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.
Van and Huy Phan know just how much effort it takes to make it in America. Coming to the country as refugees, the duo both built up successful careers in the U.S. However, they wanted to open a business of their own. The Goddard School provided the perfect opportunity to do so. Today, their formerly struggling location has become one of the most profitable schools in the system. Here's what they've learned and what they still want to achieve as entrepreneurs.
Name: Van and Huy Phan
Franchise owned: The Goddard School in Gilbert, Ariz.
How long have you owned a franchise?
Since April 2011.
After a long and successful career, we thought about switching gears to work for ourselves, instead of just working for a boss. Franchising is a great way to start a business when you want to work for yourself but have little idea of how to start. Working with passion and making a decent living while you are at it is definitely worthwhile.
What were you doing before you became a franchise owner?
Before coming to America from Vietnam, I was a school teacher for over ten years before becoming a school administrator. My last job in Vietnam was vice principal in charge of curriculum for a large elementary school. After coming to America, I continued working in the educational field at various preschools. I always worked at the private preschools our daughters attended.
My husband, Huy, on the other hand, was vice president of engineering at a global high-tech corporation. He was very familiar with the technology industry, but neither one of us had any business experience before. However, coming to America as war refugees, we knew that hard work and a little leap of faith could get you far in life.
Why did you choose this particular franchise?
It was a very easy choice. I was in the education field all of my adult life. Both of us were crazy about children and we had a lot of fun with our daughters when they were little. A preschool full of small children was a match made in heaven for us. The Goddard School preschool system was renowned and well-organized, so we knew this was the right direction.
How much would you estimate you spent before you were officially open for business?
In making the decision to purchase a resale unit, we saved money as a new franchise license did not need to be purchased. With GSI, the franchise license is simply transferred from the seller to the buyer. While purchasing a typical new unit, other costs include purchase orders for equipment and the franchise fee. Additional fees are minimal.
Where did you get most of your advice/do most of your research?
I applied to work in a brand-new Goddard School in Arizona. I was dazzled by the setup, the curriculum and the philosophy of The Goddard School. After the first day, I went home raving about my new job and the school to my husband. At the same exact moment, we both had the same thought: "What if we had our own school?" The idea was very intriguing so we started digging more into it.
Being an engineer, my husband researched all kinds of statistics about the industry at large and about Goddard Systems in particular. He also called around and talked to other Goddard School owners at length to get their perspectives and they told us all kinds of stories about how great their experiences were!
Being a part of the school every day, I did not need any more research - I saw firsthand how strong the corporate support was and I talked to the parents to gauge their level of satisfaction. I talked to other teachers to confirm they had the same feelings about the school. I compared the school with other preschools I worked at and saw The Goddard School was head-and-shoulders above the rest. All indications pointed to the same conclusion: I wanted a Goddard School of my own!
What were the most unexpected challenges of opening your franchise?
I would say the most unexpected challenge was staffing. We started the school in the middle of the recession so there were plenty of people who applied for jobs. But finding the right people was not easy. In every line of work, having the right people is always crucial. In the early education and childcare industry, this is especially true. Each hire was a business make-or-break affair. We worked through and put together a high-performance team to serve our community.
What advice do you have for individuals who want to own their own franchise?
I would say don't start by looking for just a profitable business. Instead, look for something you know you'd love to do. Owning your own business is a lot of hard work. You might not be able to emotionally succeed if you don't have real passion. I know it may sound cliché, but it is so true!
No less important is to choose a franchisor with a strong track record, strong support system and one who actually cares about you and your success. You might have been a manager before, or a computer engineer or a firefighter, but when you own your business, you need to be everything. You are the CEO, purchasing agent, marketing director, head of quality assurance, handyman, CFO and everything in between. You may need to repair the toilet in an emergency and the next moment be charming when talking to a family. Without a strong franchisor guiding and supporting you, managing all of these roles could easily overwhelm a person.
What’s next for you and your business?
My husband and I want to continue to serve the families in our community. To bring this experience full circle, it would be a lifelong dream to build a Goddard School in Vietnam. Vietnam has opened up to new ideas and technologies now. There is a huge demand there for U.S.-based educational systems at all levels.