Early Childhood Education And Real Estate: How One Emerging Franchisor Is Taking Advantage Of Both

FM 1 | Childhood Education

 

Childhood education and real estate aren’t the usual combinations in a business conversation, but Drew McWilliams found a unique way to incorporate the two. Real estate covers a vast scope, from home rentals to senior living and even educational spaces. In our first episode, Dru Carpenito is joined by Drew McWilliams, the Founder of IvyBrook Academy and Franchise Realty Partners. Drew shares his and his wife’s journey in building IvyBrook, the Nations #1 Half Day Pre-School, into a national company via franchising. He walks us through the process of how he managed to own the building and land where his education business stands. Listen in as Drew shares his new venture and how he helps emerging franchisors navigate the site selection process.

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Early Childhood Education And Real Estate: How One Emerging Franchisor Is Taking Advantage Of Both

Drew McWilliams, the Founder of IvyBrook Academy and Franchise Realty Partners, shares how his companies are helping children learn and develop at a young age and helping emerging franchisors get the right locations for their franchisees.

Welcome to the show. Drew McWilliams is the Founder of Ivybrook Academy and a new venture called Franchise Realty Partners. Drew, welcome. I look forward to talking more about you and the interesting businesses you have going on.

Thank you from one Drew to another. Thank you for the invitation. I look forward to joining you and adding some value to your readers.

I was talking to Drew a little bit before. He never writes, calls and emails unless doing something franchise-related. Drew and I live not too far from one another here in Charlotte. I’m glad you are here and I look forward to chatting.

Dru, I don’t even know if you remember. When I first wanted to start getting into a franchise, we went out for a coffee and you gave me some guide rails and guidance. That was years ago. I appreciate that knowledge and expertise. I’m happy to be along for the franchising journey over the last couple of years. Thanks for the head-start.

I remember that Starbucks in Waverly. You have done some pretty amazing things since then. It’s cool to see what you are doing with Ivybrook and the growth you guys are having. I’m interested in talking to you about this new venture, Franchise Realty Partners. It relates to something so important is location, like helping people figure out the real estate piece of a brick and mortar franchise, both from the franchisor’s perspective and also from the franchisee’s perspective. This is going to be a fun conversation. Before we get into the nuts and bolts of the business stuff, I would love to learn a little bit more about you and how you came to be in franchising in Ivybrook and Franchise Realty Partners. Would you tell us a little bit about your path to get here and your story?

It all started with my college sweetheart and me. My wife and I met in college. My wife has a background in Education and I have a background in Business. We graduated together and moved to our lovely city of Charlotte, North Carolina, which I very much love and have dear to my heart. I have been here for twenty-plus years. My wife was a first-grade teacher in public education. I worked in residential real estate. I had an incredibly successful career at a very young life.

My wife wanted to make a difference in younger children’s lives. I told her to follow her dreams and little did I know that it would turn into a company called Ivybrook Academy, which originally opened in 2007. We are approaching our sixteenth anniversary in 2023. That company then was open for a few short weeks and it already had such tremendous success. I left my Corporate America job in real estate and opened up a second corporate location right across the border in a city. If you are familiar with Charlotte, it’s called Fort Mill, South Carolina. That location equally had great success.

We opened up during the Great Recession. It still did so well that people were asking us, “You should move to this or that city.” We never understood franchising or what that was about. That was never our goal. The model of franchising and the real estate company all came from sheer demand. It’s not from our intent saying, “We are going to set out and take this into the next step.” Truly out of demand came the desire for people to have another location across the country.

We started in franchising, or I called it, a journey years ago. It has been a great experience. We have grown from our small 2 locations in Charlotte Metro Area to 52 locations in 13 states that are either open or under-development. For some of your readers who may not know the word under-development, it’s a very fancy word. That means it’s either under construction or in years to come based on their development agreement if they have signed up for multiple locations. That is the Ivybrook Academy journey and how we got to where we are in the last years.

There are so many interesting ways we could go from the journey that you have been on. I don’t know if you were going to remember what it was like. You left your corporate job right before you opened your second location. Was it right before the recession hit or during the recession?

It's easy to stand with a crowd, but it takes a lot of courage to stand on your own. Click To Tweet

I left Corporate America in the middle of the recession. It’s a funny joke. I must admit, Dru. I need to hurry up and tell the joke before my wife does or before you interview her someday. Allegedly, whenever my wife’s company of Ivybrook started making more than I was, then that is whenever I decided to jump ship. It was a great decision. I’m glad to be her very first employee.

You knew what you were getting into when you left the corporate world. Was there any hesitation walking away from the W-2 paycheck to jump into entrepreneurship full-time?

There always is. Even though I was leaving one paycheck for enough, whether you call it ownership or how you slice and dice it, there is still that fear factor because you have this great security blanket with getting that paycheck. Taking that leap of faith and going on your own was extremely scary. I remember the day quite honestly, even though it was decades ago. For any of your readers that might be on the fence, whether they start a business or franchising, I would tell them that one of my favorite lines is, “It’s easy to stand with a crowd but it takes a lot of courage to stand on your own or alone.” Don’t be afraid to take that step out. Go for it and do it.

I’m sure there were a lot of late-night conversations and a few sleepless nights before making that jump but it has paid off. You built a national company and got another company going. How has the entrepreneurial life been compared to the W-2 world?

It’s different. I love being an entrepreneur. The more that I’m in it, the more I realize this was something that was in my DNA that I didn’t know until we started that first company. It’s not even in the franchise. I love the ability that business ownership or franchising gives the folks because you can set your schedule most of the time. That is a very big thing. Do I work any less? No, I don’t work necessarily any less, quite honestly, especially franchise. You are probably working double than I ever did being a W-2 employee but that is by choice.

The biggest thing that it gives me is the ability that if my children are having an event in the afternoon at their school, I can be one of the only dads typically at their school being able to witness a certain ceremony or concert that is happening during a call in that 8:00 to 5:00 business day. I would never have been able to do that if I was still in Corporate America. I put in those two hours later that night, get up an hour early or something. I still do the same amount of work but the flexibility is priceless.

I remember when I made the jump. I was working for Tutor Doctor. Personal story, I was the only income provider for our household. My twins were 2 years old at that time or 1-year-old. It was a big decision to leave the W-2 world. It worked out and everything was great. I have been happy. I don’t know if I could ever go back to work for anybody else.

The word lifestyle is never talked about in the W-2 world or the corporate world because you can only have the lifestyle that the job affords, this idea of being able to create the lifestyle that you want. Intentionally crafting a business and your workaround that lifestyle is one of those hidden benefits of owning your business and being out there on your own that not a lot of people think about until they get into it. I’m glad it’s all working out. Switching gears a little bit, talk to us a little bit about Ivybrook, who the company is and specifically what they help their customers with.

Ivybrook Academy is a children’s preschool. Specifically, we cater to children between the ages of 1 through 6. We end at kindergarten. A lot of our locations have a private kindergarten. Especially as public schools get maybe a little bit of a worse rap every year, that increases my demand for my private kindergarten program, which has been pretty aces. As far as what Ivybrook Academy does, what we specifically do is we are a Montessori school with some Reggio Emilia as another part of our curriculum. We are the first Montessori school across the country to go into franchising.

Typically, Montessori schools are all mom-and-pop locations across the country. They do a wonderful job. The locations go anywhere from birth up through eighth grade. Our niche that we focus on and excel at is that 1-through-6-year-old range. That is what we do. We have our proprietary curriculum. It’s all copyrighted. We have proprietary software that runs our programs. We have some pretty amazing teachers. If I have to brag on anyone, it is truly the staff that runs our schools in the classrooms day to day teaching children ABCs and 123s that deserve all the credit for our success.

FM 1 | Childhood Education
Childhood Education: Business ownership or franchising allows you to spend your own time and set your own schedule.

 

Is it two half-day programs? That is a big thing with you too.

A lot of your audience might have heard the term, “Riches are in the niches.” What we do is we are a half-day preschool. In comparison to all-day daycares, you might know the national competitors are Goddard and Primrose. They’re massive companies with 500-some locations across the United States. What they do is they do a great job for our society to provide an all-day program for dual-working parents. What Ivybrook does is we have two half-day programs. We cater to the stay-at-home parent, the work-from-home parent or a family member that might watch their children.

What that provides is a program that children come for four hours in the morning. They all go home at noon. There are no lunch facilities at our campuses. We have a second session of children that come in the afternoon for four different hours. That gives us the ability to have a smaller real estate footprint. The term is we turn it over halfway through the day. We have two different sessions of children being able to utilize the building. It’s a smaller footprint and smaller square footage, which then, in turn, reduces rent/mortgage.

That is a big deal because you don’t have to have the lunch facilities and kitchen facilities either.

When you go from a staff like a Goddard or Primrose, it’s typically going to have a 40 to 45-person staff. You have to have industrial kitchens, health licenses and busing. We have eliminated all of that red tape. We don’t have any of that. Our staff consists of a max of fifteen, which is very nice and manageable as an owner. There is no kitchen, no health inspection because there is no food being served and no busing as well.

Was that the original intention when your wife founded the business to have it structured like that, the two half-day?

That was the intention from day one. We realized that there was an underserved market out there and a need. We went right after it and demand showed that it filled up immediately. We were very blessed that both locations that we have opened ourselves and many other franchise locations have been in black on day one because of that.

You and I are close to one another. I know exactly where your 1st and 2nd locations are. I happen to live about three minutes away from your first location. Every time I drive by, I smile because I’m like, “It’s the beauty of the business model. It’s tucked behind the calls that you might not know it’s there unless you know it’s there.” That is part of the benefit of the business. You don’t have to have foot traffic and visibility.

No matter what the business model is, know your real estate angle. If you need drive-by traffic or a quick-serve restaurant, then you need what I call A-real-estate. You need to be front and center with main visibility. If you are a drug store, bank or gas station, you want what is considered a hard corner at a traffic light. That is A-plus real estate. For our model, we are not someone that is going to be a drive-by customer. Someone is not going to see our sign and say, “I got to pop in there.”

We are very much something called a destination location. Parents are going to get online. They are going to get on the ever-present Google. They are going to google the best free schools for whatever city they are in. Our name will pop up. Someone is going to call and book an appointment. We are a destination where they are seeking us out.

The first step is sometimes the scariest. Click To Tweet

By having that and knowing what we are and being comfortable with what we are, what we like is you described our location that is near to your house. We are a B-real-estate location in an A-center. It’s an A-town-center and A-real-estate overall play but I can be tucked in the back corner. Quite honestly, I want to. I love that safety component as well. Also, I love the ability to pay a lower rent price, which factors then into the cashflow scenario.

When she was thinking about starting this with your real estate background, I have to imagine that played a big role and you were figuring out that sweet spot.

The first step is sometimes the scariest. Going after that piece of property was the right thing. Years later, we can say that with confidence but you don’t know what you don’t know whenever you first get started. It’s great to rely on folks like you and other experts and pick their brains too. You don’t feel like you’ve got to do it on your own.

You own the real estate for the two locations in Charlotte.

I own the locations. I love the term franchise owners versus franchisees because I find them as partners in the business. What we have done is we have allowed everybody to have real estate, whatever fits their model the best. About 1/3 of our owners are electing to own the real estate, which is great. Another 2/3 are doing the lease routes and that presents the best option for them. We have the ability to ebb and flow and do whatever works best for their portfolio and exactly their needs. At the end of the day, the business model runs the same way and should cashflow the same way if they have an asset at the end of the day 20 to 25 years down the road.

It drives up the investment upfront. You were one of the few franchises out there that has a true real estate angle associated with it if somebody wants to pursue that strategy. You don’t have to, by any means. You’ve got a great standalone business as it is. It opens up some additional opportunities for folks that might be interested in going down the real estate path. On the topic of real estate, you’ve had an interesting experience going through the expansion of helping franchisees find the right location, especially with your background. You are well-versed in picking the right locations. That was the inspiration to start Franchise Realty Partners.

You teed me up pretty well there for that one. I appreciate it. What was happening is we had been in franchising for years. I was always in the lead in helping with real estate because that is my background. I’ve had my real estate broker’s license for many years. As we moved from state to state and started growing, I’m a big believer in, “Don’t be afraid to ask for help.” We contracted with third-party real estate national companies. What we were finding is when we were calling the super-big companies of the country, we were too small to get calls back or we weren’t a priority to them. We would call smaller companies and real estate firms. They didn’t have enough bandwidth to help us.

It’s only because I’m also in the education business I can use that Goldilocks and the Three Bears. One was too small. One was too big. We needed to find something that was right in the middle. What happened was out of necessity. We decided to create our internal real estate department. That was the best need for us. For most franchisors that have less than 100 locations is not a good cost to absorb. That is cost-prohibitive because that is not a revenue-generating necessarily position to have on staff. You want support staff, which we have an abundance of support staff to help our franchisees grow and set them up for success.

The need was there. We started on real estate departments. We hired folks as well. What was happening was peers in the industry and other franchisors were calling me. We brainstormed a bunch and said, “What are you doing for marketing and real estate?” I said, “I brought real estate in-house because it served our needs better and gave our benefit to our franchisees.” Other folks were saying, “Can you help us out as well?” I started saying yes. I have a hard time not wanting to help others. That is the beauty of franchising and the industry in general.

As we started helping other folks and peers, especially in that emerging space, the need to have this as a spin-off of Ivybrook, we created a new company called Franchise Realty Partners because that is what we are doing. We are in the franchise space and real estate space. I love that we were partners. That was very intentional. That was one of the first things I did because we come alongside people. We partner with them. We want to be that real estate firm that solves those problems. It doesn’t matter if someone has 1, 50 or 100 locations. We want to meet the ability to help others and help coach, guide and deliver the real estate process in the best possible way.

FM 1 | Childhood Education
Childhood Education: One of the hidden benefits of owning your own business is being able to create the lifestyle you want and intentionally craft your work around that lifestyle.

 

That is huge with any brick and mortar franchise getting the location right, especially for more location-dependent businesses. Maybe it’s not so much Ivybrook but others with a boutique, fitness or beauty. Getting that location right is huge with your background of going through it personally, number one and then helping other franchise owners in your system replicate and go through it as well. That is huge because those third-party companies out there have never walked the walk.

They have never been in the shoes of having to make a big decision on the location, sign the lease and be on the hook for it if it goes wrong. It’s not just the real estate piece but also understanding what somebody is going through and the gravity of the personal decision they are making with this is significant. I’m happy for you. That is cool. How is business? Have you been picking up some accounts?

We launched in 2021. We picked up seven accounts, which is above our target. Our target was to have ten by the end of 2022 and we are still in Q1. We are well on pace with that. I’m pretty excited about it. The unique aspect which I didn’t realize until after the fact is before being a franchisor, I was a franchisee. My wife and I owned two hair salon businesses because I wanted to see what it was like to be on the other side before coming to the franchisor. I had the franchisee hat on. I have the franchisor hat that I’m able to wear. I also have that real estate component that I have done for the last couple of years.

That is a very unique thing. I don’t know one other real estate company in the country that can say they have been a franchisor or franchisee and then also a real estate broker. I love that ability to help others. I might be able to ebb and flow a little bit whenever they ask for advice about something. It’s being able to say what our experiences have been from our past lives.

What is the scope of Franchise Realty Partners? What exactly do you do? What don’t you do?

Specifically, we work with franchisors. That is our niche. It’s finding a franchisor that doesn’t have a real estate company or wants to upgrade from the real estate companies that they currently have. They might be underserved. Being able to work with a franchisor, we onboard with a franchisor. We are finding exactly what their desires and needs are. We want to be immersed. We have the ability to white-label ourselves as the extension of them, RealEstate@YourCompany.com. We can make ourselves look like we have more depth to the existing brand by white-labeling ourselves as them or we can act as our own third-party FRP, Franchise Realty Partners aspect of them.

We do everything turnkey for them. We go out and find. We do all the site selection and demographics. We do the research, negotiation and LOI. We do everything right the whole way up until lease review. The lease review is a legal document and then we can turn that over to our recommended attorney that we use or anyone that the franchisor might recommend as well. We consider ourselves a turnkey process in educating the franchisee. We are speaking with the franchisee. The franchisor typically is the one that hires us. The franchisee is the client that we are working with. That enables the franchisor to focus on their business and operations and not have to play with real estate.

You are like a franchise-specific broker. Do you work with brokers around the country? Do you have a select group that you work within different markets wherever the franchise location might be opening?

Yes. The Vice President of my company is a gentleman by the name of Corey Roberts. He has been in the commercial real estate and franchising business for a long time. Between the two of us, we have a pretty vast network of who are the best brokers in every single city across the country. Unlike a lot of firms that you would use, I don’t want to name-drop. If you use a certain firm, they are only going to use brokers that are under their umbrella because it’s part of their company.

The problem with that is you might have some aces or some stun in some cities. Also, at the same time, in other cities, you might have some dots. Our approach is, “Why don’t we have the best brokers no matter what shingle they have in front of their office window and utilize the best brokers in every single city across the country?” Having 30-plus years of franchising-specific experience in real estate, then we have that network to be able to do that.

Be smart enough to realize your strengths and your weaknesses. Click To Tweet

That is a small detail that has massive implications in terms of getting connected with the best brokers in your market because a good broker is going to help get you access to things that might be coming onto the market or be off-market. They have a pulse on the market and it’s one of these things. I would love to get your perspective on the value of working with a good local broker, especially in a market like we are in. It’s like a tight real estate market for some franchises going after the class-A stuff. Can you talk a little bit more about how important that is maybe to a first-time franchise owner in getting access to the best brokers in their area?

Local brokers are what we call boots on the ground. They are vitally important, no matter what the brand is for success. It’s Drew McWilliams or any of my wonderful associates for the real estate company that works alongside me. In an office trying to look at space across the country, I can see as much data and demographics as possible. I can do all the negotiating from anywhere around the country. If you don’t have those local agents in each market that have that knowledge, they are going to have things that are called pocket listings. That is the fancy way to say.

They are going to know about opportunities that are coming up that aren’t even on the market yet. At least 25% of the deals that we have ended up doing are those pocket listings that someone says, “I don’t have something on the market now but I was at lunch with Betty Sue. She told me that this is going to come on the market in two weeks. If you give me two weeks, I might be able to get you in there first before you even have an available sign.” That is huge. Those are great plays.

You need both because the franchisee and franchisor are going to need a coach and guide. That is what we excel at. At the same time, that local agent boots-on-the-ground is not going to want to take a phone call every single day from a franchisee or franchisor. That is a lot of work. We want to cut them loose and to do what they do best, go find properties and start talking to folks. Let us do all the handholding and paperwork pushing from behind-the-scenes.

When I’m helping folks analyze different franchises to invest in, looking at how good a franchise company is at the real estate piece with the site selection and the whole 9 yards is a massive thing. This is one of those areas of a franchise that can separate one from the other very quickly, even if the other one has a cooler widget or whatever it may be. These are the foundations that go into getting in with a good system. This is a great topic to help people get some insights into that. It sounds like business is great. Congratulations.

I would love to go back to Ivybrook a little bit. This is how I roll. We zig, zag and go back to zig. I love to talk a little bit more about it from the franchisee’s perspective. It’s a little bit about who you are looking for and what their role is in the business. I would imagine you are out looking for teachers or maybe a little bit of a different profile. Can you talk a little bit about who you are looking for as a franchisee?

We have lots of different franchise-owner profiles across the company. Let’s hone in on who the average is. It’s typically couples that have had children at some time in their life, whether they have younger children now or have gone off and now they are young adults. The reason being is that they understand the importance of education, children and believe in that. That is a vitally key component of stress.

If somebody is looking for a business and cares about the bottom line, I’m going to tell them to go by a gas station. If somebody wants to be passionate about what they do and then at the same time, make a very good living and feel good when you put your head on the pillow at night about what you are doing, then they should give us a look.

Typically, it is a couple and it sounds cliché. It’s my wife and myself. Somebody might have one background. It doesn’t matter if it’s Education or Communication. With somebody else, another spouse comes from the business world, I feel like almost all the time. That is a great balance because one person typically stays in Corporate America and one person is out. The one spouse gets it up and running as my wife did.

Once they see it is successful, they say, “This is going to work.” They jump ship, come over and have that ability to exit Corporate America. Let’s be honest. Most of my franchisees have come from Corporate America before. They have either gotten burned out and have left or are saying, “I’ve got 1 year left or maybe 2 years max. I see it in front of me. Let’s start putting these steps in the process ahead of time, so I can make one smooth transition.”

FM 1 | Childhood Education
Childhood Education: With any brick-and-mortar franchise, getting the location right is a huge deal.

 

Are the owners teaching at all with the kids? What are they doing?

The owners are not teaching. One of the first things that we do is the owners hire a school principal or school director admissions person. We hire the management first. That is the first role. The owner plays 1 of 2 different roles. In each campus, they have two administrative positions. We call it a principal and assistant principal. One person is in charge of sales and admissions of enrolling students. That is one job. The other person is in charge of the teachers and we will call it the back of the house. We’ve got a front-of-the-house person and a back-of-the-house person.

It’s almost like in the restaurant industry. An owner can play 1 of those 2. The third role is you still need a business manager, someone to do accounts receivable and payable, do the marketing and follow the marketing guidelines we put in place. You’ve got three different roles. All of our owners have easily been able to distinguish quickly, “That sounds like me or doesn’t sound like me.” Someone says, “I love talking to my staff. I love doing that. I love sales. I love tours. I get a kick out of that.”

I have people that are CPAs and they are like, “I love business. I’m smart enough to realize my strengths and weaknesses. My strengths are business. Drew McWilliams is telling me to stay in my lane, do what I’m good at and then hire what I’m not good at. That is okay to admit strengths and weaknesses.” I have never taught a class in my life and I own a bunch of preschools. I have no idea. Thankfully, my wife has never put me in a classroom before. I don’t know how to do that but I’m good at hiring people that are smart enough to do that job. Hopefully, it’s a well-rounded way to say that people come from different walks of life. We hire out through the role that they don’t feel equipped to do.

It sounds like you have honed in on who you want as franchisees and who is going to have the most success. It’s somebody who connects with the mission, is passionate about helping kids and doing it in the way of educating them as much as providing a place for them to come when the parents might want a little bit of break for half the day at least.

You mentioned the wisdom of staying in your lane, focusing on the thing that you are good at and then hiring for the other stuff. That is the beauty of business ownership. You can do that if you are aware of what your strengths and weaknesses are. It’s very cool. It’s 52 locations in 5 years. Did you ever envision it to be like that? Was that the goal originally or has it been a ride that has surpassed your expectations?

It has surpassed our expectations and blessings. The goal was 1 school or maybe 2. My wife ran one school and I ran another school. We thought that was the trajectory for the rest of our life. We were completely fine with it. Little did we know that our customers would get job transfers or move with their families. They go from one city to another and start calling us from around the country and say, “I can’t find Ivybrook. Bring Ivybrook here.” It took us about ten years before we finally said yes.

Each of our schools has a PTA. Our old PTA president moved to somewhere in Nebraska. She called us every day for a year. She goes, “You’ve got to move and bring it here. My kids are regressing. They are going back.” We don’t have a school in Nebraska yet. If anyone is reading, it would be the first on the map. That was a lightbulb-changing moment that if there’s a need, there’s a demand across the country. This is not a one-city thing.

We have proven that out in thirteen different states, that demand translates to pretty much everywhere. Every parent always wants their child to have a better education upbringing than what they came from, no matter what your background is in life. If you are a parent, you always want your child to do better and that is never going to stop. It’s only going to be even more so in the future.

That is some pretty cool organic growth that you have those indicators to help you decide on the franchise. What was the decision to franchise like? It took you ten years to commit to it or figure out it was the right thing that you wanted to do and the right expansion strategy for your business. What was that decision like to get up to the point where you decided to move forward with franchising?

Every parent always wants their child to have a better education and upbringing than they came from. Click To Tweet

You don’t know what you don’t know. If the bookstore had a franchising 101 or franchising for dummies, I probably would have bought it because I didn’t know anything about franchising. What we looked at were three different ways for a company expansion. We could have either done company on locations and kept growing that way, which has been a massive amount of capital. That would have stretched my resources pretty thin because my wife and I love having that flexibility that we first talked about when our show started about that flexibility of being a business owner.

It’s being able to drop in and see my kids or pick them up from school in the middle of the afternoon, where I wouldn’t be able to if I was flying all the time constantly from one corporate location to another. I wouldn’t have had that. I would have lost that lifestyle that I was trying to create. The second is there’s the licensing routes, pros and cons of that and then we discovered the franchise. I love the franchise model and I’m not just saying that.

What I love about the franchising model in any industry is everyone is pulling the rope in the same direction. The franchisor only does well if he makes the franchisee do well and the franchisee wants to do well. It’s all in balance. I love that everyone is on the same page and we all have the same agenda. When one person wins, everybody wins. How we got into franchising is we discovered franchising and we liked it. We wanted to learn more about it. My wife and I are big believers. We don’t put anything out there until we are confident that it’s going to work. Hence, the franchising model and the real estate model.

In franchising specifically, I might have tipped off before. Before we became a franchisor, we wanted to see what it was like from the other side and became a franchisee. We have bought into the hair salon industry. We owned 2 of those for 3 years before we parted. It was a great experience. I’m glad I did it. It was a lot more expensive than going to buy a book off the shelf and learning what franchising was about. It gave us some good tips. Thankfully, we were very blessed and we had a great franchisor that was a great mentor.

I learned a lot of great things. It’s more what I did want to do when I stepped into those shoes and then what it was like from the other side. What did I want to see more from a franchisee? We have taken all of those things in transparency. I will be honest. That is the single thing that I make sure that all of my franchise owners know. It’s what we are doing, what our growth is and why we have certain vendors. That has created a great culture and comradery among not only the franchise owner to us but also the franchisee to the franchisor.

You seem very intentional about every major decision. I’m sure that the same thing goes for the little decisions. You have taken the crawl-walk-run approach. You did your due diligence on the different expansion strategies, pros and cons and landed on franchising. You have this organic interest from customers that have moved to other parts of the country that were telling you, “There’s something here. We could have figured something out that has national demand and help folks around the country.” You did your diligence and figured it out.

I see some franchise companies that try to go to the moon from day one. Other companies crawl their way into it and then start walking. Once they figure out how to walk and they have a good foundation under them, it’s go-time. For franchise companies that are out there or for anybody that is thinking about analyzing different franchises, number one, would you agree with the crawl-walk-run? Looking back on it, would you have done it any differently?

I wouldn’t have done it any differently. I learned a lot of things along the way. I probably ever said, “You don’t know what you don’t know.” The biggest learning opportunity over the last few years is to make sure to partner with the right people. Thankfully, we have done a very good job at that. Don’t be afraid to ask for help and know your strengths and weaknesses. Even as a franchisor, we can’t be the best at everything. It’s okay to outsource and find the best real estate company. I don’t have a construction company in-house but I know a good one that is a third-party company we have been using for four years. They do an amazing job.

Those contacts are huge learning curves in starting. If any of your audience is looking to get into franchising, a franchisor that has that depth and experience goes a long way versus someone that is getting started and hasn’t gone through that learning curve. As far as walking, crawling and running, I don’t think we are running yet. I don’t know if I want to run but maybe we are crawling fast and it’s a good pace. Everything is very intentional that we do.

Our goal as a franchise company is we don’t want to be what is considered a rocket ship. I don’t want to award 100 locations in 2022. That sounds awful to me personally. For a lot of other companies, that might be their goal. For the McDonald’s of the world, that is probably an awful year if they only sold 100. To us, it’s a lifestyle. Our goal is about a dozen per year. That is one per month. We can do more. We have the bandwidth to go up to probably about 12 to 20 per year. It’s a nice clip for us because, at the same time, I have got a wonderful staff. I have got staff on our franchise team that has been with us for all sixteen years since we have started. It’s an amazing tenure.

FM 1 | Childhood Education
Childhood Education: Local brokers are the boots on the ground and are vitally important, no matter what the brand is for success.

 

It’s a remarkable accomplishment to say how talented and how much depth of the company that we have and the culture that we have created to be able to retain such brilliant minds for such a long time. We are trying to set up a lifestyle for them as well. They are working for a company that is what we consider a lifestyle brand. We want them to equally be able to see their children, nieces, nephews and spouses as well. We don’t want to be on the road for four weeks every single month. That work-life balance is equally important. Whether someone is a franchise owner or franchise staff/team, we want to provide that culture.

That is interesting because it sounds like you have built the infrastructure to go faster if you wanted to. You have the capabilities, capacities and talents but you have chosen to throttle it the way you want to throttle it. I love it. Drew, I appreciate it. Thank you so much for coming on here. Let me pick your brain about all the exciting things that you have going on. Congratulations again. It’s fun watching you have the success that you are having and doing the things that you are doing.

You are helping a lot of different people on a lot of different levels, from helping parents with their kids to helping prospective franchisees and current franchisees get into a business and then helping emerging franchise companies with Franchise Realty Partners with a very important piece of one of those building blocks that are important to get right for an emerging franchise. It’s well done. It’s fun to watch.

Thank you for having me. I appreciate the value that you give all your readers and for everything you do to help others out.

Thanks, Drew. Have a good one.

Thanks. Take care.

 

Important Links

 

About Drew McWilliams

FM 1 | Childhood EducationIvybrook Academy is voted the Nations #1 Half Day Pre-School. We specialize in creating an academic environment for every child to reach their fullest potential using our copywrited curriculum based on the Montessori & Reggio Emilia philosophies.

Franchise Realty Partners is a real estate firm for franchisors to outsource their real estate needs. We specialize in taking the entire real estate process from site selection, analysis and lease negotiations off a franchisors so they can focus on building their brand.