Tina Francis is no stranger to hard work and dedication. She is a mother of two and balances a full-time job in the banking and mortgage industry. Additionally, she owns two IDEA Lab Kids*, the Houston-based STEM + Arts education franchise that offers after-school classes, camps, birthday parties, and open labs to children from ages 4-14 years of age.
Francis was originally drawn to the brand because her son was very advanced at a young age, and she was told to look into STEM programs for him. She began doing her research and found that her community did not have anything that focused on more than one area of learning. When she stumbled across IDEA Lab Kids, she met with the area developers and was instantly sold.
Now, Francis has filled a void in the Pickering community with her first opening in 2021 and signed for another location to open this summer in Whitby. After seeing such high demand with waiting lists and families traveling from Whitby to Pickering, she knew opening in this area would be beneficial as well.
1851 Franchise: Frame your personal story for us. What did you do before franchising, and how did you decide franchising made sense for you?
Francis: I still work full-time in the banking and mortgage industry. I’ve been doing that for over 20 years, with my last ten years in business development. I was originally drawn to IDEA Lab Kids when my son started talking very early and knew all his animals, colors, etc. I was told to look into STEM programs for him because he was very advanced for his age. I couldn’t find anything in our area, but I came across IDEA Lab Kids, which seemed like the perfect thing for him. I reached out to the area developers in Toronto and met with them at a Starbucks nearby to discuss opportunities to open locations in my community. I instantly loved the concept of the camps and courses they offer. I opened Pickering in 2021 and am hoping to open my second location in Whitby this summer.
1851: What was your perception of franchising prior to becoming a franchisee, and what do you want people to know about franchising now that you are in it?
Francis: I have always been drawn to startups. I liked the idea of getting into IDEA Lab Kids early and being able to build it out and get the name recognized. In the past, I helped start a brokerage, and I have a portfolio of rental properties. Having multiple income streams is important to me, especially in today’s economy. I knew franchising was right for me because there’s a team providing marketing support, a research-and-development providing new curriculums, which I wouldn’t have been able to do on my own.
1851: What made you pick this brand? What excites you most about this company?
Francis: I love the fact that my son enjoys it so much. He loves science, coding, and culinary arts. To have the ability for my kids to enjoy and benefit from something I created is a great feeling. IDEA Lab Kids also has a wide variety of curriculums, while some concepts similar to this in our community focus on one area of learning.
1851: What do you hope to achieve with your business? What are your plans for growth?
Francis: I bought three licenses with the brand. My plan is to get Whitby open and then build a third location within the next couple of years. I just don’t know exactly when or where that location will be yet. My long-term goal is to become a household name in this region for being a STEM provider. I can see myself expanding throughout our region. I’m getting inquiries already from parents about Whitby because we have a lot of families from there who are coming to Pickering, but it's a bit of a drive. When I opened Pickering in June 2021, our summer camps were already full and had waiting lists. I actually had to rent additional space in Ajax because of the overflow, so it is clear that the demand is here, and there is also not a lot of competition.
1851: What advice do you have for other people thinking about becoming a franchise owner?
Francis: It’s not easy, especially trying to juggle two kids and a full-time job, but IDEA Lab Kids has a great infrastructure for someone new to franchising. That has made it easier for me.