Sarah Owen

Enterprise success stories

Sarah Owen

  • Degree: Drama

What is your business all about?

We provide drama and creative play classes for children from 6 months to seven years that combine drama, movement, music and play. Pyjama Drama is a franchise which means that our business model is replicated throughout the UK and that a team of franchisees run their own businesses teaching the Pyjama Drama programme.

What is your business’s unique selling point? What is your main form of advertising? Who are your main competitors?

We are passionate about the power of play and encouraging children to use their imagination so whilst there is an element of ‘performance’ in our classes we are not a stage school. We don’t use ‘off the shelf’ music; all our music is original and has been written to support and to be integrated in to each individual session. A child can also start Pyjama Drama age six months, finish at seven years and never repeat the same session twice.

We mainly advertise the franchise online; via our website, some specific franchising sites and through the use of social media. Our franchisees use a range of advertising to promote their classes – the Pyjama Drama website, leaflets, posters and publications local to them.  

Our main competitors are other businesses that provide classes for young children – potential franchisees looking to buy a child based franchise may compare Pyjama Drama to Monkey Music, Jo Jingles or Debutots for example. For our franchisees, the main competitors are also providers of music or drama classes, and these can be small independent teachers as well as national providers.  

Where did your idea come from? What is the start-up story behind your business?

I was teaching drama part time in my local secondary school and had three young children (two of them preschool age) when I began to realise that the drama based games and songs that I was making up with my children were really benefiting their confidence and their language development. I decided to deliver some of my ideas to a group of children from my son’s playgroup and the classes developed from here with more and more parents telling me how much their child enjoyed (and benefited) from the classes and nurseries asking me to deliver sessions in their settings. Four years and a lot of development later I had written and recorded over seventy songs and developed over 250 session plans – I was ready to franchise!

Juggling your academic studies with your new business as well as still having a social life must have been a challenge. How did you accommodate the three and what did an average day, if you had one, looked like for you?

I didn’t start my business whilst at University – for me it was having children of my own that was the inspiration for my business.

What things helped you learn how to run a new business? Has there been anything or anyone in particular that has helped you along the way?

I have always been very much aware that whilst I have skills, I don’t know everything! I have therefore always been extremely open to asking for help, support and advice at every stage along the way. My Dad has always taken a keen interest in the business so he has been a great sounding board and I have also enlisted the help and advice from friends who have different skills to me – one good friend helped with graphic design in the early stages, another with creating excel spread sheets and my husband with turning my musical ideas in to songs.

What do you think has been your key to success so far?

I think the key to my success so far is the fact that I have always preferred to live with the knowledge that I tried something that failed, rather than never try anything new.   At every stage in the development of the business, from the initial idea which would have been easy to dismiss, to the point when I could have gone back in to teaching rather than franchising Pyjama Drama, I said to myself, ‘If you don’t try it you’ll never know…’

Have you made any mistakes along the way? If so, what have you learnt from these? And further, if you could go back in time, are there any things that you would change or would do differently?

I have made too many mistakes to mention but the main thing that I have learned is that not everyone out there has the same moral values when it comes to business. When I first franchised Pyjama Drama I spent a lot of money on legal and professional advice from the wrong people. If I could go back in time I would spend a lot more time researching who were the right people to give me the right advice.

What can we look forward to in terms of your business? Have you got any future plans for it?

Our plans are to continue to sell more franchises with the aim of becoming a nationally recognised brand throughout the UK. We would then like to look to franchising Pyjama Drama internationally.

How about yourself? Where do you see yourself in five years? Ten years?

In five years’ time I see myself still running Pyjama Drama and enjoying the challenges that this will no doubt still present. In ten years’ time I hope to be in a position to exit the business and then perhaps I will travel the world!

What advice do you have for University of Exeter students who are looking to start their own business?

Take one step at a time; it’s much less daunting to view the development of your business in small sequential steps. And take advice at every step of the way - just make sure you spend the time researching who is best placed to give you the advice you need.