Education Interview 2016-10-26

Will have 12 more schools by 2017: Stepping Stones

The USP of our School lies in ensuring that every branch we open is successful and is a profit centre.

Will have 12 more schools by 2017: Stepping Stones

A study by market research analysts states that preschool or child care market in India will grow impressively during the period 2016 to 2020 and will also post a CAGR of almost 22 per cent by 2020. Analysts have identified that the low regulatory requirements in the country to start a preschool or child care centre is one of the primary growth factors for this market. The rise in competition among students to secure admissions in privileged K-12 schools will induce parents to focus on providing education to their children from early childhood. This will result in the rise in a number of student enrolments in preschools.

Moreover, the requirements such as license and infrastructure are not regulated and there is no federal authority in the country that oversees preschools or child care centres. Also, the requirement of very low investments, low-interest rates from banks, and the ability to expand geographically using franchise structures are other major factors that induce vendors to enter the market.

To realise the opportunities above, a renowned pre-school brand, Stepping Stones, plans to replicate the success of its school via franchising model. In an interview with EducationBiz, Ajay Bhat, Consultant Cum Franchise Head, Stepping Stones, shares with us their story of success and how they plan to expand via franchising. Here are a few excerpts from the interview:

Tell us about the entrepreneurial journey of Stepping Stones. What is the USP of Stepping Stones?

Stepping Stones Play started way back in 1988 under the leadership of Mr. Raman Raja Khanna & Mrs.Vibha Khanna, veteran educationists with the opening of its first branch at Mayur Vihar Phase-III. We believe in going in a step by step approach, but at the same time ensuring the success of each of our branches. The credit for the smooth and steady operations goes to Mrs. Chaity Bagachi who is the operational Director. Today we have 8 successful company owned branches of Stepping Stones along with ten formal CBSE K-12 Schools.

This is the only Play School well incubated and self-tested by company before going in for expansion. We are unlike any other play school chains, which normally do not want to waste time in the proper incubation but focus more on expansion without testing the model themselves. Most of the Franchisors consider a Franchisee as guinea pigs for testing new molecules.

The USP of our School lies in ensuring that every branch we open is successful and is a profit centre.

What inspired you to venture into the education sector and why?

We are very passionate about the education sector and want to bring a radical change in early education. Fortunately, this sector is growing very fast and will continue to do so despite any odds.

Stepping Stones is the market leader in the preschool segment. What strategies do you adopt to stay ahead in the competition?

In order to be a market leader in preschool segment we adopt multipronged strategy,

both at individual branch level as well as at the group level. Our success would not be judged by the number of franchisees but by their success.

At the group level we have a diverse advisory panel which understands the global perspective of education, the best practices adopted globally and study its implications and at the branch level we ensure the execution of the same.

How important is technology in education? Elaborate.

Technology plays a vital role in education. We need to adopt and embrace the same, because today’s kid is born with a gadget in hand but while embracing we should not become the victims of the same. To avoid the victimisation, our moral values should be our guiding principles and work as beacon lights for us. We believe in the formation of a strong value system based on Neuro Linguistic Programming (NLP) & Neuro Science. We are blending the technology but values steer us. So we are in a true sense the play school of 21st Century.

What makes your franchise model interesting for potential franchisees?

Our Franchise Model is client centric in nature. We emphasise and ensure to replicate our success story with each branch and extend the same at potential partners’ place, thus, to ensure that our partner is successful.

How has franchising helped you grow your business?

We are venturing into franchising for the 1st time so as on date it has not helped us, but we understand the power of franchising and want to take this route for expansion now only after successful incubation of the model at our branches.

What are your criteria to choose the right franchise partner?

Apart from the basic requirements of space and project cost, we lay a lot of emphasis on understanding the right partner. We want to partner with people who are instrumental & passionate for bringing a radical change in early childhood education at grass root level at their own school with our expertise.

What steps do you take to evaluate your franchisee’s performance?

We adopt a systematic & logical approach right from selection and identification of site. We evaluate the location potential and then only opt for the site .We thoroughly ascertain the business viability and competition scenario.

We constantly evaluate franchisee’s performance on various parameters.

What kind of training and business support does Stepping Stones provide to the franchisees? Elaborate.

Once we sign up the partner we ensure the complete handholding of the partner. Partnership for us means the marriage between the company and the partner and we ensure that he is successful.

What is the reason behind tapping the franchise model for expansion and why do you think it is the apt model for expansion?

We opted for a franchisee mode only after successful incubation. We want to replicate our success stories and create more successful entrepreneurs who are passionate about this sector, and thus, want to create global citizens.

To stay ahead of growing competition, what strategy does your brand follow?

In order to stay ahead of competition we have done a thorough research on this segment and are bridging the gaps that exist in the industry despite a good number of players. We have vast experience in this segment coupled with patronage we get from our advisory panel along with a highly experienced and dedicated team. We adopt the strategy of creating successful business partners where-in there will be no chances of failure of our partners.

How many outlets are you planning to open by the end of 2017? How many of these outlets will be franchise & company-owned?

We want to identify and open just 12 more outlets by the end of 2017. Out of this 10 will be franchisee based and 2 more will be company owned. However, we will ensure to make these locations successful.

What is the preferred franchise model for your brand’s expansion and why?

The preferred franchisee model for us will be a mix of company owned and franchisee branches so that we can evolve at a market place in a better way.

Where do you see India’s education industry in 2020?

Consistent & fast growth for both education sector and play school sub-sector.

The market has a huge potential for growth, and this will attract several international schools and kindergartens to get into the market. This, in turn, will lead to a significant change in the educational curriculum, thus, bringing newer opportunities for edupreneurs like Stepping Stones to venture into franchising business.

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