The Child Care Business Podcast

Episode 5: Strong Leadership to Build an Amazing Culture | Tony D’Agostino

April 29, 2021 Procare Solutions Season 1 Episode 5
The Child Care Business Podcast
Episode 5: Strong Leadership to Build an Amazing Culture | Tony D’Agostino
The Child Care Business Podcast
Episode 5: Strong Leadership to Build an Amazing Culture | Tony D’Agostino
Apr 29, 2021 Season 1 Episode 5
Procare Solutions

If there’s a person in the child care industry who knows about how to build a strong culture, it’s Tony D’Agostino. Having owned six child care centers and seeing first-hand the issues child care owners face – particularly when it comes to HR-related issues – Tony started Inspire! Care 360. In this episode, Tony talks about the differences between offering jobs vs. careers and how career paths can create a greater sense of belonging and higher level of staff engagement. According to Tony, when staff feel like they’re part of something greater than themselves, you can create a culture that translates into higher satisfaction among the families you serve – and ultimately, a stronger brand that leads to higher enrollments.  

About Tony:
Tony D’Agostino is Founder/CEO of Inspire! Care 360, which provides early child care and education providers with financial, marketing, HR and medical solutions they need to help their schools engage, grow and optimize.

Prior to the early learning space, Tony led practices in Human Resources (Recruiting, Onboarding, Benefits, Employee Life Cycle, Outplacement, Consulting) with close to 20 years of experience in adult training and curriculum development. 

You can contact Tony at [email protected] or visit their website at

Additional Resources:
To get more insights on ways to succeed in your child care business, head over to our Resource Center at

Contact Us:
Have an idea for a podcast or want to be a guest? Email us at [email protected]  


Show Notes Transcript

If there’s a person in the child care industry who knows about how to build a strong culture, it’s Tony D’Agostino. Having owned six child care centers and seeing first-hand the issues child care owners face – particularly when it comes to HR-related issues – Tony started Inspire! Care 360. In this episode, Tony talks about the differences between offering jobs vs. careers and how career paths can create a greater sense of belonging and higher level of staff engagement. According to Tony, when staff feel like they’re part of something greater than themselves, you can create a culture that translates into higher satisfaction among the families you serve – and ultimately, a stronger brand that leads to higher enrollments.  

About Tony:
Tony D’Agostino is Founder/CEO of Inspire! Care 360, which provides early child care and education providers with financial, marketing, HR and medical solutions they need to help their schools engage, grow and optimize.

Prior to the early learning space, Tony led practices in Human Resources (Recruiting, Onboarding, Benefits, Employee Life Cycle, Outplacement, Consulting) with close to 20 years of experience in adult training and curriculum development. 

You can contact Tony at [email protected] or visit their website at

Additional Resources:
To get more insights on ways to succeed in your child care business, head over to our Resource Center at

Contact Us:
Have an idea for a podcast or want to be a guest? Email us at [email protected]  


Speaker 1 (00:08):

[inaudible] welcome to the childcare business podcast brought to you by care solutions. This podcast is all about giving childcare, preschool, daycare, afterschool, and other early education professionals, a fun and upbeat way to learn about strategies and inspiration you can use to thrive. You'll hear from a variety of childcare thought leaders, including educators, owners, and industry experts on ways to innovate, to meet the needs of the children you serve from practical tips for managing operations, to uplifting stories of transformation and triumph. This podcast will be chalk full and insights you can use to fully realize the potential of your childcare business. Let's jump in

Speaker 2 (00:52):

Good afternoon, everyone, and welcome to the childcare business podcast. Once again, my name is Ryan [inaudible] and I am thrilled to have you join us again today. Um, and look today, we're talking with someone who's not only a childcare owner and operator, but also someone who is taking his passion to the next level, uh, by supporting other childcare leaders as they navigate the challenges of our industry. Uh, Tony D'Agostino is the founder and CEO of inspire care three 60, which provides early childcare and early education providers with financial marketing, HR, and medical solutions that they need to help their schools engage, grow and optimize. Um, just a little bit about Tony, you know, prior to his early learning space experience, Tony was leading practices and human resources, uh, recruiting, onboarding benefits, full employee lifecycle, outplacement consulting. Uh, he had close to 20 years of experience in adult training programs and curriculum development. Uh, and so we're, we're really lucky to have Tony with us today. He's busy, but he wants to be here to share some of his story and talk with us about one of the most important topics when it comes to running a childcare business, strong leadership and strong culture. Uh, Tony, welcome to the podcast.

Speaker 3 (02:04):

Yes, Ryan, thank you so much, man. I feel old by how that laundry list went on and on. Yeah, we went all the way back. So, so, uh,

Speaker 2 (02:15):

That being said, I, I always love, I probably say this on every episode, but it's part of what I enjoy the most. I love to hear the story of some of the leaders in our space and how they got to where they are. And you actually have a little bit of an atypical path as maybe we look at it compared to other childcare owners. Can you just talk about maybe prior to what you're doing with, uh, you know, your current company, what you did in the past, what your, uh, career background looks like?

Speaker 3 (02:45):

Yeah, so honestly, you know, I'll tell you a lot up to the childcare world and the ECE world with myself. But when I got into, uh, the world of business, I first got into customer service and sales and I worked ground level ground floor on a number of those things, but I always had a desire. I really didn't fit well in the box of, you know, working for others. So I was like, I have to sort of find my own way. And so early in my career, I did venture out and I started a different, a few different companies. They started a staffing company, uh, down in Orlando, Florida at the time. And I started Orlando back in the mid nineties, before most regional job boards were even around. And there was like monster board or what have you. And, and we, uh, were able to grow some of that.

Speaker 3 (03:35):

But then that was early in my, uh, marriage. And we had kids and my wife at the time said, um, we really have that sort of like a family thing going on here and stuff just messing around. And when you actually start getting serious, I was like, I thought it was serious, but anyhow, I decided to go back into corporate America and I got into it and really did adult learning track. It was something was like corporate adult learning. And I really got pretty deep into it really learned a lot about the psychology of people. And it really started a journey about how people learn, how do people develop? Why do people get engaged? I didn't see any of that. I didn't have that path at the time, but I got there. And over a course of a few different companies, a few high profile ones like Ernst and young and Pearson education, or, you know, uh, small startups with looking at artificial intelligence, some of those kinds of things.

Speaker 3 (04:29):

Eventually it came to the doorstep of my boys being about, I don't know, you know, nine, 10, and my wife at the time just did an amazingly admirable job with them raising, but I would want it to be that father who was present, you know, helping them lacrosse and football and all that kind of stuff. So I was traveling all over the world and I decided, you know what, I want to get grounded. I want to be with them. So I look for local businesses and I looked at anything from manufacturing to distribution, from training and development, to HR services, all things I had background with

Speaker 2 (05:04):

At that point, just out of curiosity, were you looking specifically for industries that you had experience in, or you were just looking for a business opportunity that made sense from a model standpoint?

Speaker 3 (05:15):

Yeah, a little bit of both, you know, because my background was training and HR services all the way across human talent overall was my background, but I'm in Rochester, New York and there's very limited things, you know, it was like for training companies and they're like, Oh, we're happy with what we do. You know? And so I looked, I expanded with what our opportunities we had, you know, with, so that's where I went out to like manufacturing, distribution and other type of services just to explore it. And I, and Ryan, I actually got a call from a guy who was from out of town. He goes, let's have breakfast. And I'm like, okay, why is this a secret? And he was like, well, let's get breakfast. He goes, I have this NDA. And we got any, you know, we got to work at breakfast. Like, what are we talking about here?

Speaker 3 (05:58):

The pushes, the NDA cross the table. And I said, well, it doesn't even say the industry on it. And he goes, okay. He takes it back and he scribbles and then it goes back and it says, childcare go, Oh no, I have no idea about childcare. I don't know what it is. He goes, Oh, well, you can, you can, you can make a pretty penny of it. I go, yeah. But I got to get out of bed in the morning. I really got to pop out of bed. So at first I told them though, I wasn't really interested. Um, but then I started thinking about it and long story short, right. Is I went and actually visited and I saw places that were a mess. They were barely babysitting. But what I did see was potential, and this was early, this was over 10 years ago. And I was like, you know what, there's really opportunity to make these places learning centers. And that's actually how I ended up buying six locations and getting into it, you know, jumping in ads and feed first. Right,

Speaker 2 (06:48):

Right. At that point. So I want to double click on something you said when you walked into these centers initially to just vet the opportunity, you know, what, what is child care all about? And you, you noticed right away that there was opportunity. Can you speak to like what you saw, what you saw in the centers at that time, and then what you saw as an opportunity? Cause that's an interesting thing. I think for people that are entrepreneurs are looking to get into our space, how do you identify an opportunity? And what does that look like? And what did it look like for you?

Speaker 3 (07:19):

That's a really good question. I think that there is different ways that entrepreneurs look at opportunities. There's the startup entrepreneur. Who's like, I'm just going to build it from the ground up. There's the, Hey, I've been through that path. And I like to take something that's running in, it's successful and I'd love to take it over and a cash flows. And you know, a lot of the problems have already been handled. And at that point in time in my career, I didn't want to do the startup. And I also always choose to go after, at the time I chose to go for the underdog and what I saw was problems. The first thing is, is when I walked into the center, I knocked on the door, a preschooler, opened the door for me by himself. Okay. And as we all know in this industry, that's probably one of the biggest things you do not want to have is your preschool opening the door with no one else around him.

Speaker 3 (08:13):

You know, I walked in and someone else came wander around by and I was like, wow, this place, it was a bit of a disaster. But the way I also look at it's usually like, can it get any lower? And is there opportunity to go up? And immediately I saw, could we move these quickly from these barely babysitting to learning centers? You know, my whole background at that point in time was about adult learning, but I really didn't think it was very far from, you know, kids learning. And at that time we had caretakers of wasn't teachers. Now we're all teachers in this industry. So, you know, in our staff, we're all teachers. So I really saw the opportunity of expansion, rapid growth. So saw the opportunity, what I bought, I could really invest in and really grow that, that business. And I did take something, you know, that started off at about a five to 7% margin and I made it to well over 30% margin on a consistent basis.

Speaker 4 (09:08):

Yeah. That's amazing. That's one of the things I was going to ask you, cause you saw it from an opportunity in terms of, Hey, I think I can come in here and provide a better product for the community by doing a better job of engaging staff and training staff and, and trying to get to the heart of why quality products are really good, but did you have a financial or an accounting background too? Cause that's, you know, when I think of childcare in some of my experience, there's that component that not everybody has, which is I have a passion for this. I see that there's an opportunity to develop a better product, so to speak, but I also have to make the financials work. Is that something that you looked at when you said it was a six or 7% margin? Um, w can you be specific around some of the things that you saw as opportunities to improve margins?

Speaker 3 (09:57):

So, you know, sort of come from what you were saying first, as you know, I've known some very successful people and you look at their background. I go, well, they're a CPA or they're someone who had a really strong corporate finance background. I did not have that background, but what I will say is I came up through business growth and service through my career. And during that time, you know, I really got into the business of just solving problems. And I think that's what real entrepreneurs do very well and leaders do very well. Is they really work on how do we solve problems? So when I looked at different things, I, I usually just would, oftentimes when I looked at that P and L at first, or I looked at our balance sheet, I quite often looked at and said, how far can I move the needle on these different line items?

Speaker 3 (10:45):

And what are really key performance indicators for business? And why is it a key performance indicator? You know, we have all fixed costs. We have variable costs. We have things that we can work with over 50% of our P and L's are payroll. And that's a huge part of it. And honestly, when I first came in, Ryan, I made a ton of mistakes. I literally did, even though I ran different businesses as the vice president of, you know, different parts of organizations from sales and marketing to different operations. But when I came in here, I thought that, you know, I could make some pretty solid moves and not rocking, you know, tilt over the Apple cart, but I really did in a number of things, but I learned hopefully quickly from them. So it got me into a situation where I was identifying that I could make movement in a number of areas on the PNL, but also I realized that when I was making mistakes, I had to learn from quick and I had to pivot, yeah,

Speaker 4 (11:44):

Fail earlier, learn early about mistakes. So you can go figure out what works, what doesn't work. And then, like you said, being able to changes quickly

Speaker 2 (11:54):

To adjust as you go. I want to follow this path a little bit, cause I do want to also talk about the side of your business and kind of extending this to consulting and work with other providers. But I want to like walk through your history as an actual owner of your schools a little bit more. So that, that very first school you acquired, was it one center at that point? You mentioned six. So you bought all six at the same time.

Speaker 3 (12:18):

Yeah, it was fun. It was crazy.

Speaker 2 (12:20):

Like if I'm going to do this, I'm going to go all in. I'm not going to try to like hedge my bets at all. Huh?

Speaker 3 (12:25):

Oh no, no. I, I jumped in and uh, that's I said hands and feet first, I went in all the way because I saw that, um, you know, I looked at it, I didn't look at it as I had to grow. I looked at it as an opportunity to manage a system, to grow a system. And the, the opportunity that I really saw is that actually more was better. Um, in the sense that, you know, if you have one location and you start with one location, many people out here who might be listening to this might be like, Hey, I'm either going to start my one location or I'm in that one location or on in-home. And I'd like to go to that. Well, that's fantastic. That's freaking awesome. That's awesome. That's great. I had the opportunity just because where I was and what I had done previously to come in and say, what would be the benefits of buying a system with multiple locations beyond the financial gain from it?

Speaker 3 (13:18):

I also saw the opportunity that if I brought all those separate locations up to speed in a very similar model, because they were very disparate between each location, they ran curriculum different, they ran operations, different, they ran staffing different. They ran scheduling different. They did everything different. But I saw that if, if I could come in and create a consistency model, then what I could do is I could share resources. I could share processes and I can then really create efficiencies. So I didn't have to duplicate all the efforts. And that's another area when I came in, I was like, this is where there's a real lot of opportunity upside for us is creating those efficiencies between multiple locations that are being duplicated. It's like having a bookkeeper at every location when you're like, well, why don't we just have one bookkeeper?

Speaker 2 (14:05):

Yeah. You are duplicating a lot of work. There was redundant resources. So you, how did you, if, if I can ask this question without getting into specifics or, you know, numbers, but going in as an entrepreneur, six locations, did you structure the original purchase, um, with the business and the real estate? Did that come with it? I know that's a question. We get a lot and talk through with a lot of new owners as they open. And then how did you structure that if you don't mind me asking to at least the details you can share, was it the owner carry that? Was it something looking back that you would have done differently or looking back?

Speaker 3 (14:41):

Yeah, well, you know, it's, it's interesting cause I did some of it where I owned and some of it where I leased. Um, and there's some different thoughts on this because you know, you could take the McDonald's model where obviously you own the real estate under every one of the properties and your, your real estate actually becomes your, your, your mega asset, all right. In the long run. And there's absolutely a model behind that. And I did use that with some of my locations, some of my other locations though, I'm very glad I did all nos because one of the things that you, you can see trends that happen in communities, but oftentimes you can't really tell in 10 years if your community, you know, if you're brand new and you're like in Raleigh, North Carolina, and they're just building all these homes and apartments. Yeah.

Speaker 3 (15:31):

You've got probably a good 20, 30 year stretch before it becomes a bedroom community. But before that though in Rochester, which is sort of a, you know, a C to D type of city in the United States that, you know, has a well established communities, you could see where some communities were aging a bit and you'd be like, well, in 10 years, how many families will really be left in this community? Or will it be more of, you know, just empty nesters? And then, you know, so we had to be really sort of careful that we're not building a mega center somewhere where then the traffic may die down in a few years. So there was a bit of an evaluation about it. Um, there is probably one or two centers that I wished that I bought the property early on, but I will say that for what I would have paid for them and the ability for what I was able to do from a leasing perspective. Um, you know, I, I basically made my revenue in a slightly different way.

Speaker 2 (16:30):

Yeah, it's really, I actually like how you, you talk about that because we, you know, the, the buy versus lease model gets talked about a lot in terms of the benefits on both sides. But one of the things I haven't heard many people talk about is actually looking at the demographics in that community, because what the situation is today, and maybe what you know about the demographics might look different 10 or 20 years down the road. And so as you look at your business model and that timeline horizon, that's probably things you want to factor in, and it might make the decision different, same business, same business model, different communities might have two different outcomes on that buy versus lease.

Speaker 3 (17:05):

Yeah, absolutely too. And the thing is, you know, depending on where you're growing, because there's a lot of conversations, you could have a few podcasts on this alone, right? Where, you know, if you have some open space or some opening space, it might be prudent for you to initially lease, you know, short-term maybe like three years build up your business while you then look to either build or buy someplace nearby. Then you can really expand as you really sort of say, it's, you know, think about if you've traveled to any brand new town to go live in, you know, coming in and just buying a house and you don't know anything about it, you're really taking a risk. You know, you don't know if you're gonna like the community. I don't know if you're gonna like your neighbors. You don't know if you know the supermarket or the schools close enough as to coming in and, you know, renting for a couple, you know, you, you know, a year or so, and, and finding out is it really what we want to do? So, you know, there's definitely a way you want to look at where you're going in the community. If you come out of that community and you know it very well then, Hey, listen, it's possible. You're making the right decision to buy or build. Yeah.

Speaker 2 (18:06):

You put roots in, but you, you obviously go in and say, I'm going to focus on the business, build my model, have a track record. And then that'll open up some opportunities as I get a little further.

Speaker 3 (18:16):

Oh, absolutely. I was looking at department of transportation flows every, you know, as to how they actually fluid days of the week, time patterns, all those things to really understand what kind of traffic would see who took left turns, who took right. Turns, all those things.

Speaker 2 (18:30):

Amazing. Yeah. And I, and I want to talk a little bit about this, cause I know this is what you do as well for other providers looking to, you know, analyze these types of things for their business. But I, last question I want to ask about your six centers is at what point did you reach the kind of that level where you said, you know what, I've got these, these schools really operating and optimize the way I want. And I want to go share this with other providers now, was that always part of your plan or was that kind of organic in terms of how it happened?

Speaker 3 (19:02):

Well, it's a decent question. I appreciate it. Um, and I would say that it wasn't part of the plan, but what it was is out of the six centers. Now I actually have three and three of my centers. Two of them actually overlapped with one larger one and I was competing with myself. So I actually consolidated all of them into my larger center and grew that one center much bigger. And so my operational costs went through the floor and my revenue went way up. And then I had an opportunity with one of them where it was, it was really too small. It only had 43 enrollments. That was the max that could have in that property. So what I actually did is I actually leased it to another provider who wanted to provide childcare. And so I leased it to her and I own the building.

Speaker 3 (19:50):

And right now I actually do better revenue wise than I would in running the childcare center. And I also can focus more on my other businesses, include inspired care three 60. So I, once I, I operationalized them and I found the right kind of team members and I built sort of a strong leadership team and candidly, I started getting bored and I started and I'm, I guess I'm a bit of a serial entrepreneur. I was like, I really need to find my next thing. I thought often will I want to just go outside of this industry altogether. But then I really thought about, well, you know, it's mind share. Do I really want my mind sharing with some other industry with everything I've come to learn about childcare in ECE? And I chose to go, no, it's more sensible for me to let my mind work completely in that space, but maybe in different pockets of that space, do the things that we did so well and take that, you know, more to the masses, to those independent owners who are looking that, uh, you know, that support.

Speaker 4 (20:50):

Yeah, well, you know, boredom, you, you brought this up and I obviously want to continue on this path, but it, it's interesting, you know, we think of boredom as a bad thing. Like it's talked about negative negatively, but you know, my wife and I, as our kids were growing up, we would talk about, you know, actually boredom's a really good thing. You know, when you actually are detach and you feel bored, or maybe you're not being challenged as another way to say it, that some of the greatest creative minds and greatest inventions and greatest companies have come from, you know, individuals and kids even, you know, when they were born, because out of that comes new thoughts.

Speaker 3 (21:27):

Absolutely. I would agree with you that it would be maybe creating new challenges for myself as a better way that you sort of put it. I like that because that's what I really needed. I needed new or different kinds of challenges. And trust me every day, like everybody out there who runs, owns or operates, you know, an ECE center, you, you have challenges, you know, CPS walks in one day or you have your, you know, you have different people who aren't there, whatever. So you always have those challenges. But what I needed is I needed new challenges to, to start working towards solving.

Speaker 4 (22:00):

Yeah. And, and, and light the fire a little bit. And so how did you then pursue, you know, inspire care three 60? Like, what was the first step? Did you start marketing your services or was it like the tenant that you had came to you asking for some advice? What was the Genesis of kind of getting the ball rolling?

Speaker 3 (22:18):

Well, uh, I, I did not even have that tenant as of yet, but what I did have is I had some ideas and like anything else. I also want to do a bunch of owners. I had started, uh, creating almost a network of a few owners just where we would do like a CEO group throughout the country. And we, we weren't formal with any coach or anything or any consultant in the industry. But, you know, I had just created a small little network of people that, you know, we could bounce ideas off each other. And I remember I came up with a bunch of different ideas and one of them was like, you know, Hey, I want to be creative. We created this virtual childhood psychologist where we could use it for the teachers and we can do this and we can do this. And it brought them to a few different people.

Speaker 3 (22:59):

And one of my close friends now who is also an owner-operator in Ohio, um, I brought to Brian, I said, Hey, Brian, I got this great idea. And I told him, I guess, is that's horrible. It's horrible. It really, it might be a good idea. He goes, but he goes, we're just literally trying to put out fires. Tony, you're trying to put out fires at your places at times too. That is brave you on top of what you're talking about, but what we really need is we need things to help us with the staff. We need things about, you know, how we are dealing with HR issues. We need things about how we really, you know, really grow our enrollments and how we really, you know, handle our operations. And, you know, you've done a good job with that. Why don't you look internally? And he honestly, along with a couple, others did a great job of getting me refocused at what was right in front of me, of what I had been, I think relatively well and going, could I bring that to others?

Speaker 3 (23:50):

So what we then did is we created an initial model, which we have pivoted slightly over the past couple of years to make sure as we listened to people, he said, that's not a great fit that we add. And we, we made it something different until we got a very strong amount of people are like, yeah, this really works for us. And so we decided to build this model, um, basically based on what owners were saying they really needed. And so to do that, we, uh, we brought on a couple of initial members. So people like Brian, like a few others and said, Hey, you know, we're gonna, we're not going to give away for free, but we're going to do it at a discount. Um, but we're also going to ask you for very candid feedback. Are we doing it right? Are we doing it wrong?

Speaker 3 (24:39):

What can we do better? Why, what are the services are you looking for and why? And, uh, and I, we fostered a bunch of good relationships. And by the end of our first year, we probably had about, I don't know, maybe 10 member locations, you know, and as this year, you know, we're going, you know, into a few hundred member locations. So we're, we're really happy with where we've gone and we call them members because, um, one is, we want them to see that they're part of a family, like a member at a club or, you know, health club or a country club or whatever. It might be that you're, you're part of this. You're part of the, you know, uh, what we're all doing to enjoy this together too, is we want to make it. So you have accessibility to a lot of different things that we all need and, you know, at a club or a membership, you know, there's things that all come with the membership and then there's things you may pay a little bit of a premium for. So we also created, created a couple of little premium services too, but, um, for the most part, that's how we started to development. That's how we started bringing it to market. And so we spent a lot of time with our members just saying, you know, when we brought it to them spending a lot of time, does it make sense?

Speaker 4 (25:51):

Yeah. One of the things I love that you said, which you don't get, I'm not sure every business owner, entrepreneur thinks about is, you know, instead of building what I think my customer base is going to want, I want to ask them like, what is the actual need in my community or in my marketplace, and then go fill that need. And it sounds like you guys did that early on by just asking the questions of where there needed to be some help. D did you like early on, as you guys were building, you know, that model, Tony, can you talk a little bit about when you go into a new center or a new member and you start talking about their operations, can you talk a little bit about the discovery you do in terms of trying to identify where they need help and then maybe a followup to that is, have you recognized some common themes, like as you talk with providers all across the country and you say, okay, this is something that everybody struggles with, or this is a theme that continually comes up. Um, can you talk about anything that, um, you know, is reoccurring for you?

Speaker 3 (26:52):

Absolutely. You know, so our, our business inspired care three 60 is actually not a consulting business. Um, and the reason is, is because we don't do sort of one off, we're going to go in and do a deep dive with you, and then we're going to come back and we're going to present you. What we think is a very personalized, customized thing. That is a business model. That's a strong business model. There are some people out there who do that individualized business model. The challenge with that business model for what we're trying to do is we can't really build what I call centers of excellence around it and the importance of center of excellence. So I'm gonna step back just for a second on this Ryan and say, you know, when we looked at the childcare space, there's 26 million plus kids in care today, there's about a half million kids who are in some kind of, uh, care from in-home to, you know, franchise or corporate or nonprofit or independently owned.

Speaker 3 (27:46):

And then when you break that down, further, you get down to about, uh, you know, the, the whole independent market is about 130,000 centers through the U S that are independently owned and operated. Now there's nothing wrong with nonprofits and, uh, franchises in corporate owned. They're, they're actually members of ours too, but one of the things that they were really missing, uh, it was some smaller nonprofits too, is they're missing sort of that back support that back office, someone who really S you know, said, Hey, listen, we know what we're doing in the areas of onboarding or training or HR, or, you know, marketing, or, you know, protecting ourselves through crisis management or you know, how to manage operations. So they, there was really, and that's when I get into this industry, I really sort of identified that it was like, there really was no turn to when I was owning an operating line of business.

Speaker 3 (28:39):

There was no one really to turn to say, I can get all of that from one place. I could go to a bunch of different people for it or different companies, but a lot of them, you know, some of them knew our world childcare. Other ones just simply didn't have a real understanding of our industry. And I had to educate every one of them. So I was like, what if we became that, where we could be that sort of back office extension and those real key areas. So to answer the second part of your question end, what did you really identify? That's been consistent. It really has come down to three pillars and it, those three pillars really dictated three divisions within inspire care, three 60. The first one is people. First and foremost, we live and die. We talked about earlier about payroll. That payroll is so big, but we all know that number one right now, I would say everybody out there, owners and operators like myself, staffing and engagement of staffing is probably by far and away the most, you know, the biggest issue, the biggest concern we have, our biggest opportunity or biggest challenge.

Speaker 2 (29:43):

When you say, I didn't mean to interrupt you, but I want to ask a question when you talk about engagement of staffing, can you, can you explain what you mean by that?

Speaker 3 (29:52):

Absolutely. And so I'll, I'll dig a little bit deeper. And when we talk about engagement or staffing staffing, um, is, you know, you could look at, do people have jobs with you and do they feel like they have a job, or do they feel like they have a career? And those are wildly different areas. So when we look at engagement, we really think about why are people with you? Why are they at your schools? Why do they want to be part of you for the long run? How do you get them to stop thinking about their, their place of employment as a job that they punch a clock, and how do you start helping them think about it being a career and the difference of that, and that's engagement, right? The difference between a job and a career is engagement. And we call it developing culture because people, these days are attracted to culture, the culture they want to be a part of.

Speaker 3 (30:46):

And there's several key foundational pillars to what makes up culture. So yeah, you have wages and we all provide wages today, obviously, but we'll lose staff members relatively quick to like the local Arby's or Wendy's because they'll pay a dollar more an hour. And it becomes a nickel auction for someone, if it's all about wages, and if we're advertising and recruiting based on wages, and we're, you know, we're out there and we're just doing, performance-based on wages, everything's on wages. That's exactly what you're going to lose your staff to. And it's still a job because they're only working for that. But if you want to really look at how do you get to that career, how do you really get to that culture? There are several different underpinnings. And, you know, I go back to a number of us who went to college and took psychology.

Speaker 3 (31:36):

One-on-one we might remember a thing called Maslow's hierarchy of needs. Okay. And when you look at Maslow's hierarchy of needs, you started going, wait a minute. I didn't know that was gonna be a test here, Tony. I, I, you know, so the thought is that the basic levels are about survival, right? It's about having food and shelter and clothing, and then the next level of Maslow's hierarchy of needs. And, you know, you need safety, you need protection, right. But when, and that's sort of like, what a job is, it gives you the basics just to survive. You know, you can go and you can buy food and you can rent an apartment. But the, if you look at the next levels of Maslow's hierarchy of needs, where you really get up into it, it's really about how people feel like they belong. How do they have, do they have respect from others?

Speaker 3 (32:25):

Do they have opportunity? Do they have the ability to develop, to be, you know, to have benefits, to be part of something that is greater than them. And that's really what culture is. So when look at those different pillars with, in your organization, if you really have a structure that really focuses on how a person beyond wages has benefits or has belonging has respect, has the ability to have opportunity for further in their career has opportunity to grow into new roles and what have you. Then they really have a career. They have no reason to go to the school district and leave him in a moment's notice. Many of us in this industry do not focus on that because there's a lot of effort towards it.

Speaker 2 (33:17):

Well, and also because there's so, like you said, there's so many fires and you're reacting to what's happening every day, that if you're not intentional about that, it does become about wages and the job as opposed to, Hey, you're part of a community, you're part of something like that. You're contributing to this bigger than you. So, so staffing and engagement of staffing is huge. Um, are there other, I think you mentioned three, are there other components to that that you see as common themes? Like for every provider where we're talking about these things?

Speaker 3 (33:48):

Yeah. I sort of come up. What I call is the childcare success model. And that is if you can, and this leads into the other ones, right? So there's a lot of people who do a lot of advertising to grow their enrollments. How do we advertise? How do we get the word out? How do we fill our centers? How do we get to a wait list? All right. And then they'll look at, once they do that, then there'll be like, how do we, how do we make the most of what we have? There really is a secret sauce that we believe in. This is what I see three 60, I think puts forward. Or at least, at least it's my philosophy. So I don't know Ryan, but, you know, I think it's been working. And that is that if you focus on your staff and the way that you look at presenting yourself to them to recruit, to onboard them, to then get them to speed as quick as possible and turn them from where you're investing in them to there actually really being an investment for you as an organization.

Speaker 3 (34:46):

If you can build them up, they're going to pay off for the parents. The parents are gonna really be engaged because the kids will be happy. You'll have consistency with your staff, your staff, which we have turnover in this industry from 40 to 80% in staff. So if you can really slow that revolving door, then you're going to find parents who were really happy that their toddler doesn't have a new teacher every six weeks. Okay. So then the parents are happier. So what does that do? Your best thing for your enrollment is your word of mouth. And so your word of mouth is really about what other parents say to people at that toddler birthday party, or, but when there's good things being said, a lot of times the good things that being said, don't come outside of your walls or your schools. And so, you know, everybody has like, Oh, you know, grade school, but you know, it's our little, well we help with, and our other pillar is, you know, how do you really get the brand out?

Speaker 3 (35:44):

What does your brand mean to people? What is your reputation mean? And why is your reputation so important in the community? And we believe that the reputation starts with your staff, because if your staff are talking positive about you, then your parents will be, and then if your parents are, then the community will be, you have great star ratings and people come in. So that's part of the, you know, the whole overall model. We also believe in as part of the second model too, is you really have to build your reputation, but you must protect your reputation in the childcare industry. It's, it's crazy at what risk your reputation is every single day. And you as an owner operator have very little control over it. I can tell stories that will make people's, you know, as they say their toes curl because of what happens, but they had no controller. And the next day you have families unenrolling simply because something happened and they weren't prepared to deal with it. So being prepared to deal with a crisis or being prepared to manage your reputation or fight back for something that may not have been, you know, at all your fault where even if there was something that happened because your center or someone in your center caused something, is how do you handle it? So

Speaker 4 (36:58):

I was just going to ask you, yeah, I was going to ask you to elaborate on that. And I don't know if you have like a quick example of that, because that's really interesting. I've heard from customers over the years that talk about, you know, look, it's so different today with social media and Yelp and all these places where somebody can just go say something online to post a review that you have to be really cognizant of in terms of how you engage with the community where, you know, it's different than it was 10 or 15 years ago. But when that does happen, can you give like a tactical example of how you go and address a situation or maybe an example?

Speaker 3 (37:34):

Yeah. Matter of fact, I'll give me real life on that. Um, it happened in my career to me, not just to our members. So early on, after I bought, you know, our centers, I had one location that, you know, I had five locations from one company and one location from another company, the one location from one company, you know, they thought they were the cat's Meow. When I bought them, they were like at the top of their game where the other five locations like, Hey, any kind of help, we'd love it. You know? Um, but that one location, uh, I came in and I listened to them. I, I heard them out and I thought they were going to be one type of culture. And they're totally different type of culture. Well, what ended up happening is after about a year of working with them, when I first bought them, I came back and said, you know, we've got to make some changes here because you know, we're really declining.

Speaker 3 (38:25):

We're declining in our staff and our families in our revenue. And we're really not on the right track. And I'm, you know, and I really need to finally have, I've listened to how have you guys been going about it? And I made some changes. And as I was making some changes, I actually had a staff member who was a director at that point in time, she had a plan in her plan was to walk out five staff members and herself all on one day and a February day and leave us completely out of ratio, leave us together. And then what they did is they went on to Twitter. They went on to social media, they went to everywhere. They could, they gave us negative star ratings. They were spreading rumors about us. They did everything they did. And they said are going to take down the center. That was their objective. So I call that the near death experience of a childcare business, because

Speaker 2 (39:17):

The day you want to wake up to, is it not, that's not the day you want to wake up too. Yeah.

Speaker 3 (39:22):

Right. I was waking up in the morning is, you know, I don't know, you know, um, you know, I was a former athlete. I'm six four, but you know, I've definitely have emotion and you know, I've passion. I was waking up every morning with dry heaves because I was like, I don't even know how to go into the office because it was such a disaster. We, I was running the toddler room for freaking two weeks. And I tell you that anybody in life, if you want to have, if you really want to catch yourself, that's why I give them like these teachers are amazing. And these directors are amazing because I was also running the director as my center while we were trying to find other teammates and staff, and we did build it up and it's been an amazing center since, but they actually, the former staff members came in and they did so much damage to my staff and to my families and to the community that we were devastated.

Speaker 3 (40:17):

And it was one of the reasons why I started inspire care. Three 60 was one of the main reasons I did, because I felt that I should never be in a situation just because the former director just thought it was her center mill. She never paid a dime for it. She just said it was like, it was her center and it was going to be her way or the highway. And she wasn't gonna take anybody else's influence. If I, if she wasn't gonna, you know, run it her way, then she was going to destroy it. And so what we did, you know, as part of with inspired care, three 60, and one of our big things underneath our, you know, our enrollment or growth division is Ben really the developer, identifying what your reputation is today, defining where it needs to go and creating a roadmap to where it goes and creating that roadmap.

Speaker 3 (41:01):

That's very actionable for our members, but also helping you protect yourself. So you never get in that situation where someone can not hold you hostage, whether they're a former employee, whether they're a former, uh, family member or whether it's just someone in the community that decides to troll you, you know, you put your life's work and your blood, you push on all the chips for your business and for you to be in a situation where everything you've done and all the hard work and the sweat and the tears you've put in to overnight have decide, eh, I'm going to hijack yet. And there's nothing you can do about it. And that's where I was. But that's where I learned. And I, and I figured we figured a way on how to do this from how you can manage all of your star ratings to manage your reviews, to managing your relationships with your parents and your staff to also, how do you handle an immediate crisis?

Speaker 3 (41:54):

You know, Friday afternoon, Ryan, you're running a center, someone calls you and says, Hey, listen, we had an issue with one of your teachers just happened to have this major issue. And it's going to go on the news tonight. What is your thought about it? You know, the news comes to you and says, and you're like, Oh boy, how do I handle this? You know, who do I talk to? Do I call my attorney? Do I call all my CPA? No, they're not going to be any help. Do I call a PR firm while it's Friday afternoon? What am I going to talk to? I don't even know where to start, but that's why we've created this safety net as part of what we're doing is because it's huge. Your reputation can make your break. So that's really, that's that second pillar.

Speaker 4 (42:33):

Yeah. That's amazing. And because I think a lot of what you just said, at least the way I would condense that or boil it down is, is being prepared. Like you said, you know, instead of waiting for something to happen and reacting in the moment, all of the things that you just described, me being a proactive owner, actually being intentional before something happens and building that roadmap out. So when something comes up and inevitably what it's going to be different degrees in different such situations for every owner, but something is going to come up and yeah.

Speaker 3 (43:06):

And when you think about it, like the reason when, when people use us, they use us for onboarding. They use us for HR. They use us for benefits. They use us for reputation, they uses for enrollment date. They use us for helping optimize your operations, which is the third pillar there. But it's funny because sometimes when we talk to our prospective members, they'll say I'm too busy. I have to be, I have to spend all the time in the classroom because I just can't get out of the classroom and they're on the gerbil wheel. Right. They're like, I can't get on like, but that's exactly what we do. We help you. So you can get out of the classroom. So you can start managing your business instead of being behind the counter, wearing the hat, being in your business. And part of that is tough.

Speaker 3 (43:50):

It's very difficult, but you need to take small steps to get in front of it. Because if not, you're always feel like in this industry, it's very easy to do. Cause I was doing it myself. You always feel like you're playing catch up, you know, but you use technologies, you use technologies like, uh, procure. I currently use ProCare in my schools and what have you. And so you use different technology to simplify your business, but sometimes you have to look at the bigger picture. Are you doing things because that's how you always did them or is there a better way? So you can get ahead of it, like your reputation. So when something happens, you're prepared or when you're trying to recruit, you've got a model in there to do it, you know, those kinds of things. So if I, I want

Speaker 2 (44:32):

To ask you one last business question and be respectful of your time, and then maybe a couple of other questions just to end the session. But if I heard correctly, three pillars, engaged staff, protecting your, your reputation or being proactive about your reputation and then optimizing operations. Yep. As you guys look forward now coming out of the last year, I know that's a common question and maybe it's getting, it's getting tired, talking about changes over the past year, but has it changed anything for you guys in terms of how you look at your centers and how you work with your members in terms of changes to how you operate or how you view the business?

Speaker 3 (45:11):

You know, it's another solid question, Ryan. Um, I would say that when, you know, we went through this, you know, last year prior to COVID starting, uh, not many of our members were like, Hey, we've got wait lists. We're doing well. We just need to find staff. Okay. You know, we, we're not having any issues, uh, for the most part, other than, you know, making sure we had a good step, then we all got hit by COVID. Our enrollments went through the floor and our staffing was all messed up in our operations were all that stuff. You know, our first thing that we did is we really, we, we actually stopped even presenting our solutions. What we want to do is we want it to be a resource for people. So we really got deep into like, you know, PPP and ERC money and how to really take advantage of all those things.

Speaker 3 (46:00):

So that's what we do today is we do a lot of that still. We really are trying to help people just become educated, sort of like what you're doing right here. Right. You're helping them get educated about the industry as much as you can, what we started to continue to do with our members and our prospective members for that matter is we, we really started to try to look at, you know, with the new norms that are out there, whether we like saying that, and I hate that phrase, but new norms, I really just don't want it.

Speaker 2 (46:28):

I've asked the same question so many times. And so we keep talking about the new norms and what we've learned through COVID, but the reality is it has shifted some things and change things. So

Speaker 3 (46:38):

It absolutely has. So when you look at, you know, what are some of the biggest issues again, you know, with turnover in staffing and I thought coming out of here, that we were going to have an issue with enrollment. Well, with, you know, most States limiting the amount of enrollments you could have, you know, enrollment started coming back, you know, as jobs were coming back, but there's a new model that's going on there now. And that is there's, there's not enough. Staff want to come back to just plenty of staff out there to be hired. The problem is, is people don't want to take jobs. They're not willing to take it. So the new things that we're really doing and we're talking about is very interesting and creative ways to offer a new model. And I hate to say, you know, because oftentimes we get, we get stubborn because we like, Hey, listen, this used to work.

Speaker 3 (47:28):

He used to work this way very well. But now that you have an audience of employees who are like, Hey, we need a slightly different business model because we've been taught, we can have this model. We can work from home or we can, you know, we don't have to work a full eight hours. So what we've done is we've really talked about how do you create flexible models? How do you deal with, you know, the, the very generous, sick time models that have been put out by the federal government, as well as different States and, you know, offerings, how do you work within a new paradigm and how do you do things such as offer like super affordable benefit programs and things of that nature. So that, you know, one of the things that we did, you know, we started a couple of years back researching, but we started implementing as we started implementing a real, uh, benefit program that could be super affordable because one of the things we found out through the whole COVID thing is so many people, especially in our industry just didn't have any place to go regarding really healthcare other than just emergency health care.

Speaker 2 (48:34):

So focusing on, yeah, some, some new flexible models and offering some things to, you know, recruit staff. Cause like you said, we have to get teachers off the sidelines and people back in, in, in ECE and childcare programs and preschools, I think that you're right. We've, we've heard that, that thread as well, that, um, enrollments are coming back, parents are going back to work. The staffing piece continues to be a topic for our industry. Do you Joanie, just, you know, maybe as a couple of last questions for, for fun questions and I, you know, I will, I will also say, um, you know, right before we finish the session, I'll make sure that, uh, uh, we put some information out for individuals that might want to tap into more of what you've been sharing and learn a little bit more about, um, you and your organization. We'll, we'll share your website and other information. Uh, but just for the fun of it, I looking at your bio on your website, I'm looking at favorite bands, favorite sport, favorite location, favorite food. So I've, I've got a couple of questions around that. So we get to know a little bit about Tony outside of inspire, uh, care three 60 favorite live concert or best live concert of all time for you was

Speaker 3 (49:47):

Ooh. Um, I would have to say in recent history was the foo fighters in Nashville. Uh, that was a rescheduled concert. Obviously it was not last year, but it was the year before. And, uh, um, my girlfriend and myself at the time went down to Nashville two years or a year and a half before that. And they had to cancel, we were literally in a car going to the cancer when the band canceled. And so we came back, the following year, went to that concert. David girl had his, a game on and literally just the whole place lost it. It was, it was a great event. Everybody part of it, they were all part of the show. So it was a great show.

Speaker 2 (50:30):

What was the venue in Nashville? What was the venue in Nashville?

Speaker 3 (50:34):

It was a Bridgestone. So it was at the Bridgestone arena that you know, is right there on Broadway. Uh, fantastic. The place was jammed. That was, you know, the great early on shows. I've seen a number of the problem I have. If you really got to know me, Ryan to a deeper level is I honestly see probably about 20 plus shows summer. Wow. Yeah. So I've got a problem.

Speaker 2 (51:00):

No problem. But, but the fact that you could point to the best show of all time chose it, must've been an amazing night, you know, where it's like, that was one that you could point to. So some, uh, on maybe a followup episode, we'll have to talk about what was the worst day for you the day the director and staff walked out or the day foo fighters canceled on your way to the concert, but that's another show. Um, favorite, all right. Here's the second one favorite live sporting event that you've ever seen in person?

Speaker 3 (51:26):

So favorite live sporting event would probably be when I lived in Atlanta and I did have the opportunity to attend, uh, where the Atlanta Braves were playing in the world series. And the thing that's sort of funny is I'm not a baseball fan at all. And so I'm really not a baseball fan, but Atlanta caught that city on fire back then. And that was in the late nineties when they had a huge, great pitching crew. It was out of Rochester, New York. So I got the Buffalo bills here and whenever they get score a touchdown, that could almost be a favorite event last year.

Speaker 2 (52:04):

It was the brave. Yeah, that was back John Smoltz, uh, Tom Glavine, Greg Maddix, that whole crew chipper Jones was there. So nice. Well, let me, let me end by saying this. This has been an amazing episode. I mean, Tony, I think there's going to be, you know, a lot of people, hopefully that listen to this that are going to be able to glean some, some wisdom for their individual situation. You know, for those that are listening, if you guys have interest in, in, you know, reaching out to Tony or finding more about inspire care three 60 it's Tony di Augustino that's D

Speaker 3 (52:37):

You have a better email address. Here we go. Here we go. Here we go. Tony T O N Y with a Y at inspire care, three 63, six zero, the So [email protected] inspired care. Three 60 is also the website.

Speaker 2 (52:57):

Tony. That was a lot of fun. Awesome interview, man.

Speaker 3 (53:00):

Well, no, I enjoyed it guys. It was a it's great. I, you know, you asked some good insightful questions and they're thoughtful, which was appreciated Ryan, and I know you put some effort into it because as I do, I do a lot of interviewing myself and there's a lot of ones that just drone on and, or put you in awkward situations. But I think you guys did a good job of being well-prepared for that too.

Speaker 2 (53:21):

I appreciate that. That's good feedback, you know, you make, yeah, you made it easy. You great. I mean, the

Speaker 1 (53:26):

Content on here was monies.

Speaker 3 (53:28):

It's going to be great. Good, good. I hope it helps out you guys in any way possible. You know, my style is always, I'm a big believer of pay it forward kind of thing. So if there's anything that we can do to help you guys out, um, you know, it always comes back to us in the long run. So, uh, anything we could do to help you out, and if you're, you know, uh, Francis, you know, just talk to Leah and we'll be sure to work with the guys to try to be helpful when we can.

Speaker 1 (53:54):

Yeah. And vice versa. Yeah. We're all part of the same community. So we appreciate it, Tony. It's good stuff. Thank you for listening to this episode of the childcare business podcast, to get more insights on ways to succeed in your childcare business, make sure to hit subscribe in your podcast app. So you never miss an episode. And if you want even more childcare business tips, tricks and strategies, head over to our resource [email protected] until next time.