Dee Dogar and Julia Davis Dawson didn’t fall into their company, Sherpa Kids, but rather it was built out of necessity.
Back in 2010, the two women recognized a completely overlooked venue in the childcare industry and it was something they needed as parents as Well. When Dee moved to Canada in 2009 from Spain, she had difficulty finding a decent job even though she had a childcare background. So rather than work a minimum wage job and struggle to keep her kids in daycare, she opened a daycare in Calgary.
“I decided to open a daycare and demand was immense in this neighborhood. I met Julia and we came together and had this idea to create after school Day care for children ages 5 to 12,” recalled Dee. “The community I was living was always shut down and locked. There was never any activity there. We used
to stand in the playground, neighbors,grandmas, daycare operators. We decided we would ask the community if we could implement a program there.”
It took about a year to establish which included attending board meetings and community events to show everyone there was a demand for this type of
service, care for children before and after school.
From there was born the first institute called Calgary’s Child Play.
“That was our first home and it is the largest. We went from 12 children in January 2012 and we now offer care to approximately 95 children,” said Dee, the mother of two. “We have created good relationships with the school board and communities. We are very good at networking.”
Since then they have had immense growth, they now have 18 sites in Calgary and 1 in the UK. They now consider themselves the engines behind the
operation, with 80 employees and 600 children, their program was bigger than they had ever expected. Though business was going well, it became challenging for two people to run so many people and so many aspects of the business.
“We will be at events and we will be asked by parents how they can do what we can do,” said Julia. “Either they are immigrants or teachers from another country or they are wanting to run the service because they are a parent, but they do not want to run the service from scratch. So we almost started franchising before we owned our first one. We asked, how do we find it affordable, repeatable, expectable to more people?”
Julia and Dee had a demand for more businesses and an interest from buyers before they had even established themselves as franchisors.
“We had an epiphany after a payroll nightmare. We were tired and done in. It was really draining and we thought how can we make it better? There has to be a smarter way. So we approached Sherpa Kids, a childcare franchise that adheres to school age children, in Australia,” recalled Dee. “In the meantime we give work to lots of people but the franchise model is a way of getting the message out there that people can run their own business, provide their own services in their own neighborhoods but have a world class administrative system.”
Sherpa was the most appealing to the mothers because the vision aligned with their own. After much research and consideration, they realized they could buy Sherpa Kids as franchisors and roll it out across Canada.
Sherpa Kids provides before and after school care and vacation care. Once parents come to pick up their children, they have had an afternoon filled
with activities and possibly have their homework completed, depending on the parent’s individual desires. It starts with an afternoon tea, a healthy meal, followed by an engaging activity that is structured.
Sherpa Kids is compliant with all of Calgary and the province’s day care regulations, which relieves franchisees from that responsibility.
Those interested do not necessarily need any childcare experience, unless they are interested in working directly with the children. Both Dee and Julia recommend a new franchisee experience working on the floor to have a feel for the business.
“You can’t teach someone to run it unless you know how to do it yourself,” said Dee. “Franchisees can come from any background. Really it’s very varied.”
However, since both women had experience as new immigrants to Canada, they are looking at aiming this franchise to parents who are new to the country. From their experience, there are people who have high end educations but hit brick walls when they move to Canada and end up taking lower paying jobs.
“I think supporting immigrant women is a good thing,” said Julia. “There is another career element we see for our franchisees, childcare is not a highly paid sector. That way people can have some autonomy and income growth in the things they love to do.”
Sherpa Kids is a way around that low wage gap and allows experienced workers to be their own operator for the price of a small family car. Though they may not be administrators by experience, the franchise package adjusts everything for the owner.
Locations and territories are available across the countries. Though the franchisors have been focusing on British Columbia, they are taking inquiries from every province immediately because they intend to make it available coast to coast.
There is a substantial demand for childcare, especially children who are already enrolled in school.
“School age childcare has not been on any government agenda, that means children five and over do not necessarily have structured licensed daycare. There are services out there but it’s a huge unmet need. The places simply don’t exist,” explained Julia. “We are bridging the gap between school and home.”
The daycares are run out of community centres to keep fee bases as low as possible or ideally out of the school, so children can join them directly before and after class.
With Sherpa’s support behind them, the women are able to offer a structured centre for children before and after school, which is a significant time that working parents are not available, making it a very unique but necessary concept.
Franchisees are offered initial training and continuous ongoing support including the software to run a childcare service is provided. Being a part
of a franchise network means they immediately have direct peers and area managers who are able to help support new owners as well. Both Dee and Julia are supported from an international standpoint from the owners in Australia.
There is a lot of hands on help from both franchisors and area managers, as well as visits for the site set up.
“There are also daily check ins with the organization, so most days there is a form of communication,” assured Dee. “Because this a human service sector, there is a need to reach out and hear about any challenges people are facing.”
Sherpa is a solution to a recognized problem, helping make parents lives easier and give an opportunity to those who were unsure of their potential. It’s a bridge to a huge gap that needed to be filled and Dee and Julia have provided that chance for Canadian parents and interested franchisees.