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New soft play Business

(10 Posts)
foxcat Fri 28-Dec-12 09:24:42

Hi Ladies,
I am considering starting up my own soft play business and wanted advice from anyone else who has ever set up a small business or any other useful advice you guys could offer. It's means I would sell my home to fund the business but I feel as a parent myself and having attended so many of these play centres I can see what works and what doesn't . Also I have a degree in child development and an early years status and I think so many of these centres get it wrong when it comes to the equipment for developmental stages for children . My mother is a social worker and would help me run it but I have no idea on cost or the business side of things. I have some ideas , allowing people to bring their own food , having an outside garden area and so on. I just think some of these places charge a fortune and they are so dirty . It's the mums who go to these places know best what works and what is attractive in a soft play place. I would really appreciate your ideas.

GoldQuintessenceAndMyhrr Fri 28-Dec-12 09:33:07

So in essence, you are going to sell your home to fund a softplay that is/has

a) cheap entrance fees
b) clean and great play equipment
c) customers can bring their own food

My question is:

Where is your income going to come from, to pay your rates and rent, your electricity, phone bills and infrastructure, marketing and advertising, your staff, and not forgetting your cleaners ???

I dont think it is enough to say you know what works because you are a mum who has been to soft play, you will need business skills the most.
It is a little like me saying I could be a doctor because I have been ill a lot, and my kids have been ill, so I know the difference between a cold, a flu and a tummy bug.

(second question, where are you going to live?)

My suggestion to you is that you research carefully, and learn business skills. You can maybe start approaching your local adult education center or college for that?

AppleOgies Fri 28-Dec-12 09:36:58

I really wouldn't go there if I were you.

The soft play here is constantly going bust, starting up again with someone else, going busy again. It's an endless cycle.

I'd avoid it like the plague.

AppleOgies Fri 28-Dec-12 09:37:53

Bust... Not busy!

GoldQuintessenceAndMyhrr Fri 28-Dec-12 09:40:50

Soft play centers are dependent on their customers paying for additional extras, such as food, birthday parties, chocolates and sweets, small toys, etc. The moment you come in with airy fairy ideas of making it cheap and allowing people to bring their own food, it shows that you are thinking from the wrong perspective.

You appear to be building your business plan around:
The mother who wants a great center to take her kids to without having to pay a lot, and not a business person who wants to run a successful business and make profit.

DolomitesDonkey Sat 29-Dec-12 08:10:33

If it's viable you will get investment. Don't sell your house for something like this!

Bonkerz Sat 29-Dec-12 08:32:39

My mate looked into this and the initial outlay is horrendous. A decent play frame can cost between £60-110k! Then there is the cost of the building and a decent kitchen being fitted. Good toilets...... These would be huge costs as you would have to purchase an open plan lock up warehouse type building to put the play equipment in. We have 4 in our area. Our newest one is lovely an all the things you describe BUT over the last 6 months it has changed from play area to more restaurant to meet overheads. Fantastic food even a carvery with on site chef etc but it £5 per child entry and food starts at £6!!!!!!!!!!!!!! When it first opened it was £3 per child kids meals £2.50 so they obviously weren't meeting costs!!!!!!!! Also worth bearing in mind if you want busy you need staff which bumps up overheads. No way you can keep it clean on your own.

Another soft play near me is small and not particularly clean but owners run it as a family thing. It's hand built so not fancy and has bouncy castle. Offers cheap food (chips and toasties) but has cheap entry. Works for the family as its leased so they don't own it and I think they get TC etc which means they can break even but still pay house bills etc.

formallyknownasloveydarling Sat 29-Dec-12 08:37:40

I looked into this in quite a lot of detail a few years ago and you need something like 100 kids per day on average just to make ends meet (or something extreme like that). There are far, far less risky things to do to make money. It's absolutely not worth it. Sorry but I hope you appreciate my honesty.

TherapeuticVino Sat 29-Dec-12 15:00:36

Have you looked into insurance as well? Astronomically high.....

nappyaddict Wed 02-Jan-13 14:44:48

3 different aged areas. Under 2s, 2-6 and 6+ Make it so younger children can go in the older area at their parent's own risk but older children can't go in the younger areas. Staff who actually enforce the rules. One permanently at the top of slides to stop pushing and children climbing up the wrong way. Staff who don't just spend the entire time chatting and ignoring the children would be nice. Ones that get involved and help them, play with them and join them on the slide would be fab.

Most places are free for under 1s but i think it should be free for under 2's. i really begrudged paying the same amount as older children who can use the whole centre when my little boy could only use the baby area and even then he can only really sit in the ball pit and with those shape things cos he can't climb up by himself (he didn't walk til 21 months) Ours is free for under 1s, 1-4s are £1.50 and over 5s are £2.25. There is a sibling rate where you pay full price for the eldest child and additional children get 50p knocked off and if there's a group of 10 children or more you get 50p knocked off each child. Recognised groups and childminders get a 50p discount off each child and the prices don't increase in school holidays or weekends. Monthly passes are a good idea too. Ours has a loyalty scheme where after every 10 visits you get a free one and every 6 hot drinks you get a free one. Oh and discounts for disabled children please. Consider letting in children in wheelchairs free. My friend has a 7 year old who can only scoot around on his bum. It's not fair he has to pay the same as my 6 year old that can go on everything!

Unlimited play is best unless it is really busy then a time limit of no less than 2 hours please. It's not worth going otherwise.

I like the ones that are open from 9:30am to 10pm every day - it means it doesn't get as crowded cos the times when people go are more spread out. There is one we go to that has a bar with viewing windows which is fab! DP hates soft play but he can be persuaded to go to this one on a Friday night after work they have sky tv which show all the latest programmes and premiership football and rugby matches. also companies can pay to put adverts on the tv which brings in extra revenue. Joining up with local companies can be good all round.

My friend was telling about one where they have a photographer come in one week a month and they put effects etc on the pictures while your child plays. It's free to have them taken - you just pay if you decide you want them.

Ours also sometimes has book fairs and sometimes has different companies coming in to try and sell stuff. usually those home-sellers that do phoenix cards, usborne books, children's clothes, wooden toys etc.

Have a gift shop selling local handmade items.

Think of your location. Somewhere on a bus route is best - not everyone drives. Also something only about 10-15 mins walk outside of the town centre means that people can just drop in before or after doing their shopping.

Partys are a good idea too. our local one does roller discos, laser parties where they go around in the dark trying to shoot one another, pottery painting parties, football parties, multisports parties, mini make over parties. They have party rooms which are totally closed off from the main play area meaning you don't have random children wandering in and also the children can't see the play area so they actually concentrate on eating rather than shoving 2 biscuits in their mouth and wanting to run off and play again. Popular themed party rooms at these places are pirates, space, diamond mine, land of sweets, enchanted castle, desert island, under the sea, jungle, disco, harry potter, star wars, pop idol where they have a karoke competition. They usually have a party throne and crown for the birthday boy/girl. You get free invites, party bags and a free return visit for the birthday child. Extras are character helium balloons, balloon animals, face painting, pinata, chocolate fountain, light up cocktail fountain. One has an option to have a stretch limo and you can also have dressed up characters for an extra £25.

Do adult parties between 8 and 10pm. I went to one, it was £5.95 per person and you get free food and drink. Good for team building events at work.

Good idea to advertise on a website and a facebook page if you are going to be closing early because of a party or if certain areas will be closed off.

Obvious essentials are lots of parking, lots of easy to clean high chairs (can recommend IKEA antilop for this) and play gyms, push along walkers, those activity tables with the beads for younger babies, low sinks and toilets for littlies, toilets big enough to take the buggy into, empty nappy bin regularly - ours has one of those nappy wrappers and it hardly ever smells and if it does if you tell them they empty it immediately. i think all staff should crb checked and therefore need to be 18+. choc/sweets not on counter - ds often stands up at the counter and grabs as much as he can which is a bit of pain. also a cleaning station is useful but only if it is high up. same for the little table where you have milk, jugs of water, sugar etc for drinks. Drinks in boxes like those wine carriers but smaller so when you are walking to your table running children don't knock them all flying. laminate flooring and leather seating is easy to keep clean and stays looking nicer for longer. a microwave for baby food and bottle warmer is fab so you don't have to wait in the queue to get it warmed up with a hungry, screaming baby. Also have lots of tables of 2 that you can push together if you need a bigger table. when our soft play is busy you can never get a table but there's always say 1 parent taking up a table for 4 or sometimes bigger while their kids are off playing. Make sure you have nice lighting and lots of windows for natural light. Those flickering strip lights really give everyone a headache!!

The best ones have a netted off area with blow machines to fire soft balls at targets, a bouncy castle, trampolines, an indoor multi sports area, climbing wall, go karting track, train ride that goes round on a track, battery operated cars that go round a track. Then you can do things like tots soccer, tots sports, tots gymnastics, tots trampolining etc. You can also hire out your sports area to local 5 a side teams, tennis, netball and basket ball clubs, gymnastics and trampolining clubs, dance schools etc.

Have a supervised messy area where you can do painting, pottery, playdough, colouring, drawing, cutting and sticking etc. they've just got some of those wheelybugs which all the kids love. We've also been to one where they had a little race track for ride on toys and a huge wipe clean car mat too.

every morning and afternoon up until 3:30 is parent and toddler group which is £1 per child, 50p for additional children and you get a free a hot drink for the adult and free cup of fruit juice for the child (proper pure juice - sugar, sweetner, colour, flavouring and preservative free juice not crappy squash) also every morning and afternoon they have a different activity on which includes free play after. after 3pm you also have the option of paying £3.25 and you get a hot meal and juice included. Activities they put on are trampolining, football, multisports, dancing, pottery and painting, music group with singing and instruments, cookery, story and rhyme time, messy play with sand, jelly, water, glitter, gloop, pasta etc. baby massage, baby signing, breastfeeding support group, tots french and spanish classes.

On sunday mornings they close to the public and open to special needs children. They have a fab sensory room which both special needs and NT children all love. Sensory mats and textured flooring, bubble tubles, lava lamps, touch walls, lightshows, fibre optics, disco ball, disco lights are good for sensory rooms.

Instead of uncomfortable plasticky seats get leather sofas, chairs and beanbags to sit on. Ours serves lovely homemade healthy food and drinks like fresh juices and smoothies from the juice bar, yummy soups and salads amongst other things. The kids meals aren't your usual fish fingers, nuggets, burgers and pizzas. The serve vegetables like carrots, broccoli, green beans, cauliflower, carrot and swede mash with them not just peas, beans or sweetcorn. Also ours do a thing mon-fri where if you buy an adult meal you get a child's meal for a £1. They also sell sunday roasts on a sunday which are very popular apparently. Different portions for unders 5s and under 10s are less wasteful.

Also one near us allows you to take your own food if you want. A lot of people don't bother but for weeks when i don't have much money but still want to do things with ds, it means i can still go as it only costs £1.50 but i don't have to worry about paying extra for food and drinks for him.

I love it cos there is no height restriction so i can go up too!! Also have the age limit as 16 cos often, especially if you are on holiday and using one of these places or going en route from shopping or whatever you will have older siblings with you and they will probably want to join in too. no one wants a sulky teen hanging around whilst their younger brothers and sisters are having the time of their lives. and make sure the adults can go on too. when i take my child somewhere i want to be able to play with him and have fun not sit bored at a table. The only thing with this is you need to make sure the staff will enforce rules cos older children might be a bit boisterous and start throwing balls out of the ball pit etc and hurting the younger ones or going in areas they are too old for.

Stuff for older children or children who want to chill out. I've been to one with a disco room with flashing lights, music, kareoke machine, a games console area, dance mats and a cinema room with mini cinema chairs. This meant they could do disco parties and cinema parties too.

We went to one on holiday with an outdoor area, sand pit, water play, aerial swing, tyre swing, slides, see saw, climbing frame, paddling pool, play houses, toddlers' cars on a track etc. Their blurb said there's plenty of grass, picnic tables and deck chairs too, so bring along a picnic or choose from our full cafe menu. It also had air con inside which is fab for the summer months. Good heating in the winter months. A lot of these places are industrial places and so cold in the winter you have to keep your coat on!!

If you have those air hockey machines, pool tables, coin operated machines can you make it so they don't actually require any money or so they only need 20p? i don't know how but i have been to one where they work without putting anything in them - i'm not sure if they use tokens or something instead?

We went to one that had a kids hair salon where they can sit in a car and watch a DVD and beauty rooms which are a great hit with the mums. they offer a creche service so you can go off and get pampered or go and do your shopping whilst your kids go and play or bribe your kids with being able to play after having their hair cut.

One local one does a play scheme for children aged 8+ where you can leave the children and they have trained play supervisors to keep them amused. it is £7.99 in term time and £8.99 at weekends and in holidays. they have a creche for younger children which is £4.20 for up to 2 hours or £2.95 for up to 90 minutes.

One thing I've seen at one play centre that I haven't seen anywhere else is alarmed belts to put on the children when you go in, so that any child heading out the door will set the alarm off. The belts are 'locked' with a key onto the child's clothing. Very reassuring!

lockers for handbags, purses etc are great. i always have to make sure i wear trousers with large pockets cos i don't want to leave it unattended when i go on the equipment with ds. a buggy park could be useful too, plus those quick chargers for mobile phones. Make sure you have cheap socks to sell in a variety of sizes for both kids and adults. I've often been caught out in the summer when we're all wearing sandals!

a bit of music is fine obviously but not blaring!!

Library of magazines, newspapers and books along with some kids mags and books.

in cardiff there's a place called cafe junior which is a play area with lots of wooden toys. They have a brio train set, a wooden noahs ark, big wooden pirate ship, wooden farm with tractors and animals, dolls, cars, castles, kitchens, dogs, rocking horses, animals, push alongs, bricks, slides, play houses, books, prams, costumes and much more. i wish our play centre had a little area with stuff like this cos sometimes by little boy is too tired to go climbing and sliding and just wants a quiet play with trains and cars.

a big play pen where you can put younger babies would be good. i used to hate it when ds would crawl off and i would be trying to drink my drink. more than once i've jumped up in alarm to rescue him and knocked it all over me.

As for the play structure - ball pits, wavy slides, vertical slides, twirly slides, those rope swingy things, trampolines, up and down tunnels, rope bridges, cargo nets, those spinny things where you hold on to the pole, look outs, those big ball things that you can roll around on, those vertical and horizontal roller things that look like car washes, log thingys that you walk across, massive building blocks, giant connect 4, snakes and ladders, ludo, draughts, twister, chess etc

Free wifi.

Think that's everything, HTH!

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