From the May 2009 issue of Entrepreneur

Baby-Sitter Referral Service Born of Necessity

Adrienne Kallweit (above) wasn't expecting to find anything unusual when she considered hiring her son's preschool teacher as a baby sitter. But when Kallweit, a licensed private investigator, ran a background check on the teacher, she found a number of items that weighed heavily against the teacher's personal character. "I was shocked at what I found," says Kallweit, 34. Later, on family trips, she and her husband, David, 40, faced the same dilemma when they couldn't find reliable sitters at their destinations.

Seeing the need for safe child care, the Kallweits co-founded SeekingSitters in 2004. The baby-sitter referral service does all the work for families looking for baby sitters: Families sign up online and are matched with a local sitter. Registered families can use the website to make preferences, provide feedback and search sitter profiles. But the service takes the process a step further by performing background screenings on applying sitters via its in-house investigation company, Hide and Seek. Among other assessments, prospective sitters undergo personal character evaluations, reference checks and an in-person interview before they're approved. Families are screened as well for criminal and sex offender history and personal identity verification. "There are just too many risks," Adrienne says, "and we really take pride in that we screen our members [in addition to our sitters]."

A couple of years after launching the business, the Kallweits decided to expand nationally. The benefits of franchising were a natural fit with the vision they had for the business; franchisees can get to know their community on a local level and get involved with the members and families in their area. Since franchising in 2006, the Tulsa, Oklahoma-based business has grown to 23 locations in nine states, with systemwide sales of $2.1 million last year. The franchisees, all parents themselves, enjoy the flexible lifestyle SeekingSitters allows them. And despite the poor economy, Adrienne says they hope to expand to 10 more states in the next year. "The fact that we provide a safe and reliable service really keeps us thriving, even through tough economic times," she says. "Our service is really needed."