This week, Monkey Puzzle sat down for a conversation with one of our franchisees, Paula Murphy. Paula has been a franchisee with Monkey Puzzle for many years, recently celebrating the 10th anniversary of one of her sites. She operates multiple nurseries with two beautiful sites in London. Paula originally opened her first nursery, East Finchley, in 2011 before opening her second in Muswell Hill in 2018. We discussed what motivates her as a nursery owner, the challenges she has faced and what she has done to become the owner of multiple successful nursery sites. 

What do you enjoy most about being a franchisee?

The freedom and variety – I have a manager at both settings so depending on how I feel and what is happening at the nurseries I can get heavily involved or step back. The hard work and long hours at the beginning of opening both settings and putting a strong team in place has been rewarded with a good work life balance. All 3 of my children have attended my nurseries. Being able to take them to work with me or have them cared for whilst I focused on the business has been invaluable. 

What motivates you?

Being financially secure, having a good work-life balance, seeing a happy team and getting good feedback from parents. 

How do you manage running multiple settings?

A strong management team is essential – not just the manager but the deputy and third in charge.  Supply staff who can work across both settings helps financially and it is important to share communications to avoid duplication of effort.  Joint team meetings where managers from both settings are present and can share ideas are really beneficial.

What makes your nurseries successful?

With regards to getting the business off the ground it was largely down to the locations but now they are established, it is 100% the staff and the relationship they build with the children and their parents.

What makes an effective leader?

A good role model. Someone who practices what they preach. They have to have a strong understanding of best practice in childcare, good people skills and, crucially, good emotional intelligence – being able to read a situation and adapt their approach accordingly. They must be able to deal with pressure, get involved in all aspects of the business and have common sense when it comes to decision making. Overriding all this though, they must have a passion for childcare, have high aspirations for the children and want to do the best for the children in their care.   

What do you look for when building your team?

The same characteristics as what I look for in a leader, but the key thing is that someone wants to spend time with the children, they need to like children and be able to work well within a team. 

What do you find most challenging about being a franchisee? 

The first few years were challenging – struggling to break even financially, now the most challenging aspect is trying to keep the team motivated whilst the sector is facing a recruitment crisis, staffing shortages are putting pressure on all the team and it is a full-time job to try and retain staff by thinking of ways to motivate them and keep them happy.

What are your plans for the future? 

To continue to build on the reputation we have established at both settings and build a strong staff team. I want the 2 teams to work more collaboratively, sharing more experience and ideas and supporting each other across settings. 

What advice would you give to someone thinking of joining a childcare franchise? 

The demographic of your chosen location is key so do a lot of research to make sure a business in your area is viable, check if there are enough potential customers in your area that can afford the fees you need to charge to be sustainable. Also, consider how you will staff the setting. Are there enough transport links for staff to commute? Review what is happening in the sector via websites such as day nurseries and nursery world to see the current challenges the sector is facing and review any trends.  Consider if there are any opportunities to make your nursery unique or offer something that other local competitors can’t / don’t offer.  For example, we have opened a forest school in one of our settings and it has become a great source of excitement not just with children and their parents but with the local community too who love to support us and see what we do.