Connecticut Franchise Owner Rooting for Obamacare

Great Play is a children’s fitness center founded by Keith and Jyl Camhi in 2006. Their first location was opened in Stamford, Connecticut, and they have since expanded nationwide. According to the founders, the belief that lifetime health and activity begins during childhood led them to develop this small business for children aged six months to 12 years.

According to the 2011 United States Census population estimates, Connecticut has a population of approximately 3,580,709. The unemployment rate clocked in at 8.9% in September, compared with the national average in October of 7.9%, according to the Labor Department. The top industries which hold the most jobs for Connecticut citizens are trade, transportation and utilities, followed closely by government occupations. The Bureau of Economic Analysis states that finance and insurance are the industries with the highest Gross Domestic Product. Connecticut’s small business owners make up 97.2% of all employers in the state according to the Small Business Administration’s profile for 2009. ---------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Interview with Keith Camhi

FOXBUSINESS.COM: What are some immediate goals that you hope to see satisfied by the president in the next term?

CAMHI: A couple of things that are important to us – and particularly we’re a franchise, which is a secondary important piece of our small business approach – one is that we love to see some additional access to lending for people who are opening new locations…At least banks are giving access to credit for people doing second locations and expansions, but for qualified people doing a first location, the SBA lending climate has been challenging, so we’d like to see that progress. And then the second thing, which might be contrary to probably at least the popular wisdom, it’s really important for us as a collection of small businesses to have the healthcare law go forward and stay intact…We’ve employed about a hundred people over the last couple of years and expect to do another hundred over the next year, and it’s in a collection of these ten people at a time with one person at the helm starting a kid’s gym and then employing 8-10 people locally. And the healthcare law is really actually very helpful for that. So that’s probably different than most of what you hear about small business, but at least at our size and for that size business, it’s actually really important that that keeps going.

FOXBUSINESS.COM: Since you speak for the company as a whole, what does your business want in the ideal candidate for president?

CAMHI: I think that being supportive of business, being open-minded – as a business that hopes to be international in the future – making America look good to the world. All of these things are important to us.

FOXBUSINESS.COM: How many years have you been operating? How many employees did you start out with? And today?

CAMHI: We started Great Play’s first location in 2006 with about six people, and now system-wide, we probably have about a hundred people working at ten different Great Plays. We’ve grown mainly in the last two years, and we expect to grow by another hundred in the next year.

FOXBUSINESS.COM: What kind of health benefits plan do you provide? Has this changed in recent years?

CAMHI: As a franchise owner, we don’t control the health benefits for each franchisee, so … it depends on state-to-state issues. For corporate, we cover the majority of the cost of the employees’ medical insurance. And we buy it through a purchasing pool that actually the state of Connecticut, not the state but a quasi-state organization, “The Business Industry Association of Connecticut” makes available to small businesses.

In different locations, though, it has struggled with this, and that’s why I think healthcare is so important, by the way. We have one owner with a preexisting condition – can’t get healthcare for themselves, can’t get it for their employees, it’s a competitive disadvantage in their market. We have others who, as the cost goes up for small businesses much more rapidly than large businesses, it’s been a real struggle to compete because of healthcare. And those are both things that for these ten-site, ten-employee locations, the Affordable Care Act actually helps us a lot. So that’s why I am so strongly in favor of it.

FOXBUSINESS.COM: Has the tax rate for your business changed over the years? If yes, how so? What is your biggest complaint when it comes to the company's annual tax bill?CAMHI: As truly small businesses that are not making a million dollars a year doing this, but operating a true local business, the tax rate really hasn’t been an impact one way or another, and the current debates over the tax rates aren’t going to impact us or our locations, so it’s kind of a non-issue. FOXBUSINESS.COM: Throughout the years that you have been in business, do you remember a particularly high or low point in your business profitability? And what the cause of that was?CAMHI: We’ve just been growing at steady pace, and we’ve been doing quite well. We opened our first locations a couple of years before the economic challenges, and we might have noticed a single-digit percentage decline in those years when the economy went down. Other than that, it’s been steady growth across the board. And we’re kind of in an industry – we’re a premium offering in something that parents spend on their kids, so that’s relatively (nothing is recession-proof), but that’s pretty recession-resistant that their parents will sooner cut their own gym membership than cut back for their kids. And our concept is kind of new and improved over what’s out there, so we’re doing very well competitively in the markets and maybe people are leaving competitors and coming to us. But we’ve weathered the economy and actually done really well throughout it and we keep growing units, so no complaints.

In this series, we are interviewing small business owners across the nation about the political policies that affect their businesses in anticipation of the 2012 presidential election. Each profile subject has been selected randomly and does not represent the views of their respective state.