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Jabberjacks organises educational parties for young children and is looking to expand its franchise. Workingmums.co.uk found out how it started and what it involves.
Verity Graham used to take her children to Jabberjacks parties when they were very small. The parties are two-hour interactive, fun-filled events involving puppets, a treasure box, bubble machines and parachutes, among other equipment.
The children are invited to interact with the puppets and learn various social skills without knowing they are doing so. Often their parents join in the fun.
Verity separated from her husband and moved back to the East Midlands to be near her family and to take up a job at a local authority. Her children went to their father’s every other weekend and she found herself with time on her hands.
Her friend Jackie had just been made redundant from her job at the Royal Bank of Scotland. They went on a girls’ night out and decided to set up as franchisees of Jabberjacks. That was five years ago. Now they are directors of the company.
With Verity’s experience in marketing and Jackie’s knowledge of finance and HR, the two had the perfect skills for running a business and gave each other mutual support.
At first, Verity was combining her daytime job with Jabberjacks at the weekend. Sometimes she would work a 12-day fortnight, but she says doing the parties wasn’t like working. “It’s an honour to do someone’s birthday party. It’s a very special event for them and it should be for us too,” she says.
Jackie and Verity are still very much hands on in their franchise in Leicestershire and employ people to do a lot of the classes and parties. “Having that everyday experience means we are up with all the issues our franchisees face,” says Verity.
Parties and drop-in sessions
Jabberjacks runs drop-in sessions and children’s parties for two to four year olds as well as parties for five to seven year olds.
It was set up 12 years ago by a former primary school teacher from Cheshire who had taken time out after having three children and didn’t want to give up working with children. She was a trained puppeteer and came up with the idea of running education-based classes which built on the early years and key stage one learning skills. She fell into franchising as demand grew and what she offered expanded. She started up parties for two to four year olds based on the kind of activities she was doing at the classes. These were so popular she set up a junior version for older children which are more behaviour-led, rewarding children who play nicely and try the hardest.
Verity says demand for the classes and parties is increasing, even in these turbulent times, and Jabberjacks is recruiting more franchisees.
She says she finds that parents are reluctant to cut back on things that their children enjoy. If they do cut back it is through holding a joint party with a friend. The preschool classes are growing too. Some nurseries are offering the classes free to parents as competition for children increases and they need to show added value. Others charge parents a small extra fee for the classes.
Verity says it is important for Jabberjacks to find the right people to become franchisees. They don’t need to be teachers or have any experience with puppets as this is taught. They do need to like children and enjoy “the performance side of things”. “They have to like dancing around with a pompom on their head,” she says. The franchise offers a training programme which includes franchisees sitting in on parties, sharing parties and only running their own parties when they are absolutely ready.
They get help with administrative work and Verity says their marketing budget tends to be low as up to 85% of business comes through recommendations and word of mouth after parties.
The franchise licence is £5,000 and the equipment they need costs £3,500. Verity says people who set up their own businesses tend to invest much more and that Jabberjacks is a tried and tested formula so the risk of failure is low.
Franchisees come from a variety of backgrounds. One was a high flyer in the insurance business who had been running a childminding business. Another is an accountant. Verity says because parties are run mostly at the weekends franchisees who have their own children can save on childcare costs. If they have too many parties, they can recruit their own staff.
Since Verity and Jackie took over as directors last year, they have done a lot of work on branding and the website. “We were very flattered the original franchisor felt we could take it over,” says Verity. “We went from attending parties to being directors of the company. It’s funny how things turn out.”
Click here to find out more about how to become a Jabberjacks franchisee.