Fun Center Location & Layout Considerations
Perhaps one of the biggest decisions facing the new fun center business entrepreneur is the question of lease space vs buying land and building your fun center location from scratch. Should you lease space? or look to buy some land and build from scratch? And once you've made that decision, the question is where! No matter how long you've been in this business or just starting out, you've heard the golden rule when it comes to real estate--location, location, location--but is it really that important?
For some businesses, the classic advice "location, location, location" is right on the mark -- location can mean the difference between feast or famine. But for other enterprises, including a children's play center, location may be much less important than finding affordable rental space. The reason for this is that unlike other retail ventures, these facilities are "destinations". People will not typically drive by your fun center facility and come in to play for a couple of hours - it is a planned event. So in many cases, unlike the Flower Shop that needs to be in the stripe mall to attract drive-by and walk-in sales, your project can drive traffic to your location through good marketing.
However, there are always exceptions to the above. For example, your business goals may be to provide a much needed 'child-minding' service for shoppers of the local mall. That agenda would dictate that in order to offer that service, you need to be in the mall. However in most 'traditional' FEC's and Children's Entertainment Centers the business model is based on attracting visitors to play and stay as a family group over an extended period of time.
Amusement Lease Space & Facility Layout
As with everything you design, build, add and include in your final facility plans, the long term return on that decision is paramount in making the decision to include it - can you drive a return on that investment?
The same applies to your location. What kind of a facility will best help you drive a return on your overall investment? Forget about the dimensions/size of the building for a moment and focus on the physical 'aspects' of the building - what should that look like? Typically, most of these facilities are some form of warehouse or industrial type space. The reasons are usually two-fold, 1) in most cases warehouse space will be cheaper / square foot then high traffic retail space and 2) the space itself is usually more accommodating with ceiling height, interior layout and parking.
A general rule of thumb for interior layout is an open, welcoming entry/exit area with good lighting and enough space (including some seating) to accommodate weekend line-ups for your birthday party's. Additionally, handi-capped access and even lockers in some cases add positive 'guest-impressions'.
To maximize your activity mix think ceiling height - the higher the better. Soft Contained Playgrounds (softplay) are custom designed and a good design can maximize your floor space by using the "volume" of your space. Instead of eating up 2,000 square feet of floor space with a two-level design in a facility with 12 foot ceilings, you could get the same child-capacity in a 3 or 4 level playground with 1,200 square feet of space with 16+ foot ceilings.
Additionally, the added playability received from a 3 or 4 level playground is going to dramatically add to your long term return on that playground investment. As children grow from 4 to 11 years old, their needs and expectations for play will change and it is difficult to meet those needs with a 2 level playground. This is especially true if you are in a community and dependent upon repeat visits each year to survive. Strengthen your playability factor easily by adding height to your playground.
In addition to contained play, other activities may also benefit from higher ceilings; rock climbing, bouncy castle and some of those newer bungee-jumpers And, if you can swing it with your landlord, adding staff / lunch rooms and office / storage space on an upstairs mezzanine area may help conserve valuable floor space as well.
Almost all startup amusement centers start out in leased (rented) premises, and most use leased space throughout the life of the business. By leasing rather than buying, you avoid tying up valuable working capital, and it's easier to move to new quarters if your space needs change.