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Buying a nursery

Interview with...

Sarah & Neil Dudman
Both 32
Sara, a nurse; Neil, in engineering
Business name:
Flexible nursery care and education for children aged between two and five
When bought:
Two years ago
Price paid:
Buying a nursery

Having worked for several years as a nursery nurse for under-fives, Sara Dudman dreamed of running her own day nursery.

And along with her husband Neil, who is the same age, Sara, now 32, realised that dream before the end of her 20s.

Losing an unhappy customer or a staff member leaving is definitely the worst part

Neil Dudman, nursery buyer

In 2004, the couple, who have children themselves, bought an Ofsted-registered nursery in Surrey, offering flexible nursery care and education for children aged between two and five, and providing full-time childcare 50 weeks a year.

"Sara and I look after different sides," explains Neil, whose background is in engineering. "I run the business side and she looks after the customer service and care and educational issues."

The couple consulted their family, as well as Business Link and their accountant, before buying a business. "Combined with my experience in the family business, the advice we received pushed us in the right direction.

"We looked at the market, the potential of the business, and the previous owners and how they ran the business." Getting the right price was a simple case of looking on the internet at the valuations of similar set-ups.

Finding the capital to meet that valuation, however, was more of a challenge, although it was all resolved happily. "In the end we remortgaged the house and took out two personal loans.

"We're happy with the way things went. There isn't much we would do differently if we had to go through the whole process again." But they still learnt of one thing in particular to be wary of. "Do not trust anyone in business transfer. Find the information you need for yourself.

"If people do it for you, make sure they are accountable. If it feels right then do it, but if it doesn't, or there is one niggling doubt, just walk away."

All their hard work paid off. A year after opening, the nursery was on the shortlist of five for the Business Newcomer of the Year award at the 2005 Nursery Management Today Awards. They were eventually named runners up.

That was one of the highs of the first 12 months - but there have been lows too. "Losing an unhappy customer or a staff member leaving is definitely the worst part," says Neil. "You end up taking things quite personally.

"But now I have my own business I'm much happier. The flexible hours allow us to spend some of the daytime with the children and work during the evenings when they're in bed. We both work hard for the family to succeed."

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