When we met up with Liz Sanchez, it was before the pandemic shutdown. We were interviewing her for UCEDC’s 2019 Annual Highlights, and she shared the story of how she got started with I Excel Child Care in Perth Amboy, New Jersey.
Ms. Sanchez was a single mother working in corporate America for Citigroup when she found herself confronted with a problem. Her son was about to go off to Kindergarten, which was great, but none of the local before and aftercare programs offered transportation to or from school. Instead of being knocked down by this problem, she decided she would create her solution. Fifteen years later, she operates two locations, and pre-pandemic she was providing care for over 200 children and employing approximately 25 people.
When we asked her what advice she would give to small business owners and entrepreneurs who are just starting out, she said, “market research is key.” But she didn’t leave it there. She brought it back to her personal experience. She said, “generally, a good rule of thumb is, is there something that you’re missing in life that you would think others would be missing.” Liz continued, “it’s generally something you’re missing out on in life that you can relate to and that you know how you feel being without it, and you know what hardships come to you by not having it in your life.”
While Ms. Sanchez offered this insight before the pandemic had shut down non-essential business in New Jersey, her message holds. Necessity really is the mother of invention, and understanding the customer’s needs should be at the heart of running any small business. When the world is perpetually changing around us, the best we can do is ask ourselves what the people we serve need right now and how we can best meet that need?
We checked back in with Liz to see how she and I Excel Child Care have managed through the pandemic. She told us that she received an email from the state in March explaining the criteria and CDC guidelines I Excel Child Care would need to meet to remain open as an emergency site for essential workers. True to form, she implemented all the necessary protocols to accommodate essential workers only, as per the state guidelines, for April, May, and June. In July, she was able to open back up to the public, and now she is at full capacity.
While I Excel Child Care is primarily a before and after school care facility, they now operate on a full-day schedule offering support to children and their families in this new virtual learning environment. As Liz put it, “we will continue to serve the community as best we can and adapt to the changes and the things that will keep us afloat and keep us driving our purpose, which is to serve the community and working parents.”