Four franchises that provide children’s products and services on running a business that supports families—even their smallest members
By Kym Wolfe
Parents know that raising a child involves a lot of hard work, and requires a lot of support. So when families find themselves in need—whether of a healthy lunch or a new back-to-school outfit—where should they turn? The answer lies in successful franchise businesses that use their proven systems to deliver quality products and services to families, so parents can focus on bringing up their little ones.
Chiquicuts Kids Hair Salon
Catering to children ages six months to 12 years, Chiquicuts is a unique hair salon and entertainment destination that’s been recognized with the Ontario Hair and Beauty Awards 2019 and Ottawa’s Top Choice Award in 2021 and 2022.
Nedelka Marin-Martinez opened Chiquicuts in Ottawa in 2009, building a salon that features mechanical rides, movies, and treats for its young clients who come for haircuts, and a party venue for princesses, superheroes, and young divas (typically seven to 12-year-olds) who enjoy having their hair styled, nails painted, and simple make-up applied. There’s a music and giant screen video system, disco lights, and food catering offered with party packages.
While the pandemic had a significant impact on sales, with no parties, reduced capacity for individual services, and the implementation of safety protocols and sanitation practices that restricted activities that children could engage in during their visits, Marin-Martinez is confident that business will rebound to pre-COVID levels quickly.
“We have customers who will drive for an hour, particularly with children with special needs. There’s a local therapy clinic for children on the autism spectrum that recommends us because our staff are trained to accommodate their needs,” says Marin-Martinez. For example, a child who’s sensitive to light or noise will be scheduled when the party room isn’t in use, and a mobile station will be moved there to provide a haircut in a quiet space.
Franchise owners need not be trained in hair cutting/styling or esthetics. They can receive basic training through the online Chiquicuts University, but most will hire staff to provide those services and will focus their energy on managing operations and marketing/promotion. “There are no chair rentals, all of the staff are employees,” says Marin-Martinez. “That ensures franchisees have control over all of the services and products that are sold on site.”
Chiquicuts provides ongoing coaching and support, including advertising videos and materials that can be localized to each franchise market.
The Lunch Lady
Ruthie Burd, the original Lunch Lady, has been cooking wholesome hot lunches for school-aged children since 1993, and began franchising in 2001. While the meals and client base have evolved, the guiding goal remains the same: offer wholesome hot meals that contribute to the overall health and wellbeing of children. The food also must taste good and look appealing, says Burd.
The Lunch Lady initially provided elementary schools an alternative to the traditional ‘pizza day’. The model expanded to include delivery of hot meals to childcare centres and summer camps. An online ordering system was launched in 2006.
When COVID-19 shut down schools and camps, Burd reached out to community organizations serving the homeless. “While our focus is still primarily on children, it’s no longer exclusively so,” says Burd. “A good, hot, and wholesome meal can make all the difference to everyone in the community.”
A more diverse client base opens up more geographic options for The Lunch Lady franchisees. “One of [our] challenges was that you needed a certain school population, and that limited us to larger centres. Now, we’re looking at medium-sized cities that wouldn’t have been viable in the past,” says Burd.
While there are independent competitors, Burd believes that hers is the only Canadian franchise for this concept. She sees franchising as a practical approach to business ownership, with the benefit of a short-track start up and a built in mentor. The Lunch Lady has a nutrition manager on staff, provides a seven-day training school, ongoing support, and encourages sharing of best practices among franchisees.
Successful franchisees need to have a commercial kitchen to prepare food, complete a Vulnerable Sector Check as required to work with children, and have a commitment to “follow the playbook,” says Burd. “A franchise is a partnership. This isn’t a simple business; it requires a full time commitment. But for the right person, it’s very rewarding.”
Head lice prevention, education, and removal is a niche business, but one that’s always in high demand says Dawn Mucci, CEO of Lice Squad.com. While head lice are considered a health nuisance and not a health problem by Health Canada, they’re a huge issue that many parents don’t have the time, experience, or desire to deal with themselves, says Martha Lawrence, director of franchise and business development. They turn to Lice Squad.com because its methodology has proven to be effective.
Mucci launched Lice Squad.com 22 years ago and offers not only nit and louse removal services, but also specialty combs and all-natural hair care and cleaning products. The work is often done in clients’ homes, but there are also Lice Squad.com storefront clinics in some communities. During the service, whether mobile or in clinic, consultants also offer head lice education, tips on environmental care, and prevention strategies. “Stigma around head lice has changed over the years, and we believe Lice Squad.com has contributed to that,” says Mucci.
Typically, franchisees are women, aged 30 to 55, who know about Lice Squad.com because they or their friends or family have been clients. They’re usually community-oriented people who have a flair for public relations and customer service.
While all franchise owners receive training in both operational and technical skills, they don’t usually provide the hands-on services, focusing instead on managing and promoting the business. They recruit and train consultants to do that work while they focus on managing operations and on marketing and promotion. Local PR might include delivering educational talks in the community and building relationships with community partners such as children and family service providers, community centres, hair salons, tutoring services, and more. “Social media is important, and word of mouth is huge,” says Mucci. “This is an on-demand business that revolves around clients’ immediate needs and requires a quick response—same day or next day service.”
There are opportunities for new franchise locations in almost every province, says Lawrence. “This is a business that resonates with people who are community-oriented and value purpose and meaning. Taking lice out of people’s hair is an intimate act, and people are so grateful.”
Once Upon A Child
For 30 years, Once Upon A Child has been the go-to place for families that want to buy and sell gently used children’s clothing, shoes, toys, books, equipment, and accessories. The founders were “strong believers in sustainability, resale retail, and the value it brought to communities,” says Renae Gaudette, COO of Winmark, which operates five resale brands (Once Upon A Child, Play It Again Sports, Plato’s Closet, Style Encore, and Music Go Round). Once Upon A Child entered the Canadian market in 1994.
Because they source all items locally, the stores weren’t impacted by supply chain issues during the pandemic. “Our franchisees were extremely resilient and creative during mandated restrictions and lockdowns,” says Gaudette. “We adapted quickly to serve our communities through online/social selling, and curbside or pickup in store opportunities.”
Currently, there are 56 stores in Canada, and more than 20 territories available, primarily in Ontario and British Columbia. “Finding qualified franchise partners can be challenging,” says Gaudette. “We’re selective in awarding a franchise to candidates because we want to ensure they’re set up for success and understand what it takes to own a resale store like Once Upon A Child. They not only need to meet financial qualifications but also understand operationally what it takes to run a small business in their community as an active owner. If they’re awarded a franchise and follow the model, their chance of success is high. “
Following an initial one- to two-week training program that focuses on site selection, business planning, financial training, vendor review, operations and marketing, Once Upon A Child provides ongoing support through virtual and on-site visits, monthly business consultations, newsletters, webinars, and regional and annual meetings that include training workshops and peer networking opportunities.
“Our most successful franchisees have a passion for what they do,” says Gaudette. “They also understand that being part of a franchise means that their peers’ success is the brand’s success is their success.”