When audiology job ended, Urbana mother built a new career with Kidville -- Gazette.Net


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This wasn’t exactly the way Erica Keats planned her career.

While earning a master’s degree in audiology from the University of Virginia and a doctor of audiology degree from the University of Florida, she had worked in that field since 2001.

But a little more than a year ago, Keats, 30, was laid off from her position as an audiologist at A&A Hearing Group in Frederick.

In searching for work in her field, she discovered another opportunity dear to her heart: owning a Kidville franchise. The indoor enrichment facility allows newborns to 6-year-old children a chance to tumble on mats, jump on a trampoline, climb on a rock wall, go down a zipline, dance, sing, listen to a band and take classes.

When the Kidville facility in Rockville’s Fallsgrove Village Center has a pre-opening band performance on April 26 and grand opening May 4, Keats will go from an environment where she helped people regain their hearing to one where some might lose hearing ability.

“Perhaps I will still have some use for my audiology education here,” she smiled. “But it’s not really that loud — at least not as loud as a Chuck E. Cheese.”

Career changes not uncommon

Making such a career change after a layoff is not uncommon these days, especially coming off the worst recession since the 1920s Great Depression. The average person born between 1957 and 1964 changed jobs 11 times from age 18 to age 46, though not all of those were career changes, according to federal labor figures.

The number of workers laid off declined by 8 percent nationally last year from 2011, but 1.7 million employees still lost their jobs in 2012, according to federal labor figures. That figure was down 40 percent from the peak of 2.8 million layoffs in 2009.

Keats said several people she knew are in the midst of career changes, including some opening Kidville franchises in other states. She also has a friend in Mount Airy changing careers to open a Goddard School preschool program later this year.

“It’s not unusual these days,” she said.

Closer to home

Keats, who has a 2-year-old and a 4-year-old, had taken her children to a Kidville in Bethesda. The drive was a distance from their home in Urbana, but as she said, “My son really loved the music class.”

So she discussed opening a Kidville closer to home with her husband, Matthew Keats, a veterinarian who works in Gaithersburg. He was supportive, and she ran with the idea.

Kidville, which started in New York about a decade ago, has more than 30 franchises nationally and a few in other countries. The Fallsgrove one is the second in Montgomery County.

The costs of opening a franchise, including fees, equipment, marketing materials, training and computer software, is more than $230,000, according to the company website.

Besides a gym, the facility has a music and enrichment class room, a dance and art studio, and retail space. There is a kitchen for employees and to accommodate birthday parties that can be for children as old as 9. Some franchises have hair-cutting salons.

“It’s a one-stop shop for kids and family entertainment,” Keats said.

The 4,700-square-foot space in the corner of the Fallsgrove shopping center — which used to be a salon — is near Wing Stop and a FedEx office.

Keats spent several months in the corporate office in New York being trained and is hiring about 20 employees, including professional musicians to perform in the Rockin’ Railroad Band.

“It’s a huge learning experience,” said the first-time business owner.

kshay@gazette.net