Once a week for less than an hour, Lara Olson’s first-grader son got to tap into the creative part of his brain with watercolors, markers and clay at school. “He loved art class but he wanted more,” she said. “So I sprung into action.” She looked for after-school art classes to give her son more exposure to art but didn’t find the kids-creating-and-playing mojo she was hoping for, so in 2008 she founded Kidcreate Studio. Her tech-free studios eschew phones and video screens in favor of polymer clay, oil paint and watercolors for kids ages 18 months to 12 years. “It’s about making a mess and getting kids away from digital devices so they can learn in a social space,” she said. Olson, 50, started with a location in Eden Prairie and soon expanded to Woodbury and Savage. Now she’s franchising the brand across country so that parents can supplement their kids’ art training in school.
Q: Why did you decide to franchise?
A: My goal from the beginning was to take a business that does good for kids and get more of them involved. When it came time to make that choice we opened Eden Prairie and that went well and then Woodbury too. Once we were happy with the profitability and the running of the business, we decided to franchise.
Q: How else have you expanded on your original idea?
A: We’ve added birthday parties and summer camps but we have to go where the kids are so we’ve added partnerships with preschools, community-education programs, elementary schools, parks and recreation programs, care programs before and after school, health clubs and golf courses. That’s part of our On-the-Go side.
Q: Elementary schools too?
A: Yes. Some reduced their art programs but we work with districts that may offer it as an after-school program too. We work with a lot of districts like Edina, Eastern Carver County, St. Louis Park, Eden Prairie and south Washington County.
Q: What’s the revenue breakdown?
A: The On-the-Go side is about 70% of our business. Most of it is school districts and charter schools, then day-care centers and preschools and a sliver of community events. About 30% of revenue are from the studio locations.
Q: What kind of revenue increases has the business seen?
A: We’ve seen year-over-year growth of 20%.
Q: Do you see yourself dropping the brick and mortar and concentrating only on On-the-Go programs?
A: Probably not anytime soon. I like the idea of having a physical location for franchisees to keep a work/life balance. Without the location, they’d try to run it out of their home and the business would take over their life and art supplies would take over their home.
Q: What kind of success have you had franchising the business?
A: We launched it two years ago and have 14 franchises in Illinois, Iowa, North Carolina, South Carolina and Texas. We have commitments to 25 locations in California, Colorado, Georgia and Virginia. Out goal is to add one new franchisee per month and a new studio every other month, but we may speed that up a bit.
Q: What does it cost to buy a franchise?
A: $108,000 to $230,000 depending on the cost of real estate and contractor labor.
Q: What reasons do parents give for signing up their kids in your classes?
A: Sometimes it’s as simple as “something fun for my kids to do” or “I feel art education is important.” More often, it is because art is a theme their child is interested in or they’re scouting out opportunities to see what interests their child.
Q: How seasonal is your business?
A: Summer vacation is a crazy, fun time for us, especially the summer camps. But the school year is more consistent with time in the classroom and then birthday parties.
Q: What’s your art background?
A: There has always been art in my life. My mom was artistic and we always had art projects spread out on the kitchen table. I have an interior design background. That’s my artistic direction.
Q: Parents have lots of choices to interest their kids, but how much competition is there in the kids and art arena?
A: There are other franchises that offer the on-the-go philosophy and some have been around longer than we have. But I feel there’s generally a lack of competition. I found a good niche at the right time.
Q: What can’t kids wait to get their hands on?
A: All things slime — the making of slime, turning slime into an art project, and decorating containers to keep slime in.
They also like using candy as an art material — a mosaic with jelly beans or a winter-scene diorama made with frosting.