Franchise Players is Entrepreneur’s Q&A interview column that puts the spotlight on franchisees. If you're a franchisee with advice and tips to share, email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Kris Girrell and Sarah Blumenstock Girrell have owned a Goddard School franchise for four years. However, they understood the importance of finding the right franchisor long before they became preschool franchisees. With long careers in corporate management, the pair thoroughly investigated their options when they became interested in franchising. Here's how they chose the Goddard School.
Name: Kris Girrell and Sarah Blumenstock Girrell
Franchise owned (location): The Goddard School preschools located in Reading, Mass., and Middleton, Mass.
How long have you owned the franchise?
We have owned the Reading franchise for four years and just opened the Middleton location.
Quite frankly we had never considered franchising before since both of us had fairly lengthy careers in corporate management. When we came up with the idea of looking into running a preschool, we looked at franchisors because though we felt we knew a lot about running businesses, we were in unfamiliar territory in the world of early childhood education. It was serendipitous that Sarah ran into a high school classmate who owned a Goddard School in the southeast.
What were you doing before you became a franchise owner?
Sarah had always been in advertising print production management – the corporate side of marketing literature, and I have been an executive leadership coach and business management consultant for the last 35 years.
Why did you choose this particular franchise?
Once we came to the idea of looking at franchises, we investigated several different franchisors. By far and away, Goddard Systems presented not only the best package of support but they were totally open with their books. They literally showed us the numbers on every school in the system.
We talked to several franchisees and all said exactly the same thing; that Goddard Systems is incredibly supportive from the pre-opening and start-up phase through continued support while running the business over time. Topping that all off was what we heard from parents (customers) at the schools – they were not simply praising The Goddard School, they were happy and excited by what their children were learning.
How much would you estimate you spent before you were officially open for business?
We really did not expend much of our own money researching franchises and came to the decision of approaching Goddard Systems fairly quickly. At that point the greatest expenditure is the cash infusion for the loan to cover operating expenses. (approximately $110,000) during the ramp up and the legal fees for incorporating as an entity to own the franchise (about $1,500).
Where did you get most of your advice/do most of your research?
Prior to becoming a leadership consultant I worked in the field of corporate outplacement and ran a course on starting your own business (which included an extensive section on franchising). So I knew a lot of good resources to check as well as what some of the standard structures were. Sarah did extensive online searches, and reached out directly to franchisees.
What were the most unexpected challenges of opening your franchise?
The demographics and values of the parent group that comprise our market surprised us in two ways: first, young, career-minded parents rely on electronic sources for communication, information and the confirmation of that information (reviews in particular); this is a big change from traditional forms of communication.
Secondly, though we knew that the business of childcare and early childhood education is a relationship business, we were surprised how strongly that played out for us. Our goal in opening the first school was “to build a community of parents.” Getting to that critical mass happened rather quickly in our Reading franchise and we seem to be on the same trajectory here in Middleton.
What advice do you have for individuals who want to own their own franchise?
Franchising is all about the strength of the franchisor. There are many franchisors in the business and they are not created equally. Deeply investigate what you get for your franchise fee and the reputation of the franchisor, and don’t just trust the hype – ask franchisees as well. Take a look at the books and the success rates of other franchisees. That was something that was most impressive about GSI. And by the way, if a franchisor is hesitant to share that information, you might consider that as a sign. Finally, talk to customers and find out what their experience is.
What’s next for you and your business?
Right now we’re focused on building the community of families in the Middleton school – neighbors telling neighbors about their experience with us and our teachers. The scariest part of opening a school is what I would call the “Field of Dreams” principle. You have to build it before they will come, and you have to hire the teachers for each room before you can fill the room. We have every confidence that what we are building, and the quality of teachers in who we have invested will continue to bring new families in.
Meanwhile at the Reading school, we have plans in place to expand the building to accommodate greater demand for quality schooling in the area.
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