Room to grow

Tendercare Children’s Center’s two Vancouver schools are growing along with the children they serve.

Founded locally, Tendercare’s original school opened on South Lieser Road in 1978, and the second opened on Northeast 118th Avenue in 1999.

Jack and Rebecca Burton took over the business, which serves children 4 weeks old through kindergarten age, in 2003. They originally entered into a lease agreement for the business and buildings, and have since purchased both.

When the Burtons took over, the Lieser Road location was operating at 80 percent capacity with 27 enrolled children, and the 118th Avenue site was serving only two children.

Now, the 118th Avenue school serves about 30 children daily. In May 2007, the Burtons completed a $40,000 renovation of its second floor, providing space to bring the licensed daily capacity from 25 to 46 children.

The Burtons hope to see it operating at capacity by the end of 2008.

In 2009, the company plans to begin a $150,000 remodel, adding 1,000 square feet to the Lieser Road facility. They plan to finish by the end of August 2009 and increase that branch’s capacity from 29 to 49.

To break even, each school needs to serve about 30 children daily. Tendercare was first profitable under the Burtons in 2005. It saw slight losses due to remodeling in 2006 and greater loss in 2007, when enrollment at the 118th Avenue site dropped 40 percent under management of a former employee.

That branch has since recovered, and the company has been profitable in 2008. The Burtons did not disclose financial information.

“It took us a couple months to see our numbers were way down,” said Jack Burton, who is an instrument technician for the city of Portland. Rebecca Burton works at home with the couple’s two sons.

The company’s infant care is $775 a month, and care for children 1 year and older is $550.

The Washington State University Small Business Development Center for Southwest Washington helped Tendercare expand its business plan in 2006.

“We went in with (our business plan in) a 1-inch binder and when we were done, it fit in a 3-inch binder,” said Rebecca Burton.

That work made it easier for Tendercare to qualify for a loan in June 2006 to buy the business and fund remodels.

Another endeavor has been drawing long-term workers.

Tendercare’s turnover dropped about 50 percent in the last eight months since adding classroom work sessions to interviews and integrating candidate feedback from current employees.

The company has 14 employees, two of which are full-time.

“We’ve had (candidates) that are instantly interacting with the kids and others that stand there with their hands in their pockets,” said Rebecca Burton. “The atmosphere in the room is different if you have somebody there just because it’s a job.”

Tendercare Children’s Center

Jack and Rebecca Burton, owners

411 S. Lieser Road and 3108 N.E. 118th Ave., Vancouver

360-693-8578, 360-260-2763

 

Charity Thompson can be reached at cthompson@vbjusa.com.