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Learning Express’ affiliate store, opened in September 2016, gives our Home Office buyers, marketers and other staff easy access to the in-store experience and offers a depth to our ability to support franchisees.
In addition, the store allows new franchisees and store managers to gain valuable on-site training before launching their careers with Learning Express Toys.
Here are 5 ways the affiliate store benefits our franchise family:
- Product selection. The Home Office buying team sees how their product selection looks and performs on-site. They use that valuable insight to make better recommendations and more accurate forecasts for franchisees.
- Marketing strategy. The Home Office marketing team tests new marketing strategies on-site and passes the results on to franchisees. All of the affiliate store’s marketing efforts are documented, analyzed and shared, including catalog distribution, in-store signage, social media, community events and more.
- Hands-on training. New franchisees and store managers gain in-store experience when they visit Massachusetts for their training. From interacting with customers to running management reports, trainees find our affiliate store an ideal training ground.
- Constant innovation. The affiliate store gives Home Office staff an outlet to test new programs, from loyalty apps to in-store events to computer software. Successful concepts and practices are shared with the entire franchise family, allowing Learning Express Toys to constantly innovate.
- Insider’s perspective. Our Home Office staff has the opportunity to spend time in the affiliate store, giving them an on-the-ground perspective that translates to enhanced franchisee support.
We can’t wait for you to see our new affiliate store in Bedford, Massachusetts!
Shelley Hobson left a successful career in broadcasting, and her New England home, to open a Learning Express Toys store with her husband in Wilmington, North Carolina 21 years ago. We asked Shelley to tell us about her decision to leave the corporate world and become a toy store owner.
Read on to find out why she made the switch – and has never looked back.
Shelley Hobson has been a Learning Express Toys store owner since 1995.
What did you do in your previous career?
SHELLEY: For 15 years, I was a broadcast copywriter, creative services director, and, finally, part-time news producer, living in Charleston, SC, New Orleans, LA, and Boston, MA. When my boys were born, I transitioned out of broadcasting and worked part time as the youth director of my church in Needham, MA, where I lived and was a customer of Learning Express Toys!
What was your favorite part of your previous career? Least favorite?
SHELLEY: I loved the fast pace, the opportunity to be creative and to figure out ways to communicate to viewers, whether I was working on a television commercial for an advertiser, the station itself or a news story about women’s issues (the focus of the news segment I produced for two years at WBZ-TV). When I was a manager, I disliked all the meetings that went on for hours and took me away from what I loved doing most. I worked for Westinghouse, where there were many layers of bureaucracy.
What made you look into buying a franchise?
SHELLEY: My husband, Ed, was in outplacement after his bank was sold, and his job moved to Pittsburgh. We made the decision not to follow the job and to move to the North Carolina coast where we eventually wanted to retire. Ed was networking in Wilmington and also looking for businesses to buy. In the course of that process, he met a franchise consultant who told him about Learning Express. We were customers of the Needham, MA store, loved shopping there, and were immediately drawn to the idea of owning a toy store.
How did you find and decide on Learning Express Toys?
SHELLEY: We were Learning Express customers. When we heard the company was selling franchises, we began researching right away. We visited Wilmington, NC to see what the competitive situation might be like and, determining there was an opportunity for a specialty toy business here, we moved pretty quickly. The process began in March 1995, and by September that year, we had moved our family to Wilmington and opened our own Learning Express Toys store.
What was it like making the transition from a corporate career to being a franchise owner?
SHELLEY: It was scary because of the financial risk and we didn’t know the toy business except as parents, but we were confident that we had found a proven business and a good location, and that our skill set combination (marketing, event planning, management for me and accounting and management for Ed) was a good fit. Ed and I had never worked together before, so we had to figure out how to balance home and work, so work wouldn’t take over our household.
The Learning Express Toys Home Office provided education and support that helped us get up the learning curve much more quickly than if we had gone on this journey alone. Support from and friendships with the Home Office staff and other Learning Express store owners around the country grew and have been an asset to us as we have operated this business for 21 years.
Any advice for those considering making the switch?
SHELLEY: Visit several Learning Express Toys stores, and interview the owners. If you are a hard worker who loves making people happy; if you are very flexible and enjoy the creative freedom of growing a business and the feeling of success when something you do is works; if you want to work hard in a business which is family-friendly (to your family as well), it is well worth the consideration!
The first step to discovering whether owning a Learning Express Toys store is right for you is just filling out a quick form. We’ll follow up with a call from our franchise development department so we can introduce ourselves and get to know you.
Learn more about becoming a toy store owner by visiting our franchise page.
Small Business Saturday is coming up on Nov. 26. For our franchisees, it’s an opportunity to celebrate that each Learning Express Toys store is a locally-owned and operated small business. Even though we have a nationwide footprint, our customers know that supporting their local Learning Express Toys means they’re supporting local families and keeping locally-owned businesses in their neighborhoods.
Learning Express Toys proudly claims the title “Your Neighborhood Toy Store” because we are built on community connections. The first Learning Express was founded to help fund an elementary school, and partnering with local schools and organizations remains a vital part of our identity today as each franchisee strives to be a good community member.
Our stores help Girl Scouts get their badges. We host autism-friendly play days. We donate gift baskets to parent-teacher organizations. We work with libraries. We walk in parades among other local businesses and groups. We belong to our Chambers of Commerce. Our customers know this, and it sets Learning Express apart.
“Shopping Local” means we know our customers, and our customers trust us. We have helped them find the perfect gift for birthday after birthday. We’ve helped them create Birthday Box registries, write letters to Santa, and we’ve painted their adorable faces at our events. We’ve carried loads of wrapped gifts to their cars and even dropped them off on our way home. We have built loyalty by building relationships, and that’s something you don’t get at big-box stores or on Amazon.
The Learning Express Home Office supports franchisees in becoming a “Shop Local” destination by:
-Providing Grab-n-Go Events with all the marketing materials and instructions needed to host themed events for your community
-Creating and distributing press releases about events and partnerships
-Identifying potential local partnership opportunities with libraries, mothers’ groups, schools and other local businesses
-Sharing local partnership success stories from fellow Learning Express owners
-Developing services like the Birthday Box program to deepen relationships with our customers
-Creating national charity partnerships and connecting stores with their local chapters
We would love to talk with you about how Learning Express Toys owners become valued members of their local business communities.
To learn more about becoming a local business owner, please visit our franchise page.
Connie and Todd Jacob, owners of Learning Express Toys of New Albany, Worthington and Upper Arlington, Ohio, were recently named among America's Star Franchisees by CNBC and Franchise Business Review.
The Jacobs were chosen from 28,500 franchisees representing 364 brands, according to Franchise Business Review. Selection criteria for the franchise included a strong proof of concept, clean reporting, solid financial performance, strong franchisee regard for management and franchisee satisfaction. The criteria for franchisees included a strong financial picture, respect and trust for the franchisor, high net incomes and strong long-term growth.
Connie and Todd, parents of two, are passionate about helping children learn through play. They take pride in partnering with local schools for fundraisers and being a resource for the community. They are very satisfied with their franchise investment as they continue to grow. Together, the three stores gross nearly $1.7 million and employ 24 people, Connie told CNBC.
Connie credits their success to hard work as well as help from the Learning Express Toys Home Office in areas such as marketing and product selection.
"If we need help with any of these things, there is always someone at headquarters that we can speak with to get an answer." --Connie Jacob, owner of Learning Express Toys of New Albany, Worthington and Upper Arlington, Ohio
Read the full article at CNBC: Learning Express Toys: America's Star Franchisees
Read more about the selection criteria: How we chose America's Star Franchisees
To learn more about how Learning Express Toys supports its franchisees, visit our franchise page.
Learning Express Toys values being “your local neighborhood toy store.” Part of that means being a good neighbor by helping organizations in our local communities.
It all started in 1987. Learning Express, Inc. was originally founded as a way to raise funds for a school in Groton, Massachusetts. That value of generosity has remained a key part of our franchise system as we’ve grown to over 120 locations nationwide. Each store owner partners with local schools, foundations, charities, and parent-teacher organizations to help local kids and families.
As a recent example, Learning Express Toys of Lake Zurich, Illinois hosted a shopping spree for a local family in need in partnership with the Dave Farbaky Foundation and Aloha Construction. Four sisters had 90 seconds to run around the store with large bag each and grab as many toys as they wanted. The foundation’s purpose is to foster “random acts of kindness” for families in need.
Store owner Rick Derr was moved by the experience of helping the family.
"At the end, after the four girls shopped, I said, 'I want to thank you for shopping here and providing us a glimpse of giving,'" Rick told the Chicago Tribune. "One of them, about 7 years old, said, 'No, I want to thank you.' And they all looked you in the eye. I felt they were literally good kids. I thanked their mother, too. They were humble."
Each of our store owners has a story similar to Rick’s about helping local families and making children smile. We strive to be good community members – by partnering with other local businesses, serving local families and helping local organizations. This commitment sets Learning Express Toys apart as a true neighborhood toy store: a value that keeps our customers loyal and our store owners involved and dedicated.
To learn how store ownership can help organizations in your local community, please visit our franchise page.