Once upon a time there were two friends, Amrita and Bindu. While both of them had promising careers in the corporate world, they left midstream to become full-time mothers due to the lack of quality childcare facilities in Mumbai. And that is the beginning of the story of The Little Company (TLC). TLC is a day-care firm that caters to both individual customers, and works with corporates to offer baby care facility within offices.
On the retail side, TLC offers services similar to many other day-care facilities in the market, like day-care, playschool and activity centre among others. They also run in-house day-care centres for corporates and are working with Godrej, HUL and L’Oreal in Mumbai, and RBS, Genpact and Amarchand Mangaldas in Delhi / NCR region. They have three independent day-care centres in Mumbai and one in DLF Cyber City in Gurgaon.
Amrita Singh is a commerce graduate who has worked with banks and textile houses before she turned entrepreneur. Her partner Bindu Bhinde is a chemical engineer who worked with chemical companies, Ambuja Cement and Bharat Petroleum before she gave it up for her own venture. Bindu trained herself in day-care management and started TLC with Amrita. “The seeds of TLC as a business idea were sown in 2001 when my friend Bindu and I were pregnant. We started a partnership firm, which is now a privately held company in 2013. We started 10 years ago by pooling in our savings of Rs 5 lakhs each. We closed last year at Rs 3 crores,” says Amrita proudly.
In the B2B model, TLC builds and manages onsite or near site day-care centres for companies. And on the B2C platform they build independent day-care centres which allow parents to enrol their children at a TLC centre close to their home or workplace.
Bindu says the B2B business has seen significant growth in recent years where more corporates are evaluating offering day-care facilities as a key benefit to retain talent. “This sudden surge is on account of a severely diminishing pool of women to achieve senior level positions – what is popularly being referred to as a ‘leaking pipeline’. In a recent survey conducted by NHRD, it was found that 31% of the country’s employees were actively disengaged,” she says.
Where TLC works with corporates, the company pays TLC a monthly management fee for managing the facility. The corporates decide the fee to be paid by their employees, which is usually subsidized. TLC facilitates the fee collection from the parents which is credited to the corporates.
Comfortable safe houses
Amrita says quality of care is of great importance to TLC and therefore they manage all their centres, and have no franchises. A child-centric approach in thought, process and action, highest level of care and supervision and the highest child to caretaker ratios in the country are some of the differentiators that TLC has to offer. “We follow a 2:1 for infants (six months to 18 months) and 5:1 ratio for toddlers (18 months plus). At TLC, children are nurtured by professionals who are qualified practitioners who update their knowledge regularly,” says Bindu.
All growth for TLC has been through word of mouth publicity alone. Over the years that they have been in the business, Amrita says they have noticed the evolution of their customers. From a mother who was looking for a safe and secure place for her child, today some customers who opt for TLC services are also looking for some ‘me time’ to either pursue a hobby, experiment with a second career or going back to studying, shares Amrita. There are some customers who also admit their child to TLC because s/he is their only child and they can spend some time with children of their age.
Bindu says it is annoying when parents approach their staff with money to take care of a child over the weekend, or take a child for a vaccination or give them few extra bucks to feed them their dinner as well. “We feel very hurt as we believe we have been unable to extend the TLC philosophy to the parents,” says Bindu.
From a team of four, TLC today has 130 employees working for them across two cities. They are not too bent on educational qualification, but look for like-minded people who will fit in well with the organization’s culture. “Attitude is everything; skills can be learnt as long as there is a willingness to learn. So when we look at new recruits, we do look for a basic educational qualification across levels, but the softer skills – compassion, sense of ownership, leadership and accountability are skills we watch for,” says Amrita.
As they consolidate their 10 centres, the next step for TLC is to setup a training institute and work closely with the parent community for the betterment for their children. “We want to grow the business but it will never be at the cost of quality,” assures Bindu.