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Amber Jones couldn’t find quality childcare in her area, so she decided to set up her own childcare business. Tigerlily Childcare now has franchisees all over the country. Workingmums spoke to Amber.
Amber Jones spent 17 years in recruitment management before becoming pregnant with her first child in 2002. But when she returned to work and needed to find professional childcare, she was very disappointed with the poor levels of service and lack of suitable nannies provided by local nanny agencies. So she decided to do something about it. The result is Tigerlily Childcare, a childcare recruitment agency set up to provide parents and nurseries in Sussex with top quality nannies, maternity nurses and nursery staff.
Amber used her recruitment experience to ensure the service provided was very professional. For instance, she says she can get suitable cvs of childcare workers out to clients within minutes of their inquiry coming in. Within 12 months, the business had built up a reputation locally and was soon drawing interest from outside the Sussex area.
“Families from London, Surrey and other areas outside Sussex were coming to us on a regular basis,” says Amber. “We wanted help them, but often couldn’t because we did not have a presence outside of Sussex.”
Amber decided to launch Tigerlily as a franchise. With the help of a franchise specialist, she investigated the possibility of setting up franchise divisions across the South East. A franchise prospectus was developed together with all the accompanying marketing material and legal support needed to promote the franchise opportunities available.
Based on her own experience of establishing the business and finding out what worked, Amber was able to provide prospective franchisees with a clear idea of potential earnings and could pass on the lessons Tigerlily had learnt. “Our overriding aim was to sell a business model that worked,” says Amber. “There would be no point in promoting franchises if the model only worked in one area.”
Research was commissioned to assess local demand for Tigerlily’s services in different parts of the UK. The business was clearly less likely to be successful in areas where there was low demand for quality childcare. For instance, in Yorkshire, the research found that fewer women went out to work and many had family support so they didn’t need nannies. “The most successful franchise areas for Tigerlily are those where high percentages of parents work and have the disposable income and motivation to pay for professional childcare,” says Amber.
By 2005, Tigerlily had successfully launched its first franchise in Kent and shortly after came franchises in Surrey, South London and Central London. Today Tigerlily has eight franchisees across the South East and aims to expand its coverage across specific areas of the UK at a manageable rate.
Selling a franchise can, however, be a lengthy and complex business, often requiring frequent meetings and communication over a long period of time. Amber says: “Most people who enquire about our franchise opportunities come to us cold, without too much knowledge of what is involved. We provide them with a range of promotional and private information and it is only then that prospective franchisees and ourselves can make informed decisions on whether or not to proceed. We invest heavily in terms of our time and commitment, but when we find the right people, there can be no better feeling.
To have people that you like and respect managing a Tigerlily franchise in another part of the country is an amazing feeling and one that always inspires us.” Amber also emphasises that it is not for everyone. “Some people don’t want to give a percentage of their earnings to someone else,” she says, even though she adds that having a recognised brand such as Tigerlily’s can boost business by up to 70%. “It also provides more security given that there is a very high failure rate for small businesses and we provide so much head office support to our franchisees. If people are having problems, it is in our interests to help them,” says Amber.
In addition to chatting to potential franchisees, Amber makes a point of telling them to fully research the potential for Tigerlily in their area. “They need to make sure that there is a strong market for the business,” she says.
When a franchise is close to being sold, Amber also emphasises the importance of commissioning a specialist franchise sollicitor as they will know all the key issues that need to be covered.
After the franchise is sold, Tigerlily make a point of providing extensive training and full support. New franchisees receive heavily discounted marketing and advertising rates and professional copywriting is always at hand via Tigerlily’s head office. A ‘buddy’ system exists whereby new franchisees can spend time with an existing franchisee and there are frequent franchisee meetings and social events.
Amber says: “Franchisees can make a great income, but that all depends on what they are prepared to put into the business. “A Tigerlily franchise definitely suits mums looking to work from home and who possess a sales or recruitment background. It may not always suit mums with very young children because work is often required in the early morning or early evening when most of the parents call,” she says.
She adds: “It can be hard work, but the rewards of working from home and managing your own business are truly amazing.”