Share Article

You know you must be doing something right when you shift an entire preschool kilometres away to the adjacent suburb and the entire parent body follows you there. This is what happened to Frank and Beverley Manson when they built a brand-new school in the burgeoning suburbs of Sunningdale in Cape Town.

They were moving from their previous preschool in adjacent Parklands, which they also built and grew to such an extent that they simply had to find a bigger space to accommodate the demand.

“We were expecting to lose up to maybe 50% of our kids because of the move, but not a single parent pulled out. Everybody came with us,” says Frank, who has since become a leader of the preschool education sector in the northern suburbs of Cape Town and has among other achievements won a precedent-setting court battle on behalf of preschools to keep going during the Covid-19 pandemic.

The success of Wonderland Educare is not surprising given the kind of team that Frank and Beverley make. Beverley, whose role is principal of Wonderland, comes from a family with a deep history in education. She has siblings, uncles and aunts who had spent their lives as educators, and she had grown up in her mother’s own preschool.

Frank is an accomplished entrepreneur who uses his wide-ranging experience from the various industries he has worked in, especially his deal-making ability, to grow and maintain Wonderland as the leading preschool in that part of Cape Town.

Frank studied marketing and cut his teeth in the business world at the Beacon sweets company in Durban, where he “learned so many things there that I couldn’t learn anywhere else”. He rose to head of their sugar and confectionery division when his typical entrepreneurial restlessness compelled him to strike out on his own.

He built a successful promotions company in Durban and Johannesburg and in the early 2000s agreed with Beverley that they would move down to Cape Town if she managed to identify a preschool that she could buy and run. Not only did she find and buy a small day-care centre of 16 children in Table View, but soon realised that the demand for pre-schooling was huge in the area. They had to move faster than their original plan of building the daycare centre for five years.

Frank identified a piece of land in nearby Parklands and built their first brand-new school. “It was quite a big step for us because it was built to accommodate 120 children, and we came off a low base of about 30 children,” says Frank. They grew rapidly to the full complement of 120 children and looked towards the next step in their growth.

Frank, who had decided to enter the property business and within six months became head of the commercial division of a real estate agency in Cape Town, set his sights on winning the tender for the development of a large piece of land in the emerging suburb of Sunningdale. At the time, Sunningdale was an empty stretch of land with hardly any development completed. “People thought I was crazy to want to build a school there,” says Frank. But he was always an avid researcher of any phenomenon, industry or trend that catches his interest in the business world, and his thorough study of the demographic prospects of Sunningdale gave him the confidence that he was on a good wicket.

Garden Cities, the developer of the suburb, received no fewer than 25 proposals for the land, but chose Frank and Beverley’s plan to build Wonderland.

Finding finance was a challenge. The entire project would cost about R5.5 million, and Frank and Beverley were only able to invest about R1 million of their own.

The banks were willing to finance the project, but they insisted on huge deposits – quantities that virtually no entrepreneur would be able to muster. Fortunately, Frank came upon Business Partners Limited, who was willing to finance the entire project without requiring a deposit. Ever the dealmaker, Frank also arranged that Business Partners Ltd also fund the buyer of his Parklands school.

It’s been nine years now, and Wonderland is thriving with 140 children and 16 teaching staff together with several trainees, and with demand for pre-schooling in the growing suburb as strong as ever. Frank has meanwhile stepped into a leadership role among the dozens of preschools in the area. He initiated a forum which amplified the voice of the industry so that it could better engage with the department of social development, which until recently was in charge of early childhood education. Through the forum, Frank joined legal action against heavy-handed shutdowns of the preschools during Covid-19 and won.

Frank has also used his extensive experience as a marketing entrepreneur to optimise the online presence of Wonderland, and he has pioneered the digitalisation of the assessment system of the children so that teachers no longer have to spend hours on hand-written reports.

Frank is almost 60 now, but finds his entrepreneurial drive just as restless as always. He is close to finalising a deal for the local manufacture of a new design in gas cylinders. Every day, someone asks him when he plans to build a primary school in the Sunningdale area. “That’s a very big project,” says Frank, “and I need to be careful how I divide up my time.”

But in a few years’ time, don’t be surprised to find that Wonderland has bloomed into a fully-fledged primary school.

About the Author: BPL Admin

Avatar photo