Adventures in babysitting: Sitter Central Dallas matches parents with prochild-minders
Rachel Logan founded SitterCentralDallas in 2008 as a way to introduce parents needing babysitters to sitters needing better-paying gigs. It’s part of a growing trend in startups that aim to simplify the babysitting biz on both sides — using a model that’s a blend of online dating sites and Open Table, the restaurant reservation service.
More than $10 billion is spent annually in the United States on babysitters, according to a report this month in YFS Magazine, with more than 300 million sitter bookings.
The SitterCentral idea took off quickly, and now Logan’s “baby” has turned into a thriving enterprise with close to 400 “parent members” (representing about 1,000 children) and more than 600 “sitter members” booking up to 650 jobs per week in the Dallas area.
Logan, a 32-year-old SMU business grad, says her online parent-to-sitter connection now also has expanded into finding pet sitters, house sitters and traveling companions for families with little ones when they go on vacation for up to seven days. Average hourly rate for sitters: $11. But it can go higher, with some of her busiest sitters making up to $2,000 a month.
“Because of the slump in the economy, we have sitters — men and women — from all sorts of professions. Many are teachers with advanced degrees,” says Sitter Central founder Rachel Logan.
“The image of babysitters in Dallas is the college girl working a few hours a week,” says Logan. “But we give a lot of steady work to professional nannies who want to work evenings and weekends. And because of the slump in the economy, we also have sitters — men and women — from all sorts of professions. Many are teachers with advanced degrees.”
Sitter Central isn’t an employment agency, Logan explains. It’s a “matching service” that charges a membership fee — around $30 a month for parents needing sitting services and a one-time membership fee of $30 for sitters looking for assignments. Every sitter undergoes a face-to-face interview with Logan or one of her staff before being approved.
Potential sitters get background and reference checks, and all must be CPR certified. Most also have at least two years of childcare experience and a college degree or they’re working toward one, says Logan.
To hire a sitter through the site, parents go to the online scheduling system and request a sitter (whose profiles and photos are visible to members on the menu) 48 hours in advance. Available sitters are notified and must confirm that they’ve accepted the assignment within 12 hours. Parents can also reserve sitters for standing appointments, like weekly date nights, or for longer-term jobs like after-school child-minding during the school year.
Logan makes money only from the membership fees, taking none of the hourly rate, which is paid directly to sitters by parents at the end of the job. (Tipping is encouraged.) She’s strict about making sitters abide by her rules. They must arrive on time, dress appropriately, and never use a computer or cellphone or do any personal texting while children are present, she says. They are asked to show up with a craft project or game to share with their young charges, and they have to provide their own transportation to and from the job.
Most of SitterCentral’s members were referred by others in the service, says Logan. Word-of-mouth from parent-to-parent helped build the business most.
"Before I joined, I had heard great things about Sitter Central Dallas,” says Caroline Pinkston, a 19-year-old Highland Park High School grad who came on board as a sitter this summer. “The families are amazing and always such a pleasure to sit for. Sitter Central makes the process simple and safe for both families and sitters. I can honestly say I love my job.”
Parents offer enthusiastic testimonials too. “We love Sitter Central! The sitters are amazing, the staff is always helpful and we take comfort in knowing our kids are in good hands,” says Sheri Wood, a Highland Park mother of two.
Carrollton mom Cecilia Dominguez adds, “Sitter Central is more than just a service. It’s a company I can count on with sitters who care.”
Logan and her staff of eight employees, who all work from home, currently match sitters with families all over the Dallas-Fort Worth area, with many clustered in the Park Cities, Richardson, Carrollton and Plano. There’s already a Sitter Central franchise in Miami, with future spin-offs planned for Fort Worth, Frisco and McKinney.
“It satisfies me to know that children are being taken care of by good people,” Logan says. “And I like helping the sitters get through college or make extra money by giving them work that fits into their schedule. Our motto is ‘Helping families find balance.’ That applies to both sides of what we do.”