Christy Miranda started working for the business she now owns when she was just 15.
“My best friend’s mom owned a child care center,” Christy says. “I started hanging out there in the Summer of 2000 and eventually they offered me a job making $5.15 an hour.”
The industry was a perfect fit for Christy.
“I grew up in a single parent household and my mom always had to rely on some kind of childcare. When I was just 10 years old, I was helping with my sister and by 15 I was working at the daycare. I really have grown up in this business.”
Christy was so passionate about the job that she chose childcare as the career for her senior project in high school. She wasn’t allowed to use her current boss as a mentor, so she went to other centers in the area. She kept getting shot down.
“Nobody wanted me in their business” Christy says. Her last resort was her boss’ son who also owned his own center. “Childcare in our area had no sense of community at that time, it was so competitive. Now things are very different, I’m friends with other center owners and we support each other. There’s not a big brick wall between our businesses and everyone benefits from that.”
After graduation, Christy accepted a full-time job working for her high school mentor, in the process of building a 3rd location. “I thought I was hot stuff to be making $7.25 an hour right out of high school,” she laughs.
In the Fall of 2003, Christy began attending Southeastern Louisiana University to pursue a degree in business. She would help out at the new center in the morning, go to class in the afternoon, go back to the center for a few hours, and then to night classes a couple times a week.
Due to a technicality, she lost her scholarship after the first year and had to transfer to a more affordable community college.
“I didn’t read the fine print and was supposed to carry a specific number of hours each semester. When I dropped a class, that was it. I think this is the reason I’m so detail oriented now. I pay attention to everything- almost to a fault. It’s kind of a running joke with my employees, they know I don’t miss a thing.”
From 2011 to 2013, the business grew from 3 centers to 7 and along with that came big growing pains.
“Child care is a very personal business and without the proper systems in place it’s very easy to get disconnected from the reason you got into the business in the first place- the people. They are everything- the kids, their parents, and the staff,” Christy says. “We didn’t have time to do everything the right way because we grew so fast and I was limited in many ways which made it seem like I wasn’t doing my job to other people. At the beginning of 2014, everything came to a head and I couldn’t take it anymore, so I gave my notice.”
The day after she gave her notice, the owner of the centers presented Christy with a unique opportunity.
“He needed to lighten his load and wanted out, so he suggested that I take over. I thought he was crazy, why would he work this hard to just give them away? He knew he wasn’t showing up at work or home like he wanted. Living his best life meant he had to let go of something. He offered me as many centers as I thought I could take on.”
Christy spent the next two weeks reviewing the budgets and thinking about if she was really up for the challenge.
She knew that even if she left the centers, she would still need childcare for her daughter so that confirmed her decision. She agreed to take over the 2 centers that were most special to her.
“I could see myself owning both of them because of my personal connection with each. The enrollment was really low, and the budgets didn’t look good, but I knew that I had what it took to turn it around. I had the mindset that I’m going to make it work regardless of how bad things are.”
“There were a whole lot of sleepless nights between March and May. I had to figure out a new name and decide how to rebrand everything, file for a tax ID number and set up all the new business accounts. I had to prepare a letter to parents, plan staff meetings and prepare for licensing visits,” she says.
The change in ownership was kept hush hush until April 1, 2014.
“Everyone thought the announcement that I was taking over as the owner was an April Fool’s Day joke. But after word got out it was a positive thing and a new chapter began.”
Since all of this happened so quickly and unexpectedly, Christy went to her local bank so see what they could offer her. She was just 28 years old and all she had to her name was a house and a car.
“I told them I needed money available for emergencies with this new business venture but didn’t have anything for collateral. They offered to refinance my car to give me a line of credit for working capital.”
The funds gave her a bit of wiggle room and they did what they could with what they had.
In the beginning, Christy was wearing all the hats and doing everything she could to turn things around. “I was the plumber, cook, putting band-aids on kids, marketing, and doing everything in between. I knew I needed help and the only way we could really get enrollment at our oldest center was to do some much-needed renovations.”
She didn’t have to look far to find a partner in her renovation efforts.
“My husband’s job was kind of slow at the time. One night I made a list of 50 tasks he could help me with at the centers. He took a 2-week vacation to tackle as much as he could. At the end of the two weeks, my list of tasks for him grew to 75+ and we made the decision that it was time for him to quit his job and come work with me full time. Financially, I still couldn’t afford him so he went without a paycheck for the next four months but he really helped so much at that time. To this day, I couldn’t imagine him not being here I am always finding random projects for him to do around the centers, whether it’s maintenance or building something I saw on Pinterest.”
Within weeks of taking over the businesses Christy’s renovation plans got a big boost from an unlikely source.
“God works in mysterious ways,” says Christy. “An insurance agent came out to do an initial inspection. He told me he was also a pastor and his church had outgrown their current church. They had been given flooring and all the supplies, cafeteria tables from a local school but he no longer needed them and offered to give them to me for free. It was the biggest blessing, I will forever be grateful to that man." The value of everything she received was well over $5,000.
Both facilities, rebranded as the Wonder Years Child Development Centers, were leased but Christy always wanted to purchase the properties.
“My goal was to be able to buy the centers by the 5-year mark.” Christy came to SmartBiz Loans last summer and worked with Relationship Manager Jon Oseguera to secure a $300,000 low-cost SBA loan.
Once she put the funds to use to shore up working capital and continue improvements, Christy knew it was time to pursue an SBA commercial real estate loan. She was quickly approved for low-cost funds to purchase her two properties - a 6,100 square foot building in Denham Springs, LA and a 6,300 square foot building on in Walker, LA.
“My financials looked good and there were no issues to get approved. I was paying $9,900 to rent the two centers. I’m now paying less and building equity.”
“Christy was great to work with,” Jon says. “From the start I could tell she really knew the ins and outs of her business and was organized with whatever documents I requested. Daycares provide an important service to communities big and small, and I am happy we were able to help Wonder Years with the cosmetic improvements and their centers, and also purchase the real estate for their centers. With SmartBiz's help, Christy and her staff will be helping more kids through their wonder years.”
With the $300,000 and reduction in rent costs, Christy has tackled a number of new projects to freshen up her centers and increase enrollment. Christy’s hard work and center improvements have paid off. Enrollment has steadily increased since Christy took over. She has a total of 40 employees working for her and about 250 kids enrolled between both locations.
“My husband and I are obsessed with HGTV fixer upper shows and have toured childcare centers across the U.S. We’ve brought back some really cool ideas that we continue to incorporate into our centers.”
One of their big projects is to overhaul the outdoor play areas.
“We call it ‘Project Playground’. We want to create more of an outdoor classroom at the centers 5 playgrounds by adding shade structures, natural play structures and more. It will cost a lot of money and we couldn’t do it before.”
Christy’s centers are unique both are surrounded by a lot of green space unlike other centers in the area. “When there’s just a cement playground, kids don’t get to experience fun things like International Mud Day or walking around outside without shoes on. Once we get the renovations complete, the kids will be able to spend more time outside. There’s not much they can’t learn while outside… The possibilities are endless. They’ll have space to run, play and learn in a more natural setting.”
“Our revenue has grown substantially,” Christy reports. “But believe me, we spend every penny we can investing back in the business, whether it be through increasing our staff wages or improving the centers. There have been strategic moves we’ve done over the last 5 years that have made drastic improvements in our business and the bottom line.”
What does Christy see for the future?
“I think my daughter will take over one day,” she laughs. “She’s only 7 but has a little desk in my office at home. It gives he a sense of ownership and she wants to be a working girl just like her mama. Recently, she took over a tour to prospective parents of another school age child. She has grown up in the business and likes to help out however she can. I think she could do it.”
Her advice for other business owners?
“Make decisions from the heart and use your head to make it work out,” she says.