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100% Canadian Franchises Company Profiles July/August 2022

Home-Grown and Locally Owned: Blo Blow Dry Bar, New Creations, and Inspiration Learning

By David Chilton Saggers

In addition to a sound concept, a certain daring is needed if a franchise system is to become the success its founders hope it will. Certainly these domestic systems have displayed that daring, and their growth proves it.  

Blo Blow Dry Bar

Vanessa Yakobson, CEO and partner at Blo Blow Dry Bar, says there are 95 franchises in her system—and she wants to have more than 150 by 2023.

“We’re very keen on expanding in the Toronto market,” says Yakobson, who already has franchises there and in the surrounding suburbs. There are others in Vancouver (where Blo Blow Dry began) and Victoria. “We’d love to be in Ottawa, Calgary, and Edmonton, as well as other markets across the country,” she continues, adding that there is also room for growth in the U.S., where 75% of the brand’s locations can be found.

Customers don’t get haircuts or colour services at Blo Blow Dry Bar, but the brand offers five signature blow out styles (including a wash) as well as custom looks for special occasions like weddings. The brand rounds out its offerings with beautiful retail products and makeup services. Yakobson explains that her customers range through ages and life stages–from young women to brides and beyond—and spend an average of more than $50 a visit. There is also a Blo Mane Squeeze membership plan with discounts and other perks.

“Our franchisees understand the business proposition based on the value of the services we offer, and many of our female owners resonate with the concept as customers,” says Yakobson. Many of her franchisees are women, although the system attracts male owners and lots of couples, too. As for the qualities she looks for, franchisees must enjoy delivering exceptional service to customers and comfortable engaging with their community. A hair care background isn’t necessary, says Yakobson, and many of her franchisees are first time business owners. Staff management skills are crucial, however: “We want great team leaders,” she emphasizes.

In-person training takes place at the brand’s head office in Toronto prior to several weeks of remote training leading up to the opening. The week before a store opens, a stylist and a business coach go on-site for more instruction. Blo Blow Dry uses new builds and renovated spaces in plazas and on streetfronts. The sweet spot for a store is between 800 and 1,000 square feet, and interior design is modular and adaptable. The cost of a franchise ranges from about $220,000 to $325,000.

Yakobson concedes that the COVID-19 pandemic had a marked effect on her system. “The Ontario market was the worst in North America but has now had a strong rebound.” Rather than sit tight, her team helped her franchisees with a focus on retail sales, and some relief on royalties. COVID shutdowns also allowed Blo Blow Dry to work on future projects and strategic priorities, and to introduce new services. As a result, the system’s revenues are up beyond what they were pre-pandemic.

New Creations Mobile Restoration

Put a dent or a scratch in an item of no real consequence and most people will shrug. But if it’s a million-dollar, gold-leaf chandelier that’s had a whack, then its owner’s reaction is likely to be rather different.

It was, and the owner called us to restore it, says Josh Stevenson. He’s the president and owner of New Creations Mobile Restoration in Port Coquitlam, B.C., a gold winner this year in the Canadian Franchise Association’s Awards of Excellence in the non-traditional category for systems with more than 30 franchises.

New Creations, started by Stevenson’s father in 1988, will fix cosmetic damage to any item and repair minor structural problems, too. Its customer base is made up of moving companies, property managers, insurance carriers, RV dealers, car dealerships and hotels, just to name a few of the industries served. Stevenson says “next generation” franchising began in 2017, noting he has 50 locations in his system, just one of them corporate, in every province except Quebec and Newfoundland. As for expansion, Stevenson says there are still opportunities around the Greater Toronto Area and in many rural areas across the country.

The typical New Creations franchisee is a middle-aged person working as an owner-operator. Franchisees should be good with their hands and a problem solver, says Stevenson, and someone who doesn’t like waste. Business experience and sales ability are useful, too. Training takes three weeks in either Port Coquitlam, B.C.; Calgary, Alberta; Saint John, New Brunswick; or Vancouver, Washington, coupled with on-site instruction during launch week. Stevenson says an investor can “get started for less than $100,000.” Franchisees will also need to own or rent a suitable truck or van.

During the worst of the pandemic, Stevenson says New Creations “stayed pretty strong overall.” Since his system is primarily business-to-business, workplaces were usually empty and franchisees could work on-site. Differing COVID lockdown rules were dealt with by franchisees themselves, since they know their own territories best, he continues.

The benefits of a New Creations franchise, says Stevenson, are its proven success, its low overhead – you just need a smart phone and an app – its low cost of entry, strong support from a family-owned business, and the wide variety of items to fix, says Stevenson. (But of course, there’s no guarantee of a million-dollar chandelier.)

Inspiration Learning Center

Angel Kuang started her business in 2003 with just a thousand dollars. Now, her system, Inspiration Learning Center, is a Canadian Franchise Association Awards of Excellence winner, taking home the Grand Prize in the Traditional Franchise category for 2022.

“I am ambitious,” says Kuang with a laugh. Before moving to Canada in 2001, Kuang worked as a teacher in China. She learned about franchising the practical way, by working in a sandwich shop in Toronto in 2002, before starting graduate studies in economics at Lakehead University in 2003. She started the business that year, and began franchising Inspiration Learning Center in 2009, with her first location in Mississauga, Ontario. She now has 10 franchises altogether, two of them corporate; an area developer has two franchises in Vancouver, B.C., there is one franchise in Windsor, Ontario, and the rest are in the Greater Toronto Area. “I’m looking to grow again,” says Kuang, from her office in Markham, Ontario. “I’ve had inquiries from Quebec,” she continues, “and there are opportunities in Mississauga. I would like to launch six franchises a year.”

The principal quality Kuang looks for in potential investors is an understanding of education and the ability to convey that understanding to parents. Franchisees don’t need a teaching background, but they must love children and have good communications skills. Training takes two weeks either online or at the corporate location, with another three days of on-site instruction. The cost of a franchise ranges between $100,000 to $300,000. “I think our concept is the most reasonable in the market,” says Kuang.

Inspiration tutors children of all ages, provides educational consulting and also runs an online bookstore. Franchisees themselves hire their tutors, Kuang notes. Kuang’s first students were the children of Eastern Europeans, then by advertising in a Chinese language newspaper she attracted others from that community. Now, she says, Inspiration tutors students from everywhere, in all subjects.

Kuang says that while the pandemic hit her system hard, she also knew how to manage the upheaval. “I foresaw it. I switched everybody to Zoom immediately. There was no issue for existing franchisees.” She also started to invest in social media, and arranged with Harvard University and MIT to have some of its students act as online mentors to Inspiration’s students. In addition, Inspiration has introduced the Singapore math program.

As for the benefits of her system, Inspiration is safe, successful, and good for the parents of her students, because they too become educators, says Kuang—ever the teacher.

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