Alex Burnside is the founder and franchisor of Phonics with Robot Reg, a nationwide preschool phonics class in 55 locations.She is an experienced Primary school teacher with over 15 years experience and has used her passion for early years and phonics to create award-winning classes for 3 months – 5 years. The classes are designed to open up children and their parents and carers to a world of literacy.
Can you tell us a little about your background and the company?
In 2016, I launched Phonics with Robot Reg classes along with my sister Charlie, the initial plan was to run a few classes in the local town of Chelmsford. The concept was so popular that we were inundated from people across England who wanted to open their own branch. The success of the classes and the demand for more saw the business franchised just 9 months later. To date we have 55 franchises. In 2019, Phonics with Robot Reg became international when classes opened in Melbourne, Sydney and Perth, Australia.
How did the idea come to you for the company?
The idea for classes came when me and my sister, Charlie were out one evening having a glass of wine. I had recently left teaching after the birth of my second child and together we joked how there were no phonics classes around and that it would be a great preschool class, that there was a definite gap in the market and maybe we should open a class. The next morning we discussed it more seriously and then decided to give it a go. We set to work on making it a reality. A Facebook post in a large mums group added fuel to our idea as parents thought it was a brilliant!
How did you achieve awareness?
Social Media, especially Facebook was the main way we grew awareness. We used lots of popular Facebook mums groups and this got the word out quickly. Word of mouth then helped to promote the brand.
How have you been able to gain funding and grow?
After meeting with a franchise consultant – who was very expensive and didn’t seem to understand the business idea- we decided to franchise it alone with the help of a franchise lawyer. This did save us lots of money. We ran classes ourselves initially and we used the profits from these to fund the franchising plan. We franchised quickly and this helped us to grow.
What are the key successes?
Franchising quickly, while the concept of Phonics / educational classes was in its infancy meant there weren’t any other similar classes so we quickly became a market leader. This helped us to sell more franchises and ensured our classes were popular.
Parents and teachers tell us how their child is soaring at school and it is because of Phonics with Robot Reg classes. Parents who have been on long waiting lists for speech therapy coming to our classes and seeing that it is benefiting their child.
What were/are the challenges and how have you overcome these?
Covid was a major challenge. Not being able to run face to face classes and having a whole network of franchisees who relied on the business was tough. Phonics with Robot Reg was able to pivot and we offered online classes which provided much needed support for parents and entertainment for children. When we finally relaunched after all the covid restrictions our classes were more popular than ever and we offered our classes in many nurseries across England.
What are your plans now/for the future?
Phonics with Robot Reg is partnering with Totsfest this year to bring our classes to festivals around the UK. We also plan to grow our network to 75 franchises this year which will give more children the opportunity to attend our fabulous classes. We are in talks to extend the brand internationally again to another country.
What would you like to share with others to encourage them to start their own entrepreneurship journey?
Go for it! Whatever your idea is, don’t sit on it or wait for the perfect time to launch your business or idea – there will never be a perfect time – do it now! Also, don’t wait until you have everything perfect before you launch – seize the day!
Can you share your top tips for entrepreneurial success?
Take the risk, don’t wait until everything is perfect, enjoy the journey
Who are the 5 people who inspire you the most and why?
Dame Deborah James – aka Bowel Babe – for her zest for life, and for not giving up and for seeing the fun and positivity in everything in the worst of times!
Charlie Day – We opened Phonics with Robot Reg together and without her input we wouldn’t have started it. Her drive and ambition is inspirational.
Rachel Rodgers, Author of We Should All Be Millionaires because she breaks down barriers and helps me overcome any limiting beliefs.
Rhonda Byrne – She was my introduction to personal development and the law of attraction.
GIovanna Fletcher – she has built a massive brand and I love listening to her podcast
What are your favourite inspirational /motivational quotes?
If you think you can or you think you can’t you’re right – Henry Ford
If you bite off more than you can chew – jolly well chew it – an old school teacher
What are your Instagram, Facebook and LinkedIn social handles and also website links so our readers can connect with you?
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