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100% Canadian Franchises Company Profiles Current Issue March/April 2023

Home-Grown and Locally Owned: Ctrl V, CEFA Early Learning, Puddle Pool Services

By David Chilton Saggers

Many Canadian franchise systems have their sights set on expansion. That means investment opportunities are presenting themselves to franchisees in such markets as early childhood education, casual dining, and residential pool and hot tub maintenance, after a tough few years.

Ctrl V

Ctrl V is a virtual reality (VR) arcade franchise featuring VR stations where players can log into their favourite digital worlds. Players can choose whether to squad up or fly solo—Ctrl V offers experiences for single and multiplayers for fun with friends and family or all on your own.

Ctrl V opened its first location in Waterloo, Ontario in 2016, making it the first VR arcade of its kind in North America. Robert Bruski, Ctrl V’s CEO, says the franchise team created “a franchise opportunity for people around the world to replicate the model and become entrepreneurs for themselves.”

Within Ctrl V’s VR stations, sports fanatics can find themselves at the World Series while practicing their swing with virtual baseball. Its gaming rigs even feature education-oriented games, where players can learn chemistry or biology, or simply take in the views from the sea while swimming with whales. The selection of content appeals to novices and hardcore gamers alike.

Although Bruski adds that Ctrl V provides support programs for franchisees, top-tier equipment and content, and an opportunity for ownership, he’s aware that the novelty of the concept equals the need to win over new audiences. “The biggest challenge is ensuring the surrounding community is aware of the wonder that comes with a Ctrl V experience.”

Franchising with Ctrl V means the systems to become successful are in place, but Bruski advises franchisees to take initiative to use the established tools and models to grow their business. “A good franchisor will help you every step of the way,” says Bruski, “but that doesn’t alleviate you, as the franchise owner, from putting in the work necessary to become successful.”

Bruski says he looks for goal-oriented and process-driven thinking in prospective franchisees, as well as the grit and moxie “to work harder than they ever have to achieve success.” The entrepreneur meets the pioneer when it comes to franchising with Ctrl V.

But that doesn’t mean going it alone. Ctrl V’s support centre team assists in the build-out, grand opening, and ongoing operations. The two-week training starts with franchisees learning how to operate the Ctrl V facility, along with an in-depth look at the business and financial acumen required to be successful, including real estate searches, equipment ordering, and marketing.

As Bruski looks toward the future with franchising, expanding across North America is in his crosshairs, while growing and creating wealth for his franchisee base. “So our plans, support, and growth are focused on our beloved franchisees.”

CEFA Early Learning

It’s widely acknowledged that the first five years of a child’s life are their most formative years. That’s where Core Education and Fine Arts (CEFA) Early Learning comes in. Paul Dean, vice president of business development and real estate at CEFA, says the brand’s focus is on its unwavering desire to deliver an impactful program to children ages one to five that will influence their academic and social development during this critical phase and equip this next generation of leaders and changemakers with a solid foundation.

Founded by Natacha Beim in 1998 when she opened her first location in North Vancouver, British Columbia, CEFA has grown to 35 franchise locations, with another 12 opening in the next 12-18 months across Greater Vancouver, Calgary, and the Greater Toronto Area. CEFA also plans for extensive ongoing expansion, especially in Ontario and Alberta, says Dean from CEFA’s head office in Vancouver.

When it comes to finding potential franchisees for those territories, Dean says he’s looking for people who want to make a meaningful contribution to the communities in which they live, who believe in and want to be part of the CEFA brand, who can manage a business and teams effectively, and who want to do so with a good work-life balance. Dean notes there’s a broad age range for franchisees, and both men and women are well-represented. “We’ve got a great mix,” he says. “Very often, it’s a husband-and-wife team.”

Given the operating environment, Dean says staff hired by the franchise must be ECE certified, although the franchisees themselves need not be. CEFA offers extensive support in the selection of the principal, and provides ongoing guidance for hiring suitably qualified teachers. The establishment cost of a franchise ranges from $1.4 million to $1.7 million, depending on size. Eight to ten thousand square feet is the average size of a CEFA school, says Dean, with capacity for 100-125 children. Four months’ training often takes place while the school is under construction via a suitable platform considering the franchisee’s geographical location.

While COVID hit the childcare industry hard, Dean says it highlighted the dedication of teachers and resilience of children and parents. “During initial shutdowns, we obviously experienced a severe impact, but with the support of government programs, the dedication of our teachers and staff, and the tenacious desire of parents not to allow the global pandemic to negatively influence their children’s futures, we are now seeing enrolment at higher levels than ever before.” He adds that CEFA schools play a critical part in continuing to enable economic recovery through ongoing growth, which enables parents to return to work knowing that their children are in the best possible environment.

It’s generally known that most communities across Canada have a severe shortage of both childcare spaces and impactful early learning programs. As governments implement strategies to deal with this, Dean says that the 25-year proven track record of the CEFA program, together with brand strength and a recession-proof, sustainable, and predictable business model, plays a crucial role in enabling opportunities for children and families. Dean goes on to stress that CEFA actively engages government and other stakeholders to explore viable initiatives and ensure that the choices parents want to make remain available to them.

Puddle Pool Services

Mark Amery embarked on his franchise journey with a simple question: who doesn’t love a good swimming pool? With that in mind, he started Puddle Pool Services in 2018, recognizing the need for dedicated services for pools and hot tubs.

The CEO began franchising the brand in 2022. Now there are 10 franchises in North Vancouver, West Vancouver, and elsewhere on the Lower Mainland in British Columbia; and in Hamilton, Burlington, Ottawa, and Toronto in Ontario, along with two more U.S. locations. He has his eye on further expansion in Atlantic Canada, while growing the brand’s footprint in the rest of Canada and the U.S.

Puddle Pool Services provides year-round service to its clients, who are largely residential owners, and Amery says he’s busier in winter thanks to the allure of the hot tub. His system also handles commercial jobs such as shopping malls that have water features. And despite the pandemic’s hardships, his system was declared an essential service: “It [the pandemic] did not affect us at all, revenue-wise,” says Amery. “We went to home base. We went to Zoom. We didn’t go back to the office. After a month, it was business as usual.”

Amery says he welcomes prospective franchisees who have some business experience, and he also looks for those who are service-oriented, motivated, and hard workers. About 50 per cent of his franchisees are owner-operators and the others are what he calls “semi-absent” or hands-off owners. When he began franchising, he thought most of his franchisees would be men, but it turns out there’s almost an even split between men and women.

Training takes three weeks, including online and in-person training in Vancouver. It takes eight days to train a technician. The cost of a franchise is between $88,000 and $137,000, and includes everything except a van that must be fully wrapped in Puddle Pool signage.

As for the benefits of franchising with Puddle Pool Services, Amery says there’s the business model itself, its scalability, the return on investment, and the fact that everything is done in-house, including advertising and marketing.