How to start a children’s service franchise

If you love working with children, these business opportunities could be for you

Children. Most people either love them or hate them – or if they don’t actually hate them there’s no way they’d work with them. If you fall into the latter camp you might choose to stop reading now as we turn our attention to franchising with the little people.

These are franchises that are hard work. You have to be flexible, patient and most likely motivated by something other than money. But they are also incredibly rewarding and – according to all franchisees we spoke to – a lot of fun.

So do you have the capacity to be young at heart?

What is it?

These franchises involve helping children develop from an early age by means of music, movement and reading. They are largely part time as they take place over the school term and usually just during school hours.

Tumble Tots classes are designed to develop children’s physical skills of agility, balance, co-ordination and climbing through the use of custom-built equipment. The programme is divided into three age groups: Gymbabes from six months to walking; Tumble Tots from walking to school age; and Gymbobs up to seven years.

Classes of 45 minutes take place during the day Monday to Friday in various hired halls. For each one you are obliged to have one member of staff for every six children with a maximum of 24 children in a class.

“I have around 700 children on my books,” says Sam Rooke of Tumble Tots in Leamington Spa, “This adds up to 29 sessions in the week for myself and four staff members.”

Jo Jingles works on a similar principle of weekly classes for different age groups. The programmes are structured around themed singing and music designed to help children’s development in language and social skills as well as confidence and independence.

“The classes are structured with set routines for the children to follow each time,” explains Pat Hood of Jo Jingles in Wokingham. “We always have a good morning and a good bye song, then a rotation of an action song, a rhythm song and one where percussion instruments are used. And as the children get older, a story time and some musical theory are introduced.”

Primary Books franchisees make contact with schools within a designated area – usually consisting of around 250 potential pre to middle schools – and offer book supply services. This is through running book clubs, staging book fairs in school and help in auditing libraries. A big area would be 100.

Founder Anne Phillips outlines the process. “Franchisees arrange to meet with head teachers to identify any needs in the school. They then set up, manage and organise everything leaving the school to take 20% of any profit. This isn’t a hard sell operation.”

What does it involve?

Given that they only operate during the school terms these are ideal franchises if you have a family or are looking for a second income that isn’t a full time job. You need to be aware, though, that while they only operate during school hours, you will need to do some preparation work out of this time.

Monique Brennan of Tumble Tots, Holmfirth puts a limit on the amount of time she works in the evenings but still finds she has to spend least an hour and a half answering calls and doing paperwork.

Days work out well for looking after her own children, though, as classes only run when they are at school – 9.00am to 3.00pm. This equates to about four classes a day for her and staff.

Primary Books franchisee John Ward took early retirement from his work in adult education. He was attracted by the franchise because it was continuing in a field he was familiar with and it seemed relaxed.

“On days where I just have appointments in schools, I might have two to three during school hours which gives me time to come home in between. Then a book fair will take a whole day,” he says.

Franchisees will always have dedicated admin days and meetings days in the week. Without the former, there is no time to stock and order in for the latter – a certain amount of stock needs to be kept in at all times.

A typical day with all these franchises may mean dealing with tired and frustrated parents and teachers – as well as children. So you need to be prepared to enjoy what you do. Equally, all franchisees spoke of how much they enjoyed the work and how satisfying it ultimately was.

Costs

Franchise fees:

All roughly between £7000 and £9000 though working capital varies

Set up:

Most franchisees have offices and storage space at home. Both Tumble Tots and Jo Jingles have a certain amount of equipment to be kept and you need a minimum level of Primary Books stock at all times. This doesn’t require an expensive set up though, “I work from home in the second biggest bedroom and I have a garage that’s never seen the car,” laughs Heather Bell of Jo Jingles in Stoke-on-Trent.

Equipment:

Included in the franchise fees of £7000 and £8950 respectively, is the cost of initial equipment for Jo Jingles and Primary Books. With Tumble Tots you pay £150 a month over four years for the equipment on top of the £8000 fee.

Transport:

Primary Books and Jo Jingles require only a normal car to transport equipment and stock. Although a larger estate car is easier as you don’t have to reload the car for each session. For Tumble Tots, you will need a van as the equipment is larger. But a van with a bright sign on the side of it will provide valuable advertising wherever it’s parked. One franchisee said it was her biggest marketing tool. This comes on top of the £5000 working capital.

Advertising:

This will be a combination of going out and meeting people – schools, health workers – local newspapers, putting up posters. But for all franchises, word of mouth is the most valuable and will really work. Parents and teachers all talk to each other and if yours is the children’s activity they’re talking about, that is good – and free – advertising.

Staffing:

This doesn’t apply to Jo Jingles for at least the first year, or for some years with Primary Books. But with Tumble Tots you need one staff per six children. As a very rough idea, you might expect to pay between £5 and £6 per person per session

Hall hire:

Tumble Tots and Jo Jingles classes are run from hired halls and sports centres. Costs can be anything between £30 and £60 a day, with church halls tending to be cheaper and sports centres a lot more. Obviously it varies in different parts of the country. Some might charge by the session, say £10

Cash flow:

Hall fees will have to be paid for up front – at least on a termly, if not half termly, basis to begin with. But this is about managing money carefully and not taking on locations without being certain of some response. Having all children’s fees a term in advance will soon pay hall costs.

How much can I earn?

Income:

You could earn anything between £18,000 and £30,000 by years two to three. These are cash rich businesses but because they are effectively part time – around 36 weeks of the year – the returns are not typically high

Overheads:

As David Hunt, franchise sales manager at Tumble Tots says, “After the initial investment, your major overheads are staff and hall hire. If you’re only doing 10 sessions a week you’ll only pay 10 hours hall hire and for 10 hours of staffing. Your income increases as you take on more children but as this happens, overheads increase too”

Cash rich:

With a Primary Books franchise, much of your business will bring in cash directly. You set up a book fair in the school hall and the children come in class by class to choose titles. You might make £500 in cash of which the school makes 20% commission in books, in this case £100 worth of books

Fees:

For Jo Jingles and Tumble Tots you might charge between £3 and £4 per child per session which parents will pay up front at the beginning of a term. “You have to be quite strict about payment,” says Pat Hood of Jo Jingles, Wokingham. “People must pay at least half a term in advance. I don’t give concessions for holidays, for example, but you can use your discretion if parents have genuine reasons for missing weeks.”

Competition:

Costs do vary from town to town, you just have to gauge what is standard in your area. And it is important for your potential income that there are other children’s groups in the area. Children who already go to Tumble Tots will be more than receptive to a Jo Jingles class – and vice versa. Just choose which days you offer carefully to avoid clashes. With Primary Books, you are unlikely to find serious competition in the same field. “There is no direct competition,” maintains Anne Phillips. “Other people do fairs and clubs but no one offers all the these and library services all together”

Expanding the business:

For all three businesses, to make big money you need to leave the hands on work behind and take on staff to run the business while you manage it more. In the case of Tumble Tots this means buying a second set of equipment and starting whole second set of classes. For Primary Books it would mean moving into premises. Hardly any franchisees have done this – but that doesn’t mean you can’t.

Tips for success

You should be aware of the danger of treating this as a commercially driven business – it isn’t. The focus should be on creating a service that will appeal to children and making sure they get something out of it.

John Ward of Primary Books in Burton-on-Trent advises, “It’s important to have a wide understanding of what schools and children are about. You need to be flexible in dealing with everyone from head teacher to youngest child.”

As with all businesses co-ordinated from home, there is a risk of letting it take over your home life. With all three franchises you could be out and about all day with only time to return calls in the evening.

Be aware that there is a balance. At start of the school year when things are busy you might have 30 calls to return in the evening (this is less the case with Primary Books) whereas in the summer months it is much calmer.

“The class-based franchises are labour intensive, which can be a problem,” says Monique Brennan of Tumble Tots in Holmfirth. “If you have some classes that are full you’ll need to retain a certain number of staff for those classes but there will be times when the hall is booked and there are 2 children rather than 22.”

Be prepared for this but make sure you constantly address issues such as why certain classes are under subscribed and others not.

Tips for success

  • With a Primary Books franchise, as with all franchises, the first six months can be hard to get off the ground. A school might give you business but for the following term – three or four months away. Use the time, though, to become an expert in your field – it could be a long time since you opened a child’s book.  
  • Keep the class programmes simple and basic. Repetition is key not only for the children in the early stages but also for you. You will have enough to cope with when you start the franchise without trying to teach yourself vast numbers of songs or routines each week.  
  • While it is important not to let work take over your life, there is a need to keep up with calls. If you’ve been at work all day there is a temptation not to get back to enquiries from parents. Spending time attending to details like this will get your business a good reputation and start to build the word of mouth recommendation that is so important.  
  • Remember that you not only have to like children and work well with them, you also have to treat them with respect. It may be their parent paying your bills but they are your customers and if you don’t regard them as such they will take their custom elsewhere. But if you can get in touch with the child in you at the same time as keeping a business brain, this could be the franchise for you.

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