Combining learning and fun makes good business sense

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Consider that by age three, 85 percent of the core structures of the brain are formed. Finding ways to fully develop this most complex organ prior to and beyond that benchmark age is now preoccupying parents throughout the world including Asian countries like China and the Philippines.

The quest for a smarter, more confident child has also become an opportunity for educational franchises such as Gymboree Play and Music.

A global leader in classes that emphasize early childhood development, Gymboree has close to 300 branches in the US and Canada, over 200 in China, 62 in Korea and is present in most Asian countries.

In the Philippines, Gymboree has nine branches in Metro Manila alone, according to Ann Tan, and has expanded to Cebu with two branches and General Santos.

It is looking to expand further within Metro Manila and to other key cities in the country.

A desire among parents, usually those from two-income households or entrepreneurs, to maximize opportunities for their kids early in life has been driving the growth of this brand, according to Tan.

“Whether they are overseas workers or top Makati executives, parents aspire to give their children the best. Moreover, Filipino parents put a high premium on education as a means to a better future for their children.”

In its Metro Manila locations, parents bring their babies, toddlers and preschool youngsters to regular classes in Gymboree centers usually prodded by the desire to improve their social and academic skills and confidence so they pass the entrance exams of established elementary schools of their choice where slots are limited. In popular schools like De la Salle Santiago Zobel, for instance, only a low percentage of kids that enroll every year are accepted.

At the centers usually located in malls near high-end residential areas, Gymboree classes are packaged for at least four weeks and involve both parents and their kids. In 45-minute lessons set in an indoor Gymboree playground especially designed for young learners, parents are instructed to coax their children to crawl through a tunnel or to slide them up and down ramps while repeating the words “up” or “down”. The set of activities based on a curriculum developed by experts are age-appropriate and ascertain that the youngsters optimize developmental milestones.

In places like General Santos and Cebu, franchisors put up Gymboree locations prodded by a lack of “high quality and reputable early childhood schools in their area.” In the smaller urban centers, the usual practice is for the curriculum of a school to be developed by the school directress who likely doubles up also as the business and administration manager. This leaves her little time for research and development.  Nevertheless, the field of early childhood education is continually evolving demanding that lessons and programs be constantly updated, according to Tan.

Gymboree programs that mix play and learning and are developed by US experts give parents the assurance that their kids are not left behind in the area of best practices in early education.

The desire of parents to keep up with learning trends prod them to spend from P3,600 to P21,000 per child per month on Gymboree programs with fees varying depending on the frequency of classes and duration of the program. Tan discloses that in the locations she set up in 2002, many of the parents then continue to be clients to this day “but now it is their third child who is enrolled with us.”

In addition to the Gymboree Play & Learn program, the centers also offer courses in Music, Art, Sports and PreSchool lead by well trained teachers following well-researched lesson plans.  Other sources of revenue for franchisees include birthdays, sales of Gymboree products and pay-per-play in the indoor playground.

A brand that easily connects to both parents and their children, Gymboree is a “long-term business.” Tan observes: “It usually takes a few months for a location to develop its enrolment base but once marketing programs and the initial group of students are in place, people come in steadily because of word of mouth and referrals.”

The usual payback period for a Gymboree franchise is from three years “which is considered good for a business in education.” Tan further explains that after the initial investment in assets like playground equipment is paid back, profit margins dramatically increase for many years after.

She adds that the Gymboree franchise system has been drawing in parents and kids for 37 years now with systems constantly updated. Gymboree is also a well-established and efficient franchise system, the Gymboree curriculum and marketing materials, for instance, are easily available online for franchisees to access.

The best Gymboree endorsers, nevertheless, are the young enrollees themselves. In every center, the children who can walk on their own almost always make a dash for the playground where most lessons take place. It’s a good place to learn to become a confident and creative lifelong learner.

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