Overcoming Growing Pains: Featuring Little Guppy

By Heidi Stobart, Marketing Coordinator


Debbie Nack, owner of Little Guppy Child Development Center, sat down across from me at her desk. She was the kind of person anyone would want running a childcare center: Open, friendly, smiling. We made some small talk, then I asked her about Little Guppy and their journey.

When asked how long they had been in business, Debbie said “We actually just celebrated our 20th anniversary in 2017!”

You couldn’t miss the pride in her voice.

“Myself and my mother founded Little Guppy – she’s a retired elementary principal and retired professor from Lindenwood University. We really envisioned a community where education was first, but where kids could be kids. You know, often children are institutionalized from a very young age all the way through high school and into college. We wanted a place where kids could learn through play and exploration and through mistakes. Kids need to be able to make mistakes just like the rest of us.”

“The problem with our original location was the buildings were situated in the historic district of St. Charles so it’s very difficult to retrofit or make any changes. So we decided to sell those two properties and do a design build here in New Town area. We found out very quickly that a design build was going to be very expensive.”

Sitting across from Debbie, I tried to imagine myself as a business owner who had the right heart, had the customer base, seeing success, outgrowing existing locations—yet couldn’t afford what it would take to expand her business.

I also thought of my own kids and the struggle to find reliable childcare.

She smiled. “That’s when we met Mark Diliberto. We realized this dream wasn’t going to happen on our own. We needed a partnership. We started working with the EDC to finance the new building and it was just amazing. It was ready in October of 2003, we went from multi-stories, smaller facilities to a fantastic 10,000 square foot facility. Then, four years later, we decided to open our second location in O’Fallon. Our experience with the EDC has been wonderful. If it weren’t for you guys we would not have been able to design build our first location and wouldn’t have our second.”

Debbie radiated authenticity. I got the feeling she wasn’t just saying that to be nice.

When asked about her proudest moment, Debbie said “We’ve reached the point where we now have kids who were ‘Guppies’ in our centers who have grown up and have come back to work here. It’s so cool! Seeing them grow and see their successes, then to have them return to be teachers is just awesome.”

You really couldn’t ask for a better testimony.

She continued, “One thing I’ve learned is that is really is all about relationships. It’s not about the bottom line or anything else. It’s about people. We try not to focus too much on any one aspect. The children come first obviously, but we also focus on our teachers and parents. It’s a triad approach, it has to work in all areas in order to succeed.”

I asked her what advice she would give an aspiring entrepreneur.

Her voice took a more serious note.”Don’t go in with blinders and ego. Just because you are good at one thing does not a good business make. It takes commitment.”

After 20 years as a business owner, Debbie Nack would know.