Daycare domination

Daycare domination

How did a mother of eight create a multimillion-dollar childcare business? By listening closely to her clients

Kids have always been a big part of Victoria Sopik’s life. Not only is she a mother of eight, but she’s also spent years in the childcare business. As a result of all of that childcare experience, she came to the realization that there weren’t enough daycare options for families. So she and chartered accountant Jennifer Nashmi – they worked together at a previous daycare – brought the concept of flexible childcare to Canada and launched their business with one location in Toronto 13 years ago. Today, Kids & Company has 70 centres across Canada and the United States, and more than 40,000 families a year use their services.

Vitals
KIDS & COMPANY

Toronto


Founded in:

2002


1500

full-time employees


$50-$100

million in revenues

Victoria’s Tips
  • Customer service is key. We provide monthly haircuts at our centre, so parents don’t need to worry about that.
  • You won’t do everything right the first time. We learned what parents wanted through trial and error.
  • You’ll need tenacity and resiliency every single day to be a successful entrepreneur.

Before I started Kids & Company I was involved in a childcare centre, and Jennifer was our accountant. We both thought there was a need for more Flexible childcare for families. We read about a large U.S. company that pioneered the idea of backup childcare – if a nanny or babysitter couldn’t do the job that day, then you could bring your kids to the centre. We wanted to create a Canadian model based on that philosophy.

Our first location was in a large office complex in a suburb of Toronto. Our idea was that we would partner with corporate clients and offer backup childcare to their employees. That meant if you needed someone to watch your children, you could drop them off at our centre for a few hours or a full day.

We discovered that what people really needed was full-time childcare, so our model changed. Now, we offer full-time guaranteed childcare to employees of our corporate clients. Companies pay us $5,000 a year, or $10,000 if they have offices in more than one city, to offer this benefit to their employees. (Employees are responsible for the annual daycare cost.) Parents who work for our client companies don’t need to be on waiting lists for years to get into our centres, and if someone is coming back from maternity leave, and they know they’ll need space in a few months, we’ll hold their spot for them.

We try to do everything we can to meet the needs of our families. We offer part-time care, emergency care, and we don’t charge late fees if you’re not able to pick up your child on time. This is unusual in the business. You can also drop your child off at another one of our centres if, for example, you’re on vacation or travelling for work.

Our company grew quickly. We started the business in 2002 with one centre, and now we have 70, with 30 more in development. We started in Toronto where many companies have their head offices and they were constantly getting feedback from their regional offices saying they wanted childcare, too. We were getting pressure from our corporate clients to open in other cities, so they could offer the same benefits to all their employees. We quickly made the leap, which was a pretty big leap, to expand into places like Ottawa and Calgary. Now we’re in pretty much every bigger Canadian city – Red Deer, Kamloops, Hamilton and Bedford, N.S.

We felt comfortable with the growth, though. Most of our clients were national companies, so we knew we had clients waiting for us in each of the cities. We have a good relationship with our bank, and we have a really patient group of private investors who knew we would need to sacrifice the idea of being really profitable in order to offer the highest quality of service for our families.

We now have a handful of locations in the U.S. and are continuing to open more. Again, it was our corporate clients who pushed us to grow, because they had offices in cities like Chicago, Boston, New York and Washington. But it’s going well. We’ve gained a few local clients in the American cities, but our goal is not to get new clients, necessarily, but to support the clients we already have.

My co-founder, Jennifer, is the CFO. We created the business together and we run it together. Luckily, we have a great partnership and we never, ever fight or argue. We have defined areas of responsibility and we always defer to, and do not interfere with, each other’s decisions and our areas of expertise. We’re very lucky that we’ve been able to figure that out.

- Claire Gagné / Photograph by Michael Waiter