Celebree School offers a unique franchise opportunity for those with a passion
for early childhood education and building community.
By Janice Hoppe-Spiers, Knighthouse Media
Celebree School became a leading child care company in the mid-Atlantic because of its dedication to continuous improvement every day for the past 25 years. The company’s mantra, “We Grow People Big and Small™,” not only emphasizes the importance of developing both the children in its care and their families, but also its teachers and franchisees.
“We have grown year over year to a total 26 Celebree School locations today,” Founder and CEO Richard Huffman says. “In recent years, we focused on getting our executive team and processes and procedures strong for growth, and in February 2018, decided the best option for Celebree School was to grow through franchising. The more I thought about it, I realized it also fits into our ‘We Grow People Big,’ philosophy.”
Huffman founded the Lutherville, Md.-based company in 1994 when he opened his first child care location in Ellicott City, Md. He named the center Enchanted Child Care and employed a staff of 25 people. In 2006, the name of the company changed to Celebree Learning Centers and in 2018 rebranded to Celebree School.
Huffman’s passion for early childhood education stems from watching his parents run a daycare while he was growing up. “Early in my own career, in 1994, a gentleman came to my mom and asked her if she was interested in opening up a preschool in Howard County, Md., and she declined because it was 50-minute commute, but it was my golden opportunity,” he remembers. “I told her to let me do it. I was 26 years old when we opened the first location. My mom mentored me then and still mentors me today after 26 years. She taught me the business, rules and regulations, how to hire people and the school was wildly successful in the first year.”
Two years into running his first school, Huffman decided to open a second location in 1996 in Parkville, Md., and has since dedicated his life to supporting children and their parents. Today, Celebree Schools has 26 locations throughout Maryland and Delaware.
Every Celebree School is a village made up of parents, children and educators. A professional and dedicated team nurtures and educates infants, toddlers, preschool and school-age children in a wide range of child care programs. The company prides itself on providing a stable, secure learning environment that fosters a solid foundation for lifelong success.
“Together we build child learning centers where children can flourish,” Huffman says. “Because of our commitment to protecting, educating and nurturing the children in our care, our education team is made up of professionals with a passion for early childhood development. That means local school owners are present and involved. To us, educating and caring for children isn’t a job, it’s a passion.”
Although most early education facilities only focus on the development of children, ensuring they are growing and meeting milestones, Celebree School understands the importance of also developing its teachers. “Our competitors’ teachers want to work for us,” Huffman notes. “Every Friday, I go to the Celebree Training Institute to speak and ask incoming teachers why they chose Celebree because I know they could work for anyone. They say they choose to work at Celebree because they know they have an opportunity to grow here and do that through a career path.”
Katie Young, for example, started with Celebree School as an assistant teacher and stayed the course of her career path to become a teacher, assistant director and eventually the director of her location. Today, Young is focused on her role as Celebree School’s first franchisee. (That’s her in the photo above.)
“There was a lot that appealed to me about Celebree School,” Young says. “Owning my own child care center was something I always wanted – in fact, I minored in business when I attended college. I didn’t know how or when this would happen, but watching my dad run his own construction company instilled an entrepreneurial spirit in me. I just needed to find my niche.”
From the moment Young walked through the door to interview at Celebree School, she knew this was the right place for her. “I got the feeling this is where I should be,” she remembers. “From start to finish, the recruiter was professional, warm and it felt like a family. I got that family feeling not just from my school, but from everyone at the corporate office, too, because they truly are supportive. I’m not just a number. They knew my name when I walked in and truly invested in me and my growth. It just felt right.”
Celebree Schools works with every single one of its teachers to create an individual growth plan. “With Katie, for example, she was an assistant teacher first and we figured out what’s next together,” Huffman says. “What’s your career path and where do you want to go? You might not see out five years, but what’s your one-year vision? We then put resources into making sure that she had the chance to make that happen.”
Young says the perception in early childhood education is that once you become a teacher, that’s where you max out. “A lot of teachers don’t have the financial stability to go back to school, but there are so many resources the state provides that we utilize for the benefit of our teachers,” she adds. “We help them gain the confidence to go back to school or utilize these resources that they might not have even known about.”
A Developing Franchise
Young’s career path included owning her own business. As Celebree School’s first franchisee, Young’s school is set to open in July 2020. The company’s goal is to open 100 schools by 2025 throughout Virginia, Maryland, New Jersey, New York and Pennsylvania. “We have been around for 25 years and have 26 schools; we know exactly what it takes to find the right location, what it takes to market it and get the doors open,” Huffman says. “We know how to get the enrollment to make our franchisees successful.”
Celebree School’s ideal franchisee is someone who wants to own their own business and understands the importance of early childhood education. “I’m excited about developing franchisees; that is my job,” Huffman says. “The first 20 Celebree School franchisees are extremely important to us. We have to make sure we pick the right partnerships for us and they will get a ton of attention.”
Potential franchisees will be successful if they believe in Celebree School and what it stands for, as well as bringing their own passion for early childhood education and customer service. “We are talking to a gentleman now as a potential franchisee who has a background in customer service management and is 100 percent committed to the development of people. Plus, his wife is passionate about early education,” Huffman says. “We couldn’t write it better. You have to have a devotion to want to help and develop people.”
Because Celebree School was founded on the principle of people development, Huffman believes its franchisees will never get bored. “My biggest fear when starting the franchise, and what we’ve seen in our competitors, is that all schools will be successful, and then what?” he asks. “That’s what happened to me in 1994 – I opened the first location and was wildly successful, but now what do I do with my time? Franchisees will be responsible for coaching and developing the 30 teachers on their team, and that’s a lifetime worth or work. Boredom will never set in when you are developing and coaching people.”
One of the biggest challenges Celebree School faces with franchising is getting past the stigma of preschool and early childhood education. “Some people think it’s risky, but what these franchisees will get to do on a daily basis is phenomenal,” Huffman says. “We have to convince them the liability they think is there is not a great one and there is so much more to gain from this than the fears they are putting in their heads.”
Celebree School’s first franchisee couldn’t agree more. “I tell teachers that their jobs are really fun,” Young says. “We get to make a difference in the kids’ lives. I’m in charge of making sure their time with us will be the best and that learning will be fun while building the social skills they need. At the end of the day, that connection we build with the families is what motivates me.”
Celebree School’s secret sauce is its ability to build relationships and “Grow People Big and Small.” “It’s not just about educating the whole child, but the whole family and building a community where the kids are making friends and parents are making friends,” Huffman says. “To be the owner of a school and make those connections happen is rewarding beyond the financial level.”