Early education and childcare franchise Lightbridge Academy has enjoyed an impressive start to 2019, signing on four new franchisees in the first quarter and establishing momentum for an even bigger Q2.
Lightbridge Academy offers exceptional early education and child care services in part due to an innovative model that utilizes leading technology and an unflagging commitment to a culture that creates a “Circle of Care” encompassing teachers, owners, parents, children and the community. With 39 operational locations and twice that in development, Lightbridge Academy is well-positioned for continued growth as the second quarter of the year kicks off.
Mark Mele, Lightbridge Franchise Company’s Chief Development Officer, said that the brand saw success in Q1 due to several factors, one of which includes referrals from existing franchisees.
“From a lead generation standpoint, we’re really focused on referrals from existing franchisees,” Mele said. “They can speak to the day-to-day experience, knowing firsthand the value we provide, how we operate and just how great of an opportunity having a Lightbridge Academy franchise is.”
Mele also spotlighted franchise trade shows and consultant networks as important factors when it comes to franchise development.
“We’ve participated in five trade shows so far this year and have really seen results in terms of the number of qualified candidates we’ve connect with face to face,” Mele said. “We also see a significant number of qualified leads from franchise consultants.”
Although strategic lead generation methods certainly matter when it comes to breaking into or growing within a given market, Mele emphasized that the most important practice for Lightbridge Academy is the brand’s commitment to matching its prospective franchisees’ own due diligence process.
“We don’t just focus on the financial viability of a candidate; we really want to know if they align with our values and our Circle of Care philosophy,” Mele said. “We’re looking for like-minded people who are understand the importance of supporting the needs of the busy working parent in addition to delivering a high-quality of care and education to their children. Now that we have a solid foundation, we’re refining those processes and seeing great results.”
One such candidate—now a Lightbridge Academy franchisee—is Nishitkumar Patel of Jenkintown, Pennsylvania, who signed on as an owner-operator with Lightbridge Academy in September 2017. Patel is one of four franchise partners who joined the brand after considering competitors and concluding that Lightbridge Academy presented a superior offering in the early education and child care space.
“We were in the market for a long time and looked into many competitors,” Patel explained. “But mainly what attracted us to Lightbridge Academy was its Circle of Care and the founder, Guy Falzarano’s passion for his company and to the care of children first and foremost.”
Mele echoed Patel’s point about Lightbridge Academy’s value-driven approach to business.
“When I hear about some of the other brands, I think that the key point of differentiation when it comes to sales is that we’re right for the right reasons,” Mele said. “A lot of our competitors are involved with private equity and therefore, have to prioritize sales in ways that we don’t. For us, it’s about focusing everything on finding the right franchisees; on great people who embody our core values.”
Patel, himself a father of two young daughters, shared that he had a difficult time finding a great childcare facility for his girls—that is, until he visited a Lightbridge Academy. After his first visit, he went to his partners to advise the group to sign on with the brand. For Mele, Patel’s experience makes total sense.
“We’re in the trust business—I mean, parents are dropping their children off at our centers. There’s nothing more precious than your child,” Mele emphasized. “And we feel the same way about franchising: we built this system and we want our franchisees to take care of our system—we’re entrusting our franchise to partner with us. That’s a sign of mutual commitment. When you feel that, you do the same thing when you’re hiring staff in your center and replicating the Lightbridge Academy culture. It’s all about the Circle of Care.”
Motivated to bring Jenkintown into that circle, Patel and his team began investigating real estate opportunities. Up until August of 2018, Patel and his team negotiated leases in the interest of aligning with an optimal demographic, all the while enjoying considerable support from Lightbridge Academy’s corporate leadership.
“They’ve been there across the board and every step of the way,” Patel said. “From real estate to marketing to training. We were assigned a franchise business coach and they’ve provided regular follow-ups and support; it’s clear that leadership wants us to be successful.”
Patel and company are now in the midst of construction; their center will be three stories, and Patel said that they hope to open in winter of 2019/2020.
“Now that we’ve started construction, we’re picking up momentum and receiving total support from the franchisor. Any time I call Mark, he makes himself available,” Patel said. “We even had a conversation this morning about how my team and I had hit a roadblock and he took care of the situation immediately. Everyone is one phone call away and they are always available. No other brand we looked at was remotely like that or came close to offering that consistent level of support.”
As regards to what remains of 2019, Patel said his goals include getting his Abington center up and running and leveraging the marketing support him and his team receive from the home office to network with the local community. Mele shared that the brand at large also has big plans going forward.
“We’ve seen a lot of success in Q1; we executed four franchise agreements and took in several franchise applications that we’re evaluating from qualified candidates, and we’ve booked a number of Discovery Days at our home office in New Jersey based on those Q1 efforts,” Mele shared. “With our franchise pipeline and sales funnel, we have many moving pieces—from new prospects about to setup an initial call, to those ready to visit the home office for Discovery Day, and others that are in the due diligence process.”
With momentum soundly established and driven by a commitment to providing exceptional care every step of the way, Lightbridge Academy has come into 2019 firing on all cylinders.
“We’ve obtained great success and built a strong foundation on the sales side. In 2018, we had a hefty pipeline of individuals that carried over to 2019, thus the quick four signings this year, and another four ready to go, we expect the second quarter will be strong as well. At the end of the day, it’s all about picking qualified, strong candidates, and that’s what we do best,” Mele said.