Lightbridge Academy has created a solid franchisee support system. Part of that system involves ensuring that every franchise location begins with a strong opening which will position them for long-term success.
There are several components to this process, including site selection assistance, training and business coaching, plus day-of-opening support.
Lightbridge Academy franchisee Jane Yaeger opened her Virginia Beach, Virginia center in May of 2018. She was thrilled with the support and training she received before her opening. Also helpful was how the brand provided Yaeger with a business coach.
“I really think having a business coach right from the beginning was phenomenal,” Yaeger said. “She was a crucial part of getting us open…through every phase of opening and all areas of the business. She helped us with licensing, setting the center up in compliance and prepared to serve children and families. She answered our questions and met our staff. We had meetings with her quite frequently to review our financials, go over any issues and provided any advice we needed.”
One way the early education and child care brand helped Yaeger make her center opening even more special was by bussing in members of the home office team.
“They actually bussed down almost everyone from home office, including the company’s founder and his wife, and they attended the grand opening. It was really, really special for us,” Yaeger said. “It made us feel just as important, and just as much a part of their family as the child care center located below their headquarters.”
The customer reaction from that opening day was huge, Yaeger said.
“It was an amazing event,” Yaeger said. “We exceeded the enrollment goals we set and it was important for the community to see all of the support we received. As the first Lightbridge Academy in Virginia, we needed to implement an extensive local area marketing plan to raise awareness about what makes this brand so special and get our name out. The grand opening event was the celebration of all of those efforts and it was overwhelming to see the outpouring of support from the community as well as everyone from the Lightbridge home office in New Jersey. The event showcased the early childhood education program and services we offer but just as important, it really had the feel of a big extended family, which is exactly what we loved about Lightbridge Academy.”
A collaborative effort
Lightbridge Academy Vice President of Operations Jackie Falzarano noted how setting up franchisees for a strong launch is a well-coordinated effort between the brand’s development, marketing and operations teams, in which they all play a critical role.
“It takes a lot of teamwork to ensure that Lightbridge Academy franchisees are prepared for a strong launch,” Falzarano said. “Launching a business takes a different skill set than operating an established business, and very few people have launch experience. Franchisees depend on us for this process, it is in part, why they choose the franchise model. We focus on each stage of business growth differently. We have dedicated trainings on specific topics and provide unique tools that are used for each of these phases.”
The operations team, for one, provides business support to franchisees in a variety of areas, Falzarano said.
“We have a dedicated launch coach to help set franchisees up for a strong launch,” Falzarano said. “One of the areas of focus for the launch coach is to train franchisees on how to implement proven marketing strategies in order to increase brand awareness and drive leads to their business. From there, we work with them on how to create the Lightbridge Academy brand experience even before the center is fully constructed. Conversion is key and we spend a lot of time training them to convert leads into tours and the tours into enrollments. We track these data points on a weekly basis to help franchisees achieve their goals. By breaking this into smaller pieces, we know exactly how to drive them to success.”
Getting everything in place
Joanne Sofia is Lightbridge Academy’s Senior Vice President of Operations, Sofia noted several steps franchisees need to take along the way to opening a Lightbridge Academy franchise. The company, she said, provides franchisees with a very detailed and easy-to-follow launch marketing plan. This is in addition to the local area marketing the franchisee has planned for their location.
“Our success as a franchise company depends on the success of our franchisees, so we are committed to making sure our franchisees open with a strong enrollment base,” Sofia said of franchisees. “Much of the success of any launch depends on how well franchisees follow the system and create relationships in their community. The combination of paid advertising and community connections are critical when launching a new business.”
Finding the right real estate
It’s also important for franchisees to collaborate with the company’s home office team throughout the process. This includes utilizing research provided by the Lightbridge development team on optimal areas to open their center.
“I think the key to this process for the franchisee is understanding why a location makes sense,” Lightbridge Academy Vice President of Area Development David Falzarano said. “We need to be able to trust each other. I always tell my team that if we feel as if we have to “sell” a site, it may not be a fit for the franchisee. They have to see the value and we need to help them to validate that with analytics and data. Franchisees need to ask a lot of questions and be patient. Finding prime real estate doesn’t happen overnight. I always remind people that just like when they bought their first home, they probably looked at a number of different houses. That’s how real estate works. You have to be willing to work through the process.”
He noted that when a franchisee signs on with Lightbridge Academy, that franchisee and the Lightbridge Academy development team are going to spend a lot of time together opening up that center, so communication is key.
“We work with a franchisee from the time they sign to the time they open,” he said. “A trusting relationship is a key to long term success. It starts with ongoing and open communication.”
Training is key
Lightbridge Academy Marketing Manager Royce Stozki plays a major role in preparing franchisee for their launches.
“It begins with training the owners on how to market their child care center,” Stozki said. “They go through franchise marketing training and their administrative team also participates as well. There are three weeks of in-house franchise training, and one of those weeks is marketing training. They learn how to build local area relationships, generate targeted leads, manage their CRM, create the Lightbridge Academy brand experience and how to differentiate Lightbridge Academy from other child care brands. We also review our marketing plan template and work with them on how to customize it for their local market.”
Other topics covered in training include best practices executing quarterly open houses, enrollment training, brand standards and reputation management, Stozki said.
The brand also uses a marketing scorecard to ensure the marketing is on target and the necessary results are being produced to ensure a strong launch. This scorecard has raised the level of accountability for marketing and it has received very positive feedback from new franchisees, according to Stozki.
“Once training is completed, it’s time to execute,” Stozki said. “The marketing scorecard helps to keep the owner, director and franchise team on track. The scorecard process tracks the results of their marketing efforts against other launches. We know how many leads they need prior to opening, what their conversion rate should be and what actions need to be put in place to get them on track. It is an active process and we hold scorecard calls for the four months prior to their opening. If we need to do more, we do more; whatever it takes to get them to the goal. We are fully committed to their success.”
The bigger picture
While business management and marketing are important, you can never lose focus on building relationships and providing excellent customer service, Jackie Falzarano said.
“We want nothing more than for our franchisees to be successful, and that begins with building meaningful relationships in the community and with all those who are a part of it,” Jackie Falzarano said. “A strong launch means that a center created the relationships necessary to start contributing to the community from Day One. We want to open our doors already filled with families. This allows prospective families and others to witness firsthand all that Lightbridge Academy has to offer and the positive impact we make on the entire community - on children, parents, staff and all members in our Circle of Care.”
Of course, the franchise team’s support extends beyond the launch of a Lightbridge Academy franchise. Yaeger feels secure knowing that she can always turn to them for any guidance.
“We have regular coaching phone calls to help us stay on track and I know that I can pick up the phone and call anybody in the home office and I can get their support,” Yaeger said. “I think it really sets Lightbridge Academy apart. I’m not sure we would get that from everybody.”
The startup cost for a Lightbridge Academy franchise range from $549,228 to $767,635. The franchise fee is $40,000. To learn more about franchising with Lightbridge Academy, visit https://lightbridgeacademyfranchise.com/.