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Jo Kirchner - President & CEO, Primrose Schools®

Bio: As President and Chief Executive Officer of Primrose Schools, Jo Kirchner is responsible for overseeing strategic direction for the company, managing its vision, brand and business strategies, while guiding new business development to drive growth and profitability for the franchise system and the corporation.

Kirchner first began her career with Primrose Schools over two decades ago. Working with Primrose founders, Paul and Marcy Erwin, she helped launch the concept of franchising a premier educational environment for preschool children. In 1990, Kirchner served as Vice President of the company, was promoted to Senior Vice President in 1995 and then became president and CEO in 1999. Under her leadership, Primrose grew from four schools in Atlanta to more than 24 schools in 1998 to 100 schools in 2002. Today, the brand has more than 212 schools in 15 states.

  1. Tell us about the Primrose Concept.
  2. I am so excited that Primrose Schools® is celebrating 30 years of service this year! As The Leader in Educational Child Care®, Primrose has more than 245 schools in 17 states. Our goal is to partner with parents to help children build the right foundation for future learning and life, and offers an environment that helps children have fun while nurturing Active Minds, Healthy Bodies and Happy Hearts®.

    Each of our Primrose schools is independently owned and operated, and our unique business model combines a proprietary curriculum, qualified teachers and a warm and welcoming environment. I am proud to share that this year Primrose became the first early childhood education organization in the country to receive AdvancED Corporation Systems Accreditation under the new Standards for Quality Early Learning Schools. Our accreditation ensures all Primrose schools meet the highest quality standards and that as a system we are continually improving student learning. Primrose Schools stands behind our commitment to deliver an exceptional early childhood experience with the Primrose Guarantee, a parent’s assurance of complete satisfaction.

    Our Balanced Learning® system, consistently delivered in all Primrose Schools nationwide, is designed to provide high-quality educational experiences to support children’s social-emotional, cognitive, creative and physical development. This system is made up of an exclusive standards-based curriculum that enables teachers to help children gain the knowledge and skills that will enable them to move successfully from one level of development to the next as well-rounded individuals. Our schools also offer developmentally appropriate materials and equipment for all classrooms, multiple forms of assessment, and extensive training for teachers.  As we continually research and train our teachers and staff to deliver the best and most trusted educational child care in America, we remain the leader among our competitors in the early childhood education industry.

  3. How and when did you become involved with Primrose Schools?
  4. I began my career with Primrose Schools over two decades ago. Working with Primrose Schools founders, Paul and Marcy Erwin, we developed the concept of franchising a research-based educational environment for preschool children. I joined Primrose in 1990 as vice president of the company, and was promoted to senior vice president in 1995. I became president and CEO of Primrose Schools in 1999. Since then, Primrose has grown from four schools in Atlanta to more than 24 schools in 1998 to more than 240 schools in 17 states today.

  5. What was your background prior to joining Primrose Schools?
  6. Before joining Primrose, I was the president and founder of Creative Logistics, an Atlanta-based marketing firm offering strategic planning, advertising and public relations. Previously, I had served as vice president and publisher at two Atlanta-based magazine publishing companies and as a sales executive for Proctor Silex Corporation.

    However, my real passion for Primrose came from my own personal search for high-quality child care for my own children. As a working mother with a young son and daughter, I was determined to find the best possible child care experience for my children. I was very disappointed and in some cases appalled at the lack of quality in places I looked, and was forced to go with the best of the worst.

    No working parent should have to settle when it comes to quality care for children in their early years. I am so proud that Primrose Schools is able to deliver the best and most trusted early childhood education and child care services for working families and their children across America.

  7. What are some of the advantages to being a Primrose Schools franchisee?
  8. The biggest advantage Primrose Franchise Owners have is that they are able to make a real difference in the lives of the children and families in their community. We believe in laying the foundation to build trusted relationships with parents, and as a business we treat our Franchise Owners the same way.

    In addition to owning a school that delivers high-quality and trusted early childhood education and child care services, we require our Franchise Owners to be present and involved in the everyday operations of the school. We also encourage them to be very connected to and partner with the business owners, government officials, dignitaries and nonprofit organizations in their community.  Primrose strives to make a positive impact on and develop a good rapport with the market in which we operate as part of our commitment to make a difference in the lives of children and their families.

    In addition to the personal rewards of being a Primrose Franchise Owner, there are also many financial rewards which include that each Primrose school is independently owned and operated, which gives the owner a great deal of flexibility. Primrose continues to be a top SBA loan performer in franchising, as we experience a higher number of loans and larger dollar value when compared to our competitors. We are proud to say that we have one of the lowest default rates in the industry.

  9. Who is your ideal franchisee?
  10. The common denominator among our franchisees is that they truly want to make a positive impact on others' lives by providing the very best educational child care experience possible. Whether they have children, grandchildren or friends who were a part of the Primrose family, the majority of our Franchise Owners decide to start their own schools because of the lasting impact that our approach to early education has left on them. More than 80 percent of our current Franchise Owners are former Primrose parents and have been personally touched by Primrose in some way. Our owners do not run their business from afar, but rather are actively involved in their school on a daily basis. They are interacting with the children, talking with parents and very in tune to what is happening with their teachers and staff. From our Support Center Staff, to our teachers to our Franchise Owners, there is a strong passion for what we do in our schools each and every day. The four key indicators we look for in an ideal franchisee are:

  • Motive
  • Character
  • Experience in business
  • Capital

  • Tell us a little more about the early childhood education industry.
  • America is working diligently to upgrade its public educational system to strengthen our student outcomes, work force capabilities and global competitiveness. The child care industry as a whole lags significantly in delivering quality early childhood education with validated outcomes. The majority of providers are only now being forced by federal and state guidelines to determine how they can come into alignment to raise their level of educational delivery, integrate assessment and benchmark accountability for student outcomes.  Many have begun to redesign their deliverables, and add in curriculum components and assessment in an attempt to earn AdvancED accreditation. When these organizations seek AdvancED accreditation, they will become more capable of delivering higher quality early education and child care to the families they serve—which is a positive direction for all of America’s children and our economic competitiveness.

    Primrose wants to be an advocate and a voice for all children to help improve quality in the early childhood industry. Primrose has demonstrated early childhood education leadership with the assistance of AdvancED. We are so far ahead in the education and accreditation fields’ transformation toward systemic and accountable delivery models that we are in a unique and powerful position to clearly set our schools apart from the competitors.  Primrose first received AdvancED accreditation 16 years ago and was the first early childhood education organization to require all of its schools to achieve individual accreditation. Now, by earning our new AdvancED Corporation Systems Accreditation and successfully piloting the new AdvancED Standards for Early Learning Schools, we have yet another way to build brand awareness, trust and leadership at the market, state and national level.

  • What are some of the greatest lessons you’ve learned in growing this franchise?
  • People with a shared vision and culture have to come first. Building a culture of trust with franchisees and with consumers requires a never ending focus on the details.  Consistent, quality communication is vital. Trust also flourishes when listening comes first and then two-way communication is fostered.

    Consistency is vital when growing trusted, consumer awareness.  This means maintaining the commitment to provide detailed processes, nurture disciplined execution and continually inspect what you expect is essential.

    The world is constantly changing, so we need to be as well.  Performance benchmarking and ensuring continual improvement for service excellence has to be embedded in the culture to sustain progress and competitive advantage.

  • Do you have a mentor and is there someone you use for inspiration?
  • I have several.  My parents are the strongest influence on my personal and business approaches to life.  Paul Erwin, the co-founder of Primrose instilled in me the importance of a process-driven culture and quality, controlled growth. Ralph Waldo Emerson, while not alive to mentor me, is an incredible philosopher whose words have had a great influence in my business and at home.  My favorite is, “Nothing great was ever achieved without enthusiasm.”

  • What advice do you have for someone looking to acquire a franchise?
  • Know the people, the culture and the service or product.  Really understand the competitive landscape.  Align with the best brand in the category.  Be sure you are passionate about the service or product they deliver.  Be willing to follow a system and work hard.  Talk with the other Franchise Owners in the system – they will tell you whether they would do it again or not.

  • In your opinion, why do you think that Primrose Schools would be a great opportunity for someone?
  • As I said previously, Primrose Schools Franchise Owners have a unique opportunity to make a huge impact on the lives of children and their families, connect with their local businesses and organizations, and grow a business in an industry that has a very high demand. With more than 245 schools in 17 states, Primrose Schools is growing and quickly expanding into new markets.  Primrose Schools is an organization of people who are passionate about what they do and care very much about delivering high-quality educational child care services. For someone who wants to make a very real difference in the lives of others, owning a Primrose School is an excellent way to achieve that dream.