Creative Bexley mom franchises home-based daycare.

Creative Bexley mom franchises home-based daycare.

Bexley mom Kelley Lewis likes to build unique things.

When she was 13, she created her first business opportunity playing harp professionally. As a single mom, she built a "tiny house" with her three young children. The result was a 192-square-foot cabin on a lake west of Columbus that serves as a weekend retreat for her family and the subject of her popular blog, And in 2014, she officially founded BungalowBranch, which she believes is the first and only in-home childcare franchise in the country.

For Lewis, 2016 is the year she hopes to see the walls go up on the foundation she's built for BungalowBranch. Her sixth franchise opened in June, giving her locations in Bexley, Columbus, Groveport and Canal Winchester. She plans to have up to 10 franchisees by the end of the year.

Lewis left her job at a bank in 2008 to stay home with her first son and began watching other children as a way to work from home and have a consistent income. Within three months she filled the other five spots at her home and found herself referring other interested parents to her competitors.

"I started this to be a mom and to work from home," Lewis says. "Then I didn't want to say no to opportunity."

Lewis loves recreating something that's been done before in new ways and found herself questioning why so many families felt they needed an institutional setting to get safe and quality care for their children.

"The main seed of childcare is family and relationship, and that's community," Lewis says. "So why is community never really explored in childcare settings?"

From 2008 to 2014, Lewis brought on independent contractors, referred children to them and collected a commission before adopting the franchise model and officially establishing BungalowBranch. Her own bungalow in Bexley was the company's home, and the branches represented her organic approach to childcare.

"There's no reason why large box centers need to be the only reputable option for families," Lewis says.

"We provide the safety, quality and peace of mind families are looking for. We just provide it outside of this large, high-turnover environment."

Noting fewer than one percent of clients leave because they're unhappy, she's confident the model is working.

Lewis sees national potential for her franchise in the more than 300,000 in-home childcare providers throughout the country who operate on their own. BungalowBranch franchisees charge higher rates-comparable to daycares-and receive training, automatic billing, screening and referral of new clients, legal support, curriculum and daily schedule structures and a support network.

Franchise owner Kelsey Haas opened her branch in Bexley in 2014 and enjoys how much individual attention it allows her to give the six kids in her home and their families.

"I want nothing to do with the billing aspect and paperwork. I have a huge passion for kids and not all these other to-do items. Kelley does all that for me and I can love on the kids," Haas says.

With Lewis' youngest child in preschool, she no longer watches children. She now manages and grows her business fulltime. This year, BungalowBranch was one of 31 local businesses selected to participate in the Entrepreneur Exchange Program, training funded by the US Small Business Administration's ScaleUp America and operated in Westerville by Mary McCarthy, president and founder of Your Management Team.

"We help them see the bigger picture. Get them out of looking down at the day-to-day and up at the strategy," McCarthy said.

The program puts Lewis in contact with other entrepreneurs beyond the startup stage-in business at least two years with annual revenues between $150,000 and $750,000 and looking to grow. Lewis compares it to an accelerated MBA program specific to entrepreneurs. She is the program's first member to be a franchisor.

"We're helping her be purposeful in what she's doing and making sure she has the right franchisees," McCarthy notes. "The strength of the first 10 is important."

Lewis carefully selects and trains franchisees because the sense of community among her childcare providers and parents is the basis of her model.

"My goal is not just to be personally successful, but to create something successful," she says. Lewis wants to empower others to work from home with the resources and support to enjoy their job and do it well. "You're still doing it on your own, but you're not doing it alone."

Mary Sterenberg is a freelance writer.