Mixing business with fun
Eve Kay bought the franchise to children's entertainment business Jo Jingles in her local area so she could work around her family and earn some extra money for holidays and luxuries. Just a few months later she separated from her husband and had to decide whether to return to teaching or build the business substantially so she could support her family. Now seven years later, she is a finalist in the British Franchise Association HSBC Franchisee of the Year Awards.
Eve first came into contact with Jo Jingles as a customer. She took her eldest daughter Rosie to the classes and later her second daughter Daisy went when Rosie was in pre-school.
A former secondary school teacher, Eve went back part time after having Rosie, but when Daisy was born she decided it made more sense to stop. She heard that the local franchise for Jo Jingles was up for sale and decided to buy it. She had two other teachers when she started and could take Daisy around to some of the classes which spanned from mid-Cheshire to North Wales.
Around nine months later her marriage split up. “It had been a job to help pay for us to go to Disneyland. Suddenly I had to decide whether to go back to teaching. I had had quite a senior role at school when I left,” she says. “Should I go back or try to make a go of the business? At the same time I wanted to keep family life as stable as possible and that included being around so I decided to take the business to the next level."
She says Jo Jingles gave her a lot of support. She explained what had happened in case it impacted on her work, although in the end it didn't. She says she became more business focused, looking carefully at her bottom line. She gradually got the numbers of children coming to her classes to go up. She introduced new props and instruments and starting looking at the competion. “I realised there was huge competition in children's activities in the area. The market was flooded in my area. I realised that to be successful I had to create a Jo Jingles family. It could not be just about the children. It had to be about the mums too,” she says.
So she moved the venues of some of the classes to ensure they were near coffee shops or soft play venues so mums - it was mainly mums who came - could have a coffee and a chat after the class. “As a mum and a former customer I knew that to go to a class required quite a bit of effort. You might have been up all night with the children and be exhausted. It had to become more than just a class for the children,” she says.
Eve has also worked on promoting Jo Jingles on social media. She says the result of her focus on the whole family is that customers tend to remain loyal. One group in Wrexham started when their babies were just six months old. They became good friends and even went on holiday together. Now they still meet up every week even though their children are now at school.
Eve also runs family events, such as Christmas parties and a whole week of special party classes to raise money for Children in Need. She says many children start classes in September so the Children in Need week helps parents to make friends soon after. Eve even tries to help parents who are new to the area by matching them up with particular classes where she knows they will be able to build good friendships.
Despite the recession, her strategy has helped the business to grow by an average of 26% every year. It has, however, become harder to keep that level of growth up over the years as when she started she was building from a smaller base. She has done so by branching into nurseries and children's centres. However, cuts to children's centres have meant she has had to rethink.
“Some centres have shut down and others couldn't afford classes because of the cuts. A revenue stream almost disappeared overnight,” she says. She felt a moral obligation not to let the children who had come to the classes down so she negotiated with the children's centres which were still open to offer a lower rate of £3.50 to the parents if the children's centres didn't charge hall hire. The normal rate is £4.50 or £5.50 for a class and a morning in an indoor play area. Eve also offered a few free places to those parents who couldn't afford the lower rate.
Another concession to the recession is that she allows some customers to come every other week rather than weekly. She also offers four weeks of free classes for babies. For older children she offers the first three classes at a reduced rate so they can see if they like it. Payments are also taken on a half termly basis because Eve feels paying for a whole term can be too much for parents in the current economic circumstances.
She now has six teachers, many of whom are mums. To ease her own workload, she has just taken on an administrative assistant as she has recently bought the franchise in Stoke and Stafford and took on a role as a mentor with head office last year. As a result of her extra responsibilities, she found she was not having enough time to think strategically about the business. The mentoring role involves visiting around 45 franchisees in Northern England, Scotland and Ireland and helping them with their business strategy.
She is also trying to work all of this around her children. “The children are getting older now and don't go to bed so early so it's harder to fit in as many hours after they go to bed,” she says. Her daughters are eight and 11 and she recently remarried and has two stepdaughters aged 11 and 15.
The children help out with the business though. Her eight year old is good at laminating, she says, and one of the 11 year olds is keen on maths and helps with the finances. The children also help with carnivals and fairs, handing out leaflets and waving flags.
Eve says recruiting other staff is the part of the business she finds hardest as it is so important to get the right person. Then she has to ensure they have the right support since she says the teachers could feel quite isolated. She tries to get them involved in the business so they understand her business strategy and gets them together regularly so they feel part of a team.
Eve is very excited to be a finalist in the British Franchise Association HSBC Franchisee of the Year Awards. She says due to the nature of the franchise it is hard to compete with the big money-earning franchises like McDonald's, but the fact she is a finalist is recognition that she is competing in a difficult market. There are three finalists in her category – franchises in the North. She had to make a presentation to the judges and will find out if she has won an award at a special dinner on 4th October in Birmingham.
Eve's decision to build her franchise appears to have paid off. She now makes more money than she did as a secondary school teacher and also has a business which, although she works longer hours than she did as a teacher, she can fit around her family life. “The business has changed from a lifestyle business to a good living for our family,” she says.