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Buying a day nursery

Interview with...

Albert Watson
Age:
44
CV:
16 years in family and legal sector
Business name:
Undisclosed
Goods/services:
Nursery catering for 40 children
Location:
West Midlands
When bought:
Six months ago
Price paid:
£100k
Buying a day nursery

St Michael's nursery is based in the West Midlands and caters for around 40 pre-school children.

There are 14 members of staff, 13 of which were there before Albert took over. He's brought in just one new person to take care of the finance side of things.

"It's important to keep the continuity for the children," Albert explains.

Albert was left with 42 children and no way of looking after them

The man knows what he is talking about having spent 16 years working with families and children in the Family Courts. Since its inception in 2001 he has worked for the Children and Family Court Advisory and Support Service or CAFCASS.

"I'd wanted to buy a nursery for some time," he continues.

"I looked at all types of business in the childcare field. My background is in the family and legal sector. I am very interested in the well-being of children and families and wanted to do something in this sector.

Albert bought the children's day nursery business in March 2006 after seeing it advertised on BusinessesForSale.com. While he takes an active role in the running of it, there is also a manager who runs the nursery on a day to day basis so that he can continue in his "day job".

Teething problem

Almost immediately Albert was thrown in at the deep end when the previous owner's registration ran out before his own started.

Registration is one of the four main regulatory functions that Ofsted carries out to ensure day-care providers and childminders meet the National Standards. (Ofsted is the inspectorate for children and learners in England.)

Albert says: "It was my expectation that the former owner would continue her registration with Ofsted until mine came through. However, unwittingly, she had terminated her own registration, which meant there was going to be a period where the nursery wasn't licensed."

This couldn't have been more disastrous for the new business owner.

Ofsted pulled the nursery because of the situation, which left Albert with 42 children and no way of looking after them.

 

"I didn't know what to do really. I went to my bank manager but they couldn't really help. They did offer advice on what to do and who to speak to.

"I wrote and called Ofsted - I talked to them virtually every day. But really, it was the local authorities who were the most helpful in this situation."

A quick thinking Albert contacted a number of neighbouring nurseries and persuaded them to take the children until his registration came through.

"Unfortunately all of those nurseries' fees were higher than ours but I paid the difference. I also paid for taxis for these children to get them to the nurseries and I paid my staff's wages for the period.

"Some of the staff went with the kids - mainly to keep up the continuity for the kids. They would have been rather confused if the staff hadn't gone with them.

"It was good in that we got to find out more about how other nurseries work, although my staff found that a lot of the practices in the other nurseries were very different to the ones we wanted to maintain at St Michael's.

Registration can normally take up to 26 weeks but with a lot of persuasion and many phone calls it came through in about a month.

"Ofsted were incredibly good during this period," says Albert. "They worked hard on mine to get it completed faster, partly because of my situation and also because of my background."

He adds: "It was a very difficult and costly time for me but I am committed to those children and it was important that this went ahead with as little disruption to them as possible.

"It also would have been disastrous to take over the business and lose all my customers straight away. In the end we only lost two children and things are going really well now.

Focused

Albert says the business has taken up a lot of his time, even from before the purchase went ahead.

"The last few months have all been focused on this. I have been getting to grips with the whole thing for quite some time now - before the purchase a lot of my own time was taken up with doing lots of research into protocols, job descriptions and all sorts of other related things.

"Running a nursery obviously involves lot of work but also a lot of networking where you wouldn't perhaps think so. I liaise with all sorts of people from the authorities to health and safety, stationary and food suppliers not to mention all the stakeholders.

"However, I am well motivated for it, and it is very exciting for me."

Small print

Now things are ticking along just fine. Looking back, Albert says the only real problem he had with the whole buying process was an issue with the lease.

"What really surprised me about the whole thing was how long it all took," he explains.

"The property is leasehold not freehold and it is owned by the church. When we first had a look at the contracts, the lease ran for six months, meaning the owners could ask us to leave with six months notice.

"This wasn't really acceptable to me, especially not with this kind of business. I wanted to renegotiate this and this is what held the deal up. Eventually we agreed the terms of the lease would be five years.

"The church works slowly in these kinds of situations but it meant that it took almost three months to finalise the deal, which personally for me, was annoying."

This is a very exciting time for Albert and he clearly knows what he is doing - a benefit in this industry, without doubt.

"This is a great nursery with a great history and I have lots of plans for it. I just want to concentrate now on implementing these plans. I want St Michael's to be the best in the area," he concludes.

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