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The demand for indoor play centers, whether in the form of full Family Entertainment Centers, or specialized Childrens Entertainment or Edu-tainment Centers continues to rise. With a tense global situation, and growing parental need to provide children with safe, quality play time and experiences, the interest in Indoor Playgrounds and indoor play-centers continues to expand. However, in many cases as much as we love soft indoor playgrounds - it can be an operators challenge to ensure a solid return on that activity investment.
When starting or operating a family fun center or childrens entertainment center, soft contained indoor playgrounds have become a commodity - if you are offering birthday parties and catering to children 12 years and under they have become a standard component of the overall activity mix, and one that most guests expect to see and play in.
Soft Contained Indoor Playgrounds are about good design from within a framework of fundamental design principles. Creating something that not only looks good, (whether that comes with or without a theme), but more importantly a play-structure that is comfortable and safe and ultimately FUN for your guests will determine your return over the long run. As you may have witnessed, Indoor Contained Playgrounds are not cheap, and the challenge for new playground buyers is understanding the critical importance of thoughtful design and how to sell that design to your customers for maximum entertainment value and ultimately profitable operations.
For young children with an expanding sense of social interaction, growing up and exploring the environment within a busy contained play structure can be a menacing place. If a small 6 year old runs into an over-sized 8 year old bully inside a lengthy tube crawl or a one-way grid it can be a anxious experience that your fun center need not provide. Understanding and incorporating solid design principles can help;
- Emergency Access and Egress
- Grid Height and Layout
- Age Appropriate Activities
- Spatial Comfort
- Traffic Flow and Control
- Multiple Play Modalities
- Accessibility for All Abilities
- Internal and External Barriers
Creating a 'standard' contained play design can be short-sighted. Your playground vendor must understand the dynamics of child interaction and design with safe, fun, entertainment in mind but also with traffic and flow through the play-structure. Thoughtful design takes this into account with an emphasis on layout and a targeted activity mix, allowing children of different ages and abilities to maneuver comfortably from activity to activity.
By understanding and creating a design within these principles, operators can better ensure a great, comfortable play experience as well as a genuine repeat play desire - which translates into a stronger return on your indoor playground investment.
Fundamental design principles will also help you better focus on offering the right activity mix for your specific business goals. Who, specifically is your target market? Is the playground a revenue center or a baby-sitter? Are you community focused or tourist based? How do you intend to market the facility? To ensure maximum exposure, play-a-bility and a return, group activities and events, social gatherings, memberships, parents and guardians, birthday parties and more all need to be considered during the initial design phase.
Many new developers want to create a true "family" entertainment center, and are driven to ensure that parents can play inside the playground with their kids. While this is admirable, the fact of the matter is that even the most pro-active, engaged and fantastically fun parents will only spend 5-10 minutes with the child inside the playground. Even companies that sing the 'large' tube song can't overcome the truth that after a certain age, crawling around on your knees is just painful. With an understanding of your business goals and target market, thoughtful design still permits generous parental interactions and can also provide many play-opportunities for parent and child without the need for parents to enter the playground with their child.
Indoor playgrounds should be seen as an organic activity. Due to their modular design, they have the ability to grow and morph with your business as your target market matures and expects more. However, this 'growth' process comes back to good initial design and working with a company that understands your business goals and vision. What provisions can and should be made for future growth and/or expansion? What activities to put where within the design that can facilitate this growth with least expense and down-time in the future?
However don't be in a hurry to add to and spend money on upgrades and additions. For most facilities this will not become an issue for the first couple of years or so while your local market has a chance to come out and play several times before your indoor playground becomes familiar or stale. Although easy to do, it can still set you back a minimum of $10,000 (plus) to add new activities or switch out old for new.
The standard set of soft play activities have been around for many years. Most are proven to engage and be enjoyed by the child during the play experience, but this can also mean that the guy or restaurant down the street has the same activities and offering as you do.
Differentiate - there are alternatives.
New events and activities are being introduced by established and smaller, aggressive play companies looking to create market interest. From sounds and effects to full blown interactive systems that can expand and enhance the play experience. The challenge is to not get caught up in this new offer of Whiz-Bang, but in understanding how these new events and technologies mesh with solid design principles that will expand your playground's play-a-bility and attractiveness.
There are many great playground equipment companies out there, each with their own set of design principles, activity offerings and profit agenda. However their profit agenda may not be your profit agenda. SmartPlaygrounds - indoor playground equipment was established to help new playground buyers develop and design an indoor playground that delivers the best experience targeted to your unique business goals and target market. Good design does not happen by default - your playground consultant should take the time to educate you on activity choices, their role within your playground design and your long term profit agenda.
As one SmartPlaygrounds designer said..."owners are paying for their centers 24/7, why purchase standard indoor playground equipment that only drives 60% of it's revenues on weekends, from one market segment? Thoughtful design can take the weekend birthday party playground and multi-purpose that design allowing the operator to expand their market and drive a return everyday of the week".
The future does however look bright for contained play. It is still the primary activity and driver when it comes to kids deciding where to have their birthday parties - and by working with a playground company that listens to and understands your business goals, combined with good design principles you are well on your way to creating a fun, entertaining, safe experience for both child and parent.
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"I just wanted to say thanks for taking the time to chat with me. This was a very valuable conversation as it gave me a whole lot more to think about. Although I have done some research, our conversation opened my eyes to things I was unaware of. From lease negotiation and startup costs to a much better understanding of what and how our local community and area demographics play into our fun center planning. Time well spent and I would recommend others who are researching their startup, give your office a call. You were extremely selfless with information and provided an encouraging view based in Reality. Thank you."
"Thanks for taking the time to chat with us, we really appreciate your time and insight. We had some idea of project scope, but had no idea about all the minutia and details to consider for startup location and our funding. After speaking with you, we came to the realization that ultimately the project we were considering is more of our time than we can commit to, and would not have discovered this reality until much further along. Thanks for helping us determine our path forward."
"This was by far the best thing I have done for my fun center startup. You provided such great and unbiased information, some of which I did not want to hear, but so glad that I did. I now have the focus of mind to proceed with a lot more confidence and direction. I just want to say again, thank you for sharing these insights and your experience."
"I wanted to say thanks again for all of your time in answering my many questions, and helping to make me better understand the steps needed to see our dream of a family entertainment center business in reality. For the first time in this journey I understand how and why to prepare our plan for funders, and how to match my own abilities and financial resources to accomplish my goal. And yes, I would recommend others do take advantage of this service, I can’t imagine to find this much experience and honest at any price, none the less for free. Thank you."
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On the web since 1999, the FEC Network is the online amusement business resource for startups, owners, operators and suppliers.