Have you ever wondered how a franchise concept begins? For Jen Saxton, it all started in the entrepreneurship program at Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management.
Jen realized work-life balance was becoming a focus for millennial women, and sought a way to help improve this balance for busy moms who were starting their families. After narrowing down her list of business ideas, Tot Squad was born.
Hear Jen’s story through the podcast player above, or continue reading to learn more.
Tot Squad began as a mobile pop-up concept, where parents could bring their car seats or strollers to be cleaned. The crew would show up at a partner location, like a Whole Foods or local baby boutique, set up a tent out front, and clean the baby gear in 30-60 minutes.
These partnerships became valuable for both Tot Squad and the businesses hosting the pop-ups, because families often shop in the stores while they wait for their gear to be cleaned. Data from Jen’s exit surveys actually show that people spend more shopping in the retail stores than they do on the Tot Squad’s services. This has allowed them to build great relationships with the retailers.
The concept soon evolved to include a physical presence inside the stores on a more permanent basis (as opposed to the pop-up events). Once they were in the stores, they were also able to offer the services on the stores’ baby registries.
So, if an expecting couple adds a stroller or car seat to their registry at a Buy Buy Baby, for example, they can also add a Tot Squad membership, which includes gear assembly, car seat installation, a couple of cleanings every year, and a tune up on your stroller.
She’s also built relationships with gear manufacturers, like Bob Strollers and Bugaboo, so customers who call them with questions about repairs or tune-ups are redirected to Tot Squad. These partnerships took years to build, and have been critical in moving Tot Squad forward.
Another notable shift is the change from a simple cleaning service to a safety-focused business. Today, one of Tot Squad’s biggest services is car seat installation.
Jen notes that “as many as 90% of baby car seats are incorrectly installed, and car accidents are a leading cause of death for children. A new study even showed that 50 percent of kids who die in car accidents were not properly restrained.” By installing the car seats properly, they mitigate that risk.
She loves the fact that her business has a really great social mission, and that her employees are passionate about saving kids’ lives.
Jen became interested in franchising since her first quarter of business school when she audited a franchise class taught by Burton Cohen, former Chief Franchising Officer at McDonald’s. He’s been a great mentor for her and is one of the reasons she decided to take her business in that direction.
At the same time, there was a more practical reason: funding.
If Jen were to grow Tot Squad herself, she’d have to raise a lot more money - something that is often a challenge for women entrepreneurs. She recently read that 98% of venture capital dollars go toward companies owned by men, meaning just 2% goes toward women-owned companies. So, women have to work harder for each dollar to put into their businesses.
“You can just be a guy with a tech startup idea and get $2,000,000 with the snap of a finger,” Jen says, “And for it's taken me 80 investors, 80 people writing smaller checks.”
If she turned her business into a franchise, however, she could actually bring in money while she was scaling the business rather than trying to grow it while wooing investors. So while in the long term she’s giving up potential income because the franchisees keep a large chunk of the earnings in their own pockets, she’s able to grow her business faster as a franchise. It’s worth the trade off.
Jen has really taken advantage of the franchising network, getting involved in the International Franchise Association (IFA) and winning the Next Gen in Franchising Global Competition. She’s met countless mentors and advisors who have guided her franchise journey through these organizations, and she’s learned firsthand that networking is such an important part of success in the world of franchising.
Somebody once told Jen that your first ten franchisees are like pioneers, and the people after that are the settlers. With one franchisee currently located in Washington, DC, Jen’s ideal franchisees are still the pioneers.
Who are the pioneers? People who see the opportunity and aren’t scared of being one of the first to do it. People who know this could work in their communities, even if there’s nothing else like it at this point. People who are willing to take a risk on a growing business.
The ideal franchisee is in a financial position where they’re able to take a risk on an earlier stage company and be part of its exciting growth wave. These people tend to be more entrepreneurial, and are ready to seize the opportunity for growth in the future.
“It's a great business for somebody who wants to be their own boss, create their own schedule, and work in a family friendly environment, but still have an income and a way to provide for their family,” Jen says, “But, it's a full time job. It’s not a hobby, or part time on the side. We're open seven days a week, so it's more like retail hours but there's flexibility around it.”
Whether you’re ready to be a pioneer or not, there are lots of exciting partnerships and business opportunities coming to Tot Squad in the coming months, so keep an eye on this business. We can’t wait to see where Jen and her franchisees take it!