Tammy Imme opened Apple Ridge Academy in 2010 and has overcome many growth obstacles while keeping true to the school’s mission.
Apple Ridge Academy (ARA) is committed to creating a warm, home-like atmosphere, with educational components that provide children and families with an amazing early learning experience. The owner avoids the “institutional” feel, instead filling the schools with sunshine, light and beautiful spaces to learn and grow.
The Creative Curriculum framework has been included since the beginning of the business, emphasizing learning through play and a whole-child focus. The school meets children where they are and creates intentional experiences to help them move forward at their own pace. The academy strives to connect home and school, and Kangarootime is an amazing tool to communicate in real-time, allowing teachers to share messages, photos and details about a child’s day with parents.
It is a “family” business in many senses of the word. Tammy’s daughter, Ashley French, works as the Executive Director, and Ashley’s husband, Chad, is the Facilities Manager. Ashley and Chad’s first child was born in September, and she will attend the New Berlin center starting in December.
The growth of this small business is evident. When they first opened, they had only 4 employees. They now have 67. The school started with one leased location in New Berlin in 2010, with a licensed capacity of 76. This entrepreneur then expanded the building to increase capacity to 120 in 2012.
More growth occurred with the opening of the Brookfield location in 2014, with a licensed capacity of 120. Tammy then purchased the Inspire Learning Center (ILC) in 2021, including the building and 10.5 acres of land. The school operated ILC in addition to other 2 Apple Ridge locations until the end of the lease, and that is when Tammy first came to the Small Business Development Center (SBDC) for advice on options moving forward.
Phil Ostroski, a consultant at the SBDC, helped Tammy when she found the new property by helping to navigate the due diligence and feasibility of the acquisition of the building and the business currently operating there. “Phil was incredibly knowledgeable during the due diligence process and was very open about financial and business systems. He was a great help with the valuation of the assets,” Tammy said.
The SBDC also helped with obtaining financing through the Small Business Administration (SBA). In June 2022, the small business moved to the New Berlin location on 166th Street and combined ILC and ARA back into one program again. This new program, called Apple Ridge Academy-New Berlin has an increased licensed capacity of 184.
The Entrepreneurial Training Program (ETP) offered through the SBDC was the first formal experience Tammy had with business plan development and financial systems. The detailed processes in the course and the guest speakers were invaluable. Tammy said, “ETP prepared me to answer rapid-fire questions when applying for financing with WWBIC at the beginning of our journey. Without this preparation, we could not have taken the next steps to opening a business.”
Tammy said of the SBDC, “I always recommend SBDC resources to friends or family members who have mentioned opening a business. Sometimes we just didn’t know what questions to ask, or what direction to turn, and the SBDC helped refine and define our approach.”
Tammy said, “The biggest challenge was the shift from being a ‘teacher’ to being a business owner. It wasn’t just me doing the work; it was teaching and leading others to fulfill the mission and uphold our values as a school community.”
Other obstacles were learning how to streamline processes and identifying opportunity for growth. Tammy shared, “Probably most important in overcoming these obstacles was learning not to be afraid to take the steps needed to grow and having confidence in our ability to succeed.”
More obstacles came with the COVID pandemic in 2020. “We had to make so many adaptations throughout the ever-changing pandemic rules. We are excited to finally be getting close to ‘normal’ again!” Tammy said. Luckily, Apple Ridge Academy qualified for federal funding in the form of the PPP as well as the EIDL loan. “This funding was critical to keeping our business open and our staff working,” Tammy said.
Future goals for Apple Ridge Academy are to continue learning and emphasizing the importance of the work they do, inspiring their team members to commit to professional growth and to advocate for the profession. Tammy said, “We want to continue making connections with our children, families, staff and communities for the good of our youngest learners.”
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