Part of the American dream is being able to grow a small family business into a thriving success in which generations to come can be involved — and such was the hope of brothers Pat and Mike Brown when they founded Children’s Lighthouse in 1997.
Children’s Lighthouse is a Fort Worth-based, family-owned daycare franchise system that is getting ready to open its 49th location.
Since its founding it has opened locations in the Dallas-Fort Worth and Houston areas. In that time, entrepreneurs have seen the Children’s Lighthouse daycare model and asked about franchising opportunities.
Michael Brown, who is now company president, was in middle school when his father and uncle took the company into franchising, and being a part of Children’s Lighthouse had always interested him.
“I would work at many of our locations doing marketing for us, as well as quite a bit of maintenance, and mowing the lawns — whatever needed to be done, I did it,” Brown said, adding that his two brothers worked alongside him.
Brown attended the University of Texas at Austin and holds a bachelor’s degree in finance. After college, he knew he wanted to return to the family business and help enhance the education of children.
“My dad was very open, that he would love for me and my brothers to work at the company and one day take over and be a part of the family business, but he wanted us to enjoy it and to make sure that that’s what we wanted to do,” Brown said.
“Of course, it’s many, many years down the line, but I would be thrilled if one of my children, or all of them, were interested in being involved in the business,” said Brown, a father of three. “I think that is the ultimate goal, to continue our culture and our family business.”
Growing in the business as the business grew around him, Brown says, he learned an immense amount from his father and uncle, who had entrepreneur backgrounds. Before opening the first Children’s Lighthouse center in Grand Prairie, the pair did two years of industry research to identify trends, antiquations and innovations.
“They were able to create the Children’s Lighthouse concept from that information, which was really a great way to found a business, based on some really strong principles,” Brown said.
Noticing a great need for a video camera system that allowed working parents to check in on their children online, the Brown brothers integrated that into the Children’s Lighthouse model. As a father, Brown said, he understands the need to know your children are safe, happy and learning while you are at work.
Brown says Children’s Lighthouse was one of the first companies to institute that kind of video surveillance, which is now considered an industry standard.
The founders also used technology and innovation to emphasize safety. Children’s Lighthouse used electronic locking doors that opened by a special key code given to parents.
“Also, one of our key focuses was in the financial stability, so we wanted a way to monitor some key performance indicators in our industry, and right off the bat we created an internal platform that allowed us to input that information and track it from year to year, as well as from location to location,” Brown said. “That has been vital for our franchise owners to benchmark themselves and see where they stack up against different schools” in the Children’s Lighthouse systems.
In about 2011, when the company had grown to 20-25 locations, Children’s Lighthouse began to invest more heavily in the franchise infrastructure. Brown says that once that happened the company grew from one to two, to three, to several more a year. Now it expects 10-15 new locations annually. According to the company’s website, Children’s Lighthouse franchise owners whose schools had been open for at least 18 months averaged gross revenues of $1,551,738.
Brown says he thinks that when his family founded the company in 1997 they hoped to see it grow to where it is today; and though his father died, Brown’s uncle Pat is still involved in the company leadership.
“I think they wanted, and we continue as well to want, to reach as many children as we possibly can with our program and enrich their lives. It’s such a great feeling when you have a parent that is literally in tears coming up to you and talking about how much their child has learned over the years and how they are ahead of their peers going into school, and that really gives them an edge,” Brown said.
He explained that target communities for Children’s Lighthouse typically include areas where both parents work and want their children to be in a more structured learning environment rather than the older model of daycare.
“We actually call our locations schools because we feel like we’re definitely not babysitting, we’re not giving daycare, we’re actually educating.”
The centers take children from six weeks to 12 years old. They offer pre-kindergarten, kindergarten and after-school classes with a curriculum built around a culture of emphasizing character to help children learn to be responsible members of society.
The curriculum — called C.A.R.E.S. — was developed by leaders in early education research Kristi Smith and Sharman Johnston. C.A.R.E.S. stands for C: character value education; A: active engagement; R: research-centered practice; E: embedded content; and S: standards-based objectives.
“We had seen over the years that not all children learn the same way, and so having a set standard curriculum like many people do, it just wasn’t working for everybody,” Brown said. “So we wanted to create a curriculum that was adaptable to suit each child’s learning needs.”
Lesson engagement, integration of different subjects, tracking to identify necessary focuses for each child’s learning progress, and getting parents more involved in their child’s education remain key focuses for the centers.
One way Children’s Lighthouse uses technological innovation to keep parents engaged is in its parent communication platforms. These show parents of younger children things like bathroom usage, when and what they ate, when they were sleeping — their basic schedule — while for older children the platforms show categories, topics and focuses the children worked on each day.
“We felt that that was going to be a huge benefit to the parents, as well as the children, so that they could continue to learn with their parents. Now that has become widely popular and almost an industry standard as well; and we were one of the first to see the potential and utilize that in our schools,” Brown said.
“We have integrated that into the system, so the curriculum was basically just founded on innovation and the newest research based in early education,“ he continued.
In 2017 Children’s Lighthouse’s franchise system was accredited by leading child care authority AdvancED, which emphasizes innovation and continuous improvement in education. The company has also been a member of the International Franchise Association for 10 years.
As a franchise company, Brown says, Children’s Lighthouse aims to let franchise holders reach their community and enhance the lives of children while earning an income by doing so.
“Our goal is to provide what we have, and we feel we have the very best environment for children to be safe, and to learn, and prepare for the next stage in their lives. Our goal is to reach as many children as we possibly can and move that philosophy forward,” Brown said.
“Not just the focus of our business, but I think the industry, in general, is very community-oriented,” he continued. “If you’re going to be successful, you have to have the passion for children, learning and the community.”