When Nish Patel and his wife began searching for quality childcare, they discovered the Lightbridge Academy franchise opportunity. Today, they own multiple locations in Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and North Carolina. In this article, we share Nish’s journey to franchise ownership and multi-unit franchisee success.
Why did you purchase a franchise rather than being an employee or opening an independent business?
There were a few reasons why I decided to purchase a franchise rather than open an independent childcare academy.
Proven Business Model: Franchises typically have a proven business model, established brand recognition, and a successful track record. This reduces some of the risks associated with starting a business from scratch.
Support and Training: Franchise owners receive training and ongoing support from the franchisor, which can be beneficial for someone who might not have extensive business experience.
Brand Recognition: Franchises often operate under well-known brands, which can attract customers more easily than a new, independent business without an established reputation.
Marketing and Advertising: Franchises usually benefit from the franchisor’s collective marketing and advertising efforts, which can be more challenging for an independent business with limited resources.
Operational Assistance: Franchisees often receive help with site selection, lease negotiation, and operational guidelines, which can be crucial for a new business owner.
Easier Access to Financing: Banks and lenders may be more willing to finance a franchise since it operates under a recognized brand with a proven business model compared to a new, independent business.
Networking and Community: Franchise owners can benefit from networking opportunities and a community of fellow franchisees who can offer support and advice.
Did you have your mind set on a specific industry or brand from the start?
No initial preferences. However, in 2016, when my first daughter Naira was born, we desperately needed childcare. We sought a quality, safe, nurturing, and educational childcare program. We visited many childcare centers in the eastern PA area near where I live in Yardley, PA, and did not come across any that would satisfy our needs as parents. At that time, my wife and I discussed how we could own one. That’s when the search began to find a business opportunity that would enable us to provide a safe and high-quality place where families are supported, children thrive, and communities are enriched. In our research, Lightbridge Academy stood out among all the various childcare service providers.
Of your prior skills and experiences, which were most helpful in launching and operating your Lightbridge Academy franchise?
Although there are many, I considered four skills most helpful in launching and operating my new business.
Adaptability: Adapting to changing circumstances, market trends, and customer needs is vital for any business. Flexibility is often key to survival and growth.
Leadership and Management: Strong leadership skills are needed to guide a team, set goals, and inspire others. Effective management ensures that resources are optimized and tasks are efficiently executed.
Financial Management: A good understanding of financial principles, budgeting, cash flow management, and basic accounting is necessary to sustain and grow a business.
Problem-Solving Skills: Identifying problems and finding creative solutions is crucial. This skill helps navigate challenges during the startup phase and beyond.
As the school’s owners, we do not have to have all the necessary skills. We built a strong team that had skills and talents that complemented our own. That helped us to grow in multiple states within a shorter time span.
When researching franchises to buy, what criteria or data points mattered to you most?
There were many. But here are a few that made me pursue franchising with Lightbridge Academy.
- Franchise Reputation and Brand Strength
- Initial Investment Costs
- Franchise Support and Training
- Franchisee Satisfaction and Success Rates
- Market Demand and Territory
Profitability and Financial Performance are often referred to as Item 19 in the Franchise Agreement Terms and Restrictions. We looked at that in detail. We also prioritized legal and regulatory Compliance. We wanted to ensure the franchise complies with legal and regulatory requirements. We reviewed the franchise disclosure document (FDD) to understand legal obligations and litigation history.
We were also very interested in the growth potential and future prospects. As the market in the Northeast region of the United States was getting saturated with competition, we wanted to focus on certain markets and territories in the Southeast region, and that is when we decided to venture into the Charlotte, NC market.
When speaking with other Lightbridge Academy franchise owners, which questions did you ask?
When were thinking of joining, there were many successful Lightbridge Academy franchise owners in the system, and I reached out to the top four performing franchisees at that time.
I asked the following questions. How long have you been a franchisee, and what made you choose this franchise? What has been your overall experience as a franchisee with this brand? Are you satisfied with the support provided by the franchisor? Can you share insights into the financial performance of your franchise unit? How long did it take for your business to become profitable? What ongoing support is offered by the franchisor, and how responsive are they to your needs? How demanding is the day-to-day operation of the franchise? How much time and effort is required to manage the business effectively? How would you describe your relationship with the franchisor and the corporate team? Have you experienced any disagreements or issues with the franchisor, and how were they resolved? Have you faced challenges related to local market conditions or competition? How supportive is the franchisor in terms of helping franchisees expand or open additional units? What are the major challenges you’ve encountered as a franchisee? If you could give advice to someone considering this franchise, what would it be?
Which questions did you ask the franchisor?
We asked Lightbridge Academy franchise leadership many questions including:
Can you provide an overview of the company’s history, mission, and vision? What sets your franchise apart from competitors in the market? What are the initial franchise fees and other startup costs? Can you outline the ongoing royalties or fees that franchisees are required to pay? What financial support or financing options does the franchisor offer to new franchisees? What kind of training programs do you offer to new franchisees? How is ongoing support provided to franchisees after the initial training period? Is there a dedicated support team available for operational or business-related queries? Has a market analysis been conducted for potential franchise locations, and how supportive is the franchisor? if so, how? What are the typical financial performance metrics of your franchise units? What are the key factors contributing to successful franchisee performance? What are the expectations regarding hours worked and owner involvement in day-to-day operations? What are the terms of the franchise agreement, including renewal options and territorial rights? What marketing support or initiatives does the franchisor provide to help franchisees attract customers? How do you support local marketing efforts for individual franchise units? What are the plans for the franchise system’s growth and expansion? How does the franchisor support existing franchisees who wish to expand their businesses? Can you provide references or contacts of current franchisees for further insights?
What were your biggest challenges when you first started out, and how did you overcome them?
Here are some of the biggest challenges I came across, and with time and experience, I overcame those in the following manner.
Uncertainty and Risk: As everyone knows, Starting a business often involves stepping into the unknown, and to mitigate that risk, we conducted thorough market research, created a solid business plan, and were very adaptable to changing circumstances, especially when we opened our school in Glenside, PA right amid the pandemic, on March 1st, 2020.
Creating the Right Team: Hiring the right talent and building a capable team can be difficult, but networking, utilizing job boards, conducting thorough interviews, and offering competitive compensation and growth opportunities helped us attract the right individuals with diversified skills. We have the highest retention rate in the Lightbridge system with our employees.
Time Management and Prioritization: As first-time entrepreneurs, we often have numerous competing tasks and limited time. Prioritizing tasks, setting goals, delegating when possible, and establishing effective time management techniques were crucial for productivity.
Building a Customer Base: Attracting the first customers can be challenging, and strategies like networking, offering promotions or discounts, leveraging social media, and providing excellent customer service helped us build an initial customer base.
How does the Lightbridge Academy franchise support and encourage your success?
Lightbridge Franchise Company (LFC) is always there when we need them for support. They provide continuous support to franchisees even after the initial training period. This support includes assistance with day-to-day operations, troubleshooting, marketing campaigns, and access to resources or tools to streamline business processes. They share best practices and operational guidelines based on successful experiences within the franchise system. This helped us streamline our operations and make informed decisions. They also invested in technology and innovations that benefited the entire franchise network. This may include providing access to specialized software (such as the Lightbridge Journey app), online platforms, or tools that improve efficiency and productivity.
What are you most proud of and why?
First, creating a successful and talented team of individuals with various strengths and skill sets to ensure the business operates in compliance and provides the absolute best experience for our clients. We are also proud of being able to scale and grow in three different states within six years of being in the business, with no prior experience as business owners in the childcare industry.
What advice would you give to new or potential franchise buyers?
Most importantly, trust the system and follow it. Also, conduct thorough research, review the FDD well, speak with some franchisees already in the system, seek help when needed, be realistic, be patient, and understand your risks and liability well before signing a lease, purchase and sale agreement, etc.