How did a Stone Eden franchise in China come about?
About a year and a half ago, we decided to franchise our model. We never wanted to rule out international expansion and ironically that is really where the demand for the EYFS is. By chance, China was our first enquiry and our first sale. The nursery will offer up to 100 places and stick to Ofsted ratios. Teaching will take place primarily in English, but the Chinese staff will translate and help children who don’t have English as a first language.
Can you tell us a bit more about your investors?
I met with Dana and Richard Lu in China, and they visited us in Carlisle three or four times. It is very much a mutual experience – they have to feel they can work with us and we need to feel the same about them. They didn’t want to buy into a corporate brand but liked the family ethos we have, as my parents founded the nursery in 2005. Dana was born in China but was educated in England, so they are familiar with the English education system and travel back and forth regularly. They became interested in opening a nursery after they struggled to find care for their two-year-old son to match what they could get in England.
How will Stone Eden be involved in the nursery in China?
I went out for the opening to support staff, provide advice to managers and put a face to the name. We will visit twice a year for quality assurance and to provide checks like Ofsted would for us. At the moment it is early days, so on our second visit we will look more at things such as standards, progress and children’s files.
What are some of the differences between British and Chinese nurseries?
Our nursery model is still a very new concept in China. The ratios are much higher there, sometimes one to 20 or 30, and caring for children under three is a new thing for them as their kindergartens only take children aged three and over. But as a British nursery we are aiming at a clientele who want their children educated according to western or British culture. The parents often have a western influence in their family or some British heritage, although some are local.
Have you faced any challenges setting up the new franchise?
Obviously there are still things to figure out, and we’ve never done it before. There are challenges in China such as strict firewalls and rules on payments leaving the country. Having a nursery on the other side of the world is definitely daunting! But I have full peace of mind we can make it work.
What is next for Stone Eden?
We are really keen to get our second franchise up and running. We would love to have one in the UK to allow us to be more hands-on, but we are also going to focus on going through a master franchising process with the owners in China. They are keen to expand, so once they have got a year or two under their belt we would like to continue working with them over there.