New York Kids Club founder Pam Wolf built a $13 million business by giving New York tots and their moms five-star treatment.
When Pam Wolf left work to have her first child in 1991, she told her recruitment firm partner she’d be back in two weeks.
But she fell in love with her first daughter, Jessica, and a second, Jenna, 15 months later. She never got around to going back.
Wolf was thrilled with her growing family, but couldn’t deny the pull of the business world. "I enjoyed being a mom, but the looseness of the day was confusing to me," she says. "I’m the kind of person who has to be somewhere every hour."
She tried her hand at other jobs, but nothing quite clicked. Finally, amid the flurry of her daughter’s music, art, and dance classes, an idea struck: why not create a business that would turn her entrepreneurial gears and keep her kids close by?
The company she envisioned is now New York Kids Club, a multi-location children's educational enrichment facility based in New York City that offers unique classes, thematic camps, and special events for children eight weeks to 10 years old. Since launching in 2001, the company has grown from an enrollment of 500 students in its original Upper West Side location to 40,000 company-wide. New York Kids, which boasted $13 million in revenue in 2012 and a three-year growth rate of more than 84 percent, is one of the companies vying for a spot on the 2013 Inc. 5000. As applications arrive, we thought it would be worthwhile to shine a spotlight on some of these fast-growing private companies. (For more information and to apply, go here.)
But it almost didn’t happen at all. When Wolf first came up with the idea for New York Kids in 2001, her husband was dead set against it. "He said it was too expensive and that I didn’t understand this business well enough to go into it," she recalls. Now her husband’s initial reluctance is something of a family joke: "We’ll be at a cocktail party and I’ll hear him say, 'we’re in the children’s enrichment business,'" she says, chuckling.
Flying solo, Wolf used $1 million of her own savings to launch her first location, and with no track record had to push hard to get a commercial landlord to rent to her. New York Kids now boasts nine locations in the New York area and a tenth in Beijing--all company-owned. Offerings range from a cost of $550 to more than $15,000, depending on the type and frequency of classes.
While a high-end educational facility may not seem novel in New York City, Wolf says she created something unique by reinventing an existing model and bringing it to a higher level. Her chief concern is a laser-like focus on customer service and hospitality, and she draws inspiration from an unlikely place: high-end hotels. For example, she insists her staff learn every adult’s name in addition to every student’s within three weeks--no small task in a space teeming with parents, grandparents, and extended family.
With that model in place, Wolf sees limitless opportunity to expand and grow in the city she loves. "Every neighborhood that I thought 10 years ago would never be appropriate, like Williamsburg, Harlem, Hudson Yards--is filling up in front of our very eyes with kids," she says. "Opportunity is everywhere."
JULIE STRICKLAND covers start-ups, small businesses, and entrepreneurial endeavors of all kinds for Inc. Her work has been published in Brooklyn Based and City Limits in New York, the Free Times in Columbia, SC, Real Travel Magazine in London, and Daegu Pockets in South Korea. She lives in New York City. @Jules5168