Are Your Employees This Loyal?

Arthur T. DemoulasThe grocery industry, like the child care industry, has a notoriously high rate of employee turnover. And unlike the child care industry, the rigors of the work aren’t tempered at all by warm baby cuddles and sloppy toddler kisses.

In large part, working at a grocery store consists of physically taxing, mentally draining days full of annoyingly clueless shoppers (like me) who can’t find the horseradish even when it’s six inches in front of them. And nobody’s there for the fantastic pay.

Which is what makes the current saga of our local Market Basket chain of grocery stores so extraordinary.

The gentleman above is Arthur T. Demoulas, the recently ousted CEO of the chain. He was fired by the company’s board, which is controlled by his cousin (making this year’s family holiday gathering a bit awkward at best, one can only assume), and replaced by a pair of geographically distant co-CEOs.

(Co-CEOs, incidentally, are almost always a terrible idea and generally result from nobody wanting to be the person with whom the buck truly stops. But I digress.)

Demoulas is tremendously beloved by his workers – so much so, in fact, that many of them have decided to stop coming to work unless and until he is reinstated as CEO. The workers’ written demand states in no uncertain terms that they want him back with “full authority, non-negotiable…We will not work for anyone but ATD.”

Workers at all levels – none of them unionized – have walked off the job, putting their paychecks at risk, and thousands have attended local rallies. They have been joined both in person and online by tens of thousands of loyal Market Basket customers, all of whom are united with the workers in wanting to “save our store” and bring the popular CEO back.

As of this writing, the local stores are nearly empty; deliveries of fresh groceries have been halted due to the walkouts. We’re all waiting with bated breath to see what happens next.

It’s truly been something to see. While it’s impossible for me, as an outsider to the company, to know exactly what’s going on behind closed doors (the scuttlebutt is that the new leadership is all about maximizing profits for themselves), here’s what seems to be indisputed:

  • Demoulas genuinely cares about his workers and values their contributions, providing them with generous bonuses and profit-sharing packages.
  • His store visits have been known to take hours, as he’s interested in talking with everyone he can and finding out both how they’re doing and what they think about things.
  • He has exhibited extraordinary generosity and compassion when workers (or their family members) encounter personal misfortunes or serious illness.
  • He is committed to providing excellent service at a fair price – as a regular Market Basket shopper, I have seen this in action.
  • In a high-turnover industry, Market Basket is full of workers who have been there 10, 20, or even 30 years or more (everyone’s length of tenure is proudly posted right on their nametags).
  • He has created not just a chain of food stores, but a cherished corporate culture with a life and identity of its own.

Demoulas has been quoted as saying, “We’re in the people business first and the food business second…If we get the first part right, we’re 80 percent there.”

This is one smart man – and someone early childhood educators can learn a lot from.

It can be tempting, watching yet another new teacher flake out or quit without notice, to get discouraged and accept the status quo of the revolving-door culture of ECE staff.

But if you take the time to hire carefully, nurture and train your teachers, steep them in all that makes your child care center special, appreciate and reward them to the best of your ability, and make them a trusted, integral part of the process every day, you may be surprised at how long they start to stick around – and how valuable they become to you.

The bottom line is that great leadership leads to great loyalty and exceptional performance, regardless of what business you’re in.

To grab your copy of our exclusive free report, 17 Secrets to Finding – and Keeping – Great Teachers, click here.

Where Does It Hurt?

band aids

A few weeks back, Lorelei took a nasty tumble on a boat dock. She turned her ankle a little, and had a few scrapes and bruises. She’s a tough kid, though, and by the next day the only lingering problem was a little pain in her “thumb toe.”

The first thing we asked her when she went down, naturally, was “Where does it hurt?”

We all do it with kids, and even the really little guys are good at identifying the precise location of the boo-boo. (This has no relation, of course, to where they want the Band-Aids applied, which is usually everywhere, and as many as possible.)

It’s pretty obvious, really – we can’t effectively treat the pain if we don’t know its exact nature and location. But when it comes to pain in our businesses, many of us are perfectly happy to stay in the dark. Which is a mistake.

Let’s say enrollments are down from last year. A surprising number of child care owners and administrators are content to chalk it up to, say, a new center that opened elsewhere in town, or road construction that’s now detouring traffic away from the center, or even just “the economy” generally.

Now, any or all of these could in fact be factors – or not. There’s only one way to find out the real story, and that’s to do some research.

Are you getting the same number of inquiries as you were this time last year? Are you giving as many tours? Is your percentage of tours-leading-to-enrollments down? Are current families leaving in greater numbers than before? If so, from which classroom(s)? Do you follow up with families who enroll elsewhere to find out why? Are you regularly surveying current parents to get their feedback?

It’s no fun to delve deeply into the cause of a problem at your business – but if you don’t know where you’re going off track, it’s almost impossible to get back on track. And the good news is that once you’ve identified the problem, you’re well on your way to fixing it.

So where does it hurt?

Child Care Marketing: Do What Works for You

american flag

For most of us here in the United States, we wrapped up our July 4th celebrations last week. The hot dogs have been eaten, the fireworks shows are over, and everyone is back to the gentler rhythms of summer.

This is not the case, however, at the American Independence Museum in Exeter, a town not too far from here.

Right at this moment, the museum is gearing up for its flagship American Independence Festival this coming Saturday – which involves over a hundred costumed historical actors and a breathless re-enactment of the horseback delivery of the Declaration of Independence to the people of Exeter back in 1776. (Exeter, apparently, didn’t get the big news until July 16th, which is the reason for the delayed celebrations.)

You might think that people would be all July-4thed-out by now, a week after the main event, but the festival is immensely popular, and it’s the museum’s biggest event of the year. The Exeter town fireworks are even delayed to coincide with the festival.

Because the museum is not competing with everyone else for those prime days right around the 4th, it’s carved out its very own space in which to shine.

Which brings me to the marketing point of today’s post: When it comes to telling the world about your child care center and all the great things you have to offer, it’s okay to do things a little differently than the other centers in your area.

Case in point: Facebook. A lot of parents are on Facebook, to be sure, and a lot of child care centers have found success marketing there – whether they use Facebook’s paid ads or just stay active on the site as a way of keeping in touch.

But if you personally dislike Facebook, or just don’t get it, or feel annoyed and confused every time you log on, Facebook is not the tool for you.

This is not to say you get a free pass with your marketing, of course – you will need to figure out some other way to consistently stay in front of the parents in your area who may need child care in the near future – but don’t feel compelled to do something that’s a poor fit just because it seems like everyone else is doing it.

In my business, I do a lot of blogging because I enjoy it and because it works well for me. I have zero presence on Pinterest at the moment, however, because it’s just not my thing.

I like looking at all the gorgeous photos (until they make me feel bad for not being sufficiently creative and crafty and able to execute ideas like a life-size Santa made entirely of Gummi Bears), but Pinterest just doesn’t resonate with me. So I don’t worry about it.

You have limited time, energy, and mental space – not to mention money. You simply can’t do it all when it comes to your marketing, and you shouldn’t try. Focus on the few things that you enjoy doing, and that work for you, and you’ll be just fine.

And if that means doing Christmas in July, or July 4th on July 12th, more power to you.

How To Throw A Party: Tips From The Masters

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A couple of weeks ago, we received invitations in both Lorelei’s and Nicholas’s mailboxes at school – as far as I could tell, every child at the center got one.

Here are some key excerpts; names and some details changed to protect the revelrous:

 

LET’S PARTY!!!!!

On June 21 for a Summertime Bash at the Crazy Smith House

OUR LITTLE DIVA MORGAN is turning 2 and OUR CRAZY MONKEY BEN is going into kindergarten this year, so please come and join us as we celebrate these two milestones and bring in the beginning of summer in style!!!

There will be outdoor activities and much more for all ages so bring a change of clothes, bathing suits and a towel as well as your running shoes :) This will be a wicked fun event and should not be missed! We will supply food and sugary treats for all.

Time: 2:00 pm to whenever we can’t take it anymore!

Hard to resist, right? You can almost feel the enthusiasm bursting off the page. Despite not knowing either Diva Morgan or Crazy Monkey Ben all that well, the kids and I went to the party and had a great time. It was all that was promised and more.

My only regret is that I had to get Lorelei and Nicholas (by then well-sugared-up and nearly delirious with excitement) home before the piñata came out. Had there also been a marching band and a fire-eater later on, I wouldn’t have been a bit surprised.

This, my friends, is how you do it up right. And this sort of genuine enthusiasm is what rings true for – and attracts – great parents and staff to your center. In your marketing, on your Facebook page, and on your website.

Another terrific example I saw recently: To celebrate its first year in business, Koala Park Daycare in Tuckahoe, New York, decided to give all of the parents at the center a Date Night, providing free child care from 6-8 pm.

But wait – it gets better. Koala Park actually bought dinner for all of the parents, too, hosting a gala event at a local restaurant (community-building) with a cake, cupcakes, and pizzas provided by other local businesses (more community-building).

The parents all liked it so much – and who could blame them? – that Koala Park has decided to make this a quarterly event, as an added perk of the great service they already provide. “This is our way of saying THANK YOU to all the families that believe in us, trust us and support our vision and business,” the center noted in a press release.

Well done, Koala Park! You can check out some photos of the event on their Facebook page.

Those parents are always going to remember and appreciate that evening, talk it up among their friends, and stay fiercely loyal to Koala Park until their kids head off to kindergarten. And the local press picked up the story, too. From a marketing standpoint, that’s a grand slam – it just doesn’t get any better than that.

What can you do to blow people away in a fun, memorable way at your center? Think big.

Of Flannel Shirts and Flapjacks

John McCainGrowing up in New Hampshire, with its cherished first-in-the-nation presidential primary status, you get used to seeing national politicians all over the place every few years.

You can always spot them a mile away, looking visibly uncomfortable in their brand-spanking-new plaid flannel shirts and L.L.Bean gum boots. (Believe it or not, they’re already starting to pop up here and there as they ramp up for 2016.)

When I was in high school, Jerry Brown once spontaneously dropped by my evening dance class, despite the fact that most of us weren’t even old enough to vote. Four years later, I shook Bob Dole’s hand amidst a sea of prom dresses during a New Year’s Eve visit to The Princess Shop in Concord. And Hillary Clinton made headlines right here in Portsmouth back in 2008.

The day before the New Hampshire primary, as the tide was turning inexorably toward Barack Obama, Clinton held a meet-and-greet at local breakfast spot Café Espresso.

Her visit wasn’t noteworthy in itself, but rather the fact that she had an unguarded moment of candor and vulnerability when she talked about how hard the whole process was. She even got a little choked up, which was nearly unheard of for the tough former First Lady.

That moment wasn’t enough to clinch her the nomination, but it did provide her campaign with a late-in-the-game boost of energy. It also prompted my husband and me to start referring to Café Espresso as “Hillary’s Tears.” We called it that for years, until my daughter re-christened it “Ruthie’s Restaurant” after a beloved former teacher started working there.

My friend from New York, on the other hand, who visits us often, refers to Café Espresso as “that place where you can get both sweet and savory for breakfast,” given their extensive array of combo platters. And I can only guess what Clinton herself thinks of the place.

My point (and I do have one) is this: Your brand ultimately exists in the minds of your customers, for better or worse, and everything you do affects their impressions. This means that, to a large extent, your brand is out of your control.

This is actually not as scary as it sounds, but it does mean you need to be paying attention all the time. If a prospective mom’s only experience with your child care business is that harried teacher who quickly tried to hustle her off the phone when she called for info, well, that’s what she’s going to remember.

That mom is not going to know, or care, that three teachers called in sick that day and that the person who answered the phone is actually one of your best, most caring ECE educators. All she has to go on is her own direct experience.

Being a local business – one that’s exceptionally dependent on trust and reputation, no less – means you have to be on your game day in and day out, even when you don’t feel quite up to it.

In a way, however, this simplifies things for you, as it gives you a lens through which to view all business decisions and actions: Will this enhance or detract from our reputation as a trusted, high-quality provider of child care and education in this community? 

Using this as a barometer doesn’t mean that acting on your choices will be easy – far from it – but it does often clarify what the right choice is. And over time, as your reputation grows, it will become your most valuable business asset.

In short, you are in the business of continually reinforcing to current and prospective parents that the right child care choice is you. No flannel shirts or gum boots necessary.

In the Weeds? Here’s How To Get Out.

restaurant kitchenDespite my inordinate fondness for anything having to do with food (buying it, eating it, cooking it, you name it), I’ve never spent any time working in a professional kitchen.

Which is a shame, as I think it would be incredibly interesting – and exhausting, which is why I have no plans to add this particular item to my bucket list.

I do read a lot about food and restaurants, though. I’ve learned that “dupes” are duplicate tickets printed out to keep track of various orders and courses in the kitchen, a “salamander” is a broiler, and “in the weeds” is when you’re completely, totally slammed trying to keep up with everything that’s coming at you.

ECE professionals know a little something about being “in the weeds.”

Overwhelm is a regular – sometimes daily – occurrence at most child care centers. Part of this, of course, is the fact that the business inherently revolves around wildly energetic, unpredictable, loud little people. Not to mention their often equally loud and unpredictable parents.

There’s just plain a lot to get done, all the time, day in and day out. And with an endless stream of tasks and t0-dos, it can be difficult to know what to do first.

Barring a bona fide emergency – the “call 911 immediately” sort – here are the three things you should always be sure to put at the top of your list. If something doesn’t fall into one of these three categories, it’s probably a second-tier task:

1. Generating new leads. Marketing, in other words – the things that bring in new phone calls, emails, and inquiries. Children are always going to be graduating out of your ECE program, so you are always going to need a steady stream of new kids coming in to replace them.

2. Closing new business. Securing new enrollments, in other words. Since most parents make their child care decision only after a center tour, you should be spending a good chunk of your time and energy on getting parents in for tours, making those tours great, and incentivizing parents to enroll at the conclusion of the tour.

3. Enhancing the customer experience. This means doing everything you can to create the best possible experience for the kids and families at your center – including hiring and retaining the very best teachers, as they play a huge role in both kid and parent satisfaction.

These three categories of tasks have the most direct impact on your bottom line, and therefore the biggest impact on the success of your business.

This is not to say that other things don’t have to get done, too (like required paperwork and organizing your office from time to time so the stacks don’t threaten to topple over and crush you), but they need to be slotted in around the big three above. And when those three are tended to, and done well, everything else will largely take care of itself.

When you don’t know what to do first, do one of the big three.

Don’t Be Afraid To Clap the Dandelions

Lorelei in the dandelionsMy daughter, Lorelei, turns 4 on Sunday. She is at that perfect age when fluffy dandelions are a magical plaything rather than an extremely efficient weed dispersal system.

We were playing outside the other day among the dandelion puffs and various wildflowers. We took a brief break from the dandelions to do that thing with the buttercups when you hold them up to the soft spot underneath a friend’s chin to determine whether or not they like butter.

Having nailed down that we both, in fact, are butter-lovers, Lorelei returned her attentions to the dandelions. Only this time, rather than blowing on them or waving them in the air to disperse the seeds, she bent down and clapped them between her hands, one dandelion at a time.

It was surprisingly effective – the seeds released instantly, in one fell swoop. I tried out her method myself and found it both efficient and strangely satisfying. We eventually moved on to kicking the dandelions, which didn’t work nearly as well.

Lorelei had inadvertently stumbled upon a lesson that’s extremely important when it comes to your child care marketing efforts: Don’t be afraid to try something new.

What you’re currently doing may be working well enough (such as blowing on the dandelions), or not working at all (such as my two-year-old son’s preferred method of eating the fuzzy dandelion tops), but you’re never going to hit on something truly remarkable unless you get out of your comfort zone and try something new.

Oftentimes, the best marketing ideas come from outside our own industry.

Postcard mailings to family-rich neighborhoods? Free trials of your center before asking parents to commit? Substantial discounts for payments made in advance? Why not? These are all time-tested tactics that work well for other small businesses, probably some right in your area. There’s no reason they can’t work well for you, too.

As an added bonus, you automatically set yourself apart when you do something different than all the other child care centers in your area are doing.

This is invaluable when you’re dealing with sleep-deprived, stressed-out parents looking for child care – if you can instantly distinguish yourself from the rest of the pack, they will rejoice at the fact that their decision has been made for them, without a lot of extra work and digging on their part. (Speaking as a sleep-deprived parent myself, there are few gifts more welcome than the gift of not having to think too much.)

A corollary to remember here, too, is that if something is definitely not working for you from a marketing perspective, doing more of it isn’t going to work any better. If that’s the case for you, take that dandelion out of your mouth and start working on Plan B.

You may be surprised at how far you can spread those seeds – and how fun and effective it can be.

Be Clear, Not Catchy

Curious George and Elmo

I’m not quite sure what this says about me, but I’ve realized that ever since I left the central New Hampshire town in which I was raised, I’ve had a knack for living at the very edges of states.

My college was in the extreme upper-left corner of Massachusetts, just a few miles from Vermont and New York. My law school was in New York City (which, despite what its denizens may think, is nowhere near the center of New York – or the universe, for that matter).

From there I spent several years in Chicago, a city clinging by its very fingernails to the shores of Lake Michigan.

And now I live on New Hampshire’s tiny seacoast. This means that I’m able to pop over to Maine on foot any time I feel like it, which is kind of fun. It also means that we get not one, not two, but three PBS stations on our local cable. Given that we have two children under the age of four in love with all things Elmo, this is not an insignificant thing.

The other day, as I was wrangling both kids between TV shows, I saw the station identifier screen for the Maine Public Broadcasting Network:

MPBN: Now more than ever.

Perhaps my mind has just been numbed by the aforementioned fact of having two children under the age of four, but I still have no idea what the heck this means:

  • Maine needs quality public programming now more than ever?
  • MPBN needs my pledge now more than ever?
  • Now more than ever is a good time to watch astounding amounts of Clifford the Big Red Dog?

With absolutely no disrespect to the good people at MPBN and the important work they do, this is a terrible tagline. Its meaning is unclear, which means its value is negligible. “Quality programming for Maine families” wouldn’t have much of a ring to it, but we’d know exactly what they were talking about, and what MPBN was offering.

I actually see a lot of child care centers doing something similar with their messaging. “We’re all about fun!”, for example, doesn’t tell you much about the center, and it also has the unfortunate side effect of bringing to mind images of children caroming around the playground like monkeys, without a thought towards a) education or b) safety.

It’s great to have a clear sense of what makes your center unique and special so you can convey that message to current and prospective parents. At the same time, however, you don’t want to get so hung up on this that you wind up afraid to say anything at all.

Clear and consistent (“We provide quality care and education for children ages 6 weeks to 5 years old”) is much, much better than vague and catchy (“Ride the wave!”). If your center provides baby Zumba and/or Swahili lessons, by all means work that in, but the ultimate goal is a tagline that people can wrap their heads around.

If it doesn’t, now more than ever is a good time to hammer it down.

Thanks For All You Do!

Favorite toddler everGiven that we’re getting close to the end of the school year and everyone’s minds are mush (you know what I mean, even if you run a year-round program), I decided to re-run a popular post from last year for your easy-reading enjoyment.

Thanks for all the important work you do in your ECE program! Wishing you a summer full of fun, play, and success. We’ll be back to our regularly scheduled programming next week.

You Know You’re in ECE When…

…you hear “dramatic play” and think something more along the lines of “tiny kitchen” than “Macbeth.”

…you know that Reggio Emilia is not something you grate over spaghetti.

…you regularly rescue pretty scraps of paper from the recycling bin and squirrel them away for a future class project.

…a parent brings in treats for the whole class and your first two thoughts are: 1) Are there any peanuts in there? and 2) I hope every one of those treats is exactly the same (because hell hath no fury like a room full of preschoolers presented with an “assortment” of anything).

…you have ever fought the temptation to address a room full of adults as “friends.”

…you see a child covered with paint, dirt, vomit, and/or boogers reaching out to you for a hug, and all you care about is the hug (even if you’re wearing a new suede jacket).

…you can determine with a split-second glance at a classroom whether it’s in ratio or not.

…you have developed an iron-clad immunity to nearly every contagion known to man.

…you’re extremely good at accurately guessing the ages, within months or even weeks, of other people’s small children.

…you can get a toddler into – and out of – a snowsuit, boots, mittens, and hat faster than anyone else you know (including said toddler’s parents).

…at least once, you’ve found yourself taking notes with something manufactured by Crayola.

…manipulatives are fun classroom tools (rather than mean, selfish people).

…nothing makes you angrier than parents who don’t vaccinate their children not because of valid medical or religious concerns, but because Jenny McCarthy said so.

…you have a preferred brand of glue stick.

…you know that, to young children, play is work.

…wherever you go, even if it’s someone’s swanky wedding, you inevitably wind up on the floor playing with the little kids.

…you have heard yourself saying, to one or more adults, “Excuse me – I’m going to go use the potty.”

…you’d rather cut off your own arm than confront a colleague, even over something as minor as food going rancid in the break room fridge.

…you have not thrown away a toilet paper tube, a paper towel tube, or a milk jug in years.

…the songs in your head at the end of the day tend not to be current hits, but classics – like “If You’re Happy and You Know It.”

…you have woken up to find mac & cheese, Cheerios, or Play-Doh in your hair from the day before (bonus points for all three – now that’s a day at work!)

… you find yourself saying “use your words” no fewer than two dozen times a day.

…you regularly steal Scotch tape and other supplies from home to use at work (unlike the rest of the world, which tends to do it the other way round).

…you wish more grown-ups were better at putting on their listening ears.

…you’re not paid nearly enough, and you know that, but you love your work so much that you wouldn’t consider doing anything else. And the rewards are the kind that all the money in the world can’t buy.

3 Blogging Mindset Busters for Child Care Professionals

Blog!You probably already know that a blog on your center’s website is a great way to connect with prospective (and current) parents and get your name out there.

It’s a highly effective marketing tactic that costs nothing but time. So why is it so hard to get rolling?

Write, post, repeat – it should be easy. But not so much. In fact, for many child care owners and directors, blogging is right up there with flossing and mildew removal at the top of the list of Things You Know You Should Be Doing But Keep Putting Off.

But it doesn’t have to be that way. There are actually a few common – and avoidable – mindset mistakes that can make regular blogging seem like a much bigger production than it actually is. Are you guilty of any of the following?

1. “It’s got to be perfect.” Ah, yes – the age-old excuse for not getting the work out the door. I just need to make a few more tweaks…I’ll let it sit for a while and look it over later…it’s just not good enough yet… The list goes on and on.

But with blogging, as with so many other things in life, your mantra should be “better done than perfect.”

Not that you want to send out rambling posts that make no sense and are riddled with typos, of course. But after you get something down that’s pretty good, and you’ve read it through once or twice, go ahead and post it and move on.

The great thing about blog posts, like streetcars, is that there’s always another one coming down the line again before too long.

2. “I’m not a good writer.” Think about the blogs you read regularly, either for work or for fun. It’s likely that few, if any, of them would win writing awards.

You’re not really there for “fine writing,” just as you don’t go to Burger King for “fine dining.” You keep coming back because the blog provides you with useful information, or entertains you, or both.

If you’re really stuck, and you’re a better talker than writer, consider getting a tape recorder or dictation software and just speaking the first drafts of your entries. They’ll probably be conversational and sound a lot like how you really are. Which is exactly what you want.

3. “I don’t know what to write about.” This is a huge hang-up for many would-be child care bloggers – which is ironic because your job (jam-packed with giddy, hilariously unpredictable little folks) probably provides you with more blogging fodder than you could use in several lifetimes.

Put yourself in the shoes of parents of young children. Think about the questions you get asked over and over, and the concerns you find yourself allaying on a regular basis.

Knowledge that feels relatively basic to you – how to encourage creative play, work through periods of picky eating, soothe fussy babies at naptime, and so on – is worth its weight in gold to inexperienced (and nervous) new parents.

If you can speak to them as an expert about what they want to know, they’ll keep reading…and enrolling…and referring their friends to you.

Today, right now, start making a list of possible blog topics. Add to it as new ideas come to you. You’ll probably be surprised by how much material you really have. And then get writing.