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by sKids,
last updated 03/04/2012

Dawn Engelbrecht of Safe Kids in Daily Supervision wants New Zealand to set an example to the world

Five years ago, Dawn Engelbrecht and Bev Parsons were ambitious to build a successful after-school care business. Now, after opening their service at a new school in every month of those five years, the directors of Safe Kids in Daily Supervision (sKids) realise that their ambitions could take the company much further.

‘We are now looking at making a bigger impact on the welfare and happiness of New Zealand’s children,’ says Dawn. ‘There is so much publicity in New Zealand at the moment about how our children are being mistreated and abused. And this is happening in a country where we have such a great reputation for social order and standards of living. Why not set a goal of being a showcase example to the world in childcare? It’s a big goal, but one thing we’ve learned over the past five years is that if you think it and believe it, you can make it happen.’

The sKids business was purchased by Dawn and Bev in July 2006. At that time, the fledgling franchise was serving fewer than 20 schools, but as working mums who had come to know the service first through the care of their own children and then by operating their own sKids franchises, they felt they could take the business much further.

Happy & Healthy With Homework Done

There is no doubting Dawn and Bev’s success to date. Today, almost 3000 parents entrust the care of their children to some of sKids’ 300 employees and centre owners (franchisees) in 75 schools. On their way to work at 7.30am, those parents drop off their children at sKids (usually on the school premises) where staff prepare them quietly for the school day. When school ends for the day, the children return to the sKids centre to enjoy a nutritious snack, get their homework done, have a balance of rest and exercise and enjoy other stimulating activities until their parents collect them.

Dawn Engelbrecht describes sKids as simply a product that meets the social needs of today’s working families. ‘In most families, both parents need to work if there is going to be any financial progress. No parent wants to make that progress at the expense of their children’s happiness – they feel guilty enough dropping them off at school early and picking them up late. So when parents find a service like ours that promises to care for their children and make sure they stay happy and secure, it is a huge weight off their shoulders.’ And there’s more to it than that – the encouragement and assistance with homework is a huge bonus for parents and children alike.

‘We get thanked all the time by parents who no longer have to nag their children to get their homework done when they get home after a long day. Instead, they can spend some enjoyable time together before the new day starts all over again.’

Making A Lasting Impact

Dawn Engelbrecht says she and Bev were able to refine the winning formula for sKids because they were working mums using the service themselves. ‘But what we didn’t expect was how much more it could be improved as more people joined the venture, both as staff and franchisees, and brought their own ideas, experience and wisdom to the mix. Our organisation is really a bunch of 300 people who love working with children and watching them flourish; people who want to make a difference to children’s lives.’

The expanding group now turns over more than $5 million a year from working parents who are only too pleased to pay for the safe and excellent care of their children. Dawn says the company is forecasting that the number of children in sKids care will grow to over 12,000 in the next five years, across as many as 250 schools. Last year, sKids was named Lifestyle Franchise System of the Year in the Westpac New Zealand Franchise Awards, with June Claunch of sKids Sylvia Park taking the Franchisee of the Year award in the same category. The company is still expanding in New Zealand and has also opened an office in Melbourne.

‘As we grow, the biggest challenge the company faces will probably be the same one as now – finding exactly the right people to join us, to share our vision and values and take the sKids service into new schools. That’s how our organisation grows or declines,’ says Dawn.

‘I think we have to be realistic and admit that we will not always get it right. But our rule-of-thumb is that if we don’t detect a real passion for working with children in a first interview, there is no second interview. We have found this instinct to be a useful one for the company.

‘When we meet someone who wants to invest in joining the organisation and I start harping on about the love and care of children and they start looking at me in a confused way – possibly wondering why I am not talking about a return on investment – I’m pretty sure they’re not the right person to be joining us! Yes, sKids is a successful and profitable business opportunity, but if money is your main motivation, it’s not for you.’

Instead, Dawn sees sKids as a typical example of the textbook rule: follow your passion and you will be successful at it. ‘One of the real strengths of our franchise is that when a centre owner finds that, for whatever reason, they are unable to carry on, the system can maintain things until new people are identified.’

The sKids organisation has recently been saddened by news that one of their most respected centre owners has been diagnosed with a serious and possibly terminal illness. ‘This person has had such a positive impact on all of us and the way we operate. She took ownership of a centre in a low-decile community and, within a couple of years, every child in her care had elevated his or her school grades. She set new benchmarks we would have thought impossible until she achieved them.

‘Her work has been a key motivator in our plan to be much more assertive about the social benefits we can bring to the country,’ says Dawn. ‘Now we may have to face the prospect of losing her but, whatever the future brings, her contribution will live on in the sKids family. That’s what the franchise structure can bring – a way of learning, contributing and sharing that can have a lasting impact.’

Mixing Passion With Understanding & Expertise

As the growth curve for sKids begins to climb, Dawn Engelbrecht said she has some absolute rules she will be taking into the next five years. One is to accept that everything takes three times as long and ten times as much money as you ever expect; the other is to continue to remember that every centre owner is a person running his or her own business.

‘It is one thing to have most of the power in a contract as a franchisor, but both parties have rights and obligations,’ she says. ‘That’s why you need to use that power wisely: helping centre owners get the best out of their businesses takes more than leadership and support – sometimes it takes supreme diplomacy,’ she laughs. ‘But if you work with people well and are able to show them ways to improve what they do and how they get results, it benefits everyone.’

And Dawn isn’t just talking about the childcare, either – in her previous life, she was a corporate accountant and her experience has been a great help to the growth not just of the sKids franchise itself but to many individual centre owners.

‘Most accountants only see their clients once a year, so if there is a problem they tend to see it too late. With almost 50 centre owners in this business, I am able to see trends early and we can address them together. I think that is the reason we have so many high performers in the franchise – we combine our passion for what we do with an understanding of the essentials that make it work.’

In May this year, Dawn also added an Auckland University MBA to her qualifications. This, she says, will help round off her appreciation for growing a 21st century business where ‘It’s not all about money. If we focus on our goals, appoint the right people and achieve international recognition for our childcare services, we will make a difference to the future of New Zealand – and business success will come as naturally as night follows day.’

This advertorial is taken from Franchise New Zealand magazine Volume 20 Issue 2 

Contact details for sKids

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