These days, a high percentage
of working mothers with pre-school age children
who might ordinarily stay at home and care for them must seek income to help
make ends meet. Many experts predict this trend to increase through the turn of
the century. For this reason, the popularity of well-managed day care facilities
continues to skyrocket. Analysts expect this trend to continue, claiming that as
more and more young parents have positive memories of the time they spent in
day care centers and the learning experiences they enjoyed, they will in turn enroll
their youngsters in such facilities.
Profitable day care centers
are much more than glorified baby-sitting services.
Social researchers have found that the most important years in a child's
development are those from one to six. Thus, the exposure to the world in which
he lives, the instruction he receives, and the habits he forms during those years
will definitely affect his ability to learn and properly adjust as he progresses on
through his years of formal education. Mothers of today--usually better educated
than their own mothers--are more aware of these factors and want the best for
their children. They are demanding the structured pre-school education and
learning stimulation offered by modern day care centers. This is an
understandable desire of the mothers of pre-school age children--even those
who aren't forced to work outside the home.
Other factors will also make
your day-care operation become a success. Even
though many large companies finance and operate their own day care centers for
employees' children, studies show that most working parents prefer to leave their
children closer to home than near where they work. Thus, privately operated day
care centers in residential neighborhoods should not be worried too much about
competition from the few company operated day care centers.
The first step toward start-up
of a profitable day care center is to understand
what makes them profitable. There are a lot of day care centers operating with full
enrollments of 35 to 65 children, but just barely breaking even. This is generally
the result of regulations imposed by the state government that cause exorbitant
overhead costs. Basically, you'll need facilities to handle 150 to 200 children in
order to realize annual profits in the "before taxes" bracket of $100,000.
Check with your state and local
government regulatory agencies. Many licensing
agencies require day care centers to provide a minimum square foot area per
child, both inside and outside the building, plus at least one hot meal per day. A
licensed teacher for every 15 to 20 children and a licensed nurse on the premises
may also be required. Be sure to know the regulations in your area, and design
your business plan to meet these regulations.
Actually, you can begin by
operating a baby-sitting service, and use your profits
and experience to establish a quality image. We recommend that you do start
small-----with a baby sitting service--and build upon your progressive successes,
unless you have a great deal of money to invest in the beginning.
Once you're beyond the baby-
sitting stage--away from your home and
backyard--begin to build a real day care facility. You might try locating in your
church or one of your area's civic club facilities. Also, investigate the possibilities
of renting or buying a vacant house. A large ranch-style home with a large
backyard would probably suit your needs at this stage. Be sure you have zoning
approval from your city before expanding your business in a residential location
and finalizing your plans.
You may find, if you have your
business plan in order, that a church or labor union
will sponsor your business or even offer financial backing. Arranging some sort of
partnership or sponsorship agreement with an established local organization will
solve a lot of problems for you, not only in acquiring space but also assisting with
startup costs and approval by the city government. Incidentally, a day care
center is an ideal business for absentee ownership or a group of professional
investors. Keep this fact in mind as you organize your plan and seek financing.
Generally, a "shoestring entrepreneur"
in this business will do very well to locate
in a vacant convenience store, or even a vacant grocery store in a larger
shopping center. The zoning will be in your favor, plus you+ll have adequate
parking space and less expense in partitioning or remodeling the building to suit
A portion of the facility can
even be designed as an indoor playground. Ideally,
your day care center should be located on a main thoroughfare with the building
set back from the street. It is best to locate on the right hand side of the street as
the traffic heads towards the major business or industrial areas of your
community. In larger metropolitan areas, this would be on the cityside of the
"bedroom" communities. In smaller communities, you can locate just about
anywhere except in the downtown area.
If at all possible, plan your
facility with something similar to a hospital or motel
entrance. This can be a circular driveway curving from the street to your door,
usually with a covered drop-off point, and continuing back out to the street. Your
longterm parking space would then be located in the center of the "U" between
the driveway and the street. Strive to make parking as convenient for the parents
as possible. Help them to drive right up to your door, to drop-off or pick-up their
children, and move as quickly back into traffic as possible. A rushed parent would
be able to drop off the child with only a few steps into your facility and easily gain
access back onto the main thoroughfare.
Advertising will make or break
your business. Depending on your city sign
ordinances and your finances, go all out with your sign. Advertise the name of
your day care center, the hours you're open, whether you accept drop-ins,
over-nighters, or week-enders, and of course, your phone number. Your sign
should state all essential information, and serve to convince passers-by that you
can handle their child-care problems whenever the need arises. If you initially
locate in or through the sponsorship of a church or labor union, the sponsor can
assist you tremendously by including a mention of your services in their
membership bulletins and by passing out circulars or flyers.
You'll need to decide on your
regular day care hours. Generally, these are from 6
a.m. through 6 p.m. You'll also need to decide whether you want to offer breakfast
for the children. If so, you'll have to plan for a cook and food supplies for morning
meals. You'll already be set up with kitchen facilities and a cook because of the
noon meal. If you do decide to offer breakfast for those parents not wanting to
feed their children at home, you'll be able to add $8 to $12 per week to their
billing. By buying your food supplies in bulk, you'll be able to realize greater
savings in overall food costs, and reap a modest profit. Mid-morning and
mid-afternoon snacks are required in some states, but even where they're not
required, they are pretty much standard fare in most day care centers. Fresh fruit,
cookies, and juice are the usual snack foods served.
You'll definitely be providing
a hot meal for the children at noon. This entails a
cook, children's cups, utensils, and dishes, menus planned with the aid of a
nutritionist, and the purchase of bulk food supplies. You'll also have to have
kitchen help and facilities for washing the dishes. These are just some of the
important overhead costs you must plan for, and of course you will work to keep
them as low as possible. As you should know by now, the greater your overhead,
the more children you're going to have to take in. The more children you take in,
the greater your space requirements. Meals can be served into large warming
trays and wheeled to the classrooms for serving to the children by the teachers.
Children may eat at the same small-sized tables at which they work and play
during the rest of the day.
All profitable day care centers
operate according to planned routines. The day is
broken down into one-hour segments, with pre-planned curricula--much the
same as classes at a public school. A typical day begins with a play period from
the time the children arrive until about 9 o'clock. For this, you'll need indoor sand
boxes, toys, etc. From 9 to 10, the children are separated into groups--generally
by ages--and you hold a reading or story-telling session, with a mid-morning
snack and break time scheduled sometime around 10:00. For the younger
children, this might include a mid-morning nap. After group time, a learning
session is usually held. Typically, this is the time when guests are invited in to
speak or entertain the children.
Work with your local Chamber
of Commerce, civic clubs, and city administration
for guests. Children will especially enjoy visits by policemen, firemen and others
who talk to them about citizenship, show films, and teach them about the things
they do in the community. You can also get upperclassmen at your local colleges
to visit and demonstrate such things as drawing, working with clay, building with
wood, making things out of paper, and hundreds of other talents or skills they
might be learning. The important thing is to bring "outsiders" in to talk to the kids
about what goes on in their world.
Noon to one o'clock is generally
lunch and cleanup time. The hour between 1
until 2 pm can be a rest period. Many facilities have cots that are set up on which
the children rest. Others simply have small mats that are placed on the floor. The
lights can be dimmed and soft music played to give the children and teachers an
opportunity to recharge their batteries. After rest period, move into an afternoon
learning session. You might offer the rudiments of reading, writing, and arithmetic
to older children. Younger children can be allowed to play in different areas of the
classroom set up as a play kitchen area, space for playing with cars and blocks,
etc. Teaching chores can be handled by college students studying to be teachers,
retired teachers, or unemployed persons with teaching certificates. It's not so
much a session to teach proficiency as a time to stimulate interest in formal
education. A basic goal of most day care centers should be to instill within each
child a confident desire to learn more about the world in which he lives. Thus,
each child should be full of plans for "when I get to start big school I'm going to. . ."
About once a month, your afternoon
learning session should be a tour or a trip to
some local attraction that will be interesting as well as educational for the
children. Again, you're making the idea of learning not only interesting, but also an
exciting adventure. These trips can be anything from a walk in your immediate
neighborhood to loading all the kids into cars or onto buses and taking them to
the zoo. Carefully check it out first, but on the whole, you'll find most businesses in
your area will welcome opportunities to show the children around their offices or
factories. The same thing quite naturally applies to your city offices, fire
department, police department, and radio or television stations.
On days when you don't have
a trip scheduled, your "learning session" might be a
film or program related to nature, particularly animals. The advent of the video
cassette recorder (VCR) has opened endless possibilities. Nap time and snack
time will fill a period for younger ones, and books and quiet games will occupy
older children who do not take a nap. When the nap period is over, the children
can be allowed time in open play, art, or other activities until their parents come
by to pick them up. Whenever possible, you should encourage the children to be
outside during play periods. If you have lots of playground equipment, you won't
necessarily need to have organized games, but you will have to have a
playground supervisor--someone to watch the children and see that they don't get
injured as they play. You can hire parttime help for this chore, perhaps from the
local colleges, for minimum wage. If your city ordinances do not cover the specific
age requirements of a playground supervisor, you might be able to hire students
from your neighborhood high school. Select all the people you hire relative to their
affinity with children and their dependability. Be aware of today's climate of
extreme concern in protecting children in day care situations.
Your playground will require
a fencedin area. Drive around and look at the
playground equipment in the playyards of your public schools and at other day
care centers in your area. You should have the basic sand boxes, swings, slides,
and jungle gyms as you used growing up. But you can also be creative and
original, provided your equipment meets safety standards. Several companies
sell sturdy, hardwood playground equipment built with railroad ties, automobile
tires, climbing poles, etc. The company will send qualified technicians to your
location to set up the equipment and guarantee its safety. Speak with your city's
park and recreation manager for more details or a listing of such companies.
Some states require that you
have a registered nurse on the premises at all
times. Generally, however, the main thing you'll need is medical information from
the parents and a written procedure to follow in case of accident or illness. If you
have secured parental consent in advance, when a child is injured you can quickly
take him to the nearest medical center while another staff person gets in touch
with the parents and explains what happened. If the parent cannot be present at
the medical center, all information should be passed on to him or her as quickly
as it is available. If a child becomes sick at school, you will need to call the
parents and have them pick the child up immediately.
It's a good idea to have all
your helpers certified in a Red Cross First Aid course
and have a well-equipped first aid kit on the premises. The cost will be minimal
to you, and it may even lower your insurance premiums. If your state requires you
to have a full-time nurse on staff, you should be able to hire registered nurses
who are either not working or are looking for extra income. You might be able to
"hire the license" of a registered nurse. You pay a small fee to hang her license in
your office, and she agrees to be available to serve your needs whenever you
Most day care centers are currently
charging from $50 to $85 per child for a five
day week, plus $5 to $10 more for breakfast, with another $2 per meal when they
serve an evening meal to the child. Require each week's fee in advance, and
don't let parents fall behind in paying for your services. By having your customers
pay in advance, you'll eliminate a lot of bookkeeping, time, collection problems,
and you'll have operating funds with which to run the business. Offer to accept
payment by the month, in advance. This offer will be based on a four week month,
collecting for twelve, four week months. Thus, the parents receive one free week
every third month. You, however, receive needed operating capital in advance.
Every profitable day care center
requires a sharp manager or director. This
person might be yourself or someone you hire for the job. He or she will be the
key to your success. The director should have a special love for children, an
empathy with people, be an excellent judge of character, be sales oriented, and
have an outgoing personality. As much as anything else, this person must have
the ability to listen to and really hear what other people are saying without acting
on preconceived opinions or making snap decisions. This person must have the
success of your business in mind at all times, always seeking to build and
maintain an impeccable reputation.
Your director will be responsible
for the hiring and supervision of your entire staff,
as well as the budgeting, scheduling, and day-to-day operation of the business.
It is imperative to the success of your business that you have the very best person
you can get in this position, regardless of the cost. A good director for a day care
center will command a salary equal to experienced teachers in your public
schools, plus fringe benefit allowances such as free enrollment for their children
and medical and dental insurance.
When a prospective client calls
to ask about your services, you should explain
how you operate and extend an invitation to them to bring their child in so that the
two of them can be taken for a tour of your facilities. Once in the center, your
manager or director can take the parent and child on a tour, all the while
explaining the advantages of the center's structured learning and play program as
compared with the average baby-sitting service. It's important to have the child
along because as he sees the other children at play, he will be drawn to them,
thereby influencing the parent to decide that your center is the right place for his
child. After the tour, steer the parent back into your administrative office and
propose enrollment of the child. Begin by asking where the parent works, what
hours, and if he or she ever has to work over-time. You then ascertain the hours
they'll want to drop off and pick up their child.
Strict procedures are absolutely
essential regarding the pick-up of any child.
Frightening as it may be to contemplate, we have all read accounts of strangers
(or non-custodial parents) kidnapping a child. Printed forms must be provided,
and authorization signatures must be compared when anyone other than the legal
guardian takes a child from your care. You will learn these requirements from your
licensing office. Our advice to you is to follow them meticulously.
Prepare a professionally printed,
quality brochure listing your rates, services, an
outline of the curriculum, and a statement of your benefit goals for the children.
This can be given to prospective clients as well as the parents of new children
enrolling in your center. Check with your lawyer about the need for a contract. The
parent will probably only need to fill out a questionnaire-ile card giving address,
place of employment, medical information about the child, and how he or she may
be reached in case of emergency.
Most day care centers accept
all children between one and six years of age.
There are many that take infants as young as six weeks. Of course, your
personnel in this situation must be thoroughly experienced in infant care, and you
must ascertain if these babies are well when brought in to you. Otherwise, you put
yourself in the position of "hospital" care instead of day care.
Generally, children aren't
allowed to bring toys from home. You may want to allow
the children to bring their own blanket from home for nap time, but if you allowed
toys from home you will be opening a "Pandora's Box" of potential problems with
sharing and ownership. Instead, you will want a full complement of appropriate
toys and play items in your center. Special "Show and Tell" days may allow
children to bring something special from home to share with their playmates.
If you decide to include short-term
baby-sitting services, it would be a good
idea to include within the layout of your facilities a small, one bedroom apartment
for a livei- person or couple. An older retired couple would be ideal, with the
husband also serving as maintenance and handyman. The demand for unplanned
or emergency baby-sitting services is very large. Not too many day care centers
are aware of this potential for extra profits yet, but the ones that are find that their
incomes can increase by 30% or more! We definitely recommend consideration
of this idea for anyone involved in a day care service.
services, in addition to your regular day care
center, can add tremendous and immediate cash-flow profits to your business,
but can correspondingly increase your payroll for qualified personnel. Such
services would enable the parents to drop their children off in the evening, and
leave them around the clock or over the weekend. There will generally be no need
for any planned program because these children will be sleeping during most of
the time they're in your care. If left for the weekend, allow the child to play just as
he would at his own home.
As you establish the image
and reputation of your day care center, the parents in
your area will be much more inclined to leave their children with you for
baby-sitting duties. And because you are considered tops in the area of
responsibility, you'll be able to charge the highest baby-sitting fees. stay
abreast of the fees charged by other quality businesses similar to yours, and
adjust your rates accordingly.
Another area that could mean
enhanced profits for you is bus or van pickup
service for the children, especially older school age children who may need care
for an hour or two after school. Of course, this would increase your operating
costs (and consequently your fees) but the convenience of pickup is gaining in
popularity. You+ll need a custodian for indoor and outdoor cleanup, and if you
have access to a bus or van, he could be assigned additional duties as the driver.
Some day care centers offering pick-up service for their children contract with
local transportation services to provide this feature. Be certain of the driving
experience of your driver if you contract for this service.
Most day care centers open
with very little fanfare or advertising. Generally, even
without advertising most are reporting 90% capacity enrollment within six months.
With grand opening fanfare and a strong advertising campaign, you should be
able to be at 90% capacity within your first six weeks. In an area where a severe
shortage of day care facilities exists, and with the right advertising and promotion,
you could reach maximum capacity even sooner.
Your first advertising step
should be the door-to-door distribution of your high
quality, informative brochure. To cut costs, hire students attending advertising
classes in your area colleges or a free lance advertising copywriter to help you
with the design and writing of this brochure. However, make sure to have a good
commercial printer do the printing on the best paper you can afford. You want to
exhibit a professional image. The buyers must feel they're getting a fantastic
educational bargain for the prices you are charging. Don't skimp on your
brochure--you're aiming at people looking for the best place for their children.
You should place at least a
two-column by four-inch grand opening display ad in
your local newspapers. At the same time, place similar ads in the local
magazines and other publications catering to the working mother. Send along a
group picture of your staff and a story about your services with your advertising
order. Phone the editors at your local newspapers, radio, and TV stations and
invite them out to your grand opening. Be sure to place a "service information" ad
in the yellow pages of your telephone directory. This should be the largest size
you can afford. Remember that you need to make contact for a yellow page ad
well in advance of the release date of the directory.
At your grand opening, offer
free refreshments for everyone. Coffee and punch for
the adults, juice for the children, and cookies for everyone. You should have
members of your staff circulating among the parents to answer any questions and
to hand out brochures about the center. After your grand opening, and until you
attain full capacity, continue to hand out your brochures at the entrances to the
main office buildings and other industries in your region. Continue to run ads in
your local newspaper, but not quite as large or as regularly as the grand opening
ad. Run an ad describing your baby-sitting services in the classified section of
You can begin small, and expand
in stages as you build your profits. However,
you must draw up a long-range plan detailing exactly what you intend to do, and
each milestone you'll have to pass before proceeding to your next goal. In this
way, you can succeed and attain the greatest amount of business, and reach the
anticipated profit level you had planned at the start. The basic secret to success
with your own day care center will be your ability to hold your costs in line while
achieving maximum capacity enrollment. You've got the plan. Now run with it!
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