There aren’t many people who can build a 80-center strong ECE business in just two decades—but that’s what makes Guy Falzarano so special.
Back in 1997, Guy and his wife Julia opened their very first Rainbow Academy (now Lightbridge Academy) with a dream to unite a disconnected community. And that dedication to community has driven Lightbridge’s business growth from strength to strength ever since.
23 years later, it’s clear the model works. 👌🏻
But there’s more to this story than meets the eye—because, beyond their obvious commitment to community, Guy has a secret formula that leads to success every time.
We caught up with the epic ECE founder to learn the story of how one franchise builder used brains, tools and grit to create a legendary child care brand.
Check it out!
When Guy decided to set up his first New Jersey-based ECE center, his community was experiencing some hardships.
“When we started up, there was a lot of racial and social unrest going on in our community,” explains Guy, “I decided that I wanted to have a business that met two main requirements. One requirement is it was not going to be a bureaucracy. It was going to be a happy environment. And second is we wanted it to welcome everybody. Our concept was: everybody is welcome under the rainbow.”
To ace those goals, Guy knew he had to do two things:
At the heart of Lightbridge’s success is their unique core values: The Circle of Care.
“The Circle of Care is made up of five stakeholders, with the child in the center, and the four stakeholders around them being the parents, employees, owners, and the community,” explains Guy, “You need everybody to be treated equally, and I look at it like I look at families. You don't look at your family and say, ‘this person is more important than this person.” So why would you do it in business?”
There are eight core values that comprise the Circle of Care:
Like most ECE businesses, Covid had a tangible impact on Lightbridge Academy.
“Pre-Covid, our company centers were about 83% occupied, and the franchisees were about 73% occupied. They're always less than company centers because there are always new franchisees coming in and still ramping up. Right now, we're at 55% occupied in company centers, and the franchise centers are at about 53%. That kind of puts it in perspective as to how far behind we are because of Covid,” explains Guy.
He believes the main reason for the lapse is parent hesitation to send their children back to school.
“What's driving that is uncertainty in parents' minds. The ones that have come back are the ones that have to go to work. The ones that haven't come back, are the ones who have employers allowing them to work from home. Or they're just too afraid to do this,” says Guy.
But Guy is adamant that child care centers are actually one of the safest places children can be.
“Child care has a bad reputation from a health perspective, because people think of us as germ factories. That's absolutely not the case because we are so focused on sanitizing all the time. The CDC developed COVID guidelines that we not only meet but have been doing for years. The cleaning and many of the policy procedures they developed have been in place for many years throughout the childcare industry. As a result, we're not really seeing widespread spikes because of Covid, because we're taking all of those precautions,” he explains.
Despite the ongoing Covid-related challenges, and the questions about whether parents should send their children back to school, Lightbridge Academy is already bouncing back.
And they even managed to 3x their child care software rollout right in the middle of the pandemic (with a little help from their friends 😉).
“We're coming back. Right now, we've got all of our centers open. They're all coming back in terms of enrollment,” says Guy.
Lightbridge Academy has been way ahead of the technology game since day one. For Guy, tech is the key to connecting with the wider community.
“We've been leaders in using technology to bring people together. A lot of our competitors have put in the same technology now, but they put it in to catch up. We put it in to keep parents connected, and parents love it,” says Guy.
But as any great business leader knows, unless the process is streamlined tech can be as much of a hindrance as a help.
“We've been leaders in technology for a long time, but it came to a point where there were about seven different tools that the directors had to keep track of,” says Guy, “So, we picked out a child care management tool that could bring those different systems together.”
From their smart child care management platform to their in-classroom cameras, the tools they use have one thing in common—they’re carefully selected to equally benefit each stakeholder in Lightbridge’s Circle of Care philosophy.
“Every one of our Circle of Care stakeholders are viewed as being equally important—and the tools we use reflect that,” explains Guy.
What started as a dream to connect a fractured community, is now a resilient 80-center strong business—despite the challenges.
“Life is a journey and you're on a path, and roadblocks are going to pop up, boulders are going to be thrown in your way. You're gonna have an avalanche every once in a while. But you have to find a way to get over that boulder, under it, around it, through it, whatever it takes,” says Guy.
And if Guy’s story has shown us anything, it’s that with the right attitude and a strong commitment to community, there are no limits to what you can achieve.
“You have to be persistent, and you have to keep going, and never quit. And as long as you have the right tools and you never quit, you will succeed.”