M&M 24 Hour Daycare – South Bronx, NY
“Life doesn’t always go according to plan, but with perseverance and hard work these setbacks can led to new opportunities,” says Milagros “Millie” Carbajal, who at eight months pregnant was laid off from her job at a hotel where she’d worked for almost a decade.
In 2010, while searching for a new job in the hospitality industry and childcare for her two children, Millie discovered that there were no daycares in the South Bronx that could accommodate late hotel shifts. That’s when Millie’s entrepreneurial instincts kicked in. With the money she had in her 401K, Millie opened M&M 24 Hour Daycare, a licensed, at-home daycare that offers 24-hour services to parents with extended work hours. Today, with the help of her family, community and a $50,000 EGF SmartloanTM, Millie has opened up additional locations, with another in progress.
Here’s how Millie, in her own words, turned her setbacks into a successful business that has quickly filled a void in her South Bronx community.
M&M has a unique business model. Can you tell me what separates M&M from other daycares in your community?
The fact that we offer 24-hour services makes our program very unique. When I was searching for jobs and childcare, I ran into the same problem that many working parents face: finding a daycare that could accommodate my extended hours. We no longer live in a purely 9 to 5 world and so many parents, especially those in the South Bronx, struggle balancing work and childcare. I’m proud that we get to help these parents and fill this need in the community.
Another thing that really makes us stand out is that we offer a sense of intimacy for families. Many parents in the Bronx send their children to big, overcrowded schools and daycares. At M&M we make it our top priority that our children and their parents feel seen, heard and, most importantly, loved.
What are some challenges you encountered while opening your business?
I had no idea how to start a business and I had no experience working in childcare. Before this, I don’t think I had ever even said the word “entrepreneur.” So, my lack of knowledge and resources was a huge challenge. When I first started, I was so focused on getting my Group Family Daycare license that I didn’t really think about how I was going to attract clients. I really thought that the kids would just run in and everything would work itself out from there. I didn’t have a marketing strategy or much knowledge on how to set up a learning environment, create a curriculum or even get my finances in order. I basically taught myself everything.
How has M&M grown and expanded since opening?
The first two or three years of business were very hard. I sold practically everything I had of value and I even cashed out the 401K I had from my hotel job. In fact, M&M was initially run out of my apartment, and there were times when I struggled to pay rent because I only had a few clients. Then one day people started calling about our services. That’s when I really noticed a shift in the business. I started ramping up marketing and promotion and sure enough, two years after that we went into contract with the Department of Education to start our Pre-K program in the same building. And in January 2019, we opened a third program.
How did you hear about Excelsior Growth Fund?
I attended an event in the Bronx where I was introduced to Marques Payne, who told me about EGF’s special loan program for business owners in the South Bronx. Also, my children used to go to Sweet Water Dance and Yoga, and Yosara Trujillo [owner of Sweet Water] told me more about EGF and how her EGF loan helped her business grow. I decided to give it a shot and apply. I’m very happy I did!
How was your overall experience with Excelsior Growth Fund?
Working with EGF has been awesome! Aissatou [EGF Assistant Vice President] was so welcoming and made the whole process very comfortable. I bought a house a year ago, so I was worried about going through the loan process again, but Aissatou made it simple. She checked in on me and came to visit our program, which meant a lot. Overall, working with EGF has been a great experience and a great resource! The process was easy, and the financial resources have been very helpful.
How do you plan to use your EGF loan?
We’re in the process of revamping all our marketing materials and I’m hoping to take our marketing to the next level by working with a consulting firm. This is expensive but I think that it could be a great investment for the business and our loan will significantly help with the costs.
We’ve already started filling up a lot of spots from our new marketing and promotional strategy. And hopefully, we’ll continue to fill spots as we increase our marketing initiative and hire this outside firm. So, as the spots fill, I also plan to hire two more people for our evening shift.
Do you have any advice for small business owners in the South Bronx?
I encourage all entrepreneurs to stay humble. Though I am extremely proud that my business has experienced growth and has become a staple in my community, I try to remember how I felt when I first opened my business. I struggled but I had to start somewhere. It’s important to remember where you began and the people and resources that helped you achieve success. I’m thankful for the support of my family and friends, my community, organizations like the SBA, New York PACE, and EGF, the amazing teachers I work with, but most of all the families that trust me every day with their children.
What are your goals going forward?
At the end of the year we’re looking to purchase another property so that we can start another Pre-K Program. This year will be a year of saving, growing and then hopefully in December we can purchase another property.
We’d also love to open more programs in other boroughs. I feel like my model is effective, contributes to the community and could be beneficial to parents and families in all boroughs. That’s the long-term goal.
EGF is proud to have been a part of Millie’s success story. We look forward to seeing continuous growth and success for Millie and M&M 24 Hour Daycare!