Child-care center fulfills founder’s dream
Charlotte McLean, owner and director of Stop-n-DroprnAcademic Center, enjoys time with some of the ... (more)
SANFORD — Charlotte McLean loves children. That’s good,rnbecause she has about 80 of them.
Since 2008, McLean has owned and been director ofrnStop-n-Drop Academic Center, located at the W.B. Wicker Business Campus, inrnSanford.
“This business really has met all of my expectations,” shernsaid with a smile.
McLean has always had a soft spot in her heart for children.rnGrowing up — and even as an adultrn— she was always the one willing to take neighborhood children to the park orrnbaby-sit.
Career-wise, she started out in a very different direction.rnAfter graduating from Lee County High School in 1986, she went to work as arnforklift operator at Federal Molding Corp. One day, a friend in the childcarernbusiness suggested that, with her love of children, she should go intornchildcare as a career. McLean liked the idea.
“In 1997, I left my job to enroll at Central CarolinarnCommunity College for a degree in Early Childhood Education,” she said. “I alsornopened an academic child care facility in my home in Tramway. It had thernhighest 5-star rating for child care centers and still serves about a dozenrnchildren.”
McLean received her Early Childhood Education Associaterndegree in 2006 and her ECE Teacher degree in 2007. By then, she was ready tornexpand, to open a large childcare center in the community.
For that, she knew she needed training in developing andrnrunning a business that could serve a large number of children, employ about arndozen people, meet all legal requirements, and be profitable.
So, she contacted Jim Felton, the director of CCCC’s SmallrnBusiness Center in Lee County. The SBC exists to help would-be entrepreneursrnbecome successful small business owners and to help existing small businessesrnbecome more successful.
For his promotion of small business over the past 14 years, thernSanford Area Chamber of Commerce named Felton its 2010 Small Business Advocaternof the Year.
“Charlotte is a success story because she not only brought arndream, but also worked hard to get credentials that gave her creditability,”rnFelton said. “She put forth the effort to learn the skills required for successrnas a small business owner.”
Felton suggested she start with the college’s RuralrnEntrepreneurship through Action Learning (REAL) program. McLean took thernone-semester course and credits it with helping her gain the skills andrnknowledge to establish and run a successful business.
“I developed a business plan,” she said. “The goal of REALrnis to help you improve it so you can succeed.”
In addition, Felton brought in experienced business peoplernsuch as bankers and advertising experts to help the REAL students understandrnwhat is needed to be successful, from financial management to dealing withrnlegal regulations.
Charlotte also benefited from a Learn-to-Assist Grantrnthrough the N.C. Small Business Network and the Kellogg Foundation. With this,rnshe was able to fund a basic web site and market her business on the Internet,rndevelop a brand and logo, and receive legal advice.
“Jim worked with me through the whole process,” McLean said.rn“When I finally opened my business, it almost exactly matched the business planrnI had developed, down to the state-of-the-art kitchen and the security.”
McLean’s Stop-n-Drop Academic Center occupies about 6,000rnsquare feet on the lower level of the W.B. Wicker Business Campus, the historicrnformer W.B. Wicker School. Each age level, from infant to age 12, has its ownrnteachers and a room invitingly supplied with learning toys and materials. Therncenter operates on three shifts and is licensed to have up to 91 children eachrnshift. So far, McLean and her staff serve about 80 children.
“Miss Charlotte,” as the children affectionately know her,rnloves her work and seeing her dream come true.
“If anybody is thinking of starting a business, go and talkrnto Jim at the Small Business Center and the REAL program,” she said. “Then yournbegin with a wealth of information and opportunities. It can save you a lot ofrncorrective action, time and money.”
Walking down the center’s hall, she dropped in on therntwo-year-old class, greeting each child with a big smile and calling each byrnname. The children returned the smile with even bigger ones.
McLean looked around at them again and said, “I’m happyrnevery day I come to work.”
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