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2015 40 Under 40 Honoree: Rochette Dahler

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With $5,000 saved from working three jobs and a builder willing to offer financing, Rochette Dahler bought her first home. She was 19 and soon running three shifts of in-home child care.

A year later, Dahler had a six-figure business and was heading toward what would become Little Sunshine’s Playhouse, which now has five corporate and six franchise locations.

She didn’t plan on becoming a founder, president and chief executive officer.

“All of this has kind of evolved,” Dahler says.

It’s an evolution born of resolve to create a different life than she was born into. Taken in by her grandmother, Dahler lived in northwest Arkansas until high school, when the duo moved to Springfield. On Dahler’s 18th birthday, she started as an assistant child-care teacher while still in high school and soon realized she couldn’t make a life at $4.25 an hour.

A year later, she bought that house and soon had such demand for child care that she opened her first Little Sunshine’s location in 2002, having been turned down by 12 lenders before she found one that said yes. The builder who sold Dahler her house built the school from a sketch she drew on graph paper.

More than a decade later, Little Sunshine’s has franchise contracts for 120 future schools in addition to the existing locations. As a trendsetter, Little Sunshine’s was the first school to use live-feed cameras that parents can view during the day to see classrooms in real time, and the company has proprietary software for

LuvNotes, an email system that offers daily updates, photos and videos.

“We look for ways to set ourselves apart and invest in new technology and systems that are leading our industry,” Dahler says.

In 2012, Little Sunshine’s redesigned its franchise model, which now requires franchisees to commit to 10 locations in their area. It creates a healthier system by preventing owners from competing against each other and allows Dahler and her team to offer more comprehensive training.

“As far as I know, we are the only franchise operating that way. We want this to be essentially the only thing they’re doing. We want families who make this their life the way it is ours,” says Dahler, who earned the designation of certified franchise executive from the International Franchise Association.

Little Sunshine’s growth and potential has been recognized by Inc. magazine as one of the fastest-growing 5,000 companies and as a top franchise by Entrepreneur Magazine and FranBest. Little Sunshine’s also was named Top Emerging Franchisor by Franchise Gator magazine and ranked it its top 500 list in both 2013 and 2014. The company supports several charities, including Africare, which provides aid across the African continent.

Dahler admits she sometimes looks back at her company’s founding and marvels at how every piece fit just right. Then again, she was driven by people who told her she couldn’t do it.

“I went in with no fear, because I had nothing to lose,” she says.[[In-content Ad]]

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