Looking to branch out? NYC’s ‘apple seeds’ founders want to meet you.

Sometimes, the right people just come your way. Case in point: my cousin Kristan really thought I’d hit it off with her college roomie Alison. Alison, as it turns out, is one half of the A(l)lisons; two high-powered gals who own and operate NYC’s apple seeds. (The popular play space has three New York locations!)

I spoke with Alison (Qualter Berna) and Allison (Schlanger) about fateful meetings, apple seeds’ wildly successful songs for seeds music classes- and what, exactly, they’re looking for in Chicago.

Before apple seeds, what line of work were you both in?

Allison Schlanger:
 Prior to apple seeds I was a television producer. I worked at MTV for most of my career in the News & Docs department with some of the most amazing, creative, hardworking 20 & 30 somethings you ever met. I really loved my career and could not picture leaving- until I had my kids and then everything changed. I wanted to spend my days with my boys (Sam and Ari, who are now 12) and felt the same exact way when my little guy, Dov (now 6 ½), was born. They were the inspiration and motivation for my career change.

Alison Qualter Berna:
After college, I worked in production at NBC News Dateline and loved my job. [Then] I applied to graduate school, got an MPA degree focused on international development and a job at the United Nations Children’s Fund. I thought I had the best job in the world but after having my babies, I couldn’t get on that plane quite the same way anymore. The most important, beloved job I have is as a mother to my three amazing kids. I have 12-year-old twin girls named Maddie and Sydney and a 7-year-old boy named Jack.

When you first met each other, was there a spark of – this gal really gets me?

It was more of an explosion! We met in an elevator on the way to music class when our twins were 5 and 6 months old. We couldn’t fit our double wide twin strollers in the regular elevators so we had to wait for the freight elevator. The doorman had to operate it for us and he happened to be a stranger to patience (a prerequisite with twin infants). We smiled at each other, bonding over the fact that we both had twins, we were both named Al(l)ison, we were both from New Jersey, and we were both essentially sneaking out of our offices to make a quick 45-minute music class with our babies.

We both wanted to work, but we wanted flexible hours so that we could work from home if necessary, spend time with our babies, and control our own time. We began to dream of a business that would revolve around them in some way and even allow us to bring them to work with us.

Along with our husbands, Bobby and Craig, we started to meet regularly and came up with the idea for a play space where we could spend all day with our children and the parents in our community.  We dreamed up a playground that also offered classes and birthdays and had a snack bar and toy/book store. We wanted a place that was kid-friendly, safe, clean and fun. As twin parents, we also wanted a space that had automatic doors that we could push open with a button (instead of struggling and waiting for the nice stranger to pass and open it for us)! After nine months of talking and meeting, the four of us created apple seeds.

What strengths do each of you bring to the partnership? Anything you wholly admit is not your forté?

As partners, we are actually very similar. It’s like a (good) marriage; we might not fully agree on the little things but we have always agreed on the big picture. Quite often we will respond to emails separately on the same day, only to find we’ve written the same thing or approved the same design…it’s like we are long lost twins who met through our twins. We have similar strengths (we work fast), and similar weaknesses (we attempt to squeeze a few too many things into each day). We both love to create: curriculum, marketing collateral and infrastructure, and also do most of the “managing” of people at work. The true balance is with our other business partners- our husbands. We play to all four of our strengths, allowing us to compensate for any weaknesses. We really don’t like to make it sounds like a stereotypical male/female breakdown but here goes: Craig and Bobby handle the balance sheet, keep our budget on track, draw up contracts, deal with lawyers and negotiate deals. They created our incredible software system that seamlessly runs the backend of our business, and oversee our relationship with many outside vendors that keep apple seeds standing on a daily basis. They allow us to concentrate on where we are best served and vice versa. It’s a good team.

Apple seeds team

What took you most by surprise with this venture?

After we opened apple seeds, we certainly did not anticipate the national expansion of our children’s music program, songs for seeds. Our growth in franchising songs for seeds was organic, based on feedback from our families who loved the class and took it year after year. It was based on our guts telling us a class like this would also work in cities across America; kids and parents everywhere want a fun and interactive music class that would teach them so much more than music.

Your Songs for Seeds class offers a departure from traditional kiddo music classes. What parts do you like best?

If you asked our husbands they would say they like the music best. We have been listening to it for 8 years straight and we have never gotten sick of it! The music was written by an incredibly talented and thoughtful musician, Ray Anderson (Mr. Ray). We like that songs for seeds is so much more than a music class. We used our TV backgrounds to produce a children’s music class in nine unique sections that each have their own inherent value in various aspects of early childhood development. The class is set to continuous music but the kids also learn shapes and colors, numbers and counting, animal sounds and movements, global music and rhythm patterns. Children learn an incredible amount in 45 minutes and the emphasis is on play and fun.

So now you’re offering the opportunity to franchise! Tell me a little bit about your ideal market and who your ideal franchisee might be!

Our ideal market is really any community where there are enough babies and young children! We are excited to see just how much songs for seeds could thrive in a city like Chicago. Our ideal candidate is usually a parent or someone who loves children. She wants to incorporate her family life into her work life and most importantly, she wants to have flexible hours and control her own time. She is outgoing, a doer with entrepreneurial drive. She wants to make an impact in her community and bring a new program to other parents in the neighborhood.

We have a comprehensive software platform that organizes franchisees from day one, [plus] an easy to use help center, marketing portal and customer feedback system. We have week-long intensive training program in NYC that is so fun we call it band camp. We give our partners ongoing support from contract signing throughout the running of their business. They are not alone and we can’t wait to share in their successes. No retail location is required, which means there is no lease nor build out. There are no full-time employees required- just the part time band, and who doesn’t like hiring cool musicians that love kids? Songs for seeds is a high profit margin business that is highly scalable and offers growth quite quickly. In fact, three of our franchise owners have opened their second locations in less than a year.

We’d love to meet our ideal candidate in Chicago!


(Sound like you, Chicagoan? Check out the apple seeds and songs for seeds sites or email at franchising@songsforseeds.com…and see if this connection sprouts something really, really fruitful.)



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