There are many women who change careers once they have children— either by necessity (like me) or by choice, like Alison Berna and Allison Schlanger, two new friends I made recently who started the apple seeds playspace in NYC.
Just to give you a bit of background— I was introduced to the Al(l)isons shortly after my book came out. We have a mutual friend who gave them a copy and they loved it so much, they decided to order a whole bunch to give as gifts to their most loyal customers. Then we ended up using their party space for Harlow’s birthday party. As I got to know them, I realized we have a lot in common and wanted to help them spread the word about their new franchise opportunity, which they say works best for moms who find themselves in the exact same spot as they did back when they first became parents.
At the time, Allison was a television producer for MTV who never imagined she would leave a career she loved and Alison managed a global program for UNICEF which used sports as a tool to address health and child development issues, including child protection, education and HIV prevention. She loved her job but couldn’t reconcile the travel once she had children.
They met the way most new moms meet— on the first day of a “mommy and me” music class, where they bonded over the fact that they both had twins (in oversized strollers), they both were originally from New Jersey, they were both on extended maternity leave and they both were deciding if they wanted to go back to their previous jobs. Having their babies had changed their perspective on what they wanted to do with their lives. “Wouldn’t it be great if we could bring our kids to work with us?” they wondered together. And then Apple Seeds was born.
I did a little interview because I thought their story sounded best coming straight from them.
Why did you decide to start Apple Seeds?
We wanted to create something that would give us the flexibility and time we wanted to spend with our kids, as well as work for ourselves. We also wanted to take our kids to work with us without feeling guilty. At the time, the Chelsea/Flatiron area was experiencing an incredible boom of families moving in to the neighborhood and we saw a need for a safe, clean and fun space where we could go with our babies. It took many late night meetings after the kids were asleep and lots (and lots) of bottles of red wine for the idea of an all-in-one play space for kids newborn-5 years old to come to fruition. Witnessing all of the strollers and the parks, we anticipated that a place like apple seeds was more than just something we wanted. We were right— we had a line out the door on day one!
Why and how did you get your spouses involved?
The timing was kind of crazy…all four of us were very open to changing our career paths when our kids were born. Plus, Craig and Bobby excel in areas that are not in our wheelhouse and vice versa. It gave us a huge sense of comfort to know we were all in this together and that they could take on areas of the business that we would potentially drive into the ground. The four of us always feels like a good balance that just works.
What are the benefits and stressors of being a business owner?
The main benefit of owning your own business is that you are in control of your schedule and you make all the decisions for your company (for good & for bad). By “in control of your schedule,” we don’t mean we have the luxury of leisure time in our day, but it is our day to plan. As working parents, we get to drop our kids off at school, take them to after school activities, sign up for field trips, be active in our school committees and be home for homework. That doesn’t mean we have work/life balance all figured out. We are always running to get things done but we know how lucky we are that we do not have a boss who is clocking our office hours or judging where we spend our time. And…once the kids are in bed, we are back online. We are responsible for moving the business forward, paying our employees and our rent, making sure our classes are enriching and fun and that facility continues to be as safe and inviting as we promised our community it would be. It is so great to really feel like “the big picture” is in your control. It is a %$#!load of freedom, but also a %$#!load of work and worries!
What is Songs for Seeds?
Two years into our business, we created Songs for Seeds, our music program. We wrote the class with the intention of having distinct sections that each target a different aspect of early childhood development (shapes, colors, numbers, counting, animals, global sounds and more). We set all of it to really cool music (we promise it is cool, really). Songs for Seeds quickly became our most popular class and we began selling franchises 1 1/2 years ago.
Why did you decide to open Songs for Seeds up to franchisees rather than expanding yourselves?
That decision was based entirely on bandwidth and money. We live in NYC and cannot pretend to know the communities outside of where we live like we know our own neighborhood. When you are running a community based business, you have to be there— meeting the families, attending the classes, observing your teachers. We knew that if Songs for Seeds was going to thrive outside of NYC, it would be in better hands if run by the moms and dads who are raising kids in those towns and involved in those communities. Focusing on the franchise business, instead of running individual locations, allows us to be very involved in the meeting and choosing of new franchise owners. It also allows us to provide constant and consistent support as new locations open. We are constantly creating and improving our franchise infrastructure and systems. We would not be able to do any of that if we were running the day to day operations of multiple locations across the country. Luckily we have incredibly passionate, entrepreneurial owners who are leading the way in towns, from Scarsdale to Seattle. With 22 locations sold, we are growing quickly and savoring the words from new parents in the fold who tell us just how happy they are with the way their kids are learning.
Why do you think franchising Songs for Seeds is a good opportunity for moms who are looking for a more family-friendly career path?
Owning a Songs for Seeds franchise offers someone the chance to work for themselves, which includes flexibility and the chance to do something good for the kids in your community. It is extremely gratifying to watch babies grow and build community among families within a neighborhood. Plus, Songs for Seeds is a very low cost franchise. There is no brick and mortar space that requires a lease and a build out. It is a mobile business that makes the commitment a little less scary.
How complicated is the franchising process?
Our hope is that it is not complicated at all! We have broken up our franchise training and support system in to three stages. During onboarding we take you through six phases to get your business up and running – setting up your business, setting up your vendors, setting up your tech needs, finding your location, finding your band and finding your customers. The onboarding process takes you all the way to training week. Then the franchise owners and their bands all come to NYC for five days of intense music and administrative training. It is the most fun part of the franchise process. It is a mix of band camp, sleep away camp and boot camp. Over the course of five days, we fully prepare the band and owners to go back to their neighborhood and kick off classes immediately. Once training week is over, we move onto the ongoing support phase. Each franchise owner is given a point person at Songs for Seeds, so they have constant access to our entire management team whenever they need us. They are never alone.
If someone is interested, who should they contact? What would be the next step?
They can contact us directly by email at firstname.lastname@example.org visit songsforseeds.com/franchising and click “get started.” They will be prompted to fill out a few information fields and we will contact them immediately. The four of us (including our husbands Bobby and Craig) will walk them through a few presentations about the business, help them assess their financials and invite them to spend the day with us here in NYC.
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