Gigi Schweikert: [00:11] Raj and Veenu Parkash, I have not seen you. It is so nice to have you here.
Veenu Parkash: [00:17] Good to see, Gigi.
Gigi Schweikert: [00:18] It’s great. I know. Big hug.
Raj Parkash: [00:21] It’s a pleasure to be here with you and seeing you after what now? A couple of years.
Gigi Schweikert: [00:26] Yeah, absolutely. And seeing each other in person, even though we were in contact very much through Zoom and telephone, and things like that.
Gigi Schweikert: [00:35] You’ve been with the Lightbridge brand for 18 years now. You started with one school. You made a complete conversion from what you were doing previously that I’m going to let you tell me a little bit more about, and you’re up to four centers now. You just purchased your fourth one during the post-pandemic world. Tell me what you were doing before you became associated with the Lightbridge brand. Just a little bit about that backstory.
Raj Parkash: [01:09] We were in the garment business in New York City. Somehow our lives changed on 9/11. It was a very difficult and a terrible day in history. Both of us were in New York City, and our daughter was here at a Lightbridge. We didn’t have any family living around. They shut down the city, so you can’t come out or go in. We were stranded there. That was really scary to have your daughter in New Jersey, and we are in New York.
Raj Parkash: [01:45] We decided, being in business, that we need to do business in New Jersey so that one of us can be in New Jersey. We used to see Guy and his whole family running the center. That used to amaze us that it was a happy place every time we walked in. We asked him if he wanted to do another one. He said, “Yes.” We said, “Okay, let’s go.”
Gigi Schweikert: [02:11] Yeah. On a scale of one to 10, how would you rate the garment industry with working in early childhood education?
Veenu Parkash: [02:18] That’s a tough question.
Gigi Schweikert: [02:20] I’m just kidding, but it’s got to be a happy place.
Veenu Parkash: [02:23] Yes.
Gigi Schweikert: [02:24] Do you want to add anything to the story?
Veenu Parkash: [02:28] Like Raj said, I was a fashion designer. Did it for many years. I loved what I did. When we saw the way Guy, Julia, and I think that time both their sons were there, not all three, the way they ran the school was so sweet. It was very, very nice—family-oriented. That’s how we are. You just want to have fun. You want to be happy. That’s when we said, “Should we do this? Should we try?” Like we said, I think that time Lightbridge only had two locations.
Gigi Schweikert: [03:01] Wow! So at the very beginning. Thinking about that first center and where you are today, what has been important as training and support through the development process that has been necessary to secure your success?
Raj Parkash: [03:21] What happens is that this is a specialized business, although most of the perception is, “It is childcare. You don’t need to be a computer scientist to run childcare, right?” We are professionals now in this field. How do you select a site? Lightbridge on the corporate side, you guys help us—what the demographics should be, what highways it should be, how the visibility should be.
Raj Parkash: [03:54] Now, after you select the site, how do you sign a lease? What should be the business terms in the lease that will make the business work? You can’t just sign a lease not knowing what the numbers should be. We get that help with how to do the lease.
Raj Parkash: [04:15] Then comes how the construction process needs to be. You need to develop a floor plan for how you can optimize the number of children in the building. That makes a huge difference. The support that we get from Lightbridge and the optimization of the building are the start of the business. If you don’t know how to optimize the space, if you have 160 children instead of 180 children, those 20 children mean a big revenue number at the end of the year.
Raj Parkash: [04:48] That helps now as the building is under construction. There is help from the marketing department as to how and what to do because there’s so much that has changed. I remember when we started our first center, we were doing flyers only and word of mouth as much as we could. Now, it’s all digital marketing. We cannot do those things on our own because we are not specialized in that. Your marketing department helps us how to get to those eyeballs our name in front of them and how to get them in.
Veenu Parkash: [05:28] They do everything for us, actually. They just do everything. The marketing team puts everything together, and we just have to execute it. Basically, everything is given to you.
Gigi Schweikert: [05:40] We’re able to look at what the demographic is of the families we serve, generate those leads through digital marketing, provide those leads to you, and then from there, you take those tours and convert those tours…
Raj Parkash: [05:55] The support that we get through nurture marketing is the bots that schedule even the tours, and they call on behalf of us to schedule a tour. They’re basically doing everything to get the leads into your door. Once people are at your facility, now is our turn to show them what we do.
Raj Parkash: [06:17] A great job is done by the training department to train us on the education side of it, because every age group has specific learning domains that work. When you are not from this field, you need to know and understand. The training department helps us to understand the education aspect of the business and the care business. This is a young age group that we deal with, so we have to be very caring. All that comes to us because we do sign language, Spanish, and singing. All those curricula are already made. We are advised on how to execute it, too…
Veenu Parkash: [07:04] The lesson plans are all done by the education department. They do everything for you.
Raj Parkash: [07:09] They do a phenomenal job. I’ll tell you that in our town, when the kindergarteners pass out and go to the public school and the teachers see them again, they say, “Where were you?” “We were at Lightbridge.” We enjoy such a good name that the township has partnered with us to run their program. We are their only partners because of the good reputation. Why do we have a good reputation? We were guided and trained on how to execute the education aspect for the children under our care.
Gigi Schweikert: [07:47] What a great affirmation of the quality of care and education! Talking about moving from one center to four centers, there’s obviously been some bench strength there, so that you’ve been able to grow individuals, and those individuals have been able to move up into new roles and be able to oversee that. Any stories and examples about how you’ve been able to grow people in their careers and those people helped you to grow your business?
Veenu Parkash: [08:20] We would attribute more than 100% to the employees we have today. They were not where they are now. It took a lot to train them and coach them. I think the strongest thing that we’ve done, which we feel, we’ve treated each one of them as a family. We’ve not restricted them. We’ve given them all the support they needed. We’re very proud that today we have so many employees who’ve been with us for over 15 years.
Gigi Schweikert: [08:52] That says a lot about your leadership.
Veenu Parkash: [08:55] A perfect example is we have now a regional manager, Miss Jessica. She actually was already with Lightbridge Academy as a part-time assistant. I remember when I was training. Then I took her on as an assistant teacher. She became a lead teacher. Then she became an office administrator, an assistant director, a director. Now she’s actually the regional manager for all our four centers. In the same way, we have so many people who just started as part-time employees at very young ages, and they’re all in admin positions right now. They are our biggest strength.
Gigi Schweikert: [09:32] That’s absolutely wonderful. Not only are you building that legacy for your own family, you’re building a legacy for people who work for you and those people in the community by being able to provide that type of service to provide employment. That’s phenomenal.
Veenu Parkash: [09:48] Just trusting them.
Gigi Schweikert: [09:49] When I hear your story and I hear you working in the garment district and then I hear you talking about working in the center and dealing with operations and finance and HR and marketing, if there’s someone out there who’s looking at this clip and thinking, “Wow, I’d be interested in multi-unit franchising, but I’m not sure that I’d be able to do that educational part or learn all those components.” What would you say?
Raj Parkash: [10:16] I think, with us, what worked I can share that with you. I’m not sure if the same thing would work for somebody else because situations can be different. What helped us was that Veenu spent about a year and a half in the centers learning and understanding the business, which was a huge loss for the other business because she came out and she started spending time here. She learned the business completely. Then, when we started our own center, she had a much better understanding to start with.
Raj Parkash: [10:50] In business, we knew the other aspects like finance and HR were there. But education and curriculum are very important, right? Because the age groups that we serve currently are zero to five, which are the founding years. This dictates what these children are going to become when they grow up. We need to make sure that we are training them well. Veenu had to go through and learn all that.
Raj Parkash: [11:18] I think all this can be done because the support is there because, with all the training, you have to be open to learn. You cannot just say that you are going to hire people and let them run the business. It’s not going to happen. Yes, it will happen, but you can run a successful business when you know what you’re doing.
Gigi Schweikert: [11:41] Exactly.
Veenu Parkash: [11:43] Which is all out there.
Gigi Schweikert: [11:44] That is so very true. Let’s talk about ongoing education and support. We have business coaches that support every franchisee. How do you feel about your business coach? Do you have a personal relationship with that person? Do you meet on a regular basis? How is that person helpful to you?
Veenu Parkash: [12:05] We’re very lucky. We have a wonderful business coach, KJ. She’s amazing. The business coaches—I think all of them—I’ve worked with three of them over a period of 18 years. They’re all so amazing. They literally teach you how to walk. They will tell you from A to Z when they step into the building, what you should do, what you should have, all the way till the end. They’re always there.
Veenu Parkash: [12:39] We have audits two to three times a year. They just come in. They work with you. They guide you every step of the way. Where are you missing? Where do you need improvement? Everything is laid out for you. Again, we have to do the work. If you’re signing up for a new franchise, if you’re nervous about doing it, there’s no reason to be nervous because, again, it’s handed to you. Everything is done to you.
Veenu Parkash: [13:05] So many things change over a period of time. The corporate office does the legwork for you. They look into all those changes. They bring it to you. I think the relationship we have with corporate is that they hear you. They definitely respect your opinion. It’s not like a one-way thing, as in, “This is what you do.” [inaudible] It’s a partnership. We’re very happy about it. Extremely.
Gigi Schweikert: [13:29] That sounds great. I’m really happy to hear that—being able to get the support that you need. Now, was that support a little bit different when you first started out to now that you have four? Or now that you have four, maybe you need more support?
Raj Parkash: [13:48] When we started out, we didn’t have a business coach. Now, having a business coach definitely helps, because what happens is when you are in the business, you might be seeing something, but you might not be doing something about it when it is required.
Raj Parkash: [14:05] The business coach, when she comes in, she’s able to look at it. She’ll talk through whether it is the operational side of the business, the finance side. Or is it marketing? Or is it in the classroom? We need to support the teachers. They need mentoring. How to do, what to do because different age groups, they have different challenges. It is very good that the business coach comes in, observes, and sees. There the support is required. Sometimes you don’t know where you need the support.
Gigi Schweikert: [14:36] So true. You get very used to doing your own routine. You’re seeing the same things, and having that third perspective is really helpful.
Veenu Parkash: [14:45] It’s not just the business coach. Over a period of time, we’ve had our educational team come. Jen has been there because we’ve asked her, “We want hands-on. We need to know.” It’s just a matter of reaching out. We’ve had the marketing department come. Brenda has visited us so many times. They’re a phone call away is what I can say. They’ll be there.
Gigi Schweikert: [15:10] I think one of the things I always say…
Veenu Parkash: [15:12] Because that makes it easy.
Gigi Schweikert: [15:13] Absolutely what I say in training for franchising is there are no dumb questions. Ask anything, and we’ll be willing to help you out with dealing with that.
Raj Parkash: [15:24] There’s definitely a lot of support. Ask them when we need it. We reach everybody on the corporate side to help us and guide us on what to do, how to navigate. Now we took over a fourth location. We had a call with Brenda, and we brainstormed what would work, what would not work, how we should do, so that we are able to bring the center to a decent level of occupancy there.
Gigi Schweikert: [15:54] That’s wonderful. Talking about family legacy, I know that you have two children. They’re grown children. One’s still in school, but one has finished school, and she had plans that were a little different than where we ended up. Talk to me about how that happened and what your daughter is doing right now.
Raj Parkash: [16:13] Actually, it is amazing that we never wanted to tell our kids what they should do, although we have friends who tell their kids what they should do. Even if the kids are not happy, they end up doing that. We did not want to take that approach because that approach was not taken by our parents toward us. They let us do what we wanted. We want to do the same for our kids.
Raj Parkash: [16:36] Our daughter never worked for us until the time she did not finish college—not even a single day she came to work. We never told her to do that. We let her pursue whatever she wanted to do in life. She had a corporate job. She was waiting for a placement. That’s when she said, “Since my friends have all gone to work where they have to, can I come and help you guys?” We said, “Sure.”
Raj Parkash: [17:05] She came in, and she started working. She started enjoying it. She comes to me and she says, “Dad, can you give me an offer?” I said, “Why? You have a job you will be moving on to.” She said, “No, give me an offer.” She persisted. I gave her a job offer in the morning. In the afternoon, she got her placement in New Jersey itself.
Veenu Parkash: [17:30] For Amazon.
Raj Parkash: [17:32] That was a big thing for her. She did not know what to do. By evening, she made a decision that she would work for us rather than take up the job.
Veenu Parkash: [17:43] She’s doing very well now.
Raj Parkash: [17:44] My reasoning was, “Why? I mean, you have such a great job. Why would you come work for us?”
Gigi Schweikert: [17:51] Good question.
Raj Parkash: [17:51] She said, “Over there, I would only be dealing with HR,” because that’s what her job description was. “If I work with you, I’ll do HR. I’ll do the curriculum. I’ll do marketing. I’ll do operations. I’ll do finance. The learning that I will do with you, I will not get that exposure over there, and I want to learn it all. I don’t want to just know one thing.” That answer was very impressive to us at that time. We said, “Okay.” We started her as an office admin. She moved up as an assistant director, and now she’s a director. She’s running the center at 100% capacity. In any case, to get to that is a…
Gigi Schweikert: [18:39] That’s absolutely phenomenal. I love the way that you let her start and work her way up to that position, and earn and gain that position. Has she said anything about the support that she received? I remember her being in training with us and going through that process. How important was it for her not to just have you but to have the support of the brand and to have the support of the home office?
Veenu Parkash: [19:04] I think I can answer that one because when she decided, her first thing was that she was very happy with what we had created because she loved children. She loved that everybody knew what they were doing. Like Raj said, she had never stepped into the school. She was a bit nervous when she took the decision, but then when she started the training and she came on board, she really felt comfortable because those training sessions were so helpful because, again, she did not know the ABC of childcare. With all the marketing training, the operational training, the educational training, she’s like, “Okay, I know what this is. I can reach out to people.”
Veenu Parkash: [19:48] To be honest, she’ll come to us for certain things, like maybe financials or day-to-day situations to me, but she goes right to the business coach because we have our business coach, KJ, who’s amazing. There’s so much support from corporate. She knows everybody’s a phone call away. That did absolutely help her make her decision as well.
Gigi Schweikert: [20:13] I know that you’re building a legacy that your daughter is now the director of one of your centers. You have a son. What do you think, if you had a crystal ball, is going to happen with him?
Veenu Parkash: [20:34] Because of the shortage of employees, he started going to school when he came home for the break. He’s actually really enjoying. He’s also very happy to see what we do, how we do things. I do see a little bit that he might want to join. He’s into business and finance. The crystal ball, which I really want but I cannot force, just like we’ve made a husband-wife team, I would like to have them like a brother-sister team and take Lightbridge Academy to a different level. That’s what I would want.
Gigi Schweikert: [21:10] I love that. Let’s end with a personal story where your daughter was headed to business. She was going to get her master’s. Talk to me about what she was going to get her master’s and what she’s going to be doing now based on her experience at Lightbridge.
Raj Parkash: [21:25] She was planning to do her master’s—an MBA—in finance. Since she joined us and she enjoyed the business so much, she said, “I want to do a master’s in child development and advocacy.” She’s finishing her master’s this year, which is incredible how her life and passion got changed from business to childcare. It is very amazing.
Raj Parkash: [21:54] Now when she talks about it, she’s learned a lot more about how the whole system works in the country. It’s not only how it works in the state, but what are the different agencies that come into play when certain things happen. She has a very good understanding of the law for and around children. What happens? We are very proud of her. I mean, it has been amazing that we didn’t know when we started with Lightbridge where our lives would go and how they were going to affect our children.
Gigi Schweikert: [22:27] And your whole legacy, which I have to say is so heartwarming for me personally in representing everyone here at the home office to know that our jobs are to support every franchisee to success, whatever that success looks like for them emotionally, socially, financially—all of those types of things. Some people are building that family legacy, and I’m so happy that we can be a very small part of what you’ve done and built with the Lightbridge brand, and just so very proud to partner with you.
Veenu Parkash: [23:01] Thank you so much.
Raj Parkash: [23:02] You’re doing a great job, Gigi.
Gigi Schweikert: [23:04] Let me end with this, and I’d love to get an example from each one of you. If you were going to give a tip, and I’m going to say one, but maybe it’s one or two, to someone who’s thinking about multi-unit franchising, what would you say is the secret to your success?
Raj Parkash: [23:21] I always think the secret to success is hard work, dedication, and honesty, whatever you’re doing. You’ve got to enjoy what you’re doing, and you’ll do well. I think one of the good things that I would like to point out in this business is you’re dealing with children. Children give you happiness. You see their interactions. You see their growth. When they come back to you, like in our case, kids who passed out of our kindergarten are our summer camp counselors.
Gigi Schweikert: [23:52] I love that.
Raj Parkash: [23:53] Seeing that growth and seeing what those individuals have become gives you a lot of happiness. This is a five-day-a-week business. Most of the businesses, if you’re in the retail side of it, are seven days a week. If you are in the restaurant business, all long weekends you get to work. This definitely creates a good work and life balance. I enjoy that. But I think the secret is to work hard. Be true to what you do, and you will do well. That’s what I would say.
Gigi Schweikert: [24:31] Absolutely. Now you are spending more time directly on operations. Anything you want to add to what Raj has already said that I think is so significant?
Veenu Parkash: [24:40] Like Raj said, it’s just a five-day thing. With any franchise you take over, with any business, everybody goes in and says, “I’m going to go in from day one and start making money.” This is for everybody. If you go in and you change that mindset and say, “I’m going to go in and not just focus on money. I’m going to focus on customer service and focus on building relations and my reputation.” That is the most important thing because your reputation is like you focus on your roots. If your roots are strong, you’re strong. You can face anything.
Veenu Parkash: [25:28] One of the biggest reasons we’ve been so successful is because we focused a lot on our reputation, on our employees, on customer service. Over a period of 18 years, we’ve seen so many ups and downs. So many centers come and go. The only thing that made us survive till date is the reputation and the employees. We spent a lot of time on that, and then money absolutely came along. It’s a good business to be in. That’s why we are on a fourth one, but it is a lot of work. It’s a lot of commitment. Just focus first on what you are building, and then everything will fall into place.
Gigi Schweikert: [26:05] That’s beautiful. I hear you just talking about focusing on the hard work, really participating, and allowing yourself to be open to learn, to accept that support, and to recognize that money comes through the quality and the passion and the customer experience that you provide to the parents and children.
Veenu Parkash: [26:28] Absolutely, yes.
Gigi Schweikert: [26:29] That’s beautiful.
Veenu Parkash: [26:30] That’s the key.
Gigi Schweikert: [26:31] Thank you.
Veenu Parkash: [26:32] Thank you, Gigi.
Raj Parkash: [26:33] Thank you.