Not long ago, a healthcare organization came to us with a problem.
They’d been self-operating their own child care center for years. Families who used it loved it, and it was an important part of the provider’s value proposition. Trouble was, despite enthusiastic families and clear strategic potential, the center was getting too expensive to operate. There was talk about closing it down.
In theory, it was an irreparable collision between shrinking enrollment and rising expenses. But in reality, it was a fully fixable operations problem. Fill rates in child care are a science, and every empty space incurs a cost. Unless you know where and how to mine for all potential audiences, you’re not maximizing enrollment. Such was the case for this center, with a demand analysis turning up enrollment opportunities they’d been missing for years. After some strategic changes, full occupancy was reached inside twelve months.
Many self-operated centers have such gaps lurking. And the experience highlights one of the truths about employers trying to operate onsite centers on their own: that it’s more complicated than it looks. More than just the science of enrollment, there’s quality and safety and curriculum at stake. Each of those elements could occupy a whole specialist career; and all can create costly errors when managed by newcomers on the fly.
Take waiting lists. A carefully managed list isn’t just a “nice to have:” it’s strategic enrollment insurance for when you have a large group or preschoolers about to age out of your center. For self-operators working off the side of a desk, it’s a costly knowledge gap; one of those things they don’t know they don’t know. Worse, beyond the obvious problems you can see (empty spaces) are the lurking surprises you can’t – the unrecognized compliance issue that surprises you and takes a fleet of people to address. Those kinds of situations can end up costing you twice – in operations that are unnecessarily expensive, and organizational staff who could be spending time supporting your core business instead.
For the above center, strategic fixes did more than save the program – they actually reduced costs. Even after increasing enrollment, streamlining allowed the center to continue operating on a smaller investment than the center used before. Just as important, the expertise improved quality; and that delivered on multiple fronts – including recruitment and retention. As Bright Horizons Vice President of Consulting Jennifer Vena puts it, quality and strategic value go hand-in-hand.
“The value an organization realizes from a center,” she says, “directly relates to the quality of experience it delivers.”