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CHARITY ... ...
    An early competition
Xing Yangjian
2006-01-27 09:27

As yet another pre-school education centre enters the market, is competition intensifying in the sector?

It was only one month ago that the new KindyROO AIKA centre opened, the second centre by the chain in Beijing after a steady development of two years.

"Two KindyROO centres will definitely offer more choices to parents," said Gao Wenzhong, CFO of the KindyROO Gongti centre, which opened in early 2004.

"We started more art and music courses this year, which have proved to be very popular. Meanwhile we are working on a new name that will help Chinese parents more easily understand what we are offering.

With this new centre the two famous early childhood education brands, KindyROO and Gymboree will both have two centres in Beijing," Gao pointed out.

"I really wanted to run a good early-childhood education program," said Ge Jing, director of the AIKA centre. "For me, KindyROO and Gymboree are both choices. It seemed that people were queuing up to open Gymboree centres, but there was only one KindyROO centre in Beijing."

Ge Jing opened her centre at the AIKA Shopping Mall, close to Asian Games Village. The new centre is on the fifth floor of the Mall, a space for children items including clothes, toys and entertainment, guaranteeing lots of passing trade.

"It is especially noisy and crowded during the weekends, and many families come for consulting or the trial classes," Ge said.

"At present, we are able to offer the basic courses of KindyROO programs. Many parents are asking for English courses, and I have been doing research on other courses people might wish to have."

To ensure course quality, Ge has invited experienced teachers from some top local kindergartens to join her team, and has also got foreign staff from Stanford University. All Chinese staff have received professional training in English competency.

The new location means a larger share of the Chinese market, but it also gives rise to some typical Chinese problems too. During the first month, Ge Jing had Chinese parents in who were bargaining hard for a lower price.

"Obviously we have more Chinese families visiting, and they have been used to the 60-yuan-per-class standard at most local kindergartens," Ge said. "We can't afford that because we are offering a better environment, qualified teaching staff, international standard courses," she added. "People are used to doing comparisons, and this will not affect our business, " said Ren Zhong, deputy director of Gymboree Lido Centre, which opened in 2004.

As the first Gymboree centre in Beijing, it now has more than 380 children registered at the centre, 60 per cent of them are foreigners.

"We are have been a recognized brand for more than 30 years, especially well-known in Europe and the United States. Some parents of our children went to Gymboree centres, so they do not even need the consultation service," Ren said.

On the subject of choice Ren was philosophical,"It is hard to say which one (school) is better. Parents should first know what early childhood means, and what courses can help develop and maximize their children's potential."

Another two Gymboree centres are to be opened in the Asia Games Village and Zhong Guancun in 2006.

(China Daily 01/27/2006 page16)


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