Tough Times in the Beginning but Perseverance Pays Off
While establishing and running their business has been a fulfilling journey for both, it was by no means smooth sailing. “We did the sums and planned everything to a tee, expecting the business to run on autopilot. However, as life often does, it did not go this way,” says Ms Tan.
The school faced a crisis in 1998, a year after opening — it ran into financial difficulties and operated at a loss. The two founder-directors then realised that they had to take the reins and have a hands-on approach to running the company’s operations. Still holding their full-time jobs as teachers at the time, the two working mothers would head down to their playschool after work with their young children in tow to make sales calls and straighten the accounts.
Ms Tan admits that those were tough times. “Our kids were really young so they slept on mattresses in the classroom while we worked. We also didn’t take a salary during this period and only broke even after three years,” she says.
While Josiah Montessori pulled through those rough beginnings, Ms Tan notes that, like any other SME, they still have constant challenges. “For example, a few years back, we experienced a terrible drought of teachers. On top of that, early childhood courses were extended by 18 months and teachers’ salaries were raised between 30 and 40 percent, causing our margins to shrink 65 percent. Increasing staff salaries and higher expectations are something we still have to face, just like most other SMEs.”
Despite the challenges, things have moved successfully along since their financial crisis in 1998. Josiah Montessori now boasts branches in Suntec City Mall, Changi Business Park, Tampines and Kallang, along with over 100 staff.
Describing herself and her business partner as “educationists at heart”, Ms Tan says setting up and running their business has been a journey from the start and one they could not have done so well without partners such as SPRING Singapore (now Enterprise Singapore1) and the International Enterprise Singapore (IE) (now Enterprise Singapore1).
Ms Tan shares that the company started engaging with SPRING (now Enterprise Singapore1) as early as 2004, learning more about running their business and the importance of having sound business strategies in place. Through SPRING (now Enterprise Singapore1), they were introduced to International Enterprise (IE) (now Enterprise Singapore1) Singapore in 2011, which opened their eyes and minds to international markets and gave them the courage to expand their schools and services.