Lightbridge Academy Franchise - Interview with Gaetano Falzarano, Founder and CEO

Date

Aug 15, 2016

Gaetano (Guy) T. Falzarano is the Founder and CEO of Lightbridge Academy Franchise Company.  For the past eighteen years, Guy and an exceptional team have built Lightbridge Academy (formerly Rainbow Academy) Child Care Centers throughout New Jersey covering six counties (Bergen, Hunterdon, Middlesex, Monmouth, Morris and Union). Built on a solid foundation of Core Values and the Lightbridge Academy Circle of Care there are currently 12 company owned centers in New Jersey employing over 450 people and serving over 2,000 families.  In 2011 the company launched into franchising and now has sold 63 franchises in five states (NJ, NY, PA, VA, MD) in addition to the company centers. 

Recently Lightbridge Franchise Company was ranked by Franchise Gator: 2015-16 Top 100 Franchises, 2015-16 Top Emerging Franchises and 2015-16 Fastest Growing Franchises.  Entrepreneur Magazine ranked Lightbridge Franchise Company 2015 & 2016 Top 50 New Franchises in the U.S.

Giving back has always been a priority for Mr. Falzarano.  Currently, he serves as V.P for Government Affairs for the New Jersey Child Care Association -- the non-profit industry association dedicated to representing the interests of the 4300 licensed child care centers in New Jersey. Guy is a partner in Century Development Group – a child care development company. He is also the President of Lightbridge Properties (a real estate investment group developing Lightbridge Academy child care centers) and the President of the Lightbridge Foundation. The Lightbridge Foundation is a non-profit 501-c3 which helps those in need within the communities the company serves. Since its inception the Foundation has distributed over $250,000. Guy is an influential advocate for families in need and throughout the childcare industry in New Jersey. 
 
Guy is married to his wife and co-founder of the company Julia, having just celebrated their 43rd wedding anniversary.  Guy and Julia live in Colonia, New Jersey and have three terrific sons Louis, Guy and David and three wonderful Daughters in law Anna, Jaclyn and Heather.  They have seven beautiful grandchildren: Ashley, Phillip, Kayla, Ava, Tommy, Aria and Victoria.


Franchise Expo: Tell us about the Lightbridge Academy concept.
Gaetano (Guy) T. Falzarano:  Lightbridge Academy® is known as The Solution for Working Parents® supporting the needs of busy parents while also providing year-round high quality early education and care to children ages six weeks -pre-K, as well as back-up care and summer camp. We started franchising the in 2011 and Lightbridge Franchise Company currently has over 75 child care centers open or under development throughout Maryland, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania and Virginia. 

Most companies have a philosophy, vision, mission and core values. However, just because a company has them posted as plaques on a wall does not mean that they are alive within the company and used as the basis for creating the culture. You have to intentionally ingrain them into daily life; live them, foster them and reinforce them.  The culture must be alive from the top in order to flow to rest of the organization.

As a franchise company, we are responsible for providing our franchisees with a proven business model that they can replicate. The most challenging and important aspect of that model is making sure that the culture is replicated within each of those franchise businesses. Our Circle of Care and core values are the guiding principles we use. It’s why franchisees want to do business with us, why parents trust us with their children and why staff want to work in Lightbridge Academy centers. We are drawn together as a family with a common thread which is our culture.

One of our franchisees worked as our vendor for almost 10 years. She referred several of her relatives for teaching positions at Lightbridge Academy. After she got married and had her first child, she enrolled her baby in one of our centers. After her second child was born, she and her husband understood first-hand the stresses placed on working parents and were able to compare their experience in our child care center with those of their friends.  Today, they are franchisees and I cannot wait until they open their center.

Our vision is to “transform the lives of all of our families by treating them as part of our own” and that includes everyone within the Lightbridge Academy Circle of Care – staff, parents, children, franchise owners and all within the communities we serve. Our mission is “Illuminating young minds while helping everyone in our Circle of Care along life’s journey.”

The Lightbridge Foundation has been in place since 2001 and philanthropy is a natural extension of our Circle of Care. We work together with all members of the Lightbridge family to make a difference in the communities we serve. Over $250,000 has been distributed as grants and scholarships to individuals and families in need. Sometimes it is a family in one of our centers struggling to cover the medical costs of a pediatric illness and other times, it has been for an alert dog for a child with severe diabetes. We also provide scholarships in the local area to graduating high school seniors going into early childhood education. The high school selects the recipient and last year we had a really special surprise. The recipient turned out to have been an alumni from a Lightbridge Academy center! It was so rewarding to see things come full circle. Her positive experience as a student helped influence her decision to pursue early childhood education as a career and now she is working in one of our centers. It just doesn’t get much better than that!  

We also work to drive engagement in the Lightbridge Foundation through all areas of the company. One of my favorite programs is in Woodbridge, New Jersey and is called “Tooling Around Town”. This year’s team consisted of staff from the Lightbridge Franchise Company’s senior management team along with other center directors, teachers and even alumni! A home of a senior citizen needing repairs is assigned by the municipality. The Lightbridge Foundation team spends the day renovating the house. We’ve painted houses, put on roofs, and even renovated bathrooms. It is a very rewarding experience that puts our company core values in action.

Building a supportive work environment is essential. It is a tremendous amount of work to ensure the success of franchisees while also running a successful franchise company. In addition to offering a flexible work schedule, we created a really special workplace. We recently moved Lightbridge Franchise Company and our original child care center into a brand new two story building. The franchise company is on the top floor and the child care center is on the first floor. 
We outgrew our previous office space where everyone was on top of each other. It was good and bad because it was often hard to focus, but it also allowed for collaboration. In a fast growing company like ours, communication can be a challenge across departments. I didn’t want the new office to create silos, therefore, we designed a flexible and comfortable work space. The kitchen was originally designed as a “cafe” with several separate tables. However, everyone has pushed the tables together into one long table because we eat, much like we operate, “family-style!” Many business meetings are held outside on our deck or on couches in the “Idea Pit.” 
One of the best “perks” of working in childcare is being able to offer significant child care discounts to employees. Being able to feed your child at lunch or pat their back at naptime is extremely valuable. I personally love being able to open my office window to say hi to my grandchildren playing outside or see bubbles being blown out the second floor window by franchise company employees to the children below.

FE: How and when did you become involved with Lightbridge Academy franchise?
GT: Eighteen years ago, my wife and I founded Lightbridge Academy (originally named Rainbow Academy). The culture developed from a foundation of family values. My wife had a heart for the care and education of children and I was a businessman. We opened our first child care center in Iselin, New Jersey near a train station and when the trains would run late, parents would frantically run into the center to pick up their children before closing. I felt awful that they were so stressed out and wanted to find a way to support them. It seemed as though the child care industry only cared for the needs of the child but working parents also needed support. Over time, we implemented many programs and services to support them such as extended hours and ParentView® Internet Monitoring System to help them stay connected to their children. Gradually we realized that there were others that needed to be considered and cared for as well. The culture of “caring deeply” created very loyal staff who referred other staff, and parents who referred other parents and our reputation grew very quickly. Soon many of these same parents came to me asking if they could partner with us to open another child care center. Now as a franchise company, we have sold over 75 franchises and are expanding throughout New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, Maryland and Virginia.

FE: What was your background prior to joining Lightbridge Academy?
GT: I worked for the phone company and then started a marketing company prior to opening my first child care center.

FE: What are some of the advantages in being a Lightbridge Academy franchisee?
GT: Franchisees will be able to plug right in to a well-managed franchise company and a proven concept that has been refined over the past 18 years.  That’s hard to find these days.

FE: Who is your ideal franchisee? 
GT: We are very selective when it comes to choosing the right franchisees to bring into our system.  Franchisees must be passionate about educating and caring for children, and they must also adopt our vision to “transform the lives of all of our families by treating them as part of our own” and that includes everyone within the Lightbridge Academy Circle of Care – staff, parents, children, franchise owners and all within the communities we serve. 

FE: Tell us a little about the children's service Market?
GT: Children’s Services – Strong Franchise Industry

  • Recession-resistant industry
  • A need not a “want” service that has increased as mothers return to the workforce
  • In 2015, the Children Services Franchise sector has grown by 35.9% outpacing the franchise industry average*.
  • Awards listed in section at top of document
  • Children’s day care service sector generates $33 billion in revenues
  • 3.94 million births per year
  •  65% of mothers with children under age 6 are in the workplace
  • 78% of mothers with children between ages 6 and 17 are in the workplace
*Source: franchisegrade.com, Marketdata Enterprises, Inc.

Market Facts:
  • $40 Billion Industry*
  • 14.4 Million children in the U.S. are in some form of childcare arrangement and the fees for these services have been rising steadily over the past several years*
  • Top-line revenue gains for the industry have been in the 10% range since 1999
  • Industry is expected to grow 9.2% annually
*Source: Marketdata Enterprises, Inc.


FE: What are some of the greatest lessons you’ve learned in growing this franchise?
GT:  I’ve learned we are not in the day care, child care or preschool business. We are in the TRUST business. Lightbridge Academy is a place where parents, children, staff members, the community and our franchise owners come together as a family to create a trusted Circle of Care. This Circle of Care philosophy is how we interrelate and create a truly caring environment that is unique. It’s a simple philosophy that everyone can use when making a decision. It doesn’t matter if it’s a teacher’s assistant in one of our child care centers or if it’s me, the CEO. If the decision is going to negatively impact anyone of those five stakeholders, then we are going to look for another path.

Our vision is to “transform the lives of all of our families by treating them as part of our own” and that includes everyone within the Lightbridge Academy Circle of Care – staff, parents, children, franchise owners and all within the communities we serve. Our mission is “Illuminating young minds while helping everyone in our Circle of Care along life’s journey.” 

Our core values are based on the word “CHILDREN.” We wanted it to be easy for everybody to remember and in the end, they are at the center of why we do what we do.

C means that we “care deeply with every genuine interaction.” It’s not just for the parents and children, it’s also for the franchisees who in turn care for their parents and employees. It even includes our vendors, who are within our community and part of the family. How do you care for your vendors? I once had a vendor call me up and thank me for paying his invoice so quickly. I thought the call was strange until he explained it to me.  He was called to fix the heat in an infant room in one of our centers on a Friday night and he received a payment the following week. He said, “You don’t understand, I’m usually chasing people to get paid which makes it hard for me to run my business.” I look at that situation and say pay the bills as soon as they come in because what’s the float on $400 for 60 or 90 days? It’s peanuts. But the loyalty I created by paying it immediately was priceless and the next time I needed that vendor, he came right away. We treated him with respect because we cared about him and his business. 

H is for happiness. Some people say it’s a little trite to put happiness in your core values, but shouldn’t a child care center be a happy place filled with happy people? If employees are happy, children will be happy and if parents are happy they will stay and in turn the franchise owners will be successful and happy. We need to create a happy environment so that is why we “hire happy.” You can teach people how to change diapers or how to do a lesson plan, but you can’t teach people how to be happy. 

I is for integrity. We are in the trust business. When a parent hands you their precious child, you have a great responsibility to them. We have to empathize with all the emotions that parent is experiencing. If we act with integrity, it’s the start of a long-term and trusting relationship that will span years. One of the ways we do this is through the use of technology. With cameras in each classroom, parents can stay connected to their child’s day and also through an eCommunication app. If you are operating with integrity, shouldn’t you give them complete access to their child at all times? It’s the fastest way to start building trust. It also comes over time through every small interaction. Teachers extend themselves to parents by constantly looking for ways to help make their lives a little easier.

L is for “lead by example.” Everybody in this company is a leader. We have 12 company owned centers with over 450 employees, and franchises that have their own employee base. Every Lightbridge Academy center has teachers, teacher assistants, center directors, assistant directors and franchise owners that are all leaders. Right now they are all operating in their offices or classrooms and I’m not there. We can’t possibly know what they are doing at all times. However, when we train them, give them the resources and tools they need and provide the proper supervision, they are empowered to carry out the mission and lead those within their care. We want them to think of themselves as role models and leaders and when they do, they actually give you ideas on how to improve the business. When you take that attitude, you continuously improve every single day and are not just relying on the CEO to dictate how to run the company. I’ve got the input from literally thousands of people helping us to get better every day. 

D is for “delivering WOW customer service”. We constantly study companies that do this really well - Disney, Zappos, even the Ritz Carlton. Customer service is what makes them all so special. The child care industry is not known for customer service at all. However, for us it is a natural outcome of caring deeply and one of the areas that we excel. When you think of all those within the Circle of Care as your family, you will go above and beyond to understand their needs and take care of them. We are not only delivering WOW customer service to children and parents, we need to do it for employees, investors and even our vendors.

FE: Do you have a mentor and is there someone you use for inspiration?
GT: I like to study the works of many different philosophers. Although he wouldn’t be “top of mind” when you think of corporate culture, I think that Gandhi said it best, “You must be the change you wish to see in the world.”  We work very hard to foster that philosophy within our company culture.  In child care, we have the opportunity to transform the lives of so many people – staff, parents, children and entire communities. If you want to make a difference this is where you need to start. If you want it changed, you need to take the lead and do it. Finally, this last quote from him, “Happiness is when what you think, what you say and what you do are in harmony.” After all, we work very hard to build a great company but it is not worth it at the sake of our overall happiness. Shouldn’t happiness be at the core of a great company culture?

FE: What advice do you have for someone looking to acquire a Franchise?
GT: I would tell them to be very selective and choose a company and a concept that they can be passionate about.  At the end of the day, this is something you will hopefully do for the rest of your life, so the decision should be taken very seriously.  

FE: In your opinion, why do you think that Lightbridge Academy would be a great franchise opportunity for someone?
GT: I would say to go back and read number 7.  Besides being a wonderful business opportunity with a great potential for financial return, it all comes down to our core values. Prospective franchisees can see the how important the core values are and really like our mission of “Illuminating young minds while helping everyone in our Circle of Care along life’s journey.”



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