Owning your own business is not right for everyone. While buying an established franchise certainly gives you a head start in building success, the real work starts when you decide how you are going to make that brand your own. Being a successful franchise owner takes determination and drive, and a little creativity doesn't hurt either. At Snapology, we are lucky to have successful owners all over the world. We want to share their success stories with you through a series of franchise owner success spotlights. This month we are chatting with Aaron Hagebak. Aaron is the owner of Snapology of Minneapolis. He has consistently been recognized as a top performer and is a fantastic contributor to the advancement of the brand.
What did you do before starting Snapology?
Before joining Snapology, I somehow drifted into sales and marketing in the corporate world, with about 15 years in the music industry. I got hired because I’m a music nerd and could talk with record store buyers in nerd language. I worked my way up from selling really small independent records to really small independent record stores around the country at the start of my career to selling the largest records in the world for Universal Music Group to Target HQ as the director in charge Universal’s sales Target Account team. Music has always been a passion of mine, so being able to interface with the heads of iconic record labels like Interscope and Capitol and being able to meet a bunch of artists was a fun trip. Getting kissed by Lady Gaga wasn’t so bad either.
What made you decide to invest in a franchise?
As the music business changed pretty drastically around 2014, I was asked to move to Los Angeles to continue working for Universal, but with a young family we wanted to stay in Minneapolis. I decided to stay in sales but in another, less exciting business. I quickly learned that music was what drove me to do well in sales, but sales outside of the entertainment world was not what I was made for. I wanted to do something more meaningful and try to find a way to help our community out in some way as well. I knew I could run a business with the skills I’d learned in sales and marketing, but since I’d never owned a business before Snapology, I wanted to join a franchise to get some help and some tools in the areas I wasn’t as accomplished in.
Why did you choose Snapology?
I knew that I wanted to run a business where I could work with kids, but I didn’t really know what I wanted to do. At the time I was looking around for opportunities my kids were 6 and 8, which is pretty much the wheelhouse for all things LEGO®. I was building with them one night, and then happened upon a Snapology franchise advertisement and it just seemed to click. STEM was just becoming a really big thing in Minneapolis, but I didn’t see a lot of opportunities for hands-on STEM programs in the city. Becoming that solution for the city is what I decided I wanted to do. Snapology also seemed like a business where I could use my creativity around partnerships that I honed in the music industry to work for me in the education world.
What has been the biggest change in your life now that you own Snapology?
When I was in sales my life was all about hitting numbers and achieving sales goals, and now my world is wall to wall kids! I’ve learned a ton about different cultures, religions and education and schooling styles in the 3 years I’ve been a part of Snapology. My day might start with preschoolers at a Jewish Community Center, then a class at a Catholic school that is predominantly Hispanic, a field trip to our center from a Montessori followed by a marketing event at an LGBT family festival. I feel like our business is reaching the right people – the folks that didn’t have access to STEM education, the schools that are under-resourced, families where play-based learning isn’t a part of their culture, and special needs kids who really seem to gravitate to our programs and might not have been as accepted in other programs. So I feel like I’ve succeeded in creating a meaningful program for Minneapolis that is open, accepting, and a generally awesome place to work, play and build at. That feeling is fantastic and it’s not something I had during the last few years I was in sales.
What steps did you take to launch your business?
From the time I started I knew that I wanted to have a Discovery Center so my staff could have a home base and so I could establish a community for the families we work with that is centrally located in Minneapolis. Before I opened the center, I wanted to make sure the concept would work so I spent my first year as a mobile business. I worked out of my house and we held classes at schools, camps in rooms that I would rent, and birthday parties at people’s houses and rec centers. I called and emailed schools, got a few early wins under my belt, built up some partnerships with our public school district’s community education team, and started partnering with businesses that were bigger than I was and could draw families like an indoor play space and a toy store with a maker space.
What has been your biggest challenge and biggest success?
Finding teachers and staff that I feel can bring a high level of passion and dedication to their work is the biggest challenge in growing my business. I have high expectations for my teachers and learning to trust that they’ll be at their programs on time, well prepped and ready to go has been hard for me. Letting go of things and letting my staff be the face of our brand in the schools is a new skill that I work on every day. On the other hand, I attribute the quick growth of our business to our staff culture that has fostered a sense of team, family and trust. Through my teacher’s work, our brand has really become a part of the community. It means a lot to me I walk through a grocery store and see a kid that we had in a program and she waves at me, or I’m getting oil changed and the technician comments that his kids love Snapology when he sees the logo on my shirt. So growth is super important, but being accepted as a part of our diverse community is probably my biggest success.
Any other successes to share?
We recently opened a second classroom at our center, which really opens our programming up to be more flexible with larger group and running parallel programs. Before we opened the 2nd classroom, it was like trying to pick your favorite child when picking between a field trip, a birthday party or a class or camp. We could really only run one at a time, but now we’re able to be a lot more adaptable to various types of programs that come our way.
Where do you see your business going in the future?
I’ll continue to try my hardest to hire great people that will be able to teacher our amazing curriculum. As we grow our staff, we’ll be able to work with more partners at a time and focus in on morning and evening classes a bit more. With our second classroom we’ll be able to accommodate more field trips and more one-off groups and programs next summer that can run at the same time as our summer camps that already run every week. During the winter months when we have more birthday parties at the center, having a second classroom will help with the flow of families as well. I’d love to work more closely with the MN Autism Society, the Ronald McDonald House, occupational therapists, scouting groups and Big Brother/Big Sister. Whatever happens, every day is a new adventure and I’m looking forward to it!
Do you have questions for Aaron or any of our owners? Be sure to add them in the comments and stay tuned for our next success story. We have plenty to choose from.