In my home country, children rarely begin preschool before the age of 3. Since I’m a stay-at-home mom, I didn’t need my daughter in school or daycare here when she was very young. But shortly after turning 2, she showed me she needed more socialisation and stimulation. So we began looking for a nursery school.
Pre-school is usually a child’s first experience away from the household and it’s a huge leap for both the parents and the child. So imagine the pressure that could – should? – put on nursery school owners.
As I explored my options I was struck by the vibrancy of a youthful face I saw at the Peo Group of schools (Peo, Dipeo and Peo Mela). I sat down with Leesha St Quintin, 27, a partner in this family-run group of nursery schools to talk about her business views and values.
“Working with children is unlike any other business,” says Leesha. “It is a great responsibility and one that we take very seriously. But with great responsibility comes even greater reward. There is nothing better than watching our little ones grow up into amazing boys and girls. It is a privilege and honour that we get to experience all the time in this industry.”
Whenever I meet a Peo Parent, I hear about the positive bond their child has with the school and staff. I asked Leesha to share with us the secrets of Peo Group’s success.
Tell us the history of your businesses
My mom, Christine West, started Peo in Feb 1997 with only 6 children. It quickly grew and within three months they moved into a new school that soon had 60 children. Five years later they needed to move to an even bigger space. She opened a second school, Dipeo, in 2008 and then bought and renovated Peo Mela in 2012.
To round out the portfolio, we purchased the Monkeynastix franchises for Botswana and Zimbabwe. Monkeynastix had always been a programme my mom had promoted in her schools because of its focus on fun and fitness. So she couldn’t think of a better fit to our little group of companies.
I was a teenager during these growth years, but I remember chatting to my mom on countless occasions about the targets she needed to meet to break even and keep the schools going. By God’s grace all these targets were met beyond expectation.
Peo is a 100% citizen owned and family run business and I couldn’t think of a better person to work under than my mom. We’ve got an incredible group of people working for us and have many members of staff who have been with us for 15 years or more. Our staff and the work they do and the lives they touch on a daily basis is so valuable to us.
What has been the main way of getting your businesses name out there?
In this town and many others, I think that word of mouth is the best way of getting your name out there. If you are doing a great job and putting your whole heart into your business, then people will see this and tell others. I can’t think of a better way to market one’s business.
Monkeynastix is on Facebook, but we are still working on making this manageable. It’s tough because social media needs to be so visual, and we won’t post pictures of children without direct parental consent.
To be honest, we have just been so blessed in the past that we have not needed to market ourselves directly. I really hope it stays this way, and our reputation continues to lead.
What challenges have you faced and how did you overcome them?
I’ve been involved in the schools since I was a child and I grew up eating lunches from the school kitchen. But while I was busy playing in the playgrounds, my mom was facing the challenges of starting a business. Loyalty to her clients, children and staff, incredible passion and reliance on God were what got her through the tough times.
In recent years, one of our biggest challenges has been obtaining work permits for some of our teachers. Our companies are 100% citizen owned and have 91% citizen employees. We are investing in more of our Motswana staff; in-house training on how we operate and run our curriculum, policies and school procedures is one of the best ways to advance our team.
What has been your biggest success in your business?
2017 marked the 20th Birthday celebration for Peo, 5th Birthday for Peo Mela and an incredibly successful year at Dipeo with a new class being opened. We’re one of the biggest Monkeynastix franchises in the world per capita; we teach almost 2000 children in 45 schools each week. And this contributed towards us earning the Top International Franchise of the Year award last month!
What is your family life like outside of your businesses?
Amazing! I really hate to brag but I was blessed with the absolute best. Most of my family is in Gabs so we do a lot together: long weekends in the bush whether it be Khutse, Mabuasahube or CKGR, weekends away at our little dam house and weekends at home golfing and having Sunday roast dinners.
What do you love most about being in business in Botswana?
Family is at the heart of all we do. I get to meet families staying in this country who’re from all over the world and hear their experiences. And I get to work with my mom in a business with 130 different people where we have formed one big family.
There is still so much to learn and to teach in our country. I see so much potential in this beautiful nation and this incredible place we get to call home. Not many people can say that within 4 hours drive they can be by a campfire in Khutse with lions around them. Or with the amazing wildlife at Khama Rhino Sanctuary, a dam weekend away, a crazy Joburg trip, or just minutes away from the restaurants and shops we’ve gained in Gaborone over the past years.
Our country really has it all and I truly believe there’s no other place in the world quite like our little Botswana.
What advice would you give someone starting a small business?
I see people starting businesses about things they know nothing about or don’t even have a passion for. This can rarely work. You might make some money, but it won’t be sustainable. The saying is so true, that you must “Do what you love and love what you do.” You have to enjoy it in order to make it a success.
Life is so hectic these days and there is so much change in the world. Family-oriented businesses must keep up while maintaing respect for what ‘family’ is all about. We have to take time off of our cell phones and laptops to go outside and play with our kids, do some gardening or take the dogs for a walk. Make time to talk to each other, face to face, and really connect.
My advice is simple and values-based: be honest and kind, have faith, believe in what you are doing, and be grateful for what you have no matter how big or small.
Much of the advice and testimony Leesha offers is applicable to any business. Having respect for your staff and clients, and treating them as you’d treat a member of your own family, is at the heart of it.
It’s comforting to know that there are people like Leesha and Christine helping our youngsters develop social and everyday skills. I’m not sure about you, but I’ll sleep better knowing that my child is safe and surrounded by positive role models at school.