Nursery Management: Case Study - The right balance
Meredith Jones Russell
Monday, March 24, 2014
A combination of good commercial sense and a strong community spirit is seeing one nursery thrive. Meredith Jones Russell reports.
In the year of its tenth anniversary, with a fourth nursery about to open, family-owned chain Tiny Teddies Day Nurseries in Coventry and Warwickshire attributes its success to a sound commercial strategy - combined with a friendly, inclusive feel.
With more than £30,000 worth of ICT resources, including interactive whiteboards, Tiny Teddies aims to mirror the standard provided in schools. The group often takes on newly qualified teachers for a year before they go into a school classroom.
Tiny Teddies also runs a Monthly Madness scheme, which senior manager Jini Vyas likens to 'a lastminute.com for nurseries'.
'If a nursery finds it has spare places towards the end of a week, it offers a 25 per cent discount on attendance that day to keep the space filled,' she says.
This business-minded approach is paying off. 'When we compete for tenders, we are able to stand shoulder to shoulder with corporate businesses,' she says. 'At business awards ceremonies, we're increasingly a gnat's whisker away from winning. Recently we were runner-up to a professional marketing company. That's the nature of their business, whereas our focus is obviously childcare, so that was a big moment for us.'
The group's structure allows nursery practitioners to concentrate on providing childcare, while a senior management team headed up by the directors looks after the finance and administration.
'I think we're unusual in that,' Ms Vyas says. 'It's very much a case of the staff looking after the children and the senior managers looking after the business, and never the two shall meet. Everyone has their dedicated role to focus on.'
The chain employs more than 55 members of staff, many of whom were among the group's original employees, and has never made redundancies.
'In childcare there is usually such a high staff turnover, and often it's a case of getting your apprentice their qualification, then getting another apprentice and developing it from there. We will always try to keep them. With us, apprentices become managers,' Ms Vyas says.
'Sometimes we even have staff leave, and then three months later they come back again. It's happened a few times now; it's become a running joke.'
The chain provides in-house training as well as sending its staff on courses. 'It's a personal approach,' Ms Vyas explains. 'For example, we had a nursery worker who had a real interest in children with special needs, and she's now our special needs co-ordinator. We will make sure our staff get in on any training out there and know they are being valued for what they do.'
Owners Paul and Michelle Ingram decided to set up a nursery after struggling to find childcare for their son. Michelle, who had been working in sales and marketing, retrained in childcare and opened the chain's first setting in Radford, Coventry, in 2003. Her husband, a former programme manager for Rolls-Royce, joined the business after three years.
'They're both very business savvy,' Ms Vyas says. 'They were able to launch an aggressive marketing campaign from the very beginning, which meant that all the nursery places were secured before we even opened. We've all used our backgrounds in the corporate world to make the nursery the very best it can be.'
Originally a parent at the nursery, Ms Vyas was taken on as a volunteer for six hours a week to obtain her level three NVQ childcare qualification, and worked her way up to senior manager over six years.
She says her story is characteristic of the chain. 'We're a family-run business. We have a community feel and we're able to keep a very flexible work-life balance. Only two of our senior managers work full time. I wouldn't be anywhere else.'
The company maintains an open-door policy towards its parents, who are given feedback books at the end of every day with information about their children's achievements, asked to fill in feedback questionnaires for regular appraisals and audits, and are encouraged to keep in touch through social media. 'Parents can ring us ten times a day if they want,' Ms Vyas says. 'So many of us are parents ourselves that we really understand their anguish when their children are at nursery.'
Ms Vyas believes it is the mixture of business and family that makes Tiny Teddies special. She says, 'While we are a professionally run business we are not a corporate machine by any means. We love coming in to work, we work with our friends every day and I think that's what makes us so successful.'