Shared Service features like bulk purchasing can help family child care providers be more financially stable
Warren County-based family child care providers (FCCs) like Jenny Kok and Twyla Hardy know that tissues, paper towels and cleaning supplies will always be staples used every day in their home-based child care business. But they are expensive and take up precious space.
Yet, the task of keeping enough paper products and disinfectants in stock without balking at prices has been eased for FCCs who are part of the United Way of Northern New Jersey’s United In Care (UIC) program.
“I’m a huge believer in saving money. I love trying to save,” said Hardy, owner of Little Folks Family Childcare Center in Phillipsburg. “I like buying certain things in bulk like a lot of paper items and cleaning supplies I need to reduce the chance of flu and colds spreading.”
Launched during the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020, United In Care is designed to increase access to quality, affordable, and flexible child care in New Jersey. The program, created and led by United Way of Northern New Jersey, includes four networks in Warren, Morris, Gloucester, and Hudson counties, as part of a pilot project.
These networks are comprised of an established child care center serving as a hub resource for a group of five to 10 home-based providers, also called Family Child Care providers (FCCs). This shared services model is designed to help providers enhance their programs and gain greater financial stability.
COMBINING FORCES TO SAVE MONEY
Last year, United In Care was awarded a $50,000 grant from Reinvestment Fund to promote healthy eating in children within Warren County network, and it included provision for a bulk purchasing initiative to maximize the spending power of the group on necessities.
The grant enabled UIC to purchase large storage pantries, refrigerators, and freezers so the providers could hold large quantities of both fresh and frozen foods used in their programs, along with establishing a relationship between the network and a bulk provider of items they routinely need.
The bulk purchasing has been so successful, according to United In Care’s Child Care Specialist Amanda Krause DiScala, it is now available to all providers across all four networks.
The endeavor aligns with the program’s mission of increasing the quality of affordable child care programs to those who fall into the ALICE category (Asset Limited, Income Constrained, Employed), which often includes FCCs themselves.
Storage space was a problem for FCCs, DiScala said, along with the time-consuming job of searching for bargains and discounts, driving to stores then loading and unloading the vehicle of bags at home.
DiScala turned to NJ Shared Resources, an online knowledge platform run by the New Jersey Association for the Education of Young Children, and found management consulting vendor Food & Supply Source, which serves nonprofits.
After evaluating the needs of the providers and compatibility with potential bulk suppliers, the vendor recommended individual contracts between each provider and the vendor. DiScala estimates savings through bulk purchases will be between 10 and 30 percent, however a more detailed savings analysis will be made as the initiative moves forward. Providers are also encouraged to do their own cost analysis by comparing their prior spending to their current spending.
Stacey Cummins, director of Little Wonders Child Care Center which is the hub for the Warren County network, said even if the cost isn’t significantly cheaper, savings could be found in the form of convenience and time that can be used on myriad other aspects of running a child care business. The bulk purchasing initiative also increases their professionalism, exposing them to broader financial solutions, Cummins said.
Michele McEnroe, owner of Michele’s Family Child Care, said she easily spends $1,100 every two weeks on food and supplies. She has favored several outlets for her purchases but said the convenience of using one consistent supplier like Staples for tissues, paper towels, toilet paper and baby wipes is appealing. “I wasn’t recognizing how much time I was spending search for sales.” The savings of both time and gas are proving to be more beneficial than a few cents here and there on the products.
McEnroe also received a storage pantry and refrigerator/freezer through UIC and the Reinvestment Fund grant, a purchase she otherwise would not have been able to afford. This elates her because it allows her great space to accommodate her bulk purchases while keeping potential disorder in check.
“I love the extra storage space and how easily I can see what’s needed,” McEnroe said.