JUST A KID AT HEART
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sKids director Bev Parsons has dedicated her life to making a difference to the children of New Zealand
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Bev Parsons: 'Our primary aim is to have a positive influence and impact upon children and their lives'
sKids franchisees are able to offer the FoodStorm cooking programme
sKids have opportunities waiting for the right people
sKids is NZ's largest private out-of-school supervised care provider
The first impression you have when you meet Bev Parsons is that she’s exactly as she’s described: still a kid at heart who loves the magic of childhood. That’s part of what led her to invest in sKids back in 2006. Today, although she’s also the director in charge of compliance, safety and operations, she still firmly believes in kids being allowed to be kids.
‘I visit a lot of sKids centres and there’s nothing like walking in and feeling the vibe of kids having a great time and really enjoying being there,’ Bev says. ‘When the staff are active, engaged and really having fun with the kids, they’re happy, the kids are happy, the school is happy and the franchisees are happy, too!’
From small beginnings over 20 years ago, sKids has become New Zealand’s largest private out-of-school supervised care provider at over 165 schools throughout the country, offering before and after school care and holiday programmes, as well as special interest programmes such as cooking and music.
Bev’s introduction to working with children was, like many mums, through having her own. Unlike many people, though, Bev was fortunate enough to be able to home-school her three children over a ten-year period. ‘I’ve probably got a bit of a rebel streak in me and having met people who had home schooled their kids, I wanted to try it. My husband is a teacher and the principal of our local school was supportive, so I did it and loved it.
‘I learned a lot and it gave me great respect for teachers, too – I’ve come across some amazing teachers through sKids and, I have to say, there are some great things going on in primary schools these days. I’m delighted we’re able to support those schools, as well as the kids and their parents, through sKids.’
After the home schooling, Bev worked in a market research company for 18 months. ‘I’d enjoyed working for the Department of Statistics when I was first out of college, but I didn’t enjoy market research – I couldn’t see how it was genuinely helping people. Then we came across sKids, and in 1998 we bought the master franchise for Central Auckland.’
Bev had no experience whatsoever as a business owner, but it didn’t hold her back. ‘That’s part of the attraction of a franchise – getting the support you need to grow,’ she says. ‘So we opened up our first sKids in Balmoral, then about 14 more. We franchised some of them but at one stage operated 8 ourselves. I wouldn’t recommend that many these days, but you can manage up to 5 if you have good staff. The great thing about children is that they are easy to work with, as long as you love their company and you have a sense of humour and a thick skin.’
In 2006, another opportunity arose when the original sKids franchisor agreed to sell the business. ‘Another franchisee, Dawn Engelbrecht, and I had been doing quite a lot of development work which we had been sharing with the others, but they weren’t interested in taking over so Dawn and I mortgaged our houses to the hilt and just did it!
‘Dawn has an accounting background and is a great strategic thinker, while I was the operational one, but we’d never worked together before. Fortunately, we did one thing right at the very start. After we’d signed the papers, we looked at each other and realised we were in danger of making some big mistakes, so we took on a business coach to guide us through. Basically, we kept the legal documentation and recreated everything else.’
At the time, sKids had 12 franchisees operating 19 sites; today, there are 65 franchisees operating 165 sites around NZ and sKids programmes are approved by the Ministry of Social Development (MSD). ‘Parents can also access Work & Income NZ OSCAR subsidies, so we’re providing an essential service that’s not just for the wealthy,’ Bev says proudly.
Did Bev ever think sKids would become this big?
‘We talked at the beginning and said that we thought that supervised care could be done so much better that there was enormous potential. Our goal was to have sKids in every school in New Zealand and we’re still a long way off that so there’s plenty of room to grow. Schools are coming to us now to ask us to run programmes for them. Traditionally, a lot have run their own, or perhaps parents have stepped in, but increasing regulation and training requirements have made it harder to operate that way. A school’s core business is educating its children, so having a reliable professional organisation onboard helps them focus on that.’
As the compliance and safety specialist, Bev knows only too well how much work is involved in meeting the new standards. ‘Health and safety training is only the start of it,’ she says. ‘It took us a whole term to train every staff member in every school throughout the network at first, so we developed an online training programme. That enables staff to learn or update their skills at a time that best suits them, and ensures that everyone throughout all the centres has the same information. It also saves the franchisees a lot of time and trouble – it’s all done for them.’
Another of the new requirements for gaining MSD approval is that providers should have public liability insurance. ‘To be honest, it surprised me that a lot of independent operators didn’t have that already, but it’s certainly important. We’ve always had it, and our size and reputation means we’ve been able to negotiate a really good deal for our franchisees, but others can’t, and aren’t easily able to build an extra few thousand dollars into their budgets. It all makes sKids more attractive.’
And with this compliance, sKids franchisees are now able to offer some programmes, such as the FoodStorm cooking programme and Jellybeans Music, during school hours, too. ‘It adds an extra element to what schools can offer,’ Bev smiles.
Although sKids is now a national brand, Bev says that the individual centres are still very much local businesses. ‘We may have started in Auckland, and we’re still growing there, but the rest of the country is very different. People trust local people, so we look for franchisees who are deeply involved in their communities. They know the people and we can provide all the programmes, training and back-up they need to run a first-class set-up for the schools they serve.
‘Take Te Kuiti, for example. Natasha Kimber there is a mum of five and just amazing. Her husband’s a local policeman so they really know the area. When she talked to the principal at Te Kuiti Primary School about out-of-school care, the principal was keen and said, “We’d like you to do it, but talk to sKids.” She knew our reputation and by combining Natasha’s local energy and enthusiasm with our expertise, she’s got a great programme established.’
It’s clear from the way Bev talks about sKids that, while it is very much a genuine business opportunity, that’s not why she does it – and it’s not what she looks for in franchisees, either. ‘Our primary aim is to have a positive influence and impact upon children and their lives. We help them learn, we keep them safe and, above all, we help them build belief in themselves.
‘The FoodStorm programme demonstrates that. It was designed by award-winning authors Suzi Tait-Bradly and Bex Woolfall, and aims to teach kids 12 healthy recipes they can take home and share with their families. Studies have shown that there are clear links between knowing how to prepare meals and making healthy food choices, so it’s more important than ever that children learn to cook. Our franchisees are helping to make a difference,’ Bev says, proudly.
If you’d like to be part of sKids’ mission, Bev’s fellow director Chris Bartels says that new opportunities are opening up all the time. ‘It’s not just in the big centres: there are heaps more places we have hardly touched, including Hamilton, Rotorua and Tauranga as well as smaller towns right throughout the country – places where the local touch really matters.
‘Franchises start from around $45,000 +gst, including full training and ongoing support, and can generate a very good return. But, in all honesty, if money is your only motivation then sKids is not for you. You need to love kids, have a passion for learning and want to make children’s lives better.’
You also need to be a good leader, well-organised and with the ability to grow a team of 20-30 staff. ‘Many of our franchisees start with one school and develop into multi-site operators, so middle-management experience and a sound skill set are vital,’ says Chris.
‘We have opportunities waiting for the right person to start. Are you ready to make a difference in your community? If so, call me now.’
See this advertorial on page 42 of Franchise New Zealand magazine Year 26 Issue 2
Contact details for sKids
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|industry leisure & education||investment $45,000 + gst||number in NZ 100+ and globally 100+||FANZ member yes|
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This material is copyright © Franchise NZ Marketing Limited, Franchise New Zealand ™ magazine and Franchise New Zealand On Line . While it may be downloaded for personal use, no part may be reproduced in any form whatsoever without the specific written permission of the publisher.