Description: Learning Express is the nation’s leading specialty toy franchise. We pride ourselves on the quality and uniqueness of our toy selection - a mix of products that foster a love of learning through play. Opportunities: Franchises available throughout the United States. Business Type: Franchise. Minimum Cash Required: $125,000. Training Provided: Yes.
Learning Express Toys Convention Video
Interview with Sharon DiMinico: Founder and CEO of Learning Express Toys
Learning Express Toys offers a world of laughter, fun, and an exceptional franchise opportunity. The franchise has plenty to offer it owners, from the joy of fostering learning in children to being in a business fully backed by support. After 28 years at play, this specialty children's retail franchise has grown to more than 120 stores in 27 states, making it the largest and most established specialty toy franchise business in America.
In this Success Story Interview, we caught up with Learning Express Toys Founder and CEO Sharon DiMinico. If you want to know about the franchise's activities in local communities, the training provided, and what the franchise looks for in new owners, read on to learn all this and more!
Can you tell us a little about the history of Learning Express Toys and the part you play in the franchise?
After I had my children I quickly discovered that there weren't any development oriented toys in the stores near my home in Groton, Massachusetts. At the same time, as president of my children's nursery school, I realized the Groton Community School needed more than occasional fund raising projects to thrive. I presented a business plan to the board and volunteered to start the business for them and run it for four or five months. The store opened in Acton, MA in 1987. It was very successful and provided the school with a dependable income. I opened my own store in Needham, MA in 1988. I wanted to grow the business and, after reading an article in Inc. Magazine on franchising, it all came together. I firmly believed that stores owned and operated by passionate owners would be much more successful than a chain of stores with corporate employees.
Why should prospective franchisees be excited about a Learning Express Toys franchise?
I think Learning Express offers a unique blend of the excitement of being a business owner with the satisfaction of providing a socially significant service to your community. We also genuinely appreciate the entrepreneurial spirit of our owners. Some our best ideas come from our franchisees, and they are always enthusiastic about sharing with us and their fellow store owners.
Describe the need that Learning Express Toys fills in communities.
We pride ourselves on the quality and uniqueness of our toy selection – a mix of products that foster a love of learning through play. We focus on providing a fun and friendly shopping environment and a knowledgeable staff that can offer expert advice on finding the perfect toy. I am especially proud of our Skill Builder's program. Although focused primarily on children with special needs, it features expert-approved toy suggestions for kids of all abilities organized into eight skill building categories. We strive to be an integral part of the communities where we are located. Participation in fundraising campaigns for schools and civic organizations as well as in-store events such as story time, arts and craft events and costume character visits make each of our stores a hub of activity and a cherished part of their community.
What does the training look like for a Learning Express Toys franchisee?
A new franchise receives a week's training at our home office in Massachusetts. In addition, we have someone on-site with them for four weeks around their grand opening providing on-the-job training for all aspects of operating a store. There are two additional first year training sessions, one at Toy Fair in New York and the other at our annual convention.
How would you describe the child-related franchise industry right now?
The sector is thriving. Children are projected to make up a quarter of the population by 2020 and, even in a difficult economy, parents will invest in their children's development.
What is Learning Express Toys doing to set itself apart from the competition?
Our main competition is well-run specialty toy stores. There are no large chains in this sector, so we are usually looking at mom-and-pop operations. We have an edge with the combined resources of a franchise. We have corporate resources focused on finding new product and negotiating terms on behalf of all the stores. We have social media, marketing and graphic departments focused on developing exciting new programs and content for our franchisees to use. This frees up store owners' time to focus on things to grow their business and enhance their profitability.
What are the most important traits Learning Express Toys looks for in prospective franchisees?
We look for a positive attitude, someone who is goal oriented, and someone who has high energy.
Successful store owners place a high priority on their staff. This includes hiring talented and extroverted individuals and helping them further develop their effectiveness through continued training. Our top owners stimulate growth by consistently motivating their teams.
- They involve their employees in their business.
- They believe that their employees are a valuable business asset, not a burden or business expense.
- They manage in a participative way, as opposed to a domineering way.
- They always treat employees with care and respect.
- The owners who do all of the above tend to have less staff turnover, fewer hiring expenses, more content employees, a happier workplace, and more loyal customers. Happy employees offer better customer service, which in turn, translates into increased sales and profits.
- Because our top store owners are extremely goal-oriented - they keep their team focused on big ideas and challenges.
What's the biggest mistake you see from your incoming franchisees? How can it be avoided?
The biggest mistake new franchisees make is not delegating enough work to the staff. You can't run a million dollar business by yourself. Because we are with our franchisees setting up for over a month and throughout Grand Opening weekend, we have to remind them to be inclusive with their staff and to focus on what we call TPW… Team, Product and the WOW factor.
What's next for Learning Express Toys in terms of expansion?
Our expansion strategy is very straight forward. Only the right people in the right locations. Both those things have to come together in order to promote healthy growth and successful franchisees.
GREAT! WHAT'S MY NEXT STEP?
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