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Franchise Players: Helping Her Son Brought This Mother to Franchising Kristel Thomas was willing to do whatever it took to help her son and other kids overcome their neurological challenges. It led to her becoming a franchisee.

By Kate Taylor

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

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 ktaylor@entrepreneur.com.

After Kristel Thomas's son Louie was diagnosed with a sensory processing disorder, neurologists told her he would never talk or ride a bike. Unwilling to believe them, Kristel found the perfect program to help Louie at a Brain Balance center. Brain Balance is supplemental education franchise that helps children with learning and behavioral disorders reach their full potential though a drug-free approach.

Unfortunately, the closest center was 11 hours from Thomas's home. So Thomas took matters into her own hands and opened a location of her own in Canton, Ohio. Today, her son is fully integrated into a regular education classroom and excelling both academically and socially, and Thomas has helped hundreds of children as a Brain Balance franchisee of three years.

Here's how she has done it.

Name: Kristel Thomas

Franchise owned (location): Brain Balance Achievement Centers of Canton, Ohio.

How long have you owned the franchise?

Three years.

Why franchising?

Opening a Brain Balance franchise was like being given a gift that you really want to share with the world. My husband and I were driven to bring this program to our community and it was only offered as a franchise opportunity. My husband had experience with franchising in the past so we were very comfortable with the expectation of relationship between the franchisor and the franchisee.

What were you doing before you became a franchise owner?

Before becoming a franchise owner I was a stay-at-home mom caring for our four sons.

Related: Franchise Players: A Female Entrepreneur Steers an Auto Care Franchise

Why did you choose this particular franchise?

Our initial experience with the Brain Balance Program was as a family seeking help for one of our children. The results of the program were life-changing and we were inspired to open a center in our hometown so that community could benefit as well. It started as a journey to help one child, but at the end of the day, it changed our whole family dynamic. I was intrigued by the opportunity to provide hope to families similar to mine and to make a difference one family at a time. Now it's my turn to provide hope to families with children like Louie by giving them another option. Through Brain Balance, I'm able to help families in every way possible and make a positive impact on my community, one family at a time

When investing in a franchise, you want to feel like you are an asset to the brand. The Brain Balance corporate office is not only committed to helping franchisees succeed on every level but also there is a sense of family and togetherness that transcends just a business relationship. We were also attracted to the franchise model because of the extensive training and support offered in every aspect of the Brain Balance program, from sales and marketing, to daily protocol driven sessions with the children and parent conferences.

How much would you estimate you spent before you were officially open for business?

In 2010, our initial expenses (franchise fee, build-out, and equipment) fell within the range provided by corporate which was $200,000-$250,000. I would imagine that the build-out costs and rent vary from region to region. Market prices have changed and all prospective owners should do their due diligence.

Where did you get most of your advice/do most of your research?

We talked to many current Brain Balance owners before opening our own center. We wanted to get an owner vs. corporate perspective regarding the business model and their success as a franchisee. We already knew the program worked, so it was just a matter of looking at things from the business side.

Related: Franchise Players: How This Franchisee Found Love at a Carpet Cleaning Convention

What were the most unexpected challenges of opening your franchise?

Some of the most unexpected challenges we've experienced have been on the marketing end. We have had to really get out into the community to educate parents and teachers about the program and how the Brain Balance approach helps children. Bringing a new concept to the community and making people truly understand the unique approach behind Brain Balance was challenging at first. Grassroots marketing has been important at the local level because most of our business has been generated through referrals from parents who have seen their children succeed with the program. Our strong referral rate comes from our customer-first approach.

Finding a balance between being a mother and running a business has been the single greatest challenge I've ever faced. I was a mother first and an entrepreneur second, and realizing I had a desire to do both has taught me a great deal about myself and what I want out of life. I work hard and passionately when I'm at the center and leave my work at the office so I can be present and focus on my family when I return home.

What advice do you have for individuals who want to own their own franchise?

Do something every day improves the life of another human being, and do it with all the passion and love your heart can hold. Do something that you'll feel great about at the end of the day and understand that nothing comes without sacrifice and hard work. Through Brain Balance, I'm able to make an impact one family at a time.

I've been running my center for three years now, have helped hundreds of children, and was recognized for having the highest referral rate out of the 54 franchises around the country. My passion for making a difference in the lives of local families has enabled me to expand my franchise to serve six counties.

The families we serve know that I am extremely passionate about the Brain Balance program and that everything I do is to provide them with the best possible program I can. They take that enthusiasm into the community and share what we do with their friends and families. It is a chain of hope that spreads beyond the walls of the center. Our communities need all kinds of services so that same level of excitement can come from many different businesses. Just be passionate and care about what you're doing.

What's next for you and your business?

We are continuing to extend our reach into more communities in Northeastern Ohio to let them know that there is a drug-free, whole-child based approach for helping their children. We have begun more strategic marketing campaigns to let families know we're here. Parents have always actively looked for us – they want what we provide. Now they only have to turn their TV or radio on to find us.

Related: Franchise Players: How This 'Computer Mom' Became Franchisee of the Year

Kate Taylor


Kate Taylor is a reporter at Business Insider. She was previously a reporter at Entrepreneur. Get in touch with tips and feedback on Twitter at @Kate_H_Taylor. 

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