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A Conversation with Celebree School's CEO and President

Celebree CEO and President Richard Huffman

What was missing in the children’s care and education space before Celebree was founded? 

I’ve been working in the childcare industry since 1994 and the whole industry has evolved tremendously. Parents see early childhood education as a critical need, setting the foundation and providing a huge advantage for their kids before they start kindergarten. Additionally, states and local governments have been working to establish various accreditation processes and requirements for private programs such as Celebree School, to continuously improve the quality of the educational experience to benefit children, families and staff. We recognized this change over the years and the lack of early childhood companies investing in their teachers. Teachers do a lot of work preparing children for kindergarten and making a difference in their lives as well as helping meet state level accreditation requirements. I saw an opportunity to make an impact on the teachers’ lives, which is what Celebree has been really focused on in the last couple of years. That’s our secret sauce. Here at Celebree, We Grow People Big and Small™. We develop the teachers and the entire team, as well as coach and develop and inspire our children. 

What are you doing well right now? What are your brand’s differentiators?

I love seeing people prosper. Celebree has approximately 1,200 employees, and I want every single person who works here to prosper. If you come in as an assistant teacher and you want to become a director or own your own Celebree school, we’ve developed paths for each of these positions. My job is to help you get there. That’s why people want to come work for Celebree and franchise with us. That is the attraction for them. They want to make an impact on their community and coach and develop children and employees. They want a business they feel is making an impact. Our business is by far the best business there is, because of the impact you can have on so many different people. There’s nothing we wouldn’t do to inspire children, employees and franchisees, and help them all prosper. 

What are your growth goals? 

We’d like to open 100 schools by 2025. We understand that we are relatively new to the franchise arena, but we’ve been working on perfecting our model for the past 25 years and we currently have 26 corporate-owned schools in Maryland and Delaware. We are looking to expand into New Jersey, Pennsylvania and Virginia. In 2019, we signed seven franchisees who will be opening schools in Maryland, Pennsylvania and New Jersey over the next 18 months. Our goal this year is to sell at least 25 franchises. At Celebree, we like to win, and we work hard to give our parents and teams an amazing experience. The best is yet to come. 

What were some learning opportunities that the brand leveraged to get where it is now? 

We’ve learned so much, and right now we’re on this path of helping people envision themselves as business owners. Two of the franchises we recently sold were to current directors of Celebree schools, which proves the career path is there. Each one of them has been involved with Celebree for over eight years and, remarkably, they didn’t initially think they had what it took to be franchisees. We assured them that they could and that the leadership team would support them every step of the way. We just needed to get them over that little hurdle of self-doubt. We’re telling them “You’ve got this, and we’re not going to let you fail.” We also had two multi-unit owners with a portfolio of franchises in other industries looking to diversify their portfolios.  

What are three or more of the brand’s most important milestones over the past five years? 

Celebree just had two of the best years in the brand’s history. For one, we focused on career paths and developing teachers, which among other things helped get all of our schools gain state-level accreditation. We also just went through a major rebranding, including changing up the Celebree logo and brand position and transitioning to a lifestyle brand approach, which all looks absolutely amazing and resonates well with our parents as well as franchise prospects. The rebranding has already helped us meet our growth goals both for student enrollments as well as selling franchises. And while we’re a small company, we’ve put together an amazing infrastructure to support franchisees. The prospective franchisees with whom we’ve been meeting are amazed by the resources we have in place. We’ve invested heavily to make sure we have all of the right components for our franchisees to succeed and thrive. 

What does your ideal franchisee look like? 

When we first started selling franchises, we didn’t know who or what we were looking for, but the prospective franchisees who made it to the table all said the same thing: “I want to leave a legacy for my children. I want to make a difference in my community.” They just wanted to give back. Our franchisees have a passion for people and they understand the importance of coaching and developing people and seeing people prosper. And you can see that passion in action. Whenever we open a Celebree school, and everything is done and all of the furniture is moved in and the ribbons are ready to be cut, you see families coming down the sidewalk and you see it in their faces. They’re grateful you came to the community. For this reason, our franchisees must be active owner-operators. You have to be onsite. You can’t create that feeling without being onsite. 

How does Celebree School support franchisees?

The leadership team helps franchisees negotiate real estate options and provide them with marketing and training tools. We also create and monitor revenue projections. Our business consultants have monthly phone calls with our franchisees to make sure they are hitting those financial goals and I am on every one of those calls.