Woman Power

Three kid-friendly franchises run by women, for women

With a sharp business sense, great communication skills, and a collaborative spirit, more women are taking the helm of the franchising sector than ever before. Check out how three self-made mavens founded kid-focused franchises that are changing the way women do business.

CEFA Early Learning

After working in various school systems around the world, teacher Natacha Beim realized the need for an educational methodology specifically for the formative years. “The early years are the most important. Before age six, 85 per cent of our brain has developed.”

She seized the opportunity, and established CEFA Early Learning Schools, Canada’s private school for the early years. The program is designed for children from one to five years old, and students enjoy everything from math to yoga.

Within the first year, Beim didn’t have enough space for families that wanted to apply. She began franchising in 2003, and today, CEFA is 21 schools and growing.

Franchisee Rosy Jain decided to invest after seeing her son and niece thrive in the program. “CEFA reminds me of when I was a child; getting caught up in the beauty of nature and the innocence of group play. Every child is an artist and a great learner, and each branch is an adventure waiting to happen,” she says.

When selecting franchise partners, Beim seeks candidates who are not just business savvy, but who want to contribute to their communities, and help keep CEFA progressive.

“We work closely with our franchise partners. I always work on making CEFA better myself, and count on them to do the same. Our franchise partners are the ones who work with our families and are in touch with their needs.” While a background in education or business isn’t required, strong people skills are vital to successfully working with families and implementing CEFA’s local marketing plan.

CEFA franchisees are predominantly women, and Beim says that as women start families and work needs change, the model is perfect, as it allows franchisees to bring their children along every step of the way. “It is a business you can own and run while your children are at school, and then the rest of the time, you are then able to spend quality time with them. It is extremely conducive to a healthy work-life balance.”

Beim believes in women playing an important role in their communities, and knows that with every school open, more women can pursue their careers after starting a family. “It’s a business started by a woman, led mostly by women, and that employs over 500 women to date. We are the second biggest employer of women in British Columbia. It’s an important contribution.”

Jain says the impact of working among successful women is tremendous. “Natacha and I are both mothers and want to be able to provide the best education, and not just for our own children. The connection she and I have has allowed me to express my thoughts openly and help shape ideas to implement and improve our curriculum and operations. It also helped me to connect with the families at my centre on a personal level.”

The company continues to grow, with a focus on Ontario, Alberta, and British Columbia. “It’s empowering for women to own their own business. They’re employing women in their communities, and enabling thousands of women to go back to work, because they now have somewhere amazing where their children can learn even more than by staying home. CEFA is a real community, and it empowers women to literally change their own communities, to do something great,” says Beim.

The Lunch Lady

The kitchen was never compelling for Ruthie Burd, Founder of The Lunch Lady. After losing her mother at a young age, she and her father were left to their own devices, often choosing convenient tinned food options.

When her son was diagnosed with autism in the 1990s, Ruthie wanted to work, but needed a flexible career that allowed her to care for her children and attend her son’s therapies. The idea to offer ready-made lunches to school children sprang to life when she read about a company that delivered sandwiches to offices.

Though no one bought into her idea in the early days, it eventually caught on. After a period of success, she began to weigh her options, and decided that simply getting bigger was limiting. “It doesn’t allow you to share a good idea with other people, and that’s what really appealed to me.” Ruthie’s father had often told her “money works best when everybody has some,” so she began to franchise in 2001. Today, The Lunch Lady delivers to 135 communities in five provinces.

When franchisee Sam Habbal came to Canada in 2010, she wanted to invest in an opportunity without starting from scratch. She approached The Lunch Lady, determined to face the challenge of learning a new country and a new business. “I was really scared, but here I am, a few years later. It’s my baby. I love marketing for this business and working with the kids. If you are a Lunch Lady in your community, you are a hero.”

Burd says a lot of the company’s success comes from a respect for standardization, strong leadership, an ongoing commitment to healthy choices, and creative input from franchisees. “Together, we keep improving the service we deliver to our communities. All of us is always better than one of us.”

For Habbal, the support of the system offers peace of mind. Whatever the problem, there’s always a solution. “There’s a thin thread between franchising and having your own business. Some people say it’s better to have your own business than pay royalties to a franchise. I say it’s worth every penny, because you have the backup, you have the training, and you are on the right path. I see it as a benefit, not as a loss.”

These days, the system looks to expand its offerings, adding daycares, seniors, and focusing on other growth opportunities. Burd, who now loves to cook, is still focused on growing The Lunch Lady, but also makes time to share her operational experience with other organizations, ensuring more Canadians have easy access to good food.

Habbal says being a female franchisee has helped her. Women often find it easy to relate to another mom who understands their daily challenges. “Because we are in direct contact with parents, schools, and kids, being a woman in this franchise in my community, they do appreciate my presence. I feel the love of those people. We are a community living together.”

Lice Squad.com

When Dawn Mucci needed a service for head lice and couldn’t find one, she started Lice Squad.com. “It was born out of necessity. I saw a gap in the market and a problem that needed to be solved, and it grew from there.” Today, 35 locations and 250 providers operate from Newfoundland to British Columbia.

Trailblazers of the industry, Mucci says their recipe for success is in constant innovation, and their quality team. “People make a business great, and it’s our people who make us the successful industry leaders that we are.”

Lice Squad.com has created Canada’s first Lice Protection Plan in partnership with TruShield Insurance, where customers can purchase plans that offer protection for an entire year. They’re also the first to bring HDM Mineral Technology to the forefront, a high alkaline solution made from limestone. The one-time application’s high pH level dehydrates bugs and eggs.

“It’s been well-received with our customers, and it gives us a service edge, because we can guarantee we’ll have you lice-free within an hour. It stops development in its tracks, and it’s really helped elevate us as a preferred service offering,” says Mucci.

As a public health nurse, Lice Squad.com was a great fit for franchisee Crystal Schauerte. “I’d been teaching preventative care and working with families for 12 years, so it was a great way to take everything I really like to do and fit it into owning my own franchise.”

Her first experience starting a business, Schauerte initially experienced challenges in everything from learning social media to securing a rental space. Even after initial training, the corporate team remained just a phone call away. “Whenever I’m in a situation I’m not sure how to manoeuver as a business owner, they are great at passing ideas back and forth. They are very accessible and approachable.”

Mucci says the system often attracts women, and being a woman in franchising offers many advantages. “Women are natural creators and nurturers. We’re empathetic, good communicators, and we’re passionate about what we do. We’re also astute business women, and smart, strategic thinkers. Combine that with the natural qualities of a woman, and you have a recipe for success.”

Schauerte says that because a lot of the parents that come to them are moms, as a female, it’s easy to relate. “Moms trust other moms, and I think being a mom and a nurse, there’s trust when people come into our clinic.”

Mucci hopes to grow the franchise by establishing their product line in retail outlets. “The product line is another revenue stream we’re hoping to wholesale to health food stores and pharmacies,” she says.

“She’s the visionary of what Lice Squad is, and she’s always bringing new ideas that we all get to benefit from,” says Schauerte of Mucci.

The prime Lice Squad.com franchise areas are currently Vancouver, Calgary, Edmonton, and Winnipeg. “These markets are wide open for someone to come in and make a success of this. I feel extremely blessed to be able to create opportunities for other people and to give them something they can feel passionate about. For me, that’s my payback,” says Mucci.


By Gina Makkar