events. From there, a whole new world opened up and we found new ways to offer value to our customers.
Q: How did you successfully transform your business and find new ways to offer value to clients? Tell us what steps were involved in switching from brick & mortar to a digital platform.
We wanted to keep our members engaged. We initially offered online games to our Sport & Social Group members, but we couldn’t sustain a business by doing only a few of those a week. We had to think outside our own membership to see who else we could be helping. We were a business-to-consumer (B2C) business for so long, never a business-to-business (B2B). It has been an amazing experience to find a whole new audience and client base working with corporate organizations.
At first, we tested our idea for virtual games with friends and family to work out the kinks and get feedback on what worked and what didn’t. Once we started to see some success making people laugh and feel good, we realized that we had to hire a whole new group of employees with a totally different skill set for this new virtual business. We needed actors and comedians to be the hosts of our games. We had to build out a sales team to help grow the business. And we had to rebrand, because “Sport & Social Group” no longer reflected our new services or reality. We came up with JAM in the fall and launched a new website, which made everything feel right. JAM has now become the main brand for our whole organization.
Q: How have you found new ways to engage with your existing customers and find new ones?
Our original target audience was clear and defined. As mentioned before, when COVID hit, we initially offered online games to our Sport & Social Group members and let them use their existing credits with us for virtual events. As our business model changed, we were able to expand our services to a whole new audience in the corporate world by creating a platform for employees to connect. For 25 years, we were a B2C organization with a geographical focus. Now, we have clients all over the world in over 23 countries. We have grown into a B2B organization with no borders. We are helping people connect with their colleagues anytime, anywhere. And because we have developed these new corporate relationships, we can promote both our online events and, once the restrictions lifted, our sports leagues as well.
Q: Given that many industries have taken to offering services online during the pandemic, have you found that you also have a new group of competitors now?
Absolutely, there’s competition in this space. But we have also discovered synergies with some organizations that we thought at first glance would be competitors. We have discovered new opportunities and established partnerships to cross-promote JAM that have been really interesting.
How did Foglers support you through this unprecedented time? Tell us how have other organizations supported you in this transition.
It was a really scary and emotional time. I was trying to keep a 25-year-old business from complete collapse while also going through start-up mode with a brand new business. I am so grateful for my network of amazing colleagues and friends. For example, I credit the development of the JAM brand to a friend who is a branding expert. Foglers has also been amazing at bringing clarity in the face of confusion. I had many anxious phone calls with Karen Rosen in the early days of the pandemic – trying to assess just how harshly our business would be impacted and seeking help with navigating the Government’s assistance programs. I know that any time I reach out to Karen, I’m going to get a response quickly. It’s so nice to have someone you can count on in your corner. People like Karen and her team, and others in my network and in my entrepreneur group, have been so amazing and supportive. I can’t imagine how I could have done it without that sounding board to share ideas every step of the way.
Q: As a business that has successfully reinvented its offering during the pandemic, what advice do you have for other entrepreneurs?
Say yes. If a door is there, go through it. You don’t know what you will find on the other side. We tried a lot of doors and some of them were dead ends, but look at what we’ve built with JAM. Had we not said yes to trying this, we wouldn’t have had this amazing business. And ask for help, too. Don’t be afraid to ask for help.
To learn more about JAM and connecting teams through sports or virtual play, visit jamgroup.com