The mission of Squam Lakes Natural Science Center (SLNSC) is to advance the understanding of ecology by exploring New Hampshire’s natural world. Located in Holderness, NH and encompassing over 200 acres, the center has a multitude of educational programs, exhibits, hiking trails, and lake access and serves approximately 75,000 visitors each year. SLNSC is nationally accredited by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA) and is currently the only AZA-accredited institution in northern New England. Executive Service Corps (ESC) worked with SLNSC to complete a market study exploring the viability of a preschool focused on nature exploration and education for young children in the Lakes Region based on “no child left inside.” The results indicated that there was indeed sufficient demand for the preschool. Next, SLNSC engaged ESC to develop a business plan to determine the financial feasibility of this initiative.
In 2006, SLNSC wanted to explore opening a nature preschool to expand their ability to reach young children and possibly to provide additional income within the context of the organization’s mission. Several key questions needed to be answered:
- Market – will the market support a preschool at Squam Lakes?
- Logistics – for what hours and days should the preschool program be
- Pricing model – what tuition seems reasonable?
- Potential pitfalls – what issues will need to be addressed in further
How ESC Helped
Two dedicated teams of ESC Consultants tackled this project. The first started with the market study, using this methodology:
- Determine the size of the market by analyzing NH population data and population trends of preschool-aged children.
- Assess the competitors by building a list of schools within a 30-minute drive time radius and interviewing the Executive Director to gather intelligence.
- Survey the parents by mailing a comprehensive survey to members of SLNSC and by purchasing a list of nonmember parents that in total yielded
188 complete surveys.
The parent survey confirmed that there was considerable interest based equally on (1) philosophicalagreement with the nature preschool concept and (2) theoutstanding reputation of SLNSC.
Next, the second team of ESC Consultants picked up the challenge. They led a team of SLNSC staff and directors to formulate a business plan, using the market study results as the foundation. The first step was to determine key operating assumptions including: (1) age and number of children, (2) hours of operation, (3) tuition rates, and (4) adult-to-student ratios. These assumptions became the basis for three distinct P&L financial models that allowed for approximately 60 different variables and produced projections for initial start-up through year five.
The Blue Heron Preschool opened in September, 2010 and is now in its second year of operation. The operating results for the first year were completely in line with the financial projections and the school is at break-even. Twelve students enrolled in the first year, as forecast, which is remarkable considering the faltering economy. SLNSC is projecting continued growth and is exploring options such as donor-funded scholarships to enable more children to attend.
The 2007 Market Study and Business Plan provided thorough and insightful data that demonstrated the market need for a nature preschool in the Lakes Region. This allowed SLNSC to move forward with their desire to open a nature preschool and further enhance their mission of providing nature-based education to all constituents, including small children. The executive staff and the Blue Heron School administrators are excited about the success of The Blue Heron School. However, the most satisfied participants in this project are the many parents who provided great feedback during the market study phase and now have very happy students at Blue Heron School. The results of the market study clearly showed that there was sufficient demand to open a preschool.