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More than 30 years ago, Arlene Caddow and Jane Meaney had a vision of a healthy, natural environment where children could play, learn and grow.
Today they run three successful and popular day nurseries, Westview and Shambles in Bradford-on-Avon, Wiltshire, and The Old School in Ascot, Berkshire.
Realising their ambition
As the business has grown, so their need for professional advice has become more complex. Two years ago, Arlene and Jane decided to change accountants because they wanted help to realise their ambition of incorporating the business – something they have achieved since becoming PKF Francis Clark clients.
Bristol-based partner Stuart Rogers and business services director Simon Weston provide regular advice on a variety of business issues, drawing on the specialist knowledge of colleagues across the firm as required.
“For the first time, I feel like I have accountants who actually understand the industry I’m in,” said Arlene. “All too often in the past I’ve dealt with accountants or banks that clearly didn’t know anything about childcare.
“The first time I spoke to Stuart, it was reassuring that I was speaking to somebody who understands that our industry is labour intensive by its very nature.
“It’s not just about the numbers, because somebody is leaving their precious child with you.”
With a background in education, Arlene opened her first nursery in Ascot in 1988 after spotting a gap in the market for affordable childcare.
“My husband and I both had to work to pay the mortgage, but there were no childcare facilities and childminders were few and far between in those days,” she said. “I found a dilapidated old building and we opened the first nursery in the area.
“I was 27 and didn’t look past the end of my nose – I just did what I did. The industry really took off about 10 years later.”
“We needed accountants who could help us.”
Jane soon joined the business, which expanded with the opening of Westview Day Nursery 20 years ago. And it wasn’t long before another chapter in Arlene’s career began.
Wanting to allow her dedicated management team more scope to run the nurseries, she stepped back from the day-to-day operations and focused her energies on opening and running a restaurant, cafe and outside catering business. After 16 years of serving loyal diners at the Fat Fowl, the changing face of the high street led to another turning point.
“When we opened, there were two restaurants in Bradford-on-Avon, and by the time we closed nearly every second shop was a restaurant or cafe,” said Arlene. “At the same time, there had been three huge housing developments, with lots of young families moving into the town.”
So, after securing planning permission, Arlene invested £70,000 in converting the Grade-I listed restaurant premises into The Shambles Day Nursery, which opened in 2019. Now employing around 60 people, she realised they had outgrown the partnership business structure.
“We had got to the stage where our wage bill is £100,000 a month. It’s remiss of you not to have a substantial part of that put aside in case something goes wrong, so every year we’d be hit with a massive tax bill. I was chasing my tail and was held back from building the business because I was paying out all this money.
“We wanted to go incorporated for a long time but had been advised against it by our previous accountant. We’d ended up in a complicated mess, in terms of who owned assets and so on, which made the incorporation process far from straightforward. We needed accountants who could help us do it.”
“There’s been huge support with everything.”
In January 2021, Blousie and Frank was incorporated – the limited company taking its name from the owners’ dogs – a milestone which was soon followed by the fresh challenges of the pandemic.
“When Covid hit, we’d just paid our tax bill and I was in a blind panic with 60 staff to pay and no idea what was going to happen,” said Arlene. “It’s been a logistical nightmare, but compared to other industries like retail, we’re very fortunate that it hasn’t had an adverse financial impact. The furlough scheme has been a great help, and we were lucky to be insured.”
Simon, who has been advising businesses of varying sizes for more than 30 years, said: “Arlene and Jane are an absolute pleasure to work with. It’s very rewarding to have helped them achieve their ambition of incorporation, as this will bring significant benefits in terms of tax savings as well as limiting their individual liability as directors.
“The incorporation process was led by Stuart, supported by Tania Donald in our Tax Advisory Service team, and we were able to call on the valuation expertise of our corporate finance team to assist. We’re now looking at other ways to make the business more efficient and make life easier for Arlene, Jane and their team.”
“I have a long-serving manager who is very capable, but I want her to be training staff and dealing with parents – I don’t need her doing payroll,” said Arlene.
“It’s always been important to me to understand everything in case anyone queried their salary, but the time has come to outsource our payroll because it’s become increasingly complicated and, at the end of the day, we aren’t experts at it. It frees us up to focus on what we are experts in – helping children to learn and develop confidence through curiosity and discovery.”
“I am a risk-taker, but I don’t like being out of control, so being able to see our accounts on an ongoing basis is what I need,” said Arlene. “We’re totally on top of it now, and I can relax in the evening knowing everything is done. It never used to be like that. In the past I would have left things until it became a major hassle.”
Arlene added that her overall experience of working with Simon and the team at PKF Francis Clark has been equally refreshing.
“At one stage we were with a bigger accountancy firm, but they were very old school and it felt like going into the headmaster’s office once a year. PKF Francis Clark are much more progressive and it’s more of an ongoing relationship.
“A lot of small businesses are jacks of all trades, and you need somebody who can explain things to you in plain English. In the past, I’ve dreaded speaking to accountants because they would speak in lingo I didn’t understand, but with PKF Francis Clark I’m never made to feel I’m asking a stupid question.
“Simon has been brilliant – he’s very patient, incredibly supportive and so approachable if ever I have a problem.
“There’s been huge support with everything. When I don’t understand something, they can explain it to me. It’s about having trust and faith in the people you work with.”
To find out how we can help your business thrive, contact our Bristol team today.