Entrepreneurs are, by nature, creative people. They thrive on discovering new ways of doing things and are often quick to reject the status quo. However, when it comes to fueling growth in their businesses that innovative spirit quickly vanishes.
Over the last six years at BodeTree, I’ve had the opportunity to work with thousands upon thousands of entrepreneurs from all walks of life. More often than not, I’m amazed at how willing they are to approach the delicate question of growth with blunt force rather than finesse. For example, dozens of restaurant owners I’ve worked with have “grown broke” by opening up location after location, even though their margins don’t support that strategy. Every so often, however, I encounter entrepreneurs who approach the challenge differently and find success as a result.
Meet apple seeds
For those of you who reside in Manhattan, there’s a very good chance you’re familiar with apple seeds . For those of you who aren’t familiar, apple seeds is a unique and extremely high-quality children’s play center that attracts the likes of Chelsea Clinton. Their flagship location is enormous, especially by New York standards, and is almost always full of tots, caregivers, and parents enjoying the immaculate play centers and classes.
The concept is such a hit that I often wondered why there weren’t more apple seeds locations across the country. Eventually, my curiosity got the best of me, and I met up with the company’s founders to learn more. The team behind apple seeds is just as interesting as their concept. It was founded by two couples, Allison and Craig Schlanger and Bobby Berna and Alison Qualter Berna. Both couples live in the Chelsea/Flatiron neighborhood and had twins around the same time. They discovered that despite the growing number of families in the area, there weren’t many kid-friendly venues around. The team saw the need, and in 2007, apple seeds was born.
The growth quandary
The issue with concepts like apple seeds is that they’re subject to physical constraints. There are only so many hours in a day and so many kids that one location can support. Put another way, once you reach capacity, the only way to grow is to add locations. While a market research study found that the apple seeds concept would translate well to other markets, the facilities themselves are capital-intensive and require a major commitment from prospective management teams. Instead of diving head first into the obvious path, the team decided to seek out a lower-risk growth opportunity in the near-term while holding plans for an apple seeds expansion aside for the future.
Looking to franchising
The leadership team took a long look at the concept they developed and discovered that aspects of it were, in fact, scalable across the country. One of their classes, in particular, the music course, proved to be exceptionally popular. The team realized that they had more than one path to growth. Instead of having to export the entire apple seeds program across the country to grow, they only had to export parts of it. They branded the music program “songs for seeds,” and set out to find a way to expand.
At that point, they had a difficult decision to make: they could try to build out songs for seeds locations themselves, or they could simply franchise the concept. After weighing the pros and cons, they decided to franchise. Franchising enabled them to focus on running apple seeds and scaling the unique culture they created without having to leave home. The key, they discovered, was finding the right partners to make the endeavor successful.
Partnering for growth
The first songs for seeds franchise opened up in Tribeca in 2012 under the leadership of Lisa Kozinn. Lisa was a self-described “songs for seeds groupie,” who had been taking her twins to classes since they were six months old. As a “true believer” in the concept, Lisa was the perfect partner for the apple seeds team. Finding partners who shared that passion proved to be the single most important factor in making the franchising strategy work. For apple seeds, it’s the ultimate win-win situation.
By franchising instead of pursuing direct growth, they managed to create a force of advocates who can profit from their passions. Today, they have 29 franchises awarded in 10 states, with 21 open and many more to come.
The key lesson fellow entrepreneurs can learn from the songs for seeds story is that there are multiple paths to growth. By thinking creatively about the inherent strengths and weaknesses of your business, you can find the right structure to achieve your goals. In the case of apple seeds, a direct growth-only strategy would have been too capital intensive and challenging to successfully pull off.
Fortunately, the team possessed the creativity and foresight to explore alternative paths to growth. Once they embraced franchising, they never looked back. To read the original article, click here.