No kidding: Lindner out to franchise preschool idea London Day founder hopes to spread new approach to learning

danielle lidner - njbizDanielle Lindner was just another parent in 2007, concerned about the education her child was receiving at her preschool. She just decided to do something it.

After spending a few years analyzing the industry, she formed a plan for a school of her own and opened the London Day School in 2010 in the same Florham Park building where she worked.

Lindner said she wanted a preschool that focuses on exposing children to a wide array of subjects with an aim to normalize the process of education at an early stage.

She quickly discovered she wasnt the only one who thought that was a good idea.

I got my first tuition check and then they kept coming in, Linder said. Parents were saying they wanted their kids to have something really great and somebody that really cares.

Five years after the schools launch, Lindner is looking to turn the initial success into a national franchise. The concern, though, is that such a franchise could jeopardize the very things that made the London Day School work in the first place: firsthand involvement in the curriculum by its founder.

I would love to have a hundred schools, but I cant run every single school, she said. I thought itd be great to franchise; however, how do you franchise and have it not become these other franchises that I hate?

Lindner credits the extent of her own involvement to the success of the school early on.

I gave every tour myself and didnt turn the school over to another director until four years after I founded the school, she said. I took a very hands-on approach, and I still do.

Working with franchise consultants MSA International, Lindner thinks she was able to create a plan that would help her to make sure the new business owners who would be opening their own London Day School would be closely adhering to the schools primary missions.

After 30 months, Lindner and her consultants had finished a profile for how these franchise locations would operate.

The first feature was keeping the financial barrier to entry relatively low.

I wanted it to be a program that would be economically accessible to people like me, she said. Most franchises are really real estate investments, and you have to get a lot of money to put these places up.

The cost for a first-time franchisee, she said, is between $250,000 and $375,000 ? slightly less than it costs to open a Pizza Hut location.

That varies if you decide to build a building, she said.

One way Lindner is making this accessible is to be flexible on the space franchisees use for the school.

We dont require them to build a school that looks like ours, which is a huge hurdle for most people, she said. They can build a building, they can retrofit a building or they can lease; were mostly concerned that they follow our program.

Lindner was afraid that by pricing certain people out, shed miss the type of person she was most hoping to attract to her business: those who really care.

Our primary focus is finding people who are passionate about early childhood education; you have to be present to really run this school, she said. It may mean that we grow slower, but thats OK because, for me, its all about having a good quality experience for the kids.

This involves an application and interview process the potential franchisee must complete so Lindner can be sure the future business owner is a good fit for the brand she is building.

If she senses the applicant is simply looking for a business, not necessarily one in education, thats a giant red flag for Lindner.

If they say to me theyre looking at liquor stores and restaurants, too, then theyre not the right fit for us, she said. Most franchises will say, Great! Let us know! We dont want to be that way because we dont want to be just a McDonalds of preschools.

Were looking for someone who was a former educator, is passionate about early childhood education, is a parent, she said, or someone who was in a different kind of job and is looking to do something more fulfilling.

The attention to education is important for Lindner who felt many preschools were simply glorified day care centers.

They were being cared for, but they werent really being exposed to things I felt could stretch them socially, emotionally or academically, she said.

For Lindner, that means exposing the young students to a wide array of subjects to broadly pique their interest in learning and education.

We expose them to foreign language, STEM, music, drama, she said. Were constantly engaging them throughout the whole day because, when theyre this little, theyre open to learning and we feel like, if we give them a really positive experience now, then it will carry through and theyll be open to learning.

For Lindner, its this attention to the education of the students that sets her school apart.

So many schools say the same thing … say theyre more than a day care, but when it comes down to it, theyre really not.

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