Franchise Players is Entrepreneur’s Q&A interview column that puts the spotlight on franchisees. If you're a franchisee with advice and tips to share, email ktaylor@entrepreneur.com.

After opening three successful KLA Schools, Robert Ortega decided it was time to franchise. Ortega’s family has a long history of mixing education and entrepreneurship: his grandfather owned schools in South America. Realizing that there was a demand for innovative preschools, Ortega realized the time was ripe to do the same in the U.S. Here’s what he has learned, as franchisee and franchisor.

Name: Roberto Ortega, co-founder and President of KLA Schools

Franchise owned: Co-Founder of KLA Schools and co-owner of six locations in in Florida, Washington, California and Illinois.

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How long have you owned a franchise?

My wife and I, along with a group of investors, founded KLA Schools in 2008 and opened our first franchise location in 2010.

Why franchising?

After finding success with the first three KLA Schools, we felt that the concept was strong enough to begin franchising. Before opening the first school, we did our due diligence in both the franchise and education industries to determine if there was a need for a concept that used an innovative teaching approach in a modern and interactive learning environment. We quickly came to the conclusion that there was a demand for this type of school, which gave us the confidence to move forward with our idea. My wife stepped in as pedagogical director and I work on the business development side of the brand. As first-time business owners it was a thrill to see our idea come full-circle and the continued success of the franchise is a result of all our hard work. The plan from the beginning was to eventually franchise and it’s been a thrill to see it grow and retain our original vision which is to provide a high-quality alternative in early childhood education.

What were you doing before you became a franchise owner?

Education and entrepreneurship is a part of my family legacy – my grandfather owned schools in South America – and that was influential in guiding me before I was able to open a business. I moved to the U.S. to attend college and then worked for several years in the real estate sector. My understanding of the real estate market helped guide our strategic decisions for when and where we opened the first school. We were constantly evaluating whether the economic climate was advantageous for the business and waited until the timing was right.

Why did you choose this particular franchise?

Opening a preschool was my wife’s vision, but we made the decision along with a close family of investors supporting us, to open our first school. We are thankful that our investor partners saw education as a worthwhile investment, not only because it is a necessity but it is extremely rewarding to know that our schools serve a greater purpose in the future of society. Having a passion for what we do is the best motivation for success that we could have. If we didn’t love what we are doing we wouldn’t have been able to persevere and work hard to get parents and families on board with what we are building. We wanted to build the concept around a family-oriented culture so we are looking for the same values in our prospective franchisees.

How much would you estimate you spent before you were officially open for business?

KLA franchisees can expect to invest between $500,000 and $1.3 million.

Franchise Fee: $70,000
Site Selection Fee: $20,000
Real Estate: $187,500 (depends on lease terms and landlord contributions to tenant improvements)
Furniture/Fixtures: $53,000 (dependent on size of the school)
Insurance: $6,000
Training: $4,500
Legal & Accounting: $1,500
Additional Funds: $75,000

Where did you get most of your advice/do most of your research?

We traveled to Reggio Emilia, Italy and attended conferences here in the U.S. and around the world. We visited Reggio Emilia schools in Italy – where the approach was first developed – and saw firsthand how they operated their schools. We scrutinized every aspect of the Reggio approach down to the type of furniture they use. All of our schools have play-soft furniture imported from a manufacturer in Italy because we believe remaining true to Reggio Emilia is what sets us apart from the competition. We want walking into a KLA School to be an opportunity to change the way people think about early childhood education.

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What were the most unexpected challenges of opening your franchise?

Knowing that we had the right systems in place to be able to open a franchise in a new state was a big risk as a young franchise. Having schools spread across the country meant adjusting the lines of communication so that the high quality of the concept remains intact. The process has been helpful in proving to our team that we do have the right systems in place to be able to provide our franchisees the support that they need no matter where they are located.

What advice do you have for individuals who want to own their own franchise?

Evaluate where your passions lie and be ready to commit yourself to the overall vision of the franchise. We look for certain aspects in our franchisees that we think will make them successful in our system, including strong family support, a demonstrated commitment to excellence and enthusiasm for education.

What’s next for you and your business?

We will be opening our first franchise locations in Oregon and Texas in the next year. We also have plans for additional locations in Florida and California.

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