By Joleen Small
Birth of the Idea
Leah Tomberlin’s business idea started the way all great ideas get their start – out of necessity. She and her husband /business partner were searching for an educational facility to place their child. Most of the schools they encountered didn’t fit the criteria they were looking for or had years-long waitlists if they did. As a solution, they decided to take matters into their own hands and open their own establishment. They went into business with Kiddie Academy, an educational franchise with 280 locations across the country, and opened a location in the Westchester area.
Franchising Is Not Easy
The franchise model was helpful as far as preparing the franchisees to create a business plan or learn how to obtain financing, but lacked support in dealing with issues specific to the Westchester market. Leah needed a little extra help in this area. “I really wanted someone who wasn’t involved in Kiddie Academy who knew the local market. Someone who was smart about business and marketing who really provided good guidance,” she says.
She was paired with Paul Katzenstein after contacting SCORE. Paul is a mentor at SCORE Westchester whose specialties include marketing, sales, and start-up assistance. His experience provided the type of help that Leah was looking for. “Aside from his knowledge, his understanding of the local market was helpful because Kiddie Academy doesn’t really work in this market. He’s more local,” Leah says.
Paul challenged Leah by asking her the questions that no one has thought to ask her before about running her business. She appreciated the fact that he was giving of his time to meet with her, so that challenged her to do her homework and have thoughtful answers when they spoke. The accountability factor helped her focus on her business needs. “This is really why I like the mentorship model,” Leah says.
Continuing to Build the Business
Leah’s business is currently thriving with classes being conducted despite the COVID-19 pandemic and its challenges. She manages to keep the parents’ peace of mind intact with the precautions she has taken to keep her students safe. Maintaining the business is an ongoing process, however, so she’ll continue to speak with her mentor monthly and make use of webinars SCORE offers to navigate any challenges that may arise.