Yet, looking back at it, Abegail is adamant that she would not want it any differently, even if she could do it all over again. It has made her strong, she says, and today her Mini Minds Preschool is so much more resilient for it.
Abegail was fulfilling her life’s passion when she bought the Mini Minds Preschool in Blairgowrie in Randburg from its founder two years ago. She loves children, and, not having any of her own, had been striving for years to step out of her corporate job to start her own preschool.
One day in 2017 was particularly disappointing in this mission of hers. She had bought a property off-plan in a development where she saw an opportunity to start an early-learning centre, and had just received the news that an electricity substation, which was not part of the original plan, would be part of her property, rendering it unsuitable.
When she went to pick up her young nephew whom she is rearing from the Mini Minds Preschool, the teacher, noticing that she was upset, told her that Mini Minds itself was up for sale.
Abegail jumped at the opportunity. She negotiated a price for the school with the founder of Mini Minds, cancelled the purchase of the off-plan property, approached Business Partners Limited for finance and got it, resigned her excellent job as a procurement officer at a well-known healthcare group, and cashed in her provident fund. Within a few months, the 40-year-old Abegail was the proud owner of her very own preschool.
But then things went very wrong. Soon she realised that the founder had done nothing to inform the parents that there would be a change of ownership. Even worse, she found out that one of the teachers who had resigned when the school was sold, had started her own school and had been recruiting among the parents to abandon Mini Minds.
Enrolment numbers dropped precipitously, throwing Abegail into a maelstrom for several months during which she had serious doubts about the survival of the school. It was scary, says Abegail, but fortunately it was not the first time that she had to claw herself out of difficult circumstances.
Abegail was raised by her aunt and her grandparents in a small village close to Mafikeng. Her mother suffered from ill health for many years, and she died in the year that Abegail matriculated. Having suddenly to take care of her then seven-year-old brother, she gave up on her dream of becoming a dentist, and found a job as a cashier at a local Clicks store.
Abegail describes herself as a go-getter, and the Clicks group spotted her drive and talent early. Soon she was managing a store in Johannesburg, and later she joined the procurement team. She steadily rose in the ranks and worked in the procurement departments of various companies until her last corporate job at the healthcare group.
Abegail’s approached her business with the same drive and ambition. She was able to stay focused on the survival of her school throughout a difficult 2018, and brought in a change at the school that she believes played a major role in its turnaround.
To differentiate her preschool, Abegail instituted a school-uniform policy for the children. It turned into an important drawcard for new clients, who first became aware of Mini Minds when they saw the smartly dressed little ones accompanying their parents at local shopping centres after school.
Another challenge that Abegail faced was slow-paying parents, or those who would suddenly take their children out of school during holidays when their older children could care for them, and expecting not to pay for their enrolment at Mini Minds for the period.
She drew up a formal enrolment contract for all her clients to take care of the problem.
Despite the difficult start, Abegail has always managed to pay the bills, and had not missed a single instalment of her loan finance. This year, her enrolment numbers have recovered to 49, and she is working her way towards the school’s full capacity of 75. Once that is reached, Abegail has her sights set on opening another school.
Starting her own business was much harder that she had thought it would be, and it still is more difficult than her corporate career ever was, but Abegail says she would not exchange it for anything. “If I had not started my own business, I would still be sitting in my little corner, doing my little job. Now I’ve grown strong on so many different levels,” she says.