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 email@example.com.
Nicole Carr had an exhaustive knowledge of Little Sunshine's Playhouse, an early education franchise, before she became a franchisee. All three of Carr's children had been students at Little Sunshine's since infancy, and Carr herself was COO of the company. However, becoming a franchisee granted Carr even deeper knowledge of the organization, allowing her to better support other franchisees within the system. Here's what she has learned.
Name: Nicole Carr
Franchise owned: Little Sunshine’s Playhouse, in University City, a suburb of St. Louis, Mo.
How long have you owned a franchise?
I’ve owned a franchise with my husband and parents since December 2012, when we purchased our first Little Sunshine’s Playhouse location in University City (St. Louis), Mo. We opened for business in the summer of 2014 and are currently in the process of purchasing our second location.
Franchising has always had a particular appeal to me. I view it as a partnership where both parties are only successful through the success of one another. That mutual investment is important and something I highly value. Having dedicated support from a franchisor who intimately understands the business and industry is a great partnership for someone who wants to operate a thriving business with minimized risk.
What were you doing before you became a franchise owner?
During my last year in college, I began working for Little Sunshine’s Playhouse as administrative support. I was inspired by the company’s story and overall concept and decided to become a long-term player with the company. After graduation I grew my involvement and in June 2009, was promoted to a corporate management position and ultimately became the Chief Operating Officer in 2011.
Why did you choose this particular franchise?
I have what I consider to be a unique perspective with Little Sunshine’s Playhouse through experiencing our company as a corporate-level executive and also as a client, with all three of my children being students from infancy. Throughout my time with Little Sunshine’s Playhouse, I’ve recognized that what we are offering is such a fresh and relationship-centered approach to a highly demanded family service and I’m constantly empowered by the life-long positive impact we have on the students we serve. That empowerment turned into a personal drive to help bring the same level of quality early childhood education that my own children have experienced to other families in communities across the country.
It was from that goal that my family and I decided to purchase our own a franchise with Little Sunshine’s Playhouse. This decision has not only been advantageous to my family in our own operations, but to our entire organization, as it has enabled me to become even more in tune with the support needs of other franchisees within the system, and intensely invested in the company’s success.
How much would you estimate you spent before you were officially open for business?
We spent approximately $150,000 prior to opening for business on the necessary furniture, fixtures, equipment, supplies and promotional materials needed to operate.
Where did you get most of your advice/do most of your research?
Due to my position and first-hand experiences with Little Sunshine’s Playhouse, I did not feel it was necessary to do further research on our industry or business model before making the investment; however, I do strongly recommend that as a good jumping off point for people looking at franchising in an industry they are not familiar with. I did spend a lot of time reviewing demographics for our market to gain a greater understanding of the demand and expectations for educational childcare in the area, though. In addition to demographic research, I regularly solicit advice from team members of our franchise corporate office and from our other franchisees. Their feedback and insight has been invaluable over the years.
What were the most unexpected challenges of opening your franchise?
I’ll reiterate what many franchisees would answer here and state that site selection and real estate development was our biggest challenge. In general, this is a pretty obvious challenge; however, because there are so many moving parts to the site selection and development process, the various problems that arise cannot always be predicted. For us these problems included real estate transaction conflicts, zoning issues and permitting approval complications. Thankfully, though, with the support of our corporate office, each of these issues were overcome and we now have the advantage of operating in a prime location for our first flagship school.
What advice do you have for individuals who want to own their own franchise?
I don’t know how many times a day I use the phrase “right fit." This is really applicable here. You need to find a franchisor who is the right fit for helping you to achieve your life ambitions. Do your research and understand what objectives you want to attain through opening a business. Not all franchise systems are created equal and it is so important that you find a franchisor who shares the same values and has a company culture you want in your life on a daily basis, in addition to providing the level of support you need to create a successful business.
What’s next for you and your business?
It is my goal to open at least 10 locations in the greater St. Louis market in the next five to seven years. Staying in the same area gives me the opportunity to focus entirely on the needs and trends of only one market, while continuing to grow to meet the demand in the area. I am excited at the prospect of working alongside other driven and passionate individuals to grow our company to 400 locations nationwide over the next decade, making Little Sunshine’s Playhouse the most prominent and preferred preschool brand in America.