Tricia Howarth, Founder and Chief Executive Officer of The Lifespan Development Centers is the embodiment of the Pied Piper of Hamelin. It is a vision of both parents and children tripping and skipping in laughter as they joyously follow behind the Piper. They are all mesmerized by the wonderful tones of the delightful care and meaningful curriculum provided with a deep passion from this benevolent Piper’s dream.
When passion is present, greatness will naturally arise. This Wilmington, Delaware, resident has graced her community with the love of caring for children from the age of fourteen. Tricia volunteered to care for children during summer camps. Her actual career began at the early age of sixteen when she applied to work at an early education center where she had volunteered. By the time Tricia was a sophomore at the University of Delaware studying early education; she had four years’ experience and was managing a dozen employees as an assistant director. Her post-college experience included being contracted by a non-profit organization where she organized childcare locations for preschool children and after-school programs within her community. The culmination of her experience accelerated her to a position as Director in a branch of a national corporate childcare facility. She remained in this position for 15 years earning many awards for her top administrative leadership. She acquired knowledge of all aspects of the business side of childcare. With that knowledge, The Lifespan Development Centers went from a concept to launch within five months.
Tricia attributes the apex of her drive, ambition, and passion to the quality of family values and work ethic that she experienced in the manner that she was raised. Both of her parents are Professors at the University of Delaware. Her mother is a Computer Science Professor and her father enjoys teaching Chemical Engineering after retiring as a Chemical Engineer from DuPont. There were many lessons learned as in striving to be better today than you were yesterday. Also, instilled was the unique wisdom of investing money in experiences rather than the whimsical purchases of just buying “stuff”. Tricia prefers travel experiences because they will remain in your memories for a lifetime while the newest video game will be obsolete in a year or two.
Tricia is an athlete and a mother of fourteen-year-old twins. This family enjoys working hard and playing hard. Ms. Howarth and her son are avid soccer fans while she and her daughter spend their time kayaking and taking in Broadway shows. In the meantime, Tricia stays focused both mentally and physically by swimming, biking and running. She is currently training to compete in a half Ironman in June covering 70.3 miles.
How did you get started With The Lifespan Development Centers? What inspired you to start this business?
Working with children and being around children is what I have always wanted to do. I worked for a childcare company for fifteen years. I loved it. I knew that we were a large part of the lives of our children and their families. We want to make sure that we are addressing the needs of each individual child. As the director and operations manager for the school, I had the opportunity to learn the business side of child care provider services. The corporate side had their requirements. There are many legal requirements, both state and local. We want to make sure that we are addressing the needs of each child. After 15 years working with this company, I was very well educated on every aspect of operations. I decided there was no reason why I couldn’t do this on my own. The Lifespan Development Centers was opened in time for the start of the school year in 2014.
How do you make money?
The Lifespan Development Centers are open Monday through Fridays for families. We charge a fee for each child’s care. The parent typically pays the fee, and we partner with the state to collect a subsidy available to families in financial need that offsets their costs.
How long did it take for you to become profitable?
We started generating a profit within the first nine months.
When you were starting out, was there ever a time you doubted it would work? If so, how did you handle that?
In the beginning unexpected challenges arose, many were frustrating. Being self employed is not remotely close to being an employee. The weight of total responsibility was daunting. I learned to become very good at not overreacting. Instead, I became proactive in my approach and began to preempt challenges ahead of time. Also, networking with peers who are entrepreneurs and business owners in such a customer-driven business provided incredible support.
How did you get your first customer?
There was a couple who were moving into the area. They came to look at houses over the weekend. We are not open on weekends so they had their own personal tour of our facility. They ended up as our first customer and staying with us as lifelong customers.
What is one marketing strategy (other than referrals) that you’re using that works really well to generate new business?
I am always out in the community. No matter where I am I help in the community. I talk, listen and ask questions. I hear what my customers need and want. For example, we offer soccer in our curriculum. I included soccer because I noticed that children in the same age group were playing soccer at local parks on weekends. It appeared to be difficult for the children to leave their parents and go play. Children were more cooperative when they went to play soccer with their teachers. So, we adapted to the need of our children and soccer became a part of our weekly curriculum.
What is the toughest decision you’ve had to make in the last few months?
The growth at our current location has reached its physical limit. Do we stay at this enrollment cap or change locations? It is really a big risk. We recognize that we may lose a few families with a location change but we also recognize the need to serve more families in the community. We are currently exploring the area for a larger building.
What do you think it is that makes you successful?
My love for what I do and the passion in the way I communicate it. I think that naturally comes through to everyone, no matter who I am speaking with. As the owner, I am the ultimate cheerleader for Lifespan! The children are happy and learn while in our care. When they see me, they make me feel like a rock star. It’s humbling but also its proof that we’re doing everything right for them.
What has been your most satisfying moment in business?
My most satisfying day was when we had the ribbon cutting ceremony for the school. Cutting that ribbon felt amazing! I always loved what I do. But this was mine. It was my dream come true. That day, there was so much support. I was so proud of how far I had come. The team of teachers and families supporting me reinforced anything is possible.
What does the future hold for your business? What are you most excited about?
We look to open a second Lifespan Development Centers. We want to expand and fill the underserved need for quality child care and early education. We want to be a household name in my community. As a matter of fact, there is a phone app game that challenges you to guess the logo of well-known companies around the world. My kids and I played it together on a road trip one summer. We agreed it would be so awesome when we see Lifespan’s logo on that phone app!
What business books have inspired you?
The Four Hour Workweek by Tim Ferriss. It helps me focus on time well-spent growing my business, while also being a good role model to others at demonstrating positive business results. I’ve learned to recognize the difference between working in your business versus working on your business. The latter is what gets results. The former is quicksand.
What is a recent purchase you have made that’s helped with your business?
We recently purchased two strollers for our toddler classes. One holds six children the other holds four children. It is just to make it easier and faster for our teachers to get around on the campus with their classes. This just makes it much easier and safer for them to use our outdoor campus. We have a lovely outdoor classroom, and the teachers agree the strollers have positively enhanced their time spent exploring together.
What is the single most important value that separates you for other childcare centers?
This is a business that is driven by trust. You are leaving your most precious little people in the care of perfect strangers. I have been doing this in the same area for more than two decades. To have so many people trust me with their children and they refer me to their friends just humbles me. If you tour any other center then tour my center, the only reason why they would not choose my center is location. I will do everything short of moving my building to have them join us. I have such a sense of pride knowing that my name is associated with such a high level of trust. It is a wonderful badge to wear. It is such an honor to have the trust of a parent.
We have a new baby who was a preemie of six weeks who is 4 months old now. His father is a law enforcement officer and his mother works in HR for a large corporation. Being a police officer, he has a heightened awareness of others. After the tour he told his wife that he thought my passion may not have been authentic. But after a few weeks, he had changed his mind and admits I’m the real thing!