The Learning Express Story
From the very beginning, creative thinking and entrepreneurship were at the heart of the Learning Express concept. After the birth of her second child, Sharon DiMinico discovered an untapped niche in her community. Drawing from her prior experience in retail and her instincts as a parent, she developed a business plan for a specialty toy store. She saw the need for a store that would offer high quality toys, books, and games for children all the way through their pre-teen years, and she delivered.
The retail plan that Sharon developed was based on the belief that toys should encourage creativity and learning, foster developmental growth, and, of course, be fun. She envisioned a store that would provide a carefully selected product mix, designed to pique a customer’s curiosity; an expert sales staff to provide advice for parents; and a friendly, hands-on atmosphere where kids could test out the toys and their skills.
Sharon knew that the shopping experience needed to be memorable. The store would have to offer unique toys not found at larger retailers, and become an integral part of the community—giving back through fundraising and other charitable programs.
Making It Happen
In 1987, Sharon DiMinico chaired the Board of Directors at the Groton Community School, a private nursery school her children attended. Sharon was determined to raise school revenue without increasing tuition. A school board meeting was scheduled and she presented her business plan to the assembly. In it she proposed that the Groton Community School open a Learning Express store to supplement their revenue.
The Learning Express concept evolved further when Sharon read a piece in Inc. Magazine and decided to structure the company on the franchise business model highlighted in the article. The Groton Community School opened the first store in Acton, Massachusetts in 1987. Six months later, Sharon opened her first corporate store in Needham, Massachusetts. The first franchise opened in Andover, Massachusetts in 1990. Today, Learning Express is the nation’s largest franchisor of specialty toy stores in the United States with over 130 stores nationwide and new locations opening yearly.
Sharon is still at the helm. When she’s not out visiting stores or attending trade shows, she can usually be found at the Learning Express home office in Devens, Massachusetts, planning the next step for a small store that dared to dream big.