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The Great Franchisee: Al Ferrari, Lightbridge Academy®, Port St. Lucie, Florida

The 25-year foodservices professional and father of two is starting a new chapter as a franchise owner with the fast-growing early education and childcare brand.

By Helen Harris1851 Franchise Staff Writer
SPONSOREDUpdated 3:15PM 03/18/22

Al Ferrari spent a quarter-century in the foodservice industry, working in operations for brands like Sysco and Gordon Food Service. But the father of two says his true passion has always been for his sons. Now, Ferrari is leaving the foodservice business and starting a new career that will allow him to leverage his passion for childcare as one of the newest franchise owners with Lightbridge Academy, the 60-plus-unit early education and childcare franchise.

We spoke to Ferrari to learn more about his journey to franchising and his experience with Lightbridge.  

1851 Franchise: Tell us your story – what did you do before franchising?

Al Ferrari: I was in the foodservice business for a little over 25 years. I worked for a company called Sysco. And then I worked for Gordon Food Service. I was Operations Manager at Sysco. I ran the warehouse. And at Gordon Foods, I was in food sales. 

1851: How did you initially find out about franchising? 

Ferrari: We always had an idea — my wife and I — that as we get older, we would do something different. We always thought about opening a preschool. We love to be around children. And so we just started searching on the internet. I didn't want to be the typical preschool where we sent our children. I was looking for something that when we saw it, we'd say to ourselves, “Okay, I wish this was around when our children were young, and this is where we would send our children.” That's what Lightbridge Academy was to us when we saw it on the internet. 

My wife and I have two boys, and when they were young, we were very involved with all their activities. I coached them in soccer and football throughout their childhood and watched them enjoy the sports throughout their high school years. We were also very involved in our local church and in the youth ministry, and we taught elementary children at the school on Wednesdays and Saturdays at the church. So, we were always involved with children — always loved being around them.

1851: Why did you pick franchising over starting your own business?

Ferrari: We didn't understand the depth of the business; we weren't educated in education other than raising our own children and teaching in churches and whatnot. I wanted to have a team like Lightbridge behind me to help me with opening up and hiring people and learning the business.

1851: What types of brands did you look at?

Ferrari: We looked at other preschools that were out there and for some reason, Lightbridge stood out to me with its Circle of Care® philosophy, which places care on not just the child, but everyone in the child’s life, and I think it's so much more than just a preschool or daycare. They're so involved in the community.

1851: Why did you pick Lightbridge Academy? What excited you most about the potential?

Ferrari: They’re the Solution for Working Parents®. It's tough to juggle your personal life and work — especially when both parents are working. And with Lightbridge, they have the internet monitoring service for parents, they have the e-commerce app that provides real-time communication from the teachers, they have extended hours. They even do occasional babysitting for parents to enjoy a night out. I wish all of these things were around when I had young children, and that’s what really made Lightbridge stand out to me. 

Lightbridge is part of the extended family; they really get so involved with the parents and the children and the community. It's just so much more than just dropping a child at a preschool. It's just amazing what they do.

1851: What trends are you seeing in your local community? 

Ferrari: As far as trends, Port St. Lucie is quickly developing into a residence for young families. The trends are changing to accommodate those young working families.  Fitness centers and all types of restaurants are popping up in St. Lucie West along with parks and recreation centers. 

There are going to be working parents that’ll be working and living in Port St. Lucie now because of an influx of new companies. There are companies like Tamko, Amazon, Keiser University and Cleveland Clinic all opening up there that are going to bring a lot of people into the area. So the growth in Port St. Lucie is substantial, and I think it merits having an early education and child care center here for working parents and to have somewhere to bring their children.

1851: What are your dreams with the business? What does the future look like?

Ferrari: We're the pioneers in Florida for Lightbridge Academy and I want to help our brand grow.. We want to show the community that this is a different type of child care. A center that is here for working moms and dads. A place where their children can be safely educated while they are at work providing for their families. My children, Thomas and Eric graduated college, and they will be involved in the business as well and grow into their roles as we grow.  We’re hoping in the next five years or sooner, to open another location.

1851: What value do you see your business providing to Port St. Lucie?

Ferrari: I think we're going to make a huge impact here in Florida, and I believe when we open up we’re going to have a lot of children. There are just a couple of small schools in the area that currently support all the children. There are roughly 6,500 children in a five-mile radius, and many parents are facing the challenge of being put on waitlists.

1851: What advice would you have for others looking at buying a franchise?

Ferrari: Location is the key. You want to make sure you're in the right spot. Also, you have to be very patient, and you really have to have a passion to want to do this. If you don't have that passion and don’t want to be surrounded by children, then this isn't for you. But if you have that drive and you're looking to do something different and impact children’s lives and better your community — Lightbridge is a great option. 

1851: What do you do in your personal time?

Ferrari: I’m involved in a local church. I help cook in the kitchen of the church on Mondays. We feed about 250 homeless people a week. I'm also taking care of my parents as they get older. As I live on the beach, I love to fish and do water sports. I also enjoy golfing. 

About Lightbridge Academy:

Established in 1997, the company was founded as a family business based on core values and a Circle of Care philosophy that places equal importance on the needs of children, their families, teachers, center owners and the community. Lightbridge Academy provides quality early education and child care programs to children aged six weeks through kindergarten. The company currently has over 120 child care centers either open or in development throughout Florida, Maryland, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Tennessee and Virginia. In response to COVID-19, Lightbridge Academy launched The Lightbridge Promise as the Gold Standard for health & safety in the child care industry. In 2022, Lightbridge Academy was featured on Entrepreneur Magazine's Franchise 500 following ranking the previous year. In 2020, the company was featured on the Inc. 5000 ranking, Franchise Times Top 200+ awards, and on Newsweek’s 2021 list of America’s Best Customer Service.

*This brand is a paid partner of 1851 Franchise. For more information on paid partnerships please click here.