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Richard Huffman, CEO and Founder at Celebree School
Richard Huffman started Celebree School in 1994 and over the course of two decades, grew the brand from a single owned preschool into Maryland’s largest, privately held chain of childcare centers.
In 2019, Huffman expanded the Celebree School brand into a franchise model and after just two years, he has been able to award 60 new franchise territories in that time. The franchise brand has already received numerous industry accolades, including the 2021 Fran-Tastic 500 Award by FranServe, and is on track to open to 100 new schools by 2025.
Follow Celebree School on LinkedIn.
What You’ll Learn In This Episode
- The ideal franchisee
- The process of becoming a Celebree School franchisee
- The process of selecting new franchise locations
- The unique challenges of ECE franchising
This transcript is machine transcribed by Sonix
Intro: [00:00:07] Welcome to Franchise Marketing Radio, brought to you by SeoSamba Comprehensive, high performing marketing solutions for mature and emerging franchise brands to supercharge your franchise marketing. Go to seosamba.com that’s seosamba.com.
Lee Kantor: [00:00:31] Lee Kantor here, another episode of Franchise Marketing Radio, and this is going to be a fun one today on the show, we have Richard Huffman with Celebree School. Welcome, Richard.
Richard Huffman: [00:00:42] Thanks, Lee.
Lee Kantor: [00:00:43] Well, I am excited to learn what you’re up to. Tell us a little bit about celebrity. How are you serving, folks?
Richard Huffman: [00:00:49] So Celebrity School is a preschool services, average celebrity schools about one hundred and fifty students and ranging from infants, toddlers to all the way through school age.
Lee Kantor: [00:01:02] So what’s the back story? How did this come about the the school and the franchise?
Richard Huffman: [00:01:10] Well, the schools came about twenty seven years ago. I was I’m also the founder of Celebrity School. Twenty seven years ago, I was twenty six years old and got my first opportunity to open my first school and opened the first school in nineteen ninety four, then fell in love with it, opened our second location in nineteen ninety six and I knew after that second location, Leigh, that this is what I wanted to dedicate my life to and I’ve been doing it ever since.
Lee Kantor: [00:01:40] So at twenty six, what was kind of the genesis of saying, Hey, I’m going to start a school because most 26 year olds, I don’t think to have that thought pattern.
Richard Huffman: [00:01:50] Well, I was fortunate enough to have parents, my mom and dad who who had a preschool and still have it currently today. So I grew up in watching it from a distance as a child and later as I became a young adult working in it, not as a teacher, but as the as the as the janitor, because my brother and I were only allowed to go there after the business was closed. But then in nineteen ninety four, I was given the opportunity by my parents to start my own school. And I always tell everybody that I believe that I was the first celebrity franchisee and being guided and supported and mentored by my parents.
Lee Kantor: [00:02:35] Now what did you see differently that other people saw about what a preschool or, you know, early education can be, or these child care centers could be that other people maybe didn’t see?
Richard Huffman: [00:02:49] You know, I think from a very young age, I’ve always had the thought process of the philosophy of how do we improve like constant, never ending improvement. And you know, when this industry when I was first brought into this industry or got into the industry, you know, it was, it was it was number one. It was more of a low paying position. I know our school directors were called daycare directors and our and our teachers were called daycare workers. And so I, you know, I set out on a journey to to change that change, that whole perception of of of what these folks do and the meaning behind it. I mean, they have a huge, huge impact on our on our society and helping these little ones prepare to enter into kindergarten. And as we all know, you know, zero through five years old is is a child’s most critical age of of development. So I was excited to be a part of that and change that whole perspective of the industry. And I think Celebra has done an amazing job of doing that throughout the last twenty seven years.
Lee Kantor: [00:03:58] Now did the business have to change in order for it to become a franchise? Because when it’s a family owned business and everybody is kind of there as family members participating, that’s one thing. But then to being something that can be scaled and replicated is a little different. Did you have to make any changes in order to become a franchise?
Richard Huffman: [00:04:20] You know, it’s funny because, you know, I think I think timing is everything, and I think, what’s what’s the old saying? You know, the teacher will appear when the students are ready. And I think there’s, you know, and the opportunity will present itself when the student is ready. So, you know, as over the last twenty six years, you know, we’ve worked very hard, as I mentioned on on process and procedures. And how do we improve, how do we improve the the operational components of of a really well-run school? How do we improve the processes and how we go about hiring teachers and and how do we coach and develop them? And how do we pour into them either, you know, through putting them on individual growth plans and putting them on a skill plan to make them a better teacher and give them the proper resources to be a great four year old teacher and also, you know, put them on a career path. So if they just don’t want to be a four year old teacher, which is fine, they want to grow. How do we put them on a path that will put them in a. Opposition to to grow with inside the organization and just grow as a person and and then how do we improve the brand? So, you know, our top three priorities that’s really celebrities built on is, you know, how do we improve operations, how do we improve our talent and how do we improve our brand? So over the last twenty seven years, we’ve we’ve done that. We’ve done that amazingly. So March of of twenty nineteen know we were thinking, how are we going to expand? We have twenty six schools that we own and operate. We have these amazing process and procedures in place. We have built the incredible team behind us. Maybe it’s time now to share that with others and share with others what I’ve been experiencing for the last twenty seven years and in an industry that I think is second to none in so many ways.
Lee Kantor: [00:06:27] Now the timing of that is interesting because that was the beginning of COVID. So that probably left the mark to, I guess. Can you talk a little bit about how launching during that period of time or expanding during that period of time, how you navigated through those unique challenges and the aftermath that we’re seeing in that in your industry? And just in a lot of industries when it comes to hiring and keeping folks motivated to continue working in the manner that needs to be done in today’s world.
Richard Huffman: [00:07:01] Yeah, it’s it’s it’s interesting because, you know, we say they were some amazing, exciting times that we would never want to do again, right? Because it was it was exciting. It was like, what’s going on? What’s happening? What does this mean? It was. It was. We were probably in our conference room every single hour as as as governors, we’re making decisions that were impacting the business. And how were we going to react to those decisions that that were being made that would affect, possibly affect, affect our business? And in that in those meetings, I was I was wearing two hats, right? I’m the CEO of of twenty six operating schools that I had to keep my porcelain and keep the doors open and keep the enrollments at our teachers and all the above. But on the flip side of that, this celebrate franchising was really was really taking off because during COVID, there was a lot of people, as you know, that were that was sitting home rethinking what the second chapter of their life was going to be like. So as we continue to stabilize the business on the celebrity school side with with teachers and talent and and enrollment, we were also running hard on leads coming in from people that were interested in and owning their own celebrity school. And I think every governor and every single state was really fueling that, that that that consideration for our potential franchisees, because every single governor was talking about the importance of early education and getting these students back into their own learning environment. And everybody was talking about there is no economy if parents cannot put their children in a high quality preschool. So whether our potential franchisees or even our current franchisees today weren’t thinking about this as an opportunity for their family, they surely were now.
Lee Kantor: [00:09:09] So now have you been able to kind of create that persona or identify that ideal franchisee? Is it someone who you’ve been hiring to run schools, you know, in your own kind of empire that you’ve built? Or is the franchisee a different type of a person because they have to also come to the table with, you know, certain financial capabilities?
Richard Huffman: [00:09:34] Yeah, it’s funny because, you know, we’re actually going into our third year right now, so we’ve only been franchised. We’re going to our third year and I believe we just broke the 60 60 franchise award agreements last week with our one of our locations going into Boston, Massachusetts. It’s funny because, you know, they actually have identified themselves, and I can tell you this, it is. It is, folks that, as we mentioned, had a lot of time to sit home and think about what the second chapter looks like. So we’re looking for we are seeing folks like, for example, that would be running an I.T. department, they would be running a financial department. They are. That’s one kind of avatar of our of our typical franchisee. That’s the second side of that or the second. Avatar is those that are in multiple businesses already and are looking to diversify their family portfolio, especially those industries that have been hit the hardest during a pandemic. A lot of the lodging and hospitality businesses, we’re starting to see a lot of families look to us for a celebrity opportunity. But whether you’re whether you are Avatar one or Avatar two, we’ll call them or family one or family two, there’s very common threads here, and they just have bubbled up to the top, which is these are families that want to leave a legacy for their family. They want to make an impact on on their community, and they really have a passion for helping others develop. And that’s really his secret sauce is our ability to take people and we call it we. We grow people big and small, take our franchisees, which are then ultimately responsible for taking our teachers and coaching them and developing them and growing them either in their current position or in a position that they’re looking forward to to graduating to.
Lee Kantor: [00:11:45] So the franchisee doesn’t necessarily have to be a former teacher or somebody who has experience in this niche. Specifically, they they can be just somebody who has historically managed people or been in charge of a territory or an organization.
Richard Huffman: [00:12:05] That’s correct. I love that question because we were actually just featured in last month Entrepreneur Magazine with the myth, some of the myths of of being a celebrate franchisee. And you just mentioned both of them, one that they had to have. They had to be a teacher and or they had to had. Some have some sort of educational background. I can tell you and I tell this everybody. I have no degree in early education, just twenty seven years of experience. I could not run a classroom if my life depended on it. But what I what I’m really, really good at, as as the CEO here at celebrities is helping others and coaching, developing them and putting them on a career path and supporting them along the way. And that’s really the kind of franchisees that we’re looking for, those that are looking to make an impact on their communities, looking to help others and helping them through coaching, developing and elevating them and within the school.
Lee Kantor: [00:13:02] Now are you looking to expand regionally or just anywhere that someone raises their hand and say they’re interested? Is there kind of a strategic growth plan moving forward?
Richard Huffman: [00:13:13] Well, it’s interesting because when we first started out, we really wanted to keep things close to home. So, you know, we are based here in Maryland, so we are. When we first started within the first year, we only wanted to keep it close to a home base. So we started expanding and marketing and making the offer in the neighboring states. Covid had a lot to do with our expansion. Not only I think COVID but but but but politics as people started to move out of certain states. Let’s use New Jersey for an example and move down into the southern states into Florida. We followed them. So that really forced us because of the demand to to expand into the Carolinas, into Florida, and we actually do have a center that’s in development right now in Texas.
Lee Kantor: [00:14:10] So it’s exciting time for you. Is it has the challenge of running a franchise organization. Obviously, it’s a different challenge than, you know, founding a school. But are you getting the same kind of rush when a new franchisee comes on board and is finding success in their market, as you did when you were kind of launching your own schools?
Richard Huffman: [00:14:34] I love that rush because because it is a rush and it’s it’s it’s so it’s so rewarding in so many different ways. Franchising is exactly it’s actually more it’s actually more exciting and more of a rush than I thought it was going to be. I mean, you know what? I was missing on the celebrity school side was the interaction with parents. And when that child, that family comes to do their tour and to enroll like, I just wasn’t a part of that because we have 26 schools and caring for over three thousand children. So, you know, I just I was missing that. But now what I’m able to do is meet every single franchisee that wants to come into the celebrity family and hear their story. And I’m meeting, you know, I always say I have connections now in the Philippines and and Germany and all around the world. Because of these families that have that, we have welcome into the celebrate. Every school family and, you know, seeing that just like just like watching a parent’s face light up, you know, when they when they find the right school for their child to see these franchises faces light up when they found the opportunity that they’d been looking for and helping them create their own destiny. And in most cases, their first time, you know, opening their own business, you know, so you know, for us to have a part in that role and for me to have a part in that role of of helping them accomplish their dreams and their goals. There’s there’s nothing else like it.
Lee Kantor: [00:16:10] Now, if somebody wants to learn more about the opportunity, what’s the website?
Richard Huffman: [00:16:14] Yeah, they just simply go to Celebrex. That’s Kelly Berekum.
Lee Kantor: [00:16:20] And then at that website, will they be also if they’re interested in having children attend the school, is that going to let them know where locations? Is that kind of a universal launching point for folks interested in celebrating?
Richard Huffman: [00:16:32] It is like good stuff.
Lee Kantor: [00:16:34] Well, Richard, thank you so much for sharing your story today. You do doing important work and we appreciate you.
Richard Huffman: [00:16:38] Thank you, sir.
Lee Kantor: [00:16:40] All right, this is Lee Kantor. We’ll see you next time on Franchise Marketing Radio.