Who says you can’t have fun and learn at the same time? That’s certainly true for sisters and Snapology co-founders Laura and Lisa Coe.
“My sister — I didn’t have a child at the time, I do now, but — Laura had two children and really loved the idea of teaching with Legos. The more excited about it that we got, the more our business grew,” Lisa says.
At first, the Coes ran a local operation where children used building toys and technology for a variety of activities that combine play with education.
In 2012, they expanded Snapology through licensing, and then changed over to a franchising model last year. The business now has approximately 23 locations nationwide.
Laura says they initially used a licensing model because they were familiar with it and felt it would give owners the most autonomy. Over time, however, the two realized the power of franchising and came to believe it was the best of both worlds: They could still leave autonomy for their franchisees, but also provide more protections and benefits from a legal and operational standpoint.
“We just sort of grew up with it, became a little bit more educated, started to understand things a little bit better as we went along, and realized that the franchises would really benefit everybody involved,” Laura says.
When to let go
In order to help your company grow, you need to let others in to help. Sometimes you need to spend money to make money, which is something the Coes discovered and still see their owners going through.
“In the beginning, we were a little bit shy to invest in different resources or to maybe hire somebody to help us because we were afraid to spend the money,” Laura says. “But what we found is nine times out of 10, when you invest in that resource, it ends up paying for itself in helping your business grow.”
It’s important to see the bigger picture, whether that’s hiring people or engaging in the right partnerships, Lisa says. You can’t do it all yourself.
“When you start a business, there’s this fear of bringing people onboard, and ‘gosh, what’s that going to cost me,’ and ‘do I have enough money?’” she says.
But when you stop trying to do it all yourself, you can grow more efficiently and accomplish more, Lisa says.
“I think, unfortunately, sometimes we get in the way of ourselves,” Laura says.
By putting in a program director, outreach coordinator and hiring others to manage day-to-day activities in Snapology’s Pittsburgh location, Laura and Lisa are able to work on the business — not just in it.
Seeing and fixing operational roadblocks is an ongoing process, which is why you need a system for feedback.
Laura says they’ve recently built out the IT infrastructure and systems.
At first, they were cobbling together three software systems, but now Snapology has a customized base system for core functions that other software systems can plug into. And Laura can have the programmer make continual improvements, while being able to answer questions and solve problems more quickly for franchisees.
Part of the reason why the Coes decided to make this investment was because of their corporate-owned franchise.
“We run an operation here in South Pittsburgh, and so the same frustrations that our owners were feeling, we were feeling in Pittsburgh,” Laura says.
Direct feedback helps them know where the business needs to go — and allows them to implement changes in their location first.
Laura says the Pittsburgh location has a lot of experience to share, but the dialogue goes both ways.
“Certainly, getting the input from all of our owners has been important along the way, because there are some times that we didn’t do something a certain way, or they did something that is better than the way we did it,” she says.
Snapology has constant communication with its owners from online forums to email blasts.
The Coes also have an annual owner’s meeting, do formal one-on-ones and host periodic online meetings through join.me. Laura says if a particular issue comes up that’s time-sensitive, they’ll send out surveys or email blasts on the topic to ask for further feedback and share what they are thinking.
“Just because that’s the way we did it in Pittsburgh, somebody else may have done it differently or it may not work for them,” Laura says. “(That way) we can really come up with the right overall solution for all of the owners, as opposed to just what’s working in Pittsburgh.”