New business owners don’t often fully appreciate the importance and work involved in sourcing the right property to fulfil the long-term plans of their operation. With plenty of other tasks at hand, location isn’t seen to be as vital a cog to the business as it should be. So why is finding the perfect property central to the success of a business? And, for a developer, what gives a property the edge when it comes to market appeal for investors or business owners?
Investing in a team of property experts, Monkey Puzzle Day Nurseries goes the extra mile to select prime real estate for their franchised nursery settings. Here, Sophie Hailey, Monkey Puzzle’s Acquisitions Manager, reveals what to look for when sourcing the perfect property.
Why should developers look for buildings to cater for early years?
The UK Government recently announced plans to provide up to 30 hours of free childcare for three and four-year olds each week. The reforms will expand to all eligible children from nine months to five years-old by 20251. If you combine this with data from the Office for Standards in Education, Children’s Services and Skills (Ofsted), result shows that there are nearly 27,000 providers of childcare on non-domestic premises – nurseries, pre-schools and other group settings – and so the demand for places will only grow2.
With more children about to enter the system, we need to be ready to give them the space they need to learn and grow. At Monkey Puzzle, to fulfil our current and projected future demand, we’re looking to open a minimum of 30 additional nurseries by 2028. As someone working in the property acquisition team, I am ready for a busy few years!
For anyone interested in the industry, whether our franchisees at Monkey Puzzle or property developers, being in the know about sourcing – or in fact fulfilling the need for! – the perfect property will put you ahead of the curve.
How does the process work?
We are the UK’s largest nursery franchise so our process for property acquisition needs to be watertight. We start by consulting with the franchisee over what their budget is and if they have any preference of area.
The team will then go about finding suitable sites for them before placing an offer. Consulting solicitors and planners is the next stage and once that has all gone through, we move onto the building work. Once completed, the building is handed over to the franchisee and the nursery launches.
What are the common issues and queries over securing property for a nursery?
One of the most frequent enquiries we receive from franchisees relates to rent and building costs. We think it’s important to take the stresses of property acquisition away from them and as a leading franchisor, we are perfectly positioned with the expertise and years of experience to do that for our franchisees.
In terms of issues with location, knowing where to direct your research is a great place to start. We use market-leading demographic software to provide us with the latest data and detailed analysis on each location. We tend to find areas with low population levels wouldn’t be able to support our settings. Also, for long term sustainability, it’s important to understand the proportion of young families and their commutability to any setting to ensure there is a strong customer base.
Another thing to look out for is the competitors nearby. In a city centre location, there could be an abundance of nurseries competing against each other. It is important to look at the fees of the providers in the area – if a number of them opt for a vastly different payment structure, your business model might struggle to get off the ground.
What would be the perfect nursery location?
The perfect property isn’t just nailed down to one location. What works in London might not work for the Midlands.
In a perfect world, we’d look for a property with great street frontage within a strong population. The non-negotiables would be it needs to be easily accessible either via vehicle or on foot. The site also needs to be one building, preferably with all the rooms at ground floor level but we do have plenty of Monkey Puzzle settings across two or three floors.
Business owners may be put off by the idea of a rural location, but we have a number of franchisees successfully running nurseries a little off the beaten track. These sites can offer more outside space for our children and if they’re near a farm, it can act as a USP for the property, attracting parents and carers from further afield that maybe looking for a different experience.
Does Ofsted have any requirements developers need to be aware of?
The short answer is yes! We could find the perfect location but if it didn’t cater to Ofsted’s regulations then the nursery can’t be operational.
Each child requires a certain amount of space, for example two and three-year-olds need 2.5m2 per child3. Essentially, every building has a maximum capacity. Being familiar with the rules and regulations is a necessary consideration when investing in the premises. Ofsted also requires access to outdoor play spaces; they don’t have to be on the property but easily accessible at the very least. I recommend to our franchisees to take the time to read the framework for early years education provision thoroughly!
You need to make sure everything is in order as before the nursery’s launch Ofsted will inspect to ensure it is a safe, secure and suitable premises for children.
Sophie concludes that, “The property market is always changing. You need to be ready to keep up with all the latest technologies and regulations. We’re looking to roll out a 3D virtual property tour to help our franchisees visualise how our nurseries will look once they’re fully furnished – this service will be in place by mid 2024.
“My advice for any property developers would be to have an open mind. If a building becomes available that has a large capacity and outdoor space, being aware of all the requirements for a nursery setting might open your horizons to lots of options. I’m biased but with the demand growing, early years settings could be more than a prudent purchase for your portfolios.”
Sophie Hailey is the Acquisitions Manager at Monkey Puzzle Day Nurseries. She works within the franchise team supporting the network on all property related matters.
1 BBC News, Public investment in childcare, March 2023
2 Gov UK, Childcare providers and inspections survey, March 2023
3 Gov UK, Statutory framework for early years, July 2023