In just two years, Robert and Vinita White launched Before and After school care programmes in five locations. Carpe Diem Kids have successfully run for nearly ten years with no signs of slowing down. From a start-up business to a long-lasting, locally-loved organization, Vinita shares her experiences in the childcare industry with us. We find out what it's like managing multiple sites and how she's grown Carpe Diem Kids.
CDK is well known for its great service. How have you maintained that service across all three locations?
It's who we hire. Previous experience is great, but the main attribute I look for when I'm hiring is that the person really likes kids. Our extensive training then helps our employees become the great staff members they are. I want my staff to play with the kids, engage with them and be patient - not moody or snappy. If they love kids, then they'll want to be at work. Then they perform in their job and tend to go above and beyond. From there the staff can shape great relations with the parents too. I have noticed that when there is trust in the relationship, parents are happy with our services.
It's also common in this industry to have a high turnover of staff. I want to retain my staff. So I tend to employ more experienced people, as they're comfortable with the set, part-time hours and are wanting to stick around longer. Staff retention is important because it creates trust with the school and with the parents of the kids. Flanshaw, Waikowhai and Chaucer all have long-term supervisors which help us maintain our services.
So you have three locations, does each have its own distinctiveness?
Programmes should be different. It's important that we are dynamic. You actually need to be flexible and have varied curriculums across your locations. This structure means that when unforeseen circumstances, like kids not showing up, or the weather calling off an activity, your staff can deal with this fluidly.
Each Carpe Diem Kids location has its own style of running, determined by the school, the number of kids and gender ratio. Every area is different, so your programmes should embrace that.
The gender ratios can also determine what activities you do and what resources you are sending to that site. E.g. at one holiday programme you have more boys, so they want more outdoor equipment. Whereas at another, you may have more girls who love to do crafts or play inside. Our programmes are mindful of this. Also, the location of the hall can define what happens at the location, e.g. if the hall is far away from the class buildings, then the kids can be loud or play outside more; if they’re close, they have to be a bit quieter.
My Supervisors each have their own style around how they run their programmes. One of my CDK leaders is very structure-orientated, whereas another CDK leader is more laid-back, which mirrors in their programmes as well. You also need to be aware of the school's culture. In the past 10 years, Auckland has become more diverse. My business also reflects this, so I split my employees equally across all locations to give a good mix of cultural and ethnic staffing.
We asked Vinita what factors helped to set the opening of the second and third locations in motion.
At Flanshaw (the first programme), they only had After-School Care. So we developed the Before-School Care and the Holiday Programme and got them all approved. The programme grew from that point onwards as we were providing the entire package of care required by the school community.
The same process happened with our two other sites. We had just finished all the formalities with Flanshaw and figured that if we were going to do another one, then now was the time. We approached the principal and the board of trustees with our venture and were successful. There were many risks, especially financial risks, but we took the opportunity.
The third school was very risky. There wasn't a previous programme running at all AND they were small. BUT we wanted to help the kids and families in that area, so we did it.
So how do you keep a pulse on all three?
It works because of trust. Some of my staff have been with me for nine years. I have a relationship where if my employees need anything, I help, and vice versa. So there have been busy times where I haven’t gotten around to visiting two of our sites as frequently as I would have liked. But the programme still ran well because of our relationship.
Another key is communication. Every Monday I send out a text to all locations outlining the week, things we want to happen; like parties or events and expectations of the programme. I do the food and crafts shopping on Monday as well and make sure all resources are sent out. We message and call daily. We also have once-a-term gatherings where I meet with all the staff, follow up and plan. If an issue arises, then I visit my Supervisors individually.
What's one of the biggest challenges you can remember about opening the second and/or third location?
Building trust with the parents - This is difficult at first because you're starting from scratch. We developed this trust by focusing on having good relationships with the principal, office administrators and teachers. Open communication is key. I noticed that when we established a close relationship with the school, our enrollments would increase because of suggestions from the school. Parents have confidence in the school and trust their recommendations.
Vinita and her family.
Were there any personal influences that really encouraged you to take further steps with Carpe Diem Kids?
"Robert and I knew that if we wanted to succeed, we had to be mindful of the fact that it was a risk, but we gave ourselves some time to get going. We also knew that childcare in our area can be expensive. We wanted to help families, especially solo parents. It does create some challenges (as we all know), but we believe in sowing goodness."
What advice would you give to those looking to open their second location?
How much are you willing to invest in getting started?
Be mindful that every programme is different - think of the social and economic demographics.
Look to retain your staff.
"It's not about the money, it's all about the service."