When it works, there’s probably no better situation than working with a good friend. Joe Henry and Josh Oboler met in college, went to law school and began practicing law, but they were bitten soon after by the entrepreneurial bug.
Property values in Washington were appreciating quickly, and the idea of flipping properties appealed to them, so in 2000 they started a business together. They turned their first property on Connecticut avenue, a major thoroughfare in DC, into a Montessori school. Two of Joe’s sisters, Josh’s mother and his wife are Montessori teachers.
It was a success. The area had gentrified significantly, and there was demand for quality early childhood education. They filled the school the first year, and instead of flipping it became an institution.
Josh and Joe stopped practicing law to become teachers so they could understand their business from the inside out, and while they taught they opened another school and started acquiring others. Now they have seven schools in the DC area with more than 1,100 students. They also run summer camps and a variety of after-school sports and kid-centered activities. They’ve even opened two art galleries, both of which teach classes and offer seminars.
As they taught and ran their various businesses, Josh and Joe started families and became consumers of their own products. They quickly realized there was a need and demand for quality active healthy activities for families, and ZavaZone was born. Now the company is a burgeoning family entertainment franchise.
Joe Henry: The idea for ZavaZone started as two dads, two friends complaining about all the birthday parties we went to and how uncomfortable we were. Our kids were having a good time, and these places appeared to be making pretty good money and were relatively busy, but they were dirty, uncomfortable for parents, the lighting was bad, and our kids were getting bored with it. We were spending a lot of money, and as a family we were not having a good time. So, we reverse engineered what we wanted for ourselves and for our families.
What’s your vision for the ZavaZone franchise?
At our first corporate location, we were surprised how often customers asked us where we got this idea, and where we bought this franchise. When we told them they were shocked and wanted to know where they could buy a franchise. It was maybe in the fifth or sixth month of operation, driving home tired after a busy weekend, Josh and I called a franchise attorney.
We knew we had something special, something different in the market. But there were two things that were going to hold us back, capital and management. We know how to manage a business, and we knew we were going to open more corporate locations, we had the capital, but it was going to be a little bit slow.
We’re finding independent business operators over wide geographic areas, entrepreneurs like us who really care about their product. We have great employees, but it takes time to build that kind of system. By franchising we can do it a little quicker as we take advantage of the fact that we have something new and of high quality in the national marketplace.
This is a big investment. Our product is a destination. People come from a pretty wide area, so we’re looking for 200 or so qualified individuals in the entire nation. Early on we realized we were going to say no to prospective franchisees frequently; our model is far from sell as many franchises as we can. We’re going to make our money as our brand expands and as our franchisees make money, by the long-term operation of these businesses. We don’t want to open one on every corner. We want everyone to be successful.
How do you work with your franchisees?
We are in the infancy of our franchise business. Our FDD was filed last May, and our franchisees are getting lots of TLC. It’s our plan to continue with that, to be very hands on because we’re going to have so few franchisees, Josh and I can personally keep in touch with all of the operations out there. We have a new product, but other people who have a similar product are starting to shift, so there’s value in getting out there quickly. But at the same time, we’re going slow enough, and have the right systems in place, to really support each franchisee.
How have you set yourself up for long-term success?
For two guys who own family entertainment centers and have a business where people enjoy using high ropes and climbing walls, we’re really conservative. We’re doing this slowly and deliberately. We’re extremely proud of what we’ve got, and we recognize that we’re going to learn a lot from working with our franchisees. We already are.
We always want to have the newest, coolest thing that’s out there. Our new location has a zipline roller coaster, warped walls, and stunt bag jumps. We’re introducing dodgeball laser tag. We don’t even have a name for it yet. We intend to keep our eyes and ears wide open and learn not just from our customers but from our franchisees. It’s a combination of being deliberate and being flexible.
It’s a really fun business to run. In all the success that Josh and I have had in the last 20 years or so, we’ve always had fun. Quality is important to us, and we’re consumers of our own products, but I’m hoping that our franchisees are going to have that same experience. That they’ll be proud of what they’re doing, enjoy going to work every day.
The trampoline craze started 10 years ago, and its evolved slowly. I think we’ve made a major push in the evolution of indoor family entertainment. We intend to stay part of that, and I think our franchisees are going to enjoy that also – and have fun.
If you’re interested in learning more about ZavaZone family entertainment franchise opportunities, click here.