Going from a New Zealand-based venture with just 19 sites to a global childcare franchise with a presence in five continents, Sherpa Kids has found a way to balance rapid expansion with a personalised touch.
Taking care of people’s children requires a personal approach and, for this reason, it may seem incompatible with a truly consistent global brand. But Sherpa Kids, the international childcare franchise, has created a model that enables franchisees across countries as far afield as Canada, South Africa and Australia to tailor their offering to individual children’s needs. And it has been able to achieve this with a little bit of tech and a whole lot of franchising experience.
But there’s a little more to it than time-poor parents and schools. While many franchises focus purely on replicability, localisation is a key thread of Sherpa Kids’ offering and is helping it to expand to new locations with ease. Regulations can vary massively from country to country; OFSTED standards are entirely different to equivalents in Australia or South Africa. “We decided to use the country master mythology to franchise because of that localisation and regionalisation of the documents, so we needed someone to come in and own them in each country.”
However, even outside the localisation usually afforded by master franchising, Sherpa Kids franchisees are much freer to tailor their offering to the requirements of the local area. “Franchisees have so much flexibility to change the structures that we use. It’s all down to what that school’s or individual child’s needs are. It’s done locally.” This makes it something of a curiosity in franchising terms as the model can be adapted far more than one would usually expect for an international franchise. “We’ve got access to global lessons and themes but it’s really then supported by a local owner.”
Whilst managing this across an international franchise empire might sound like more than a slight headache, Sherpa Kids has a secret weapon up its sleeve. “We have an online platform instead of having traditional operations manuals in hard copy that we can’t change, and our changes can be immediate. This means that the franchise can understand what is happening across the entire brand, as well as roll out new best practice or react to legislative changes across the network. “It allows us as the franchisors to know what’s going on there so we can advise and add value.”
“Its ability to tailor its service exactly to the requirements of local parents and schools has proven a hit during its exploration of our fair shores. The franchise is currently working in six schools in London; as its presence grows it has found demand begin to soar. “We’re starting to get the groundswell from parents saying, ‘I want to enrol in this school but you haven’t got after school clubs. And, as I’ve said, it’s hard for schools to offer them.” This means Sherpa Kids has found the enquiries are now coming in thick and fast.
However, despite this, the franchise isn’t letting itself be drawn into growth that is unsustainable. Rather than splurging money on advertising and finding itself unable to keep up with demand, it carefully identifies areas that can best support a Sherpa Kids franchise. “The business model means that around 3,500 enrolled students is one franchise, that might be ten, 12 or 14 schools in one area.”
Even factoring in the significant international growth it has seen in the last five years, Sherpa Kids isn’t rushing its expansion plans. The franchise is striking a balance of controlled yet significant growth that will consolidate its position on the international stage, priming new markets as they become ready and organically growing the national franchise base from there.