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Franchise Interview
Interview Date:  9/9/2008
Franchise Interview With Deb Evans, COMPUTER EXPLORERS Franchise President & CEO

Q: Tell us a little bit how COMPUTER EXPLORERS got started?

A: COMPUTER EXPLORERS: Karen Marshall, M.Ed, founder of COMPUTER EXPLORERS (CE) saw the need for children’s technology education programs in childcare and preschool facilities. She started a home-based business in 1984 and began franchising in 1989. In 2003 she sold the franchise to the International Center for Entrepreneurial Development (ICED). ICED has over 900 franchises in 12 countries and CE has additional advantages in the market by utilizing ICED’s direct mail program, call center, nationwide marketing programs, etc.

Q: What is the single best reason you can give someone for investing in a COMPUTER EXPLORERS franchise?

A: COMPUTER EXPLORERS: COMPUTER EXPLORERS is fun and rewarding to market and manage a 21st century business designed to meet the technology needs of children and adult students. We prepare children today to live in a better tomorrow!

Owning a home-based franchise allows an owner to stay connected to family as they work from home. Franchisees work very closely together through conference calls, seminars, web base forums, etc so a franchisee will not feel alone in their business. The ongoing support of the corporate office is only a phone call or email away.

Q: Obviously, franchise ownership is not for everyone. What qualities do you look for in an ideal candidate? What is really going to make someone successful in this business?

A: COMPUTER EXPLORERS: Most successful franchisors have a system that works and they are looking for someone who can work as a team member and follow their system. Owning a franchise should be rewarding, allow you to work independently and feel like part of a family but it is hard work. Our franchisees value the quality of life. They’re looking for a change. They do not need a background in technology or education but someone who is willing to work hard and grow their business which often means involving their family. Franchisees children love to help test our software and curriculum and offer their suggestions how to make a class interesting and engaging for the students. Many franchisees will hire their teenagers as technology assistants in our camps or Saturday programs. Sometimes we have a husband and wife team to purchase a franchise. One is responsible for the marketing and the growth of the franchise and the other is responsible for hiring and implementing the programs. We have franchisees who have retired but still want to work and love the opportunity of owning their own business after leaving corporate America.

Q: Let’s say you are a new franchisee. You have a lot to do and only so many hours in the day. Where would you focus your energies?

A: COMPUTER EXPLORERS: The easiest and the most costly mistake a new franchisee can make is to begin working in their business and not on their business. It’s very tempting to meet the needs of children and adults by teaching our programs as a new franchisee. The best focus for the business is to spend energy on marketing and continued growing their business. A good franchisee will work hard to hire and train the right individuals to deliver the programs.

Q: Competition is always an issue. What separates your franchise from other franchise systems? What do you offer a prospective franchisee that others don’t?

A: COMPUTER EXPLORERS: There has been an explosion of new franchise companies especially in the area of child-related service and educational programs but we firmly believe that our quality programs written by educators for educators is the best! Our founder Karen Marshall had a vision in 1984 for a franchise that would provide a quality technology education program for all. I think it’s exceptional that when a franchisee markets our programs they know that Educators Need It, Parents Want It and Children Love It! We provide a start-up package of software and exciting peripherals (robots, digital microscopes, etc), access to an on-line library of hundreds of curriculum ad lesson plans that exceed national technology standards, support from a strong and experienced corporate team and peer groups that work together regional on marketing, hiring strategies, etc.

Q: Like all franchise systems, you have franchise owners that have “hit the ball out of the park” while others are struggling. What do you do for a struggling franchise owner to help get them to where they want/need to be?

A: COMPUTER EXPLORERS: We have a strong support system both from the corporate office and from the franchisees. On a corporate level we conduct monthly calls with each franchisee. We recognize early if they are struggling and will address those issues as early as possible. Some franchisees will require additional training, a visit to their territory from someone from the corporate office or a seasoned franchisee, additional support of our direct mail and/or customer call program may be needed. Each franchisee is a member of a peer group and meets on monthly conference calls focused on their specific needs.

Q: What are the biggest challenges franchise owners face and what is your company doing to address them?

A: COMPUTER EXPLORERS: Brand awareness is a challenge nationally and locally for our franchisees. To address this challenge we are working closely with a national Public Relations firm. Monthly we are distributing e-Newsletters to potential customers and building the distribution lists dramatically. By providing monthly information about who we are and the unique quality technology educational services we provide. 

Q: Starting a franchise business, like any business, requires a lot of hard work. If it were easy, everyone would do it. What do you tell prospective franchisees to help them have realistic expectations before going into this business?

A: COMPUTER EXPLORERS: During the discovery process we spend the necessary time to understand what they are seeking to accomplish. Together, we explore their timeline, investment range, and key financial and quality of life goals. We apply the S.M.A.R.T test: Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant and Timeable. We work closely during their launch as they develop an operational and a financial plan. Growth and profit will not come without a well thought out executable plan.

Q: Where do you see your company going over the next few years?

A: COMPUTER EXPLORERS: Technology is advancing at a brisk rate and children are falling behind in science, math and technology skills. COMPUTER EXPLORERS will continue to build our relationship with the education community through the International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE) and other organizations in order to provide a quality technology education service to improve student learning by advancing the effective use of technology. The world of technology is our world. Each day brings excitement and new energy. We want to expand our franchise locations so that we can service more schools, preschools, recreation and community centers and communities across the United States.

About Deb Evans - President & CEO:
Deb worked for the Nuclear Regulatory Commission in both Washington DC and King of Prussia, PA. After leaving the government she became an active community leader and PTA board member. She completed her A.A. in Early Childhood Education and became a Licensed Day Care Provider/Teacher.
In 1996 Deb became a COMPUTERTOTS Teacher and in 1997 purchased the franchise. In 1999 Deb purchased an additional territory in Philadelphia, PA and developed several ITRP programs in PA. As a franchisee she received several awards including Double Century Club, Mentor (two years), Franchise Advisory Council Representative and Chair. She also received Franchisee of the Year in 2002.
In August 2004 Deb joined the Corporate Team in Cypress Texas and currently serves as President and CEO.

Responsibilities include: Oversees daily operation of CE; policies, procedures, supervising and monitoring production of programs, training, responding to franchisees concerns, Discovery Day responsibilities and working with the Management Team of ICED.