First Person: Erica Keats, 38, owner, Kidville in Rockville


(D.A. Peterson/FOR THE WASHINGTON POST)
August 16, 2013

I’d only been laid off for two weeks from my job as an audiologist when we got the idea to own a franchise. Our son was going to the [Kidville] in Bethesda and absolutely loving it. It’s a lot like an adult gym in that there are classes, but you can also come and just play in the gym, except, of course, adults don’t have to bring their parents with them to supervise at the gym.

But it was 45 minutes in the car for a 45-

minute class, and I thought: Why don’t I bring something closer? I’m the kind of person who always has to be doing something. I love that feeling of accomplishment — and two weeks was too long apparently for me to go without pitching in.

As soon as we had our kids, it was like, “What are we going to do with them?” You can only walk around the mall so many times. You can’t go outside every day. You can only do so much on the playground before you hear, “Mom, I bored.” And parents want their kids to be involved in “enrichment.” We get a lot of nannies, and I know that moms who can’t be with their kids feel better knowing that they’re somewhere safe and clean, not just sitting around watching a movie. Parents really want their kids to fit in. I can see them relax when their kids make friends and do new things — even if it’s just jumping on a trampoline. It sounds cliched, but kids have fun here — that’s all that matters.

I still haven’t exhaled completely. We’re doing great for only being open six weeks — but it’s six weeks in the summer. We’re competing with the pool. We’re competing with camps and vacations. When the phone rings, I want to grab it and make that sale. On slow days, I want to walk out into the parking lot or wherever parents are and tell them and their kids about us. But I’m learning to trust. I’m learning everything — how to do interviews, deal with minor emergencies — everything. The hardest lesson is saying no. People want things for free. We’ve given away a lot of classes and trials just to get people through the door and let them see what we offer. I have to walk that line between being nice and filling this place and being a pushover.

When I see kids and parents come in the morning, having a rough day, tired and grouchy, and then leave giggling and asking when they can come back, that’s when I know it’s going to be okay. When the moms like you and tell other moms about you, that’s what really counts. My friend told me that when she told her co-workers she was going out to lunch with me, they were all like: “You know the owner of Kidville? We love that place.” I’ve never thought of myself like that, but it felt good.

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