By Alex Gallagher
After seeing its waitlist soar to nearly 50 families, creating a nearly year-long backlog, Whiz Kidz Preschool founder/CEO Martha Picciao decided her best option to accommodate families seeking day care for children ages 5 and younger was to open a second facility in Scottsdale.
The new facility has a targeted opening date of June 6 and will open in the former 8,500-square-foot building that was home to Sunrise Preschool on Frank Lloyd Wright Boulevard for over a decade. It can host about 180 students.
“Our Scottsdale location has been open for six years, and we’ve had a waitlist going for quite some time,” Picciao says.
After seeing a rebound in the wake of a 40% enrollment decline during the early days of the pandemic, Picciao quickly saw a surging demand as parents struggled to balance caring for a child while working from home.
“Our work-from-home parents ended up coming back once they realized how tough it was to get work done with little kids at home,” Picciao says.
Then came additional factors that extended the waitlist to grow from six months to a year, depending on children’s age, which is a high demand for care of younger kids.
“The demand is exponential, and the younger they are, the longer the waitlist,” Picciao says. “Between other centers either being out or being understaffed, I’m assuming that’s why there’s such a demand.”
The demand eventually reached a point where Picciao felt it was time to begin looking for a second space.
“Our Realtor was always looking at when things would come up, and when this location became available, he immediately let us know. We went and looked at it, and we decided to go for it,” she says.
Although she knew she needed space to accommodate more students, the facility had several factors that Picciao found appealing.
“The classrooms are spacious. They have great lighting and great access. It was built with children in mind, and it fits the bill for what we were looking to have in centers,” she says.
She also loved that the new space is a five-minute drive from Whiz Kidz Preschool’s existing Scottsdale location off Scottsdale Road and Cactus Road.
“Because we personally have a demand, it made sense that we could send overflow families to a new facility if it works for their commute,” Picciao says.
With the space procured, Picciao admits there were some major hurdles to clear in preparation for the June 6 opening.
“We’ve been lucky enough to gather some of the major furnishings, but the downside is that the cost of supplies like diapers, wipes, lunches and snacks has gone up,” she says. “For now, we’re making do and we’ve had to adjust.”
However, the thing she had the most trouble securing was a staff.
“As a caregiver and an entrepreneur, it is so hard for me to not be able to serve when there is a need,” Picciao says. “When we saw this opportunity, we went back and forth about whether or not we would be able to staff it, but right now our biggest pinpoint is hiring.”
Picciao hopes to lure in as many as 20 employees by offering a base pay of between $15 to $20 an hour and benefits.
“We not only want to offer the best care, but we also want to offer the best pay and benefits to our employees to attract that quality staff member,” she says.
Picciao is looking for employees who have at least one year of paid experience in a child care facility and prefers that applicants have at least an associate degree in child development.
Picciao is also hoping that the summer will serve as an acclimation period for staff ahead of an expected rush near the beginning of the school year in August.
“We figured giving ourselves a couple of months to get acclimated and get our bearings in place gave us time to grow slowly,” she says.
Picciao’s next goal is to get the staff trained on how to make kids feel at home while they are inside of a Whiz Kidz Preschool facility.
“Our biggest goal truly is to create a home away from home,” she says. “We want to have a safe and clean space with loving and caring staff and then offer hands-on learning in a fun environment.”
She has also expressed interest in expanding but cites the scorching real estate market as a challenge.
“We would like to open in other areas of the Valley, but with the market being as hot to find locations as it is a home, this seemed to be our only opportunity,” Picciao says.