With locations in Chelsea, the Upper West Side, and in Peter Cooper Village/Stuyvesant Town, apple seeds is well-known (and well-loved) amongst parents of young children in the city. Founded and owned by two sets of parents—Allison and Craig Schlanger and Alison Qualter Berna and Bobby Berna—apple seeds operates all-in-one activity, play, and enrichment centers for families with children ages newborn to 5 years. They also offer birthday party options, summer camps, and more.
“apple seeds is like a modern day community center,” Alison Qualter Berna explains. “While we don’t pretend to be school, kids learn in our space every single day… Children learn through play. What they see, touch, and experience each time they play is how their little minds develop. We provide a safe, clean, and fun space for babies and toddlers so that they are able to build the confidence needed to explore and grow.”
They also have some big news. To plant the seeds of their unique offerings in more communities locally and nationally, apple seeds has recently introduced a franchise program. We recently caught up with two of the founders, Alison Qualter Berna and Allison Schlanger, to get the full scoop.
You’re well established in the city, what aspects of your business are you franchising now?
Allison Schlanger: Right now, we’re franchising our most popular class, our music program, songs for seeds. Three years ago, an apple seeds mom, Lisa Kozinn, who had been taking her twins to songs for seeds for four years, partnered with us to test out the first songs for seeds franchise in Tribeca. It was incredibly well-received. Three years later, Lisa has a thriving franchise and we are expanding the program across the country.
Alison Qualter Berna: Ever since the day we opened our doors on March 1, 2007, we’ve received hundreds of requests to franchise apple seeds or songs for seeds. We had always turned those offers down because we were focused on NYC. Over the last two years, we built a platform for our franchise sales process so that it is replicable, our brand remains our brand, and our mission and philosophy remain our mission and philosophy. Our song for seeds program is a great franchise opportunity because there is no brick-and-mortar space needed, which means no build out and no monthly rent. That’s a huge deal for a person taking the leap of faith needed to start a business and perhaps leave their job or dive back into the workplace.
Do those who go in business with you have to find the musicians and location, and then have to promote themselves locally?
AS: [Yes], but with heavy support from the apple seeds and songs for seeds management team. Through our onboarding and training process, we guide and support our franchisees on how to find a location, musicians and promote their business locally.
AQB: We help them find their location—either a church, synagogue, fitness center, or similar community space in their neighborhood… It’s sort of like looking for a home. It’s about location and convenience.
How do you give feedback to franchise owners?
AS: We are in constant communication with our franchisees. We also implemented a customer feedback system that surveys our franchisees’ families twice a semester (approximately every six weeks) on everything from how their children are enjoying the classes to the cleanliness of the space to how their teacher/musicians are doing and if the class is starting on time. We receive their reviews the moment they respond. This allows us to virtually be in classes all across the county that we can’t physically be in every day.
Are you open to franchisees opening franchises in any location? Or are there restrictions?
AQB: [Franchisees can open] anywhere—we don’t want to stop any conversation… There’s room around the city and the suburbs—and all over the country. Right now only Tribeca, Scarsdale, Denver, and Cincinnati are spoken for.
AS: This is a new franchise opportunity where only a few territories are spoken for as of today, so right now there are a lot of open areas to expand to. The songs for seeds program is an appealing franchise opportunity because it has a low financial entry point. There is also no permanent real estate commitment/no brick and mortar space you are bound to by a lease and no construction/buildout costs. There also are no full-time employees. Our franchise owners are hiring, on average, four part time band members. The infrastructure is completely built for you so it’s considered very much a turnkey business. One of the most appealing aspects of owning a songs for seeds franchise is that it is a business where you can balance raising your kids or staying in your existing career at the same time as running the franchise. In fact, our Tribeca, Scarsdale, and Denver owners are all doing just that.
Are the songs for seeds franchises all very similar to what is offered at the original location?
AQB: The songs for seeds franchisees offer the same exact class that is given in all of our NYC locations. Everything they need to re-create the class is provided for them in a mobile kiosk we call our “Roadie Box.” Before a franchise opens its doors we deliver two fulfillment packages…[that includes] the Roadie Box with everything they need to run their class and then the teacher/musician’s instruments. There is nothing that our franchisees need to source on their own.
Would one of the four of apple seeds’ founders—including yourselves—ever spin off and focus on primarily on franchisees?
AS: Right now the four of us are focused on different areas of franchising. At this stage in our expansion we all need to be intimately involved. The amount we learned from the day we signed the contract with our second franchisee in Scarsdale, to now—midway through their first semester of classes—has been one of the biggest learning curves since we started apple seeds. The four of us recognize that we all need to be involved so that we continue to learn firsthand until we have more locations open and thriving. And, just as importantly, we have more fun at work when we do things together.