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Kids Allowed: Jennie Johnson

Jennie Johnson tells us how frustration at the lack of decent childcare services led her to set up own award-winning centres

Frustrated at being unable to find adequate childcare centres for her own two children, Jennie Johnson founded Kids Allowed, winner of the 2006 Startups Service Business of the Year award.

The aim was simple. “We tried to come up with family-centric services to alleviate the stress of modern life,” Johnson explains. Kids Allowed prides itself on offering more than the typical nursery, for both children and often-overlooked parents. Facilities include a parent concierge service, sensory theatre, age specific rooms and restaurants.

The centres (there are currently two with plans for more) were built from scratch. “The only way to deliver our vision was to have purpose built centres based around the needs of the family.”

This, of course, wasn’t cheap. Johnson raised the maximum £250,000 from the Small Firms Loan Guarantee Scheme, while the property developer of Kids Allowed’s centres invested as an equity part partner taking the total to a cool £5m.

Formed in May 2003, Kids Allowed’s doors didn’t open until September 2005 – but proved an immediate success. “It was deadline we set ourselves,” says Johnson. “The new school year. From day one we were exceeding occupancy.”

That’s where Johnson’s sales and marketing background came into play. A brochure and DVD offering parents a virtual guide of the centre was commissioned, and appointing a PR company reaped plenty of local press coverage. “It’s all about people seeing your name and knowing Kids Allowed means quality,” says Johnson. “We did a satisfaction survey six months after opening, and 99% of parents felt valued at Kids Allowed and would recommend it to family or friends.”

She puts a lot of the credit for this down to the quality of her staff. Johnson is keen to point out the company offers excellent incentives and as a result is able to ‘pick the cream’ of the industry.

A second centre in West Didsbury followed the first in Cheadle in May 2006, while a third is due to open in September. Turnover has doubled to £1.8m in 2006 while staff numbers will rise to 130 once the third site opens.

Johnson says roll-out, both in the North West and then nationally, is next on the cards having perfected the model steadily with the first two centres. “It’s been a great journey and we’ve learnt as we’ve gone along,” she says

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