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 Lifestyle change leads to incredible journey

 

 It has been ten years, almost to the day, since Leisel Petrie opened her day-care centre in Newton Park, Port Elizabeth, with one child and one teacher. Today, her Incredible Kids Day Care has grown into a fully-fledged preschool with 220 children and 40 staff members.

Raised by a single working mom in the municipal flats of East London, Petrie had no inkling that she would one day not only run her own thriving business, but also pioneer a nurturing environment for hundreds of children of working parents.

Growing up, she never had the confidence to even think of starting her own business, says Petrie, who went straight to work after school as a general office assistant at a stationery company. She moved to Port Elizabeth when her husband was transferred there by the professional services firm he worked for. She did a bookkeeping course, but still only with the aim of advancing in the workplace.

It all changed when a friend, who was running a day-care centre, asked her to join her in managing a second branch. At that stage she was travelling a lot as the regional administrative manager for a stationery company, and wanted to spend more time with her children. She reckoned running a day-care centre would be a good lifestyle change for her. The fact that she would start the branch in partnership with an experienced day-care centre owner allowed her to overcome her fear of running a business.

In fact, that fear soon vanished as she found herself in her element. She threw herself into the project. She invested her savings, took out a personal loan and worked long hours, and by the second year the day-care centre was thriving with 30 children.

She discovered a strong entrepreneurial trait in herself, which, coupled with a perfectionist management style, proved a potent driver of the business. But it diverged so much from the approach of her partner that she decided to buy her out, paying for it with finance raised against her insurance and endowment policies.

“I ended up paying much more for it than the business was worth at the time, but I had a lot of faith in the business and it was a risk that I was prepared to take,” she says. Eighteen months into the business, Petrie, who had never dreamed of being an entrepreneur, found herself as the sole owner of an exciting, fast-growing preschool.

Incredible Kids was based in a rented house, and Petrie decided to double the capacity of the school by buying the property next door.

Eager to grow even more, Petrie set her sights on a well-located building along William Moffett Expressway. It belonged to Business Partners Limited (BUSINESS/PARTNERS), which had previously rented it out to a school, so that even the zoning of the building was perfect for Petrie's plan, which was to open a second branch by moving the classes housed in the rental space in Newton Park to the new premises.

So successful was the new branch that within a few months she was asking BUSINESS/PARTNERS for more space to rent in the same complex, and later decided to close the Newton Park branch entirely and amalgamate it with the branch in William Moffett.

She decided to keep the Newton Park property as an asset for the company, and is renting it out to a residential tenant.

Petrie says her choice to grow her school in rented premises offers her a number of advantages. Firstly, buying a similar property in as good a location would simply have been too expensive for the business to bear. She says she is also fortunate that she has an excellent relationship with BUSINESS/PARTNERS, which has supported her growth by making more space available as she needed it.

Most recently, she added an art-project room, a library, and a staff training room to her facilities. Incredible Kids also recently added a Grade R class to its offering which already has ten learners.

Her achievements have garnered attention from wider than her growing client base. In 2015, she won the Entrepreneur category in the Regional Business Achiever Awards.  

Petrie says there is a lot of pressure from the parents for Incredible Kids to start offering foundation phase teaching, but she has not made up her mind yet whether she wants to grow in the direction of becoming a primary school.

The training of day-care staff is another growth opportunity, and as well as catering. The school's kitchen not only provides three meals a day plus snacks for the children, but has started producing cooked evening meals for the working parents who come to pick up their children at the end of the day.

There is a lot you can do when you have entrepreneurial talent - and confidence.

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