Laura Coe

Laura Coe is the Founder, Owner, and CEO of Snapology, a company that provides educational play to children using LEGO®, K’Nex, computers, and other interactive mediums. Since its creation in 2010, Snapology has expanded to more than 150 locations worldwide and was ranked the #1 STEAM enrichment franchise by Entrepreneur in 2020.

In addition to this, Laura Coe is also the CEO of ZorAdvisor, a company that helps businesses identify and employ the perfect vendor partners for their franchises.

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Here’s a glimpse of what you’ll learn:

  • Laura Coe talks about the STEM and STEAM models of learning and why art is an essential pillar of technical education
  • How Snapology implements community-based programs that bring educational play to children across the globe
  • Laura shares the ins and outs of Snapology’s franchising
  • How Laura and her sister set up their company’s systems, advertising, daily operations, and more
  • Laura explains how Snapology and its franchisees have adapted to COVID-19 and predicts what 2021 will have in store

Resources Mentioned in this episode

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Episode Transcript

Prologue  0:03

This is the Always Direct Podcast. And we talk with movers and shakers of this world to learn about the ups and downs they went through to get where they are now. Let’s get started with the show.

John Rayyan  0:16

Hello, everybody. My name is John Rayyan and I am the host of the Always Direct Podcast where I talk to top movers and shakers in many different businesses and ask a lot of direct questions about their success journey. We’re sponsored by a couple of different companies. And full disclosure, I am the president of both of them. So just want to let them let you guys know that. So So if you’re ever interested in running your own pizza business, I actually recommend, and it’s got the home of the monster slice and delicious pizza, calzones, rip tips, wings, salads, and more. Also, if you have a small business in the US and you need to market your business, Direct mail is still one of the most powerful ways to get your message across. And specializes in the best demographics with the right message at the right time and giving you the best price possible. So now we also do merge the direct mail campaigns with digital marketing as well. So for the best results go to Today, my guest is Laura Coe. She’s one of the founders of Snapology. Snapology’s mission is to provide educational play to children using Lego bricks, K’Nex, computers and other interactive mediums. How are you?

Laura Coe  1:33

I’m doing well. How are you?

John Rayyan  1:34

Good. Good. Good. Thanks for coming on the show today.

Laura Coe  1:37

Absolutely. Thanks for having me.

John Rayyan  1:38

Yeah. Wow. So I was on doing a lot of research on your website. And you guys have pretty much exploded? That’s awesome.

Laura Coe  1:48

Yeah, we’re happy we’ve, we’ve been able to spread Snapology to 156 locations, over just over 100 of those are in the US. And then the rest are international.

John Rayyan  2:00

You know, I was watching a video on YouTube. I don’t know what year it was. And it was you you’re like you were just answering some questions you like, yeah, we’re hoping to get, I don’t know, about 100 locations, hopefully. Or at least one in every major city. It was like such a humble dream, right? And area are now telling me you have 156 all over the place and a lot of international one, which is cool.

Laura Coe  2:23

Yeah, it’s funny, I’ve seen I’ve watched that interview every once in a while I kind of laugh. And that I think that was only like, maybe five years ago, it wasn’t really even that long ago. But yeah, you know, the first couple years we grew, you know, it was nice, it was you know, 12, 15 a year and then 2018 and 2019. Or just incredible. And, you know, if it wasn’t for COVID, 2020 would have been, you know, an amazing year as well. And, and we expect to jump right back into it in 2021. Here, but yeah, we just hit our stride. And, you know, people recognize the importance of, you know, teaching children STEM concepts through play, you know?

John Rayyan  3:03

Absolutely. I have three daughters of my own, and I’m a big you know, STEM is, is everything in science, technology, engineering, and math. And then there’s science, technology, engineering, art and math. I don’t know how the art got thrown in there. But I guess people were like, Hey, where’s the art? Let’s put it in there. No, that has I feel like this time is the real? I don’t know, it could be wrong. Just tell me. My initial thing was like, Why Why did they throw are in that?

Laura Coe  3:27

It’s funny, you know, at first, you know, I I’m a mathematician by trade. So I sort of gravitate towards the math and science ends of it. And at first I was a little, you know, kind of irritated? Like, why do we have to throw art in there? But the reality is, art was already baked into it. Absolutely. Yeah. And so, you know, when I sometimes when people ask us to categorize our programs, between what’s science, what’s technology, what’s engineering? What’s art, what’s math, you know, a lot of them are multiple, you know, in art has always been baked into it, particularly with what we do because we’re working with, you know, Lego bricks we’re working with K’Nex, we’re building and creative. I mean, there’s an art aspect, you know, to everything that that we’re doing. So, you know, I’m not irritated with A in there anymore. I understand why it’s there. Yeah, really, that you know, they all kind of blend together the, the key, the key and my big sort of pet peeve when I talk to people who don’t really understand what STEM or STEAM is, is more when they think it’s just teaching kids math, or teaching kids engineering, or teaching them computer programming. We’ve been doing that for you know, decades. The difference in the power of STEM or STEAM is kids working together the critical thinking the problem solving the collaboration, because, you know, we’ve got all these brilliant kids graduating from college with engineering degrees and Computer Science degrees and all of these even mathematicians even even, you know the degree I had But they don’t know how to communicate with each other, particularly now with electronics and social media, they’re texting each other, instead of talking to each other. And when they get in a business environment, you know, they sort of missing some of those soft skills and in collaborating and realizing that, yeah, they’re brilliant, but the guy beside them, or the girl beside him is just as brilliant. And if they work together on it, you know, they’d be three or four times as brilliant as the two of them could be alone. And so we’re trying to teach children that at 3, 4, 5, 6 years old, so it’s just ingrained in them, that if they work together with somebody, and they work on a team, they can get further faster.

John Rayyan  5:40

I didn’t realize, well, that’s interesting. And that You’re damn right about that. I’ll be honest with you, I read a lot of a lot of the most common basic interaction that being made awkward, based off of the fact that they don’t they just not used to talking to people there, they want to do online ordering, they want to, you know, they want to avoid the communication between other humans and, and I think that’s, that’s scary a little bit for me. For I think, for both of us, because we grew up in a different time, or we’re like, well, you gotta be able to, you know, they’re afraid of confrontation, they’re afraid of resistance, like returning something at Target is like a huge deal for my cousin who’s like, 18. I’m like, it’s not a big deal. Yeah, forget it. It’s $30. don’t return it, you know, don’t waste your money. But yeah, but what I don’t understand is, how does them how does that help? Like, I thought STEM was more working alone, actually, this is the first I’ve ever heard this.

Laura Coe  6:33

No, it’s not. I mean, it’s the whole idea of STEM and the whole sort of movement around STEM. And it’s probably been probably about 12, 15 years since sort of the idea of STEM was created, and it was created here in the US. But the whole idea was you had all of these, you know, great companies, like, you know, your Googles, and your Microsoft’s and your G’s, and all of these great companies who are employing STEM professionals, but their biggest complaint, or the kids coming out of school didn’t have those soft skills, they’re brilliant, they’re absolutely brilliant. And they’re great engineers, they’re great computer programmers, but they’re missing sort of that socialization. And so the STEM movement was really in an effort to, to create sort of the the collaboration, the problem solving the critical thinking sort of those elements, not just being able to write a, you know, a great computer program, but being able to collaborate with somebody and work with somebody to, you know, to take that to the next level, essentially. So, yeah, that’s, um, yeah, because, you know, if you’re just sitting down and, and working on your own, it’s great, you know, it’s wonderful, and those types of programs, you know, any education is great education, but really stem and the idea is to prepare them for the working world for real life, you know, you don’t work alone. at all, you know, in your adult life.

John Rayyan  8:02

Snapology Is it a, it’s an after school, or not necessarily after school, but mostly after school program where the parents can drop off the kids.

Laura Coe  8:13

So for so for anything that’s a structured class, so we have after school classes, we’ve got evening classes, weekend classes, summer camps are enormous, we actually do birthday parties as well. So some, some of the more entertainment side of it as well. If it’s a structured event, generally the parents can drop the kids off, we do have something called creative play, where the kids just basically come and explore and learn with different stations, some of our locations have a brick and mortar, you know, opportunity. And with those, we do ask the parents of children under age five to stay. But for the vast majority of our programs that the kids come they do the program, parents, you know, get an hour two or three of you know, free time.

John Rayyan  9:03

Yeah, I saw that. It’s like $6 now, mostly, I think was like $6 an hour, I was sick, but not per kid. I’ll take it.

Laura Coe  9:12

You know, rich rates vary a little bit across the country, depending on where you live, but yeah, we you know, we try to make it affordable. I mean, even our classes are, you know, 10 to, to, you know, 12 to up to $15 an hour and some of the, you know, more urban areas, but, you know, 10, 12 bucks and in a city like Pittsburgh, you know, for your kid to come and take an educational, you know, program they’re having fun, you’re, you know, getting some free time the kids are learning it’s it’s kind of a, you know, win win all around.

John Rayyan  9:42

So, I love it. I mean, I think it’s vital. I think it’s vital. I think it’s do you teach anything with coding? Not yet. Are you planning anything with coding?

Laura Coe  9:51

We do. So we have some coding programs, and we actually just recently Well, we’re actually getting ready we recently just negotiated an agreement with a company called Mighty Coders, where we’re going to be partnering with them because they go a little deeper than we go. So we’ve always done coding with our robotics. And so when you take a robotics program at Snapology, you’re not only learning general robotics, but you’re also learning engineering, and the basics of coding. And then it depends on what level you’re at. And when we do robotics all the way down to three years old, at three years old, they’re just sort of learning, you know, kind of what programming is, and there are these steps and you hit play, and it goes to the next thing, and all the way up to middle school, where they’re programming in parameters and how many degrees a wheel is gonna turn and all of that kind of stuff. But we don’t get into some of the more advanced languages, and so we’re gonna partner with this company so that we can take it kind of to the next level.

John Rayyan  10:50

Great. That’s great. I want to I have a few more questions, though. I’m very interested in your in your business model, because, I mean, there’s Code Ninjas by us there is there’s a couple of other think STEM when they see everybody says STEM, I looked, I looked into them, then I really established just like a Kiddie Academy that just threw a couple of K’Nex in there. And like they call it STEM is not I know what STEM is. Because, I mean, I thought I mean, I had good idea, a better grasp than most when you have smaller kids, especially girls, you know, you I want all my girls to be engineers, honestly. Because that’s, we’re all going to be working for Tesla’s and Google’s in it, you know, eventually, right? Unless they become entrepreneurs, but

Laura Coe  11:37

there’s gonna be a shortage of men and women. Because because those are the careers that are going to be in demand. You know,

John Rayyan  11:44

there’s nobody knows, first of all, I’m pretty sure that the percentages of people graduating and those degrees are slowly I mean, that’s slowly massively dropping every year. Is that true?

Laura Coe  11:57

I’d have to look and see, but yeah, they they definitely have they, the the number of the graduate, I think, have been dropping in the actual, you know, positions, you know, what we need is actually increasing. It’s actually it’s not moving the way, you know, the way it should, you know, a part of that may write itself. But you know, it’s interesting, because I think now is the first time that we’re seeing colleges sort of level out their tuitions. And so, I think, you know, in the last couple years, kids have been taking gap years, particularly this past year with COVID, and even the year before, and more kids are going into trade schools or specialized schools, because colleges are so expensive, but I think that with with COVID, I think for the first time, we’re seeing some leveling of tuition rates, maybe that’ll help and push more kids to the, to the four year programs in some of these, you know, STEM careers, so that we can kind of fill that gap, but there’s definitely a need for it for sure. And, and I fundamentally believe that that starts at a young age that, that, you know, when kids are elementary school age, and even younger, when they get that confidence, when they’re, you know, putting toys together, or when they’re, you know, playing around with, you know, electronics, or doing different things when they have that fun experience. And they have that, you know, that confidence built because they were successful with it. I I truly think that then leads them when they’re in high school or, or in college, and they’re thinking about those things. They’ve had those positive experiences, and it becomes a career that they can look into.

John Rayyan  13:29

I agree, I agree. Every part of what you said, I agree with that I, I’ve I even told my wife a couple many times that I wanted to create a school, which I would never do, because I don’t I was a terrible student. But I wanted to, like have somebody create a school, like a school of practical knowledge, right? Yeah. You know, public speaking, negotiation, memorization. And then, of course, whatever is needed in the real life, which is coding massive amounts of STEM, you know, doing calculations in your brain, you know, you ask anybody to get changed from Target, you know, you give them $30 and they’re supposed to give you $7 and 70. There’s no way the majority of people can figure it out anymore, because they don’t do calculations in their head anyway, they use calculator, which is great, but it made us all a little bit soft in certain areas.

Laura Coe  14:21

Yeah, it’s funny, it definitely does mean that you know, it’s kind of like, you know, signing your signature on a cheque. I mean, my kids don’t know cursive

John Rayyan  14:30

mean, they don’t teach anymore today.

Laura Coe  14:32

They don’t teach it anymore. They won’t be able to sign checks ever. Everybody will be writing an X on a check.

John Rayyan  14:43

You have two little boys, right?

Laura Coe  14:45

Yeah, they’re not so little. They were a little, a little when we started. They were they were, they were five and six when we started and now they’re my ones. My younger son turns 16 next month and my other son is 17 and his senior year, so he’s getting ready to head off to college.

John Rayyan  15:03

Oh, wow. It’s been about 10 years and just started the company.

Laura Coe  15:06

Yeah, this is this was 2020 was our big 10 years. So yeah, I think I think next year will be the 11th is the new 10. Maybe? Yeah, there

John Rayyan  15:16

it is. Yeah. You know what, tomorrow’s my wife’s 30th birthday, right. And so, I’m like, I don’t know what to do. I was supposed to throw your surprise party. It’s been nine months, but I was thinking, a nice surprise party. But anyway, so I would like to talk to you. By the way, I was just looked up. I have a Snapology 41 minutes from my house. Not too far. But 25 it’s in McHenry, Illinois. Right. That’s the closest you have one going and you have one in McHenry, Illinois,

Laura Coe  15:48

in McHenry is actually a physical location. So they actually have a Discovery Center. Not all of our Snapology locations have a brick and mortar Discovery Center, the the crux of our model is actually going into the schools going into the rec centers, libraries, churches, you name it, whoever will have us and offering the programs and existing, you know, facilities and venues. But McHenry actually is a Discovery Center.

John Rayyan  16:13

You guys, what a model right there. I didn’t realize that it didn’t, it didn’t seem like that when I was looking at your website. So the Discovery Center, obviously, for selling franchises, but also to show what it does, you know, examples, and you can actually go in there. But you’re telling me the main the majority of your franchises, work with the community to go in where the kids are, as opposed to having the kids come through that?

Laura Coe  16:37

Absolutely, yeah, so 100% of our owners, no matter where they are in the world, do the mobile programs, the community based programs going into the schools, some of them then choose, in addition to going into the schools, they choose, in addition, that they want to have a brick and mortar Discovery Center. And that’s kind of like a it’s like a cross between a hands on Children’s Museum and like a educational play center. So there’s lots of Lego bricks and their stations, there’s, you know, projection systems, you know, that project on the floor to a lot of interactive activity, virtual reality, you know, those types of things that they can that they can play in, but we only have about a dozen of our 150 locations that have a brick and mortar in addition to the community, but the foundation of our business is really that community model going to the kids.

John Rayyan  17:31

Wow. Wow, I didn’t realize that that actually. That’s, I have a lot of more questions. Now. You just added you just doubled up my questions. Because I love franchises. I love franchising. I franchise, my restaurant, I know the stresses that can go into it. I know the headaches and the glories. So I want to talk about how long did you so when you first started out, did you create it, you probably didn’t even create a discovery section, you probably just started off as a mobile, and then decided that you wanted to in order to sell franchises you kind of like needed to have one of those, or you need something to show people?

Laura Coe  18:04

Well, it’s interesting, because yeah, we started out mobile, for sure. We started out in, you know, kind of a local recreation center here. And then very quickly, we were able to get into a couple schools. We were you know, really early on had a lot of parents kind of asking, Where are you located? Where are you located? So we thought, you know, maybe we should try to have a physical location where people could actually come to us. And you know, at that point, we weren’t even franchising yet. So we’re like, and let’s see if, you know, see if it works. So we got ourselves a little little space, it was a cute little space, it was above a dentist’s office, it was only about, you know, it was less than 2000 square feet. I mean, it was it was a pretty, pretty small space, but we you know, put put a whole bunch of, you know, educational PlayStations in there and had a party room and classroom and it took off. I mean, it was, it was amazing. And so we knew that that piece of the model would work as well. But from a financial perspective for our for our franchisees and just business ownership, if you don’t have to have a brick and mortar, I mean our profit margins, you know, are you know, double I, you know, because we don’t have the overhead of the brick and mortar but the brick and mortar, you know, is profitable. It brings on a nice extra chunk, but not every not every business owner wants to have that extra level of responsibility or, or even capital investment.

John Rayyan  19:27

Okay, yeah, of course. I don’t think you can remove the physical location. I mean, I that’s you the money saver. Absolutely. But, so So let’s say I bought a franchise. I’m a franchisee right now. I’m in Streamwood, Illinois. I got whatever 5, 10 mile radius around my house. How do I so then I saw that I buy the products. I have a storage facility where I keep everything nice and clean and organized. And then I go to like the churches and then how do I promote it? Like how do I actually get people to go if I’m moving around A lot, Oh, do I? Do I have a specific day of the month that I go every month? Or does it constantly change,

Laura Coe  20:06

it will change it will, it will vary depending on what your partners would like you there for. So, you know, we basically try to be as flexible as we can to fit in with our business partners needs. So we may have a school that only runs after school programs in the month of October. And so we’ll be there, you know, a couple days a week, you know, for for four weeks in October, we might have another school that runs after school programs the entire semester. And so we’ll be there for all, you know, 12, 15, you know, however many weeks I in the in the semester for them. So we we have a very flexible and modular approach where, you know, we first work with the partner to find out what their needs are and what space they have. But generally speaking, we’re in you know, eight to 10 different places a week offering different programs, different places. So you might be able to come to a rec center or a church or you know, there could be multiple locations that are offering programs near you at any time.

John Rayyan  21:05

Correct. Good. Are you comfortable talking about finances if I was the franchisor? Yeah, cool. Because I mean, I don’t know if you have the item 19 available or not? You do okay, we

Laura Coe  21:13

have a 19? Yep.

John Rayyan  21:15

All right, perfect. So what’s the average revenue and margins for, for a franchise?

Laura Coe  21:22

Yeah, so we have wide variability. So we’ve actually divided our item 19 between our part time owners and our full time owners, because one of the you know, one of the nice things about Snapology is that we offer an opportunity where, you know, you could potentially keep another job and do Snapology, on top of it, we have a lot of people who are just passionate about bringing these types of programs to their community, but don’t necessarily want to and, you know, spend, you know, 40, 50, 60 hours a week doing it. And so, um, so we kind of separated between our part time owners and full time owners, obviously, our full time owners, our business is very much a you get out of it, what you put into it. So, of course, our full time owners are making double what our part time owners are, but it’s difficult part time owner, you know, is it the average, I think, is somewhere around, you know, 100 to $120,000 a year, at the profit margins are 40 to 60%. So you’re bringing in, you know, say just to make the numbers easier, you’re $100,000 a year, you might be, you know, taking home, 50 grand of that, because you have no overhead, we’re very low overhead than our full time owners, we’ve got, I think the average is somewhere around the low to hundreds, we’ve got owners making up to a half a million dollars, and we’ve got profit margins that are anywhere from you know, 20 to 40%, depending on, you know, payrolls, our biggest expense, obviously, the teachers going out to do the programs are the biggest expense, but it’s a nice business, it’s a $50,000, all in investment that you can turn around and you know, make 50 to 150 a year.

John Rayyan  23:04

Your three royalty structure.

Laura Coe  23:06

royalties are 6% I but we do put in some minimums, mostly because of those part time owners, we don’t want people taking territory and just kind of squatting there and doing nothing. So it’s 6%, with those with those minimums in place.

John Rayyan  23:21

Interesting, very interesting. Yeah, you know, you the profitability is just maximized because of the fact that you don’t have a physical location. And I’m assuming that when you start out, you really don’t even have employees, you probably just a one man show for a while, because why would you, you gotta gotta you got to go out and do yourself for a while to get used to it, don’t you?

Laura Coe  23:40

Well, we actually, unless we do have about 25% of our owners have an education background. So for those owners, we don’t, you know, necessarily have an issue with them going out and being the one that teaches, but you very quickly learn that, you know, what, how you make money as a Snapology is to be in 10 different locations at once. And you yourself can only be in one place at once. Sure. And so we actually don’t like our owners to teach for two reasons. Number one, they’re not teachers. And so the children are going to have a better experience with somebody who’s trained in classroom management, who’s who’s got that experience, you know, working with children. And so if somebody comes to us, and their background was that they were an engineer, or they were an accountant, we really don’t want them teaching per se. Number one, while while that class is going on, they could be selling 1000s of dollars worth of business instead of, you know, being in a classroom, you know, at that particular time. I and and so, you know, we want them focusing on the marketing, the sales and the hiring of teachers, rather than teaching the programs themselves.

John Rayyan  24:46

So you’re saying right now that a majority of the people who are employees of the of the franchises are have some form of teaching background.

Laura Coe  24:56

So the owners themselves generally not the owners. I’ll tell everybody, when when when a child steps into a Snapology classroom, they are being taught by somebody that has significant classroom experience. So they may not be a certified teacher, although I’d say probably 60 to 70% of our staff is, you know, our certified teachers. But they they likely, you know, have I, you know, worked in daycares or worked in camps, or they have two to three years of classroom management experience. So they’re, you know, a big part of what we do, I mean, what we do is super fun. And that’s what makes it great. But you still have to teach them, there’s still that underlying piece of academic enrichment. In every single class we have, as a blend of academic enrichment, social development, that’s the problem solving, and partnering and all that kind of stuff, and fun. So we need to have a blend of those three elements. And we need a teacher to be able to deliver that. So we need a teacher that is trained in, in classroom behaviors that understands the dynamics between the kids teams working together, they need to be able to deliver, you know, academic, you know, content and challenge the kids, you know, and get them to sort of, you know, stretch with their learning and those types of things.

John Rayyan  26:19

And what about the age range? So is it one teacher per class, based on the amount of students

Laura Coe  26:24

it’s based on the amount of students so generally speaking, our preschool programs have about 14 children in them, I n will usually have one teacher in there, we may have an assistant and there are school age programs are just like you would see in a regular school, we generally have 20 children classes, and one teacher is more than qualified to teach 20 kids, they typically teach 24 to 26. And then we’ll put in an assistant, we have a lot of, you know, teenager, like high school age assistance that will put in, we’ll put in an assistant where we need to, you know, we’d love to have children that have extra needs in our programs. And so if we have programs where there are children that might have some extra needs, we’ll you know, put in some assistance to make sure that everyone can be successful on the program.

John Rayyan  27:12

Okay, so let’s talk a little bit about your partner is your sister, your cousin, friend?

Laura Coe  27:20

It’s my sister, actually. Yeah,

John Rayyan  27:21

I saw I saw a little resemblance. I think. So So Laura, you you say you’re, you’re Anna, you start teaching this kid and having these organ organizing these events, then you start to see, well, I’m actually making pretty good money here. This is making sense, I can see this growing, I can see this being a business that is more than just myself. What was how long? How long did it take before you decided to franchise? And, you know, how long was how long? Did it take it in? And then did you ever? Did you ever decide? Did you always have any friction as to whether or not you should franchise between you and your sister?

Laura Coe  28:06

Yeah, you know, it’s interesting, because we did not take a direct path at all. But I will tell you that our parents owned a business under a licensing model. So when we were growing up, when we were in, you know, high school, our parents owned a business, you know, through a just a licensing models, completely unrelated what we did, they actually made sinks out of cultured marble, but in any case, we kind of grew up with sort of that background, we knew what licensing was, we kind of kind of understood the basics of that. So when we started, you know, we started, you know, we kind of had aspirations that maybe someday we would expand the, you know, the footprint. But really, when we first started, we started in Pittsburgh in 2010, we really, you know, just sort of wanted to, you know, kind of test the concept and see if it would work and we knew within six months, it was gonna work. It just, it just took off. I mean, it was our first program. You know, we opened up at a at a popular Rec Center here in our area, I you know, we want to we were looking for 20 kids, we opened up registration within two days, we had 30 kids in a waitlist. Um, and so we knew that it was going to so after six months, I actually started writing down and cataloging everything we were doing. And I started taking all of my files and organizing them to get ready for at some point, so that we could expand so it wasn’t procedures, exactly as it is now, what is our operations manual, you know, that was sort of the the first phase of it. And but interestingly, about a year in, we started having people come to us and say, Hey, are you a franchise? I’m here visiting, you know, insert relative, I and I, but I don’t live in Pittsburgh, but I’d love to take it back to you know, whatever city they’re in. And we started having a lot of people ask that question. And so, you know, my sister and I just started sat down and talked about and said, Look, are we ready? You know, can can we do this? And so we had a woman in Ohio, we had a gentleman in North Carolina that are still with us. And they were kind of our first folks to come on board, we actually started under a licensing model. And we grew to about 15 locations. In a couple years under this licensing model. I and then we, as we started to kind of, you know, get a little bit more sophisticated and start to, you know, get a more sophisticated lawyer involved, the lawyer was kind of like, why aren’t you franchising you, you know, you shouldn’t be licensing less, you should be franchising, the

John Rayyan  30:42

three the three legged stool, they give me that?

Laura Coe  30:46

We were I don’t think we were I don’t think we were violating franchise law, I think we really were licensing the way that our first contracts were kind of set up. But we were dangerously close to that third leg of the stool and violating it. And it just, you know, was the best decision we ever made in 2015. We spent half the year developing the FTD. We couldn’t sell until about August. But

John Rayyan  31:13

so 2010 you started to do that. So it took five years before you actually franchised.

Laura Coe  31:17

Yeah. So in 2012 was the first year that we licensed anything to 2012 2013 and 2014, we grew about, you know, 15 locations or so

John Rayyan  31:27

now, were you? Were you spending any money on advertising your franchises? Or is it all word of mouth? Or how did you go about selling licenses?

Laura Coe  31:34

Um, so we were doing very minimal advertising, I ended, you know, the first five or so we did no advertising. But then we were like, Okay, well, now we’ve we’ve brought on five people, we kind of understand how to do this, I think we’re ready to, to, you know, grow faster. And we did some, you know, we did some basic stuff for our industry. And I know every industry is a little bit different. But for our industry, we get a lot of parents, we get a lot of moms and dads who just really want this concept for their own kids. They’re entrepreneurial, they want to start their own business. And this is just a good fit for them. So advertising in social media, you know, Facebook, Instagram, and mommy bloggers like the influencer marketing, those have been phenomenal for us. And that’s how we really sort of started was, was more organic SEO type things, and then the social media and I in that, and that’s really how we started to go. So but we did spend money initially on it, but not near, you know, to the level that we’re doing now. And of course, now we work with a lot of broker groups. And, you know, we’re sort of, you know, all in at this point with franchise development,

John Rayyan  32:47

for sure. Absolutely. And what, what kind of a team do you guys have currently, like how many people are working for corporate,

Laura Coe  32:53

we’ve got about a dozen people on our corporate team, kind of divided into we have our own in house digital is I would say digital marketing, but it’s just marketing marketing team. We’ve got a couple folks on our curriculum team, because curriculums, obviously huge compute

John Rayyan  33:11

what we do for school by basically.

Laura Coe  33:13

Exactly, exactly, yeah, I mean, that’s, you know, really the the crux of who we are, is in our curriculum, and then, of course, our support that a couple of folks in in operations, I and then some folks on franchise development, as well. So we’ve got, you know, a nice, nice span of folks, we’re very high touch. So we provide a lot of support. A lot of our franchisees are first time business owners. And so we want to make sure that we’re there for them, you know, kind of every step of the way.

John Rayyan  33:46

So how often do you do site visits?

Laura Coe  33:49

We don’t do site visits,

John Rayyan  33:51

we don’t have a site visit? Or you

Laura Coe  33:53

miss? Yeah, we do a lot. So we do we do. Uh, I mean, we probably are in touch with our franchisees at least once a month, if not two or three times a month. Our marketing team is in touch with with almost all of them every month, we have a monthly townhall where we just get together, we’ve got a monthly marketing meeting that they can participate and they don’t have to participate. So it’s, you know, they may come to some meetings and not come to others. And then we do outreach to them. You know, we reach out to them when we can we’ve got you know, a system where they can reach out to us for support. We’ve actually got an app that we use, where they can support each other. We’ve got peer groups, we’ve got a franchise Advisory Council, I mean, we’re very, very high touch very collaborative organization.

John Rayyan  34:39

How did you set all that up? I’m curious because a lot of the PSL just a lot of the people that we work with it was Always Direct Mail and and also myself. We have a large network of people that we work with, we help out we talk to we communicate with you so you’re wearing a hat as a business owner, you and your business owner, grow growing this business exponentially. tactically I mean, a lot, but also, so you got to handle sales systems, operations, consistency, problems, headaches, technology. How did you implement all the things you just mentioned? How did you get that in place? Did you hire a company? Did you help? Did you spend a lot of money on getting it all set up? The website, the technology behind it, the communication, portals, all this stuff that you just mentioned? How did you get all that together? You hire an outside company, what did you do it organically slowly.

Laura Coe  35:28

I did. I did it organically. It’s very, we’re very grassroots organization, probably, because I’m too cheap to hire anybody. But also, you know, I hired I hired a few people. And I got taken. I mean, it wasn’t, wasn’t what they promised. And so I became a little bit jaded and started thinking, you know, what, I’m just gonna build it myself and take it one step at a time. And, and so it’s been a slow, but steady evolution. And so, you know, every year, we’re adding a little bit more. So, you know, we really probably, you know, we had a decent foundation when we started franchising five years ago, but each and every year, we’ve added on different components, you know, and just taking it to a different level each year. So, you know, this past year, we added, our marketing team added something called a playbook, a marketing playbook that comes out every quarter. And so they upped their game this year, that way, they’ve always done you know, a lot of you know, you know, collateral a lot of material for our franchisees, but now they’ve organized it and gotten better with it. So, so we really bootstrapped it, I mean, DIY, you know, just, we didn’t have the the money, to be honest with you to pay a company to tell us to do it. But But my team is also very good about researching what the successful brands are doing. And I myself sit on. And I know my marketing team sits on as well, a bunch of franchisor round tables. And so, you know, we get together with with groups of other franchise ORS, who are having the same struggles, we are in inevitably, somebody on there had that struggle and, and solved it. And, and we give each other advice. And so I, you know, I’d love to say, I came up with all of these things, and I was the brains behind everything, but the reality is, some of it, I just listened to what somebody else did, and said, oh, wow, you know, that was really great, great advice, you know, and it’s companies that, you know, it’s Wild Birds Unlimited has nothing to do with education, but they, they’re on the call, and they give good advice. Or sometimes it’s people in our same industry, you know, the, the Tutor Doctor, people are on there and give advice. And so just every year, we just keep trying to improve it and make it more efficient for us as a franchisor, but also better for the franchisees.

John Rayyan  37:49

Absolutely, I love that. I love that. masterminds, basically masterminds.

Laura Coe  37:54

Exactly a little mastermind groups. Yep.

John Rayyan  37:57

Yeah. You know, believe it or not, I’ve just been introduced to masterminds recently, in the last like, two years, and I’m like, What mastermind them? It sounds weird that I’m talking to all my like, really, anybody I know, that’s really doing very well. They’re on two or three of them. And I and I, and I said, Well, there goes my idea. My opinion, was wrong, because it obviously is working. Right. So yeah,

Laura Coe  38:24

yeah, well, and I think they’re working better now. Because I used to be on mastermind groups that you actually had to like travel to New York City and meet with everybody. Now that everybody’s so comfortable with Zoom, you just everybody just gets on a Zoom every you know, Tuesday or whatever. And, you know, if you if you’re available, you’re available if you’re not, you’re not but you usually get you know, 15, 20 people on there, exchanging ideas?

John Rayyan  38:48

Yeah, yeah, Zoom as well. This whole COVID is kind of weird. Are you guys Well, two things, I was gonna ask you your franchisees, what’s the what’s their average marketing budget that you that you recommend specifically for the first couple years? And then the second part of that is how has COVID affected your franchisees? And are you guys struggling at all or have you guys coped with it? How have you dealt with the whole situation?

Laura Coe  39:15

Yeah, I’ll answer the marketing one first because that one’s a little more pleasant and a lot easier to answer. Yeah, um, the marketing one marketing budgets are actually fairly low for us because the number the two best ways for us to reach our customers are word of mouth which is free and email which is almost free. It costs a little bit but almost free. So top two ways to reach our customers are free. And the you know, the third way is essentially social media, which isn’t free. But you know, it is reasonably priced. So most of our owners are spending, you know, we like them to spend between you know, we like to spend up to 5% of their income on it. I would say realistically, most of our owners probably spend maybe two to 3% of their income. But you know, for, you know, even if you’re spending, you know, 300 $500 a month, that gets you a long way with with our business, and we’re working with schools. So, before an owner even comes to training, we load our operation system with every single school and the principal, the Vice Principal, the PTA contacts in those schools, they come to us they can literally from training before they even start their business, send a blast email to every single business partner in their territory, to let them know that they’re there. And you can operate business and and for most of our school operations, it’s email that you’re that you’re doing, it doesn’t cost you a dime, to, to advertise to get a school. The other stuff is really direct to consumer to direct to the parents.

John Rayyan  40:53

So you you buy, you buy a list for them, and you get them all set up before they even open the doors.

Laura Coe  40:59

Well, yeah, yeah. So we we bought basically a list of every single school in the United States. And then I have a freelancer that actually goes out and combs the internet and finds principal advice. Sometimes I have to go to Facebook to find it. Sometimes it’s on websites. So you have to have a person that goes out there and finds it, but I we have a freelancer that goes out before every owner comes to training, and does all of that, you know, hours and hours of research to find, you know, because every owner that comes with us, they get at least 100 schools, and then there’s preschools on top of that, that could be 50 to 100 preschools, too. So for 150, to up to 250 contacts. We’ve got a freelancer spending hours and hours going out there and finding, you know, who to send the email to?

John Rayyan  41:47

Yeah, yeah.

Laura Coe  41:48

Now the second question COVID, yes, we are impacted. You know, what, who, who would have ever thought that schools would closed down. But, but they did. And so March, and in April, when the school shut down, we had, you know, hundreds of 1000s of dollars between all of our owners booked in school programs, that’s prime field trip season, I mean, we had a lot of money that just, you know, went off the table. But my leadership team was amazing. So you know, it the end of even middle February, towards the end of February, when the very first school closed, we knew that we had to do something. And so my marketing team got right on it, my curriculum team was phenomenal. They started taking our curriculum and converting it to, to be able to be delivered online. And I think we’ve all learned this year that online learning is much more difficult than it seems. And so our curriculum that’s meant to be in person, you know, kids working together, we were able to use a substantially the same sort of teaching tools, but we had to convert it to be able to keep the children engaged, you know, talking about keeping a seven year old engaged for an hour online, you know, you’ve got to be, you know, excited. And so we had to, you know, kind of change around what we did, but within two weeks, we had 60 hours of online curriculum that our owners could offer. And so we launched all of those programs, we, we moved to an online model, I and also we, we launched this incredible, we doubled our social media following in the first month of COVID, because we offer these daily building challenges, they were free, and parents would would log into Facebook every morning, we’d have a challenge for the day, they give their kids a challenge, it would keep their kids busy for hours, and then the parents could take a picture of what the kid built. And then the child had a chance to win something every single day with it. And so we had kids, you know, entering we had hundreds of kids and in each location entering these, these building challenges, and we you know, again, more than doubled our following, because of that. So So, you know, that wasn’t money that we were bringing in, but it’s a bigger customer base, now that our franchisees have to you know, sort of jump off from as we go forward. So, you know, we’ve done the best we can we’re about 60% I you know, 2020 versus 2019. So, you know, we took a good you know, on a sucker punch, but you know, our competitors are almost at zero, they did nothing. And so and a lot of them you know, are going out of business and so you know, individual franchises which I hate to see, you know, any small business owners struggle or go out of business, but their franchise or failed them, they had no solution for them. And some of them didn’t come up with solutions until fall. You know, and they just kind of left their their owners hanging from March to you know, set Ember and so I just couldn’t they couldn’t

John Rayyan  45:01

believe they probably just couldn’t believe it’s going on. I mean, if you would have said in March, then nine months later, we’d still be going through this and maybe even getting worse and California shutting down. outdoor dining, outdoor dining, I would have told you that you’re needed to go to the fifth floor or something. Yeah.

Laura Coe  45:18

Yeah, I didn’t think it was gonna last till summer. You know, I was like, Oh, you know, by summer, we’ll be fine. We’ll be I mean, you know, who knew? I mean, it was it was crazy. And our owners, they were the same way. Some some of them were like, yeah, I’m not gonna do online, I’m just gonna wait it out. It’s just gonna be a couple months. But the owners that that embrace the online programs and got on it did three times as well, during COVID, as the owners, they kind of took that I’m going to wait and see it. See approach. I mean, this I think COVID has, in general, been a story of who adapted? You know, and, and I think as as people look at franchises, and look for opportunities, whether they’re in my industry, or your industry or whatever industry, I think a big question should be what you do during COVID. What a franchisor decided to do during this time, is a reflection of how they handle stress, how they react, how they help their franchisees, you know, it’s you know, it’s kind of like, you see people’s true colors in crisis, right. And so for our industry, I mean, it was, you know, it wasn’t ideal. I mean, I don’t want to be at 60% of where I was last year, but I’d like 60% a heck of a lot more than I like zero.

John Rayyan  46:33

Amen. Absolutely. Absolutely. You know, what, when COVID hit, so I’m at the pizza businesses are, they’re actually doing really good because we don’t have dining rooms where we’re fast casual, no dining rooms, maybe four or five tables, six tables maximum and some of them most of them do not have any. We’re actually opening a new location. Currently, we didn’t decide to open until middle of in the middle of Corona. So and then right away, I got myself this is a personal thing. I got myself a personal trainer because I was getting a little, little thick. And I and I didn’t see coronas helping. Oh, you know, and then I started this podcast all in in during the Coronavirus. Now, if I didn’t do all that, it would be I mean, I would probably be it’s just hard to ignore the the, the depression that’s all around you. You know, it’s all these big malls and just empty and so weird. You have to stay busy. And he’d have to keep hustling, and you have to keep working. Otherwise you just fall into the you get you get the blues real quick. If you watch the news, and you see what’s happening, you got to stay active. You gotta you gotta keep moving. 60% great for you.

Laura Coe  47:43

Yeah, you know, well, and honestly, I’ve never been busier. I mean, at my headquarters team, I think we’ve worked, you know, three times as hard this this year, as in any other year, because we had to hustle to, to kind of make every everything work, you know, I sit and I see some of these people posting how they need to get out of the house, and they’re so bored. And I’m like, Man, I wish I had a date that I was bored. You know, I wish I feel like it’s just, you know, always trying to figure out how to, you know, how to how to make it work. And, you know, what are the ideas to we still got another couple months of this, you know, and, and we’ve got it, we’ve got to ride it out and figure out how to do it. You know, how to make the best of it.

John Rayyan  48:23

Good January through March. Oh, yeah. Probably. April, what are you thinking? April?

Laura Coe  48:28

I mean, that’s, that’s, that’s what they say. I mean, they say that everybody who wants the vaccine should be able to get it by April. So I would think once a vaccine is wild. I mean, that’s what I’m hoping for, to be honest, the way our seasons work. I mean, April would be great. Except, you know, our revenue, you know, kind of slows down like maze, one of our slowest months, you know,

John Rayyan  48:52

vacations people out of school are getting well the end of the year. Yep. Yep,

Laura Coe  48:57

exactly. So so my so my, my eye is a 100% on next summer, you know, next summer can can sort of revive it’s kind of our relaunch, it’s, it’s going to revive a lot of our owners, they could, you know, there’s been such a pent up demand now. I mean, parents quite honestly just want their kids out of the house. I mean, you know, parents are going to be sending their kids to summer camp. because number one, there’s a bit they call it the COVID slide in education. Because this year has been really tough on on kids, I mean, probably been even harder on teachers. But it’s been tough on on the educational system. And, and it’s been hard, you know, kids are backsliding, and they’re not getting the enrichment that they that they normally get. And so getting them in summer camps that are fun and academic is going to be more important next year than than in any other year because you don’t want your kids to hate school. You want your kids to like school, and that’s what Snapology does our programs Create that thirst for knowledge, they create that, you know, sense of, you know, curiosity and the the hunger to learn new things. And so, you know, this is a tough year on on everybody and kids are going to need that type of environment. And in the next school year, I think enrichment programs will be super popular as we go into next year, because the kids are just going to need that extra boost.

John Rayyan  50:28

Yeah, I agree. I think next year is going to be well, as soon as it’s over. Or at least calm down. restaurants and travel, hotels, and anything to do with education. It’s gonna be huge. I agree. Yeah,

Laura Coe  50:43

yeah. Yeah, there’s so much pent up demand. I mean, you know, how many people are just dying to go out and sit in a restaurant again and feel normal? You know, you know, in a movie theater, or a bowling alley,

John Rayyan  50:57

movie theater. They’re all shutting down. I heard, like, a lot of them are shutting down, like,

Laura Coe  51:03

Oh, yeah. Yeah, it will. There’s no new movies, they haven’t been making movies. So when you go to the movies, I guess there are some new releases coming out here for the, for the holidays. But, but it’s not like I mean, you know, before there’s a new movie every single week, there’s just so you can go to the movies, but you’re, you know, seeing old movies at it. So it’s just tough. I feel bad for the, for that industry. And there’s a lot of industries that just mean, you know, as creative as they are, they can be in as much as they want to adapt, there’s not a whole lot they can do. And then that’s kind of one of them.

John Rayyan  51:38

Definitely, definitely large space. And lots of costs overhead. That’s what I love about your concept. By the way, I didn’t realize that when i when i when i was looking, you know, I didn’t really, maybe I didn’t read enough of it. Maybe I was just like looking. I’m more of a mirror more visually looking at it, as opposed to reading the details. But this is smart. I like what you’re doing here. And I wish you continued luck in your business. And I know you’re gonna have a fantastic point. 21 This is everybody talks about? I talk I do a lot of podcasts lately. And everybody Well, listen, let’s not don’t even talk about 25 when I say how’s life how’s business, I’m talking pre 2019 and before and after, it was a good black hole. This this past 9, 10 months has been crazy.

Laura Coe  52:26

Yeah, I think a lot of people want to pretend 2020 didn’t exist.

John Rayyan  52:29

Oh my gosh. Well, listen, Laura, I appreciate you jumping on the call with me and getting on this podcast. You have been more than awesome. I’ve learned a couple things and I know that anybody who listens to this will as well. Couple of things that was gonna point out what I really liked was bootstrapping doing it yourself. Don’t get don’t get jaded. Just get even you know don’t find out how to do it do yourself. Keep your overhead down. That’s huge. Try and keep your overhead down as much as possible if you can avoid having a brick and mortar store in any business you should and and whenever it is going gets tough you better adjust real quick and don’t wait too long because you don’t know how long it’s gonna last and don’t think that it’s going to go away fast. So I give you a lot of credit for that I thank you for coming on everybody’s listening. Go to And if you’re interested in opening a franchise, you know who to go to. Alright, thank you for coming on.

Laura Coe  53:28

Yeah, absolutely. Thank you. I really appreciate it was great to talk to you.

John Rayyan  53:31

Definitely, you too. Thank you, Laura.

Conclusion  53:37

Thanks for listening to the AlwaysDirect Podcast. We’ll see you again next time and be sure to click subscribe to get future episodes.

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