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David Elebert
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Nursery in a Box co-founder Dave Elebert explains the complete nursery management system

2020 has highlighted that there has never been a more critical time for nursery owners and managers to make the move to digitise their systems. Invoicing, employee management and scheduling, nursery registrations, parent admin and communication and child records, all work to derail the important task of looking after babies and children. Add to that, we must now be COVID-secure by forming nursery bubbles, co-ordinating virtual reporting and more tightly managing parent interactions.

In the face of such challenges, we’ve had a chat with Nursery in a Box founder, Dave Elebert about why he created a nursery management system to alleviate the strain of financial and administrative tasks, leaving nursery managers to the job they do best.

When did you start Nursery in a Box?

I started Nursery in a Box with Milesh Chudasama – he’s the technology brains behind the operation – giving us our software development capability. Together we had the combined skills to deliver a superior software product that was fit for purpose.

We launched Nursery in a Box in 2012, but before that, behind the scenes we spent around seven years developing the idea and the software for our own nursery group. I have over 20 years’ experience in the nursery market, having owned and managed a nursery group worldwide for over 8 years and successfully building it into a franchise model. 

When we set out researching the issues faced, we quickly understood that each nursery in the group was very admin heavy, staff focussed and reliant on the nursery manager who seemed to be doing everything, in many cases having over 150 admin tasks per week. 

We knew that the system we were developing had the potential to benefit the nursery market as a whole and decided to launch Nursery in a Box, making it available to all nurseries and childcare businesses in the UK.

Why did you establish NIAB – what was the driver?

Fundamentally the why is about myself and Milesh’s love for the nursery and childcare industry. Today, more than 10 years on, we both get a buzz when we embark on the next project and we’re helping another childcare business. 

The industry has been really kind to us and it’s an honour to pioneer new ways using technology to make life easier for nursery owners, managers, parents and staff across the UK.

When I owned a nursery group, nothing on the market met my needs. So I decided I’d build it myself (with the help of Milesh!). 

We wanted to change the operating model within our own nursery group to a more efficient system that could be tracked and managed more easily, reduce admin with technology and provide each team with high quality nursery management information to work with, so they could stay focused on delivery outstanding childcare. 

I could see that the amount of administration involved was becoming an increasing issue for nurseries of all sizes – even then. The First job was to understand exactly how much paper work was being managed and how that data could be managed centrally using technology. 

From my personal position, it was proving tricky to receive meaningful data from across my group of nurseries that was standardised upon which to make intelligent business decisions.  

Originally Nursery in a Box was about developing a HR system for our own business, but soon into the development we saw so many issues were also being generated around invoicing.   We embarked on building an effective automated billing system. We soon realised that a nursery invoice can have many factors attached to it so funding, meals, consumables, vouchers, tax free childcare, discounts, products and more all had to be accounted for.  Furthermore these needed itemising so everyone could understand the invoice.

As part of the software build, we introduced a quality audit called the ‘nursery walk round report’ which was 1000 points and gave an in depth appraisal across each nursery so we could get a good idea of performance for each site. 

With the implementation of Nursery in a Box across our business, the result was meaningful data that gave us true business insight.  We had clear and simple invoicing along with monthly managers’ meetings and staff appraisals recorded and stored centrally. These along with room audits and managers weekly reports led to us expanding the nursery business through a franchising model.  The first year saw around 1000 franchise enquiries. Nursery in a Box enabled our expansion. 

We saw the opportunity in introducing Nursery in a box across the market to help other childcare businesses gain a true insight into their business whilst taking away admin heavy tasks for staff, leaving them to focus on childcare.

Fundamentally nurseries are about the people; staff, parents and children. They don’t want to be bogged down with administration. They need something in place that can take care of the increasing mountain of administration in the background and leave them to the child care. 

Nurseries need to see and understand how to manage the money and funding side of their business. Our experience has shown us that the majority of nurseries don’t do this well. Nursery in a Box can help with the business side and assist in making decisions. It also helps nurseries to report into a wider group or a set of stakeholders.

Was there no software out there that could do the job? 

When I was looking into a suitable solution, there was nothing that I had true confidence and trust in. In truth, many of the options gave me the feeling that they were purely developed by software technicians, not people who had worked in the nursery world. It felt like they probably rolled-out the same software slightly repackaged for other industries.

I reviewed a number of nursery management systems available then including; Parenta, Connect, 1st Steps, Kindersoft and Instant Nursery Manager. It became clear that their background was selling technology, none had actually owned or managed a nursery business. They looked very difficult for our staff across the board to use.

I struggled to find something that was intuitive and could be standardised across the franchises world-wide. When it came to reporting and analysing performance across the group, nothing could do this effectively – or worryingly, in real time. 

With your background, what do you think the biggest challenge is when managing nurseries? 

Quite simply, money. Let’s be honest, it’s not the primary job – the children are, so when it comes to the finances and maximising opportunities through funding for example, this can be an oversight.  

There always been a fear around pricing and fee structures as nurseries lacked clarity to understand their own invoices or the impact fees and subsidies would have on revenue or staff costs.

Nursery in a Box created an itemised invoice system clear to understand, easy to send, available instantly to parents on Within our own nurseries we improved our aged debt position almost overnight as we had control back. Operationally the parent queries were also instantly reduced.

Many nurseries are looking to expand, opening further sites but often their admin and financial management can hinder this. Without quality standards and transparency it’s harder to negotiate with potential investors. Nursery in a Box gives nurseries the foundations to grow – at whatever pace they choose. Some may be happy to stay as a single site; others may have ambitions to expand. Nursery in a Box can support them whichever path they take, but they can be assured that their admin and financial management will not give them a headache.

Why do nurseries come to you – what issues do they want you to help them solve? 

Nurseries tend to find us through word of mouth and recommendations. Their main issues will probably be admin, staff and business management. Some are working on existing systems that are just not cutting it or some simply managing with paper and excel. They want something that will take the pain of admin away and in the ever-increasing requirements for more forms and permissions, they are looking for a centrally managed place to keep things and communicate effectively. 

Take for example the issues around subsidised childcare. Many nurseries are missing out on revenues that they are entitled to because of overburdening administration. Nursery in a Box can manage this in minutes. Trust is a big part of the relationship – they want a system they can trust and that understands their needs.

What do you see as NIAB’s biggest strength? 

The practical knowledge we have of the job at hand – coming from our own experience. As a result of this understanding of how nurseries work on a day-to-day basis, the Nursery in a Box software is an intuitive system. It’s simple to use and it gets the job done quickly. We currently have less than 10 customer software support queries a day from over 500 nursery clients. That speaks for itself – the software doesn’t create a new list of problems once it’s ironed out your admin and finances.

How do you see the nursery market developing in the next few years?

2020 has brought about an increase in admin for both staff and children’s care within nurseries. We moved quickly in this situation and ensured that our customers had the right information and ability to manage everything from bubbles through to furlough using our system.  

Moving forward, we believe there will be an increased focus on online information as personal interaction has reduced in recent months. Due to social distancing, virtual handovers at the end of a day have become the norm. The level of information in these and the ability to share with all parents will now be expected in addition to the traditional quick five minute chat at pick-up that will return one day soon.

We also believe that more nursery groups will emerge, and existing groups will continue to scale-up. When scaling up a business, investment is required, and potential investors will need transparency of business performance across sites – this is where Nursery in a Box excels with the ability to provide full information and overview of business performance at the touch of a button. The nursery world is still thriving and now more than ever it needs to give parents and staff reassurance that care comes first, whilst delivering piece of mind for operators.

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