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Small Business | Learning Curve: Business Lessons From
Southern California Entrepreneurs

Operator Takes a Family Approach to Child Care

May 19, 1999|KAREN E. KLEIN

Michael Wojciechowski was an aerospace engineer, getting his MBA at Pepperdine University, when he and his wife had their first child. When they could not find child care that met their needs, the couple started a new kind of day-care center--one focused on serving the entire family. Looking at an industry from an outsider's perspective can sometimes be the best way to find an unfilled niche, Wojciechowski says. He was interviewed by freelance writer Karen E. Klein.

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We wanted to bring a fresh perspective to the child-care industry, to make it more flexible and more family-friendly. As an entrepreneur, I decided from the start to do what made the best business sense--taking care of the needs of all our customers, not only the kids but the parents as well.

I visited many day-care centers that closed at 5 p.m. and started charging $5 a minute if you were late. Other centers required parents to volunteer hours or pay a fine. One place wanted me to pay tuition insurance so they'd be covered if my child left the program before the end of the year.

There were centers that wouldn't allow parents to come visit during the day, others that insisted the child had to be there at a certain time, so that if I or my wife had a morning or an afternoon free and wanted to spend time with our daughter, we wouldn't be able to.

Finding quality infant care was nearly impossible without getting on a waiting list. Most programs did not offer any extracurricular activities, like sports or gymnastics, so you'd have to pick up your child in the afternoon and drive them across town for lessons. There was such diversity in preschool philosophies that we saw extremes from letting the child do whatever they wanted, with no structure, to having them sit in little desks from the age of 2 or 3.

When we started our center, we hired an experienced child development expert to design a balanced program that featured access to educational materials with fun and some direction. We take infants from 6 weeks old to kids age 12, so siblings can be together, and we provide meals. We structured our center to meet the needs of working parents in Los Angeles. We did surveys and found they wanted safety, cleanliness, flexibility and extended care.

It took months to convert a large warehouse into a bright, spacious and secure facility equipped with security cameras. The one main entrance is staffed by a receptionist, and parents can only enter by swiping their magnetic-strip membership card.

Kids Klub is open long hours because the professionals we serve work long hours, have weekend meetings and sometimes would just like to go out to dinner after work and know that their child is in a safe, comfortable place they can trust. We provide that place seven days a week from 6:30 a.m. to 10 p.m. Monday through Thursday, 6:30 a.m. to midnight Friday, 8 a.m. to midnight Saturday and 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. Sunday. We combine preschool curriculum with extended care and we offer classes like Spanish, karate, dance, gymnastics and acting, and aerobics class for the moms so everything is under one roof.

The unique features of our center have attracted 1,300 member families from as far away as West Los Angeles, Beverly Hills, Torrance, Tustin, Northridge and Thousand Oaks. They pay a one-time, $35 registration fee to join and then they bring their kids as much or as little as they want. I think they have responded to Kids Klub because it filled a niche by providing a sense of community that's lacking in a lot of places in Los Angeles.

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If your business can provide a lesson to other entrepreneurs, contact Karen E. Klein at the Los Angeles Times, 1333 S. Mayflower Ave., Suite 100, Monrovia, CA 91016 or at kklein6349@aol.com. Include your name, address and phone number.

(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX / INFOGRAPHIC)

AT A GLANCE

Company: Kids Klub Pasadena

Owners: Michael and Bambi Wojciechowski

Nature of business: Preschool and evening/weekend child care

Location: 380 S. Raymond Ave., Pasadena, CA 91105

Founded: 1995

Employees: 65

Annual revenue: $1.4 million

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