With 20 million children in the country under the age of 5, the need for quality day care is clear. Although day care costs an average of $4,000 per child per year, it has become as necessary to millions of families as food and shelter, and experts predict a 5-percent to 10-percent market growth rate in the next five years.
But day-care centers must provide more than snacks and playtime. Parents want to know their children are both safe and educationally challenged. As a result, many day-care centers have expanded their services to include trained teachers providing age-appropriate experiences. Other centers are adding services to relieve some of the burdens on harried parents. Cookie's 24 Hour Child Care & Learning Center in Elizabethtown, Pennsylvania, is open for business around the clock, bringing sighs of relief from parents who work the second and third shifts at nearby hospitals and factories.
"We've had parents pick their kids up at 1:30 in the morning," says founder Kathy Brandyberry, who worked as an elementary school tutor and teacher's aide before launching the business in 1991 with her husband, John. The couple used credit cards to finance $5,000 in start-up expenses, which included toys, books and recreational equipment purchased at garage sales and flea markets. The center began with five children in the Brandyberrys' converted home. Today, a staff of 46 cares for 300 children in an expanded facility. The center also operates a private, licensed kindergarten. Cookie's has annual revenues of $700,000 and has 200,000 shares of stock offered, which, if sold, will generate $1 million; the capital is being used to pay off a loan and expand an upstairs portion of one of the Brandyberrys' four locations.
Kathy says two things are essential for success as a day-care provider: a thorough knowledge of federal and state laws regulating the industry and a genuine love for children and the business. With a workweek that averages 60 hours, running a day-care center is far from child's play.