Interview - Sylvain Forestier, founder and chief executive, La Maison Bleue

Monday, March 4, 2019

The French group, one of the largest in France, operates more than 300 nurseries in three countries and has just acquired its first UK chain, The Old Station Nursery.

The French group, one of the largest in France, operates more than 300 nurseries in three countries and has just acquired its first UK chain, The Old Station Nursery.

La Maison Bleue has ambitious growth plans to expand further in the UK through acquisitions and to become a significant market player.

Founded in 2004 by French entrepreneur Sylvain Forestier and Antonio Ryckbosch, a paediatric nurse, the group has expanded over the past 15 years.

The Old Station Nursery was set up by Sarah Steel in 2002 and operates nine nurseries and one out-of-school club in Oxfordshire, Gloucestershire and Warwickshire.

At one time the group grew to 16 nurseries, with several catering for military families and on RAF bases.

YOU HAVE JUST BOUGHT THE OLD STATION NURSERY GROUP. DO YOU HAVE ANY MORE UK ACQUISITIONS IN THE PIPELINE AND WOULD YOU LOOK TO BUILD NEW NURSERIES HERE? ARE YOU PLANNING OTHER OVERSEAS EXPANSION?

The UK is a strategic country for La Maison Bleue. We aim to be among the top five British players within not too long. This means that we‘ll have both to open new locations and proceed to new acquisitions. We are currently looking at several opportunities and we definitely plan to complete several of them within the next 12 months.

As for further overseas expansion, La Maison Bleue is currently operating in four countries: Luxembourg, Switzerland, France and now Britain. We have launched market studies in other countries but will stay focused in the short term on our current basis.

WHAT MAKES LA MAISON BLEUE NURSERIES DIFFERENT? E.G. DO YOU HAVE A UNIQUE SELLING POINT OR EARLY YEARS PHILOSOPHY/CURRICULUM?

La Maison Bleue was created by a team: a serial entrepreneur and a nursery professional. This means that early childhood pedagogics has always been at the very core of our company. We are very focused on providing the best quality service we can in our premises; this leads to a strong emphasis on training and quality control. We keep on working on improvements and innovations to ensure that our group offers the very best on those matters.

WHAT DO YOUR NURSERIES LOOK LIKE? E.G. WHAT IS THE ENVIRONMENT LIKE INSIDE AND OUT?

The best thing would be to look on our website where we offer a virtual visit of one of our nurseries. We have built a model based on a soft and natural environment for children, with a lot of wooden furniture, a work on colours and materials. Both our professionals and the children must feel at home when they stay in one of our nurseries. We do have bespoke furniture (beds, changing rooms) and we strive to offer each time friendly and cosy surroundings.

ARE YOU CONCERNED THAT A NO-DEAL BREXIT COULD HAMPER YOUR PLANS FOR EXPANSION IN THE UK AND DOING BUSINESS HERE?

Not really. Operating a nursery does not rely on imports. And we are confident in the strength of the British economy and demographics.

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