Yet, because it’s in the business of caring for children, the private day care, preschool and pre-k, which has 14 locations in Cobb, is not a typical chain store or restaurant.
Franchise owner Cheryl Bahneman of Acworth said, “There’s just this great rapport that goes on because you’re raising this child together.”
She’s been running the Oregon Park location in Marietta for 16 years, and she added the Brookstone school in Kennesaw five years ago. A former teacher for Marietta City Schools, Bahneman said she went into business after she couldn’t find a school for her own children that has the standards and curriculum Primrose has, which starts with infants.
She said Brookstone is unique because it helped the company launch its menu of healthy food and it has its own private kindergarten.
“There’s a lot of loyalty to these schools and the children thrive,” she said.
The first school was founded in east Cobb on Johnson Ferry Road in 1982 by Paul and Marcy Erwin as a half-day private preschool. After moving to the county from Illinois, the Erwins and their children encountered waiting lists at church preschools in the area. So, they started the first Primrose School on their 7-acre property — which is now a subdivision — using curriculum Marcy Erwin’s mother had used in a private preschool in Chicago.
“From there, they filled up a building, built another building, filled up a building, built another building, and in the matter of about five years, they had over 200 children on that campus,” said Jo Kirchner, Primrose Schools’ president and CEO.
By 1988, Kirchner said more and more parents were asking the Erwins if they could keep their children in the afternoons.
“They saw this shift of professional working women in the marketplace and so they began to think about how they could shift their enrollment to full-day,” Kirchner said.
The Erwins ultimately became licensed by the state as a child care company, and that’s when Kirchner first joined them as a consultant. As a working mom herself with a marketing background, Kirchner found it to be a good fit for her as Primrose sought to market itself as a full-day child care center with an emphasis on a curriculum geared to children who had not started school yet.
That curriculum is what sets Primrose apart from other schools, both Kirchner and Bahneman told the MDJ.
Kirchner said there are two leading philosophies to early childhood education: a child-initiated learning-through-play approach and a more structured and teacher-guided method. Primrose, she said, takes concepts from each one.
Each Primrose School is certified by AdvancedEd, an accrediting body for schools and colleges in the U.S. and abroad.
“That’s going above and beyond the normal state licensing requirements that states have to have,” Bahneman said.
The schools also follow the same lesson plans at the same time, so if a family were to move across town or across the country, children would be able to pick up where they left off simply by attending another Primrose School.
By 1990, Primrose had grown to four schools with one franchisee, and Kirchner joined the staff full time to further the school’s concept as a franchiser. She took over the business after the Erwins retired in 1999, and Primrose is poised to have 300 schools in 23 states by the end of the year.
The Primrose School turned to FranConnect, a provider of franchise technology, to maintain its standards, four years ago.
That company’s president, Keith Gerson, explained franchising is a distribution method where set standards can be replicated time and time again.
“When you’re just a supplier, people assume you’re just there to sell them something. That’s not how we operate, that’s not how I operate,” Gerson said. “It’s about helping people find the best solutions to the problems they face.”
Primrose has steadily grown in an effective way, Gerson said, because it is not focused just on the number of new franchises, but the finding the best type of people to run them.
He explained some of the technology Primrose uses allows franchisees to have a universal, secure place to go on a daily basis to maintain the standards of the company, access its library of information and communicate with corporate employees and other franchisees.
Tuition at each school varies by market. Bahneman said parents can expect a “premium” fee, but they will get what they pay for.
“If you go into a child care facility and their rate is rock bottom, something is terribly wrong,” she said, explaining that to retain quality staff members, they need to be paid the salary that goes with being the best.
Those staff members, she said, will often stay loyal to the school. As an example, Bahneman cited Nicole Camplen, who oversees operations at Oregon Park.
Camplen started working at Oregon Park when Bahneman first opened the school as a part-time high school student employee. Except for a 5-year break to earn a nursing degree, Camplen has been with Primrose since that work study position when she was at Harrison High school.
Although Bahneman has no plans to retire soon, Camplen hopes to eventually take over the two franchises from her.
“She’s grown up with me,” Bahneman said.
For more information on Primrose Schools, visit www.primroseschools.com.