Little Vikings and Little Cardinals Support Children and Families in Mt Horeb and Cross Plains
Brenda Moore Fritz has been committed to education for her entire career. She has a degree in secondary education from UW-Whitewater and after raising her own children, she viewed working with children from birth to age seven as the best opportunity to make an impact in education.
“I got really excited about early childhood education and started working my way back to education after twelve years as a stay at home mom,” Fritz says. “I love to organize and kept getting pushed higher into roles that would allow me to support children and families.”
Fritz taught preschool for five years in her hometown of Mount Horeb, 4K for the Middleton-Cross Plains district at several different child care centers, and was then introduced to group childcare and 4K.
“Mount Horeb was the last town in Dane County to get 4K, so I decided to start a private 4K program in Mount Horeb, named Little Vikings 4K, after the Mount Horeb Vikings,” says Fritz. “I worked to help Little Vikings and other providers get established in the school district-run 4K collaborative.”
The school was private its first year and by its second year, was a Mount Horeb School District 4K partner. The need for childcare in Mount Horeb created such high demand during Little Vikings’ first two years that Fritz and her husband and co-founder Todd Fitz decided to expand. They grew from two classrooms in a church basement to a 7,000 square foot facility, with eight classrooms and 30 employees in 2015. That expansive ramp-up and increase in cash flow prompted an audit from the Wisconsin Department of Workforce Development, and that’s when Fritz started looking for help.
Fritz mentioned her stress over the audit to another Mount Horeb business owner, who suggested she contact the Small Business Development Center at UW-Madison. In response to her email requesting services, Fritz was paired with SBDC director Michelle Somes-Booher for business consulting services, who immediately helped her get through the audit smoothly and learn new skills for employee and financial management.
“Michelle is very helpful in identifying and providing direction,” says Fritz. “We have been through a DWD Audit; an IRS Audit; a business interruption, when we had a sprinkler head crack, and we sustained water damage; the fast start-up of Little Vikings and the slower start-up of Little Cardinals; and the stabilization of the organization, as it grew the organization, as it grew to over 50 employees, caring for over 150 children every day. She has coached us through licensing and employee situations.”
In 2016, Fritz and her director Jessica Edien at Little Vikings took the SBDC Financial Management Series course on Somes-Booher’s recommendation.
“Every facet of our business success can be directly connected to some aspect of advice, resources, or recommendations from SBDC,” says Fritz. “The opportunity to have an asset like Michelle is like being on the show ‘Who Wants to be a Millionaire,’ only SBDC provides unlimited lifelines to call when you get stumped.”
Little Vikings reached capacity by December 2016, began construction on an addition, and reached capacity again, before the addition was even finished, with an extensive wait list. A second center, Little Cardinals, opened in August 2017 in Cross Plains. Both schools care for children from six weeks to ten years of age.
Fritz isn’t averse to risk, the daughter of a dairy farmer in Bloomington, Wisconsin, she knows that everything is cyclical.
“It helps me weather challenges, and I think it’s where I get my entrepreneurial flair from,” she says. Word of mouth and social media have proven to be the most effective ways to get the word out about Little Vikings and Little Cardinals.
“We market using Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and some newspaper advertising,” says Fritz. “We have a website, too, but find social media to be the most bang for our buck and the most engaging.”
It’s clear that the most important factor is Fritz and her team’s dedication to the children and communities they serve.
“We nurture childhood—that’s what we do every day in our centers,” says Fritz. “We task our teachers and staff with creating childhood memories daily for our students.”
Somes-Booher has helped Fritz develop her leadership and communication skills as an administrator, to help employees feel part of, and invested in, their team.
“I’ve had a better relationship with my employees as a result of her guidance,” says Fritz. “She’s big on service leadership and incentivizing employees to keep them engaged—little gifts to mark three- and five-year anniversaries and high-five gifts, like a $5 gift card, if I see a teacher doing something great in the hallway. In the child care field, it’s important to remember how valuable your employees are— they’re a key part of the organization.”
Fritz has her eye on further expansion and also envisions a cross-generational facility.
“I would love to have a cross-generational facility, to be able to make the journey of childhood even richer, with the opportunity to sit with an elder who has nothing but time and a lot of stories and love to share,” she says.
Fritz credits SBDC with helping her get where she is today and plans to continue to leverage SBDC support as she grows her business.
“In our four short years, we have learned a lot of business lessons, and we were able to have the best possible outcomes, as a result of SBDC counseling and guidance,” says Fritz. “It is a free service, and it really is the key element of our stabilization and success.”