When Rosemary Jordano set about opening Boston-based ChildrenFirst Inc. seven years ago, she knew she wasn't just trying to find clients; she was trying to sell a vision. She had no proof her concept was viable-or even desirable.
Jordano's idea was to provide backup child care for children when a parent's regular child-care arrangements fell through so parents wouldn't be forced to take time off work. She hooked up with companies that would offer the service to their employees; the employees could then call on ChildrenFirst during, say, school holidays or when they needed to work on an irregular day.
"Up until that point, companies thought they could only provide full-time child care [for their employees]," says Jordano, who started ChildrenFirst as a management company that oversaw backup care centers before building her own. "But that is so fraught with shortcomings and limited in the number of families it can serve. You end up with waiting lists and more people unserved than served."
The idea caught on. Companies started calling Jordano and getting creative with how they offered the service to employees, using it for mothers returning from maternity leave, or for traveling or relocating employees. ChildrenFirst, which grossed approximately $10 million last year, now works with almost 200 corporations and 19,000 children and has a 99 percent client-retention rate.
To ensure quality service, Jordano maintains a challenging curriculum and hires only professionals with bachelor's or master's degrees in early childhood or elementary education. That will help give her an edge as competitors surface in the future. "[Back-up child care] is the fastest-growing segment of the child-care market, rapidly outpacing full-time child care," says Jordano. "More and more companies are using backup instead of full-time care. We're the pioneers in this market segment and we're the only ones doing it nationally and exclusively."
More important, though, are the children and the company philosophy: that each child is unique, precious and unrepeat-able. "The focus should always be on what puts the child first," says Jordano, who plans to add four more centers to her current tally of 20 in the coming months. "The people who [work] in our centers are totally committed to [doing that]."