A booming market is a double-edged sword. On the one hand, if an industry is doing well, it usually means more revenue in the pockets of businesses that service that particular sector. However, it also translates into increased competition, as more and more businesses spring up and try to get a piece of the action for themselves.
The childcare industry in Australia has experienced this over the last couple of decades, as surging population growth has translated into more demand than ever for day care and early education. According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics, between 2000 and 2010, Australia's population grew by 3.1 million. At the same time, the Department of Education, Employment and Workplace Relations notes in its 2010 State of Child Care in Australia report that the number of child care services has gone up from 4,100 in 1991 to 13,638 by 2010.
With parents having more choice than ever with where to send their children, what can your centre do to make sure they choose you? By knowing what factors are weighing most on the minds of parents, you can work out how to attract them to your childcare centre.
Remember, this will only get more important as time goes on. The Intergenerational Report released in previous years stated that Australia's population is likely to reach close to 40 million in four decades time. That means a lot more kids needing to be looked after while Mum and Dad go to work in the years to come.
Here are some of the things parents might look for when deciding on a childcare centre.
There's a reason this is at the top of the list. In the recent Australian Childcare Alliance (ACA) Member Survey for 2015, 83 per cent of respondents said some of their families were cutting back on early childhood education due to affordability issues. Reversing this trend is important not just for the sake of the children themselves, but your bottom line too.
The key is to improve affordability while not reducing the quality of your service. One solution is to look at ecommerce payment solutions, allowing your parents to set up automatic payments that are taken straight from their account. This way, you can cut costs on admin, creating savings to pass on to your parents.
The ACA survey also asked about the needs for flexibility. It found that most parents were interested in part-days, or adding, swapping and otherwise changing the day their children came to a child care centre. A significant 27 per cent "very often" requested the latter, while 35 per cent "often" asked for such an arrangement. Meanwhile, 18 per cent "often" requested part days.
It's also important to note that 6 and 9 per cent "often" asked for care before and after standard opening hours – a much smaller proportion, but substantial nonetheless. The fact is, parents nowadays are not only working longer, they're working more irregular hours. While this may not work for many other childcare centres, if you're prepared to shift around the way you do business, you can capitalise on this trend. With direct debit software in place, it's also easy enough to change how much parents are being charged for this exceptional service.
Diversity of services
Different parents have different demands for their children. Some need only for their child to be looked after while they're working, while others might require education or even specialised services for disabled or sick children – or even all of the above.
In the ACA survey, it was found that when accessibility of childcare was an issue for families, 14 per cent of the time it was due to an inappropriate mix of services. This suggests that facilities that not only tailored their offerings to the demands of their specific area, but also offered a broader range of services could be more competitive in the childcare market. You could think about establishing different packages of services that can be easily purchased through a credit card payment gateway by parents.
A strong reputation
When you see it many, many times every day, it's easy to forget what an enormous act of trust it is for a parent to leave their baby or toddler at a childcare facility. Each time a parent drops their child off at your business, they're putting faith in you to take care of the most important thing they have in this world. As such, caregivers look for places that have strong reputations.
Nowadays, it's not just word of mouth. Because of the internet, parents can quickly and easily find out about the experiences others have had at a particular childcare centre, and how one place stacks up compared to the competition. Quality of service, friendliness, ease of payment, the state of the facilities – all of this goes toward creating a positive (or negative) stature. Be sure to do all you can to make parents come away with a smile on their face.