Snap! Building a new career with Legos

Larry Davis is building his own business out of Legos. His Snapology franchise, serving Philadelphia and part of the Main Line, is addressing the STEAM deficiency of today's children.

For any parent who has stepped barefoot on a Lego brick, or crawled around the house looking for missing pieces, Larry Davis' new career might sound like a nightmare.

With Philadelphia's only Snapology franchise, Davis prefers to be thought of as a pioneer, and to inspire children to embrace what educators say so many American students lack: skills in science and math.

"There's any number of businesses you can start," said the 53-year-old resident of the Graduate Hospital area and father of a 4-year-old son. "This is something that can keep you young, and it can really benefit children."

Plus, if business continues to build, it might enable Davis to quit his current means of support: a sales job for Smarter Agent in Collingswood, a mobile-app developer for the real estate industry.

Since sisters Lisa and Laura Coe started the Pittsburgh-

based company in April 2010, inspired by their own children's love of Legos and other building toys, Snapology has expanded to 26 franchises in 13 states and Canada, its website says. Snapology uses Legos and other materials, along with software, to teach building and robotics, while encouraging teamwork.

The Coes are passionate about educational initiatives in Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Math, or STEAM. Lisa, CEO of Snapology, has a bachelor's degree in pharmacy from the University of Pittsburgh. Laura, the company's president, has a bachelor's in math from Pennsylvania State University. Each worked more than 20 years in her respective field before joining together to form Snapology.

The company offers home-based mobile franchises, such as Davis', and an option that includes a fixed location or "discovery center." Buy-in costs range from $35,000 to $65,000 for the mobile franchises, and from $70,000 to $175,000 for the combination franchises.

Included is training, marketing help, start-up supplies and access to Snapology's proprietary STEAM and robotics curriculum. That includes video game design and animation programs.

Davis' franchise, serving Philadelphia and the lower Main Line, offers after-school classes, half-day summer camps, birthday parties, even date-night services, in which Snapology projects occupy the kids while mom and dad go to dinner and a movie.

About the same time last summer that Davis launched www.philly.snapology.com, Nikki Kelli bought a franchise to serve South Jersey (www.sj.snapology.com).

Business has been "moving a little slow," she said, citing her full-time job in pharmaceutical sales, three young children, and a husband who travels often for his work in medical-device sales.

"But I'm hoping I have the right coordinator on board now, that she will get things going for fall after-school programs," Kelli said in an email. "I love Snapology, and I wanted my kids to be able to grow up with it, that's why I started the franchise."

The other closest Snapology franchise to Philadelphia is near Reading.

Davis, who grew up in Huntingdon Valley and after college worked as an optician before joining two family fabric businesses, said his interest in a Snapology franchise began on a plane.

His wife, Marni, read about the company in an in-flight magazine and said, " 'We need to look into this,' " Davis recalled. "After doing some due diligence . . . I thought it was something missing in Philadelphia."

Though Snapology's programs, some of which are Star Wars-inspired, are designed to appeal to ages 1 to 14, Davis said 5- and 10-year-

olds are "the real sweet spot."

He was fortunate to land an after-school program soon after launching his franchise, and has since added other bookings through extensive networking with schools, community centers and parents. He would not disclose his total revenue.

Costs vary. A six-week, after-school session is $15 per child a class; a birthday party with 12 guests is about $215 for an hour of creating.

A recent half-day camp Davis did at the University City Arts League in West Philadelphia was $150 per child for all four days; $80 for two; $45 for one.

He walked among the tables, encouraging teamwork among the 12 students, ages 5 to 10, and reveling in their pride of accomplishment.

"I did it!" said Samuel Nicotera, 8, hoisting a robotic hand he had maneuvered to pick up a piece of paper.

dmastrull@phillynews.com

215-854-2466@dmastrull

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