All4Women Entrepreneurs is a monthly feature where we put the spotlight on amazing female entrepreneurs starting businesses in South Africa. This month we spoke to Liz Senior (who started kids development progamme, Clamber Club) to find out how she built a business that reaches thousands of children a month, all from her backyard.
- Entrepreneur: Liz Senior
- Company name: Clamber Club
- Industry: Childhood development and entertainment
- Year started: 1990
- Website: clamberclub.com
Working with children isn’t easy – but for Clamber Club founder Liz Senior it came naturally. Liz is a trained occupational therapist with a passion for childhood development, and improving kids’ physical and mental health. Turning this passion into a successful business took Liz over a decade of hard work, but it was worth it.
Clamber Club’s humble beginnings
“I started Clamber Club in my own back yard in Dunkeld, Johannesburg, running gross motor classes for remedial schools. Parents saw this and asked if we could bring our equipment to their children’s parties, and the business started growing. When I had my own children a few years later, I started running classes in our lounge with friends and their children. Friends would bring their children over to play and soon by word of mouth I had other moms joining us. As the business grew, I needed more space and we built the structure and the garden we still operate from today,” says Liz.
Although it started as a children’s playgroup, Clamber Club has grown into an interactive sensory motor programme offered to babies and toddlers as young as 2 months old. The programmes also teach parents and caregivers how to develop their children through play.
Clamber Club groups explore physical, emotional and cognitive development through play. The extensive programme developed by Liz through her experience as an occupational therapist and mother has helped thousands of children in the last 29 years. “The reward is seeing how the work we do impacts children’s lives and their ability to learn,” says Liz.
As well as the core Clamber Club programme, Liz has expanded her business to provide fun kids’ entertainment and venues for children’s parties, CDs and DVDs, school sports classes and even T-shirts and toys!
How did Liz do it?
As a student, Liz got her first taste of entrepreneurship by selling jewellery she had made. Although Clamber Club wasn’t her first entrepreneurial project, Liz says the toughest hurdle she had to overcome was raising the capital. And getting Clamber Club off the ground wouldn’t have been possible without the support of her family.
“My husband was behind me 100%. When the business started to grow and I knew I needed money for equipment, my brother-in-law also made an investment in my business and I couldn’t have done it without them. We had small children of our own who I could involve in testing out the activities,” she says.
Liz also credits a lot of her success to getting people with the right skills involved in her project. As an occupational therapist, Liz had the skills necessary to work on the operational side of Clamber Club, but running a business was a whole new kettle of fish.
“Getting an accountant on board turned my business around completely,” she says.
Balancing the books and ensuring her business was on the right financial path was of vital importance and Liz couldn’t have done that without professional help. As her business grew, Liz employed more professionals with the skills she needed (but didn’t have) to run her business smoothly and efficiently.
Franchising and growing the business
Seven years into successfully running Clamber Club from her garden, Liz was approached with the first offer to open a franchise of her business.
“Our first franchisee was a mom who was passionate about childhood development. She approached me about starting her own Clamber Club and we started a second franchise that is run and operated independently,” she says.
65 franchises later, Liz says the unique demands of franchising made her formalise her business even more. Creating structured lessons to guide the new Clamber Clubs and ensuring she gave detailed explanations of her methods and training to her franchisees helped ensure kids got the same great experience, no matter which franchise they attended.
Constant communication with franchisees also gave Liz insights into her market’s needs and inspired her to offer parents new products, like kids’ party entertainment.
Franchising isn’t easy
Having a passion for children is essential to running a Clamber Club franchise, but passion isn’t enough.
Even though Clamber Club has proven its success rate as a business over the years, it still isn’t easy for new franchisees to get financing. Liz explains that “there are many moms and young graduates who have the passion to run a Clamber Club; they are open to learning how we do things and can’t wait to teach parents and children, but they are held back by a lack of funding.”
If you can secure funding though, franchisees find that Clamber Club offers them a lot of support, from lesson plans and training to access to their finance and admin system. Opening a Clamber Club franchise has allowed many women to be their own boss and become financially independent.
Mindful growth for Clamber Club
Through word of mouth, pre-school programmes and Clamber Club parties, the Clamber Club brand has grown across South Africa. Although expansion is always good for business, Liz says she is very mindful of how her business grows.
“Brand and image are very important. Whenever there is an opportunity to expand we have to consider how this will benefit Clamber Club and how this expansion will affect our brand. Anything relating to our brand must reflect our values, our passion for child development and must be done right or not at all,” says Liz.