A Brief History of SHEMROCK
The idea of opening a play school was first conceived by educationists Dr. Mrs. Bimla Arora (our Founder & Director) and Dr. Mr. DK Arora (our Chairman). The immediate trigger for the venture was, actually, the need for a pre-school for their daughter. Dr. Mrs. Arora was not really satisfied with the pre-schools she checked. Based on the 30 years of academic experience in India and abroad, they started a model school that aimed to create a child-friendly environment. The first play school was opened in 1989 in New Delhi.
The Idea of Evolving into a Chain
After the success of the first SHEMROCK School, we opened a second branch. The second pre-school also did well. Children started coming from far off places. The system that Arora family created was working wonders and parents were satisfied with the quality of education they were providing. People wanted to replicate their style of imparting a stress-free learning experience in their schools.
However, there were limitations on how much capital and real estate the family could invest in. So in 1992 when they heard the advantages of franchising, they thought it was the right model through which they could expand and reach a wider audience with their limited resources. This gave birth to the SHEMROCK chain and our big family of more than 300 franchises.
Business Model for Expansion
When the demand for a third pre-school had come, our team feared that quality might suffer as it would be difficult to manage so many branches. Since real estate was also expensive and it was difficult to source money, we opted for a franchisee-led model for expansion.
We had local partners who were convinced about our model. They found the right location and invested according to the guidelines established by us. This model allowed us to focus more on the education part. While we invested our time and energy in research and development, our partners looked after the local issues.
Word-of-mouth worked well for us as a strong promotional tool. The early mover advantage also provided us enough time to recover and understand the benefits of franchising.
For the first 10 years, we restricted our presence to Delhi and the national capital region. Gradually, we started receiving franchising demands from smaller towns and cities. It was only in the late nineties that we started venturing outside our core territory. Now, there are 175 operational schools and we plan to increase it to 350 in the next four years.
Deciding on a New Location
First of all, we consider the area requirement. We prefer opening a school on the ground floor. A minimum of Rs 5 – 10 lakh investment and 2,000 sq. ft. covered area is required to open a pre-school. Second, the area selected should have sufficient population that a pre-school/school can cater to. Third, we make sure that the location is easily accessible.
One also has to consider the cost of monitoring such a location and also the implications of not being able to visit the location regularly. If a new location is not well developed, it may require additional support. A good balance is imperative so that the franchisee has a long rope but he does not over modify a successful system, thereby losing all the reasons that made us successful in the first phase.
Maintaining Consistency of Service across Locations
It is important to maintain quality and consistency right from the start by choosing the right partner for franchising, as well as staff members and school heads. We regularly conduct training programmes for our people so that they can manage our schools without compromising on the quality. The training programme also gives a complete insight into our comprehensive, child-friendly curriculum, so that they can incorporate the same curriculum in their schools exactly the way we designed it at our corporate office.
Also, we provide them complete support so that minimum planning is left to be done at the branch level and the same standards are applied all across. The corporate office also remains in constant touch with the branches. We also have direct communication with the parents for regular feedback.
Challenges Faced & Lessons Learnt
Being pioneers in the pre-school sector, we did not have a ready model before us that we could replicate. We had to learn as we went along. We had to design better systems so that same problems and issues did not crop up over and over.
Scaling Up: Becoming Financially Viable
Since we had a very conservative growth in the past decade, it has been a very profitable venture for us as we had enough time to evaluate all the factors before we could offer the franchise to anyone. However, today, if an entrepreneur plans to develop a school chain, the venture requires substantial capital and a lot of effort to gain franchisee’s confidence to sign up with them. The economies of scale play a very important role now. One needs to sign up with at least 50 schools to reach the breakeven point.
“We took the right decisions all the way. We got the opportunity to start over when we had to launch our senior school chain. We replicated the same model that we developed two decades ago.” – Amol Arora, Vice Chairman and Managing Director, SHEMROCK and SHEMFORD Group of Schools