8 Tips For Surviving The Summer Slow Down In The Indoor Playground Industry


 🎧 LISTEN To This Content On The Profitable Play Podcast Instead.


Now that it’s the end of June and we are fully in the summer swing of things- it’s happening again.

The summer slowdown in the indoor playground and play cafe industry.

And yes, I realize that for some of you owners– summer is BUSY season especially if you’re in a southern state or country where it’s too HOT to be outside right now.  But for the majority of owners I work with, summer is the slowest time of the year– with June and September being particularly difficult, which was true for my business as well in New York. 

So even if summer is NOT your slow season– these tips will come in handy once your weather starts being more conducive to outdoor play and less people are wanting to spend too much time indoors.

Play cafe owners in many areas have slowly realized over the last month or so– oh crap, my sales and traffic are WAY down. There have been days where NO ONE comes in for open play. My July and August party calendars are wide open. 

And two questions inevitably pop up in their minds.

  1. How did this happen?
  2. What now?

And regarding this first question– I just have to say– it’s NOT you. 

There is nothing wrong with your space or your design or your equipment or your menu– seasonality is an industry wide issue and it impacts nearly everyone.

And while the BAD news is that this is an unavoidable issue– the good news is that it is absolutely a SOLVABLE issue.. And that should feel really empowering. Plenty of business owners, myself included, have been IN YOUR SHOES, and have come out the other side.

And that brings me to another good news/ bad news situation.

The BAD news is that what's happening in your business right now, is not a reflection on  what you’re doing RIGHT NOW. Instead, your sales today are actually a reflection of what you did 3, 6, 9, and 12 months ago to prepare for this seasonal dip.

For many businesses, the summer slowdown requires a complete transformation of their business model- which simply takes planning, strategy, and TIME. For us, this was absolutely true.

And though I spent a lot of time this past winter on my podcast talking about summer camp promotions and summer memberships and balloon revenue and mobile events– unless you took those episodes and put them into action when they were released– they won’t help you much now. 

We are already too deep into summer to make radical changes and feel the same revenue impact that you would have if you had started putting a plan into action many months ago. So don’t consider this your guide to thriving in the summer, though it can absolutely be your guide to surviving.

And I see this a lot especially with new businesses who opened during their peak busy season, or just before it. They open and are immediately packed to capacity and get tons of bookings and sales and members flooding in– and they get a bit complacent. 

They assume that pace will sustain itself forever. 

And while many of these owners do anticipate a dip in their slow season, they are often shocked at JUST how drastic the dip can be . To give you an example, our open play traffic didn’t just take a 25% dip in the summer. The first summer we were open, most days our open play was down a staggering 80% or more– and when open play is down– cafe sales are down, bookings can go down, reviews and referrals and social media engagement can go down– it all unravels until every single revenue stream you have seems to be completely withering away. 

And if you can’t tell, I am speaking from experience. 

That first summer, I woke up EVERY. SINGLE. DAY. just contemplating throwing in the towel. I was absolutely flabbergasted that a facility we were turning people away from just a month prior, was now going days without a visit. 

So if you are one of those owners who maybe got a little complacent and didn’t release summer camps back in January and didn’t book mobile events before the weather warmed up and underestimated just how significant your seasonal impact would be–

You are not alone. I did the same thing. MANY of us did the same thing. And guess what? It wasn’t easy, but we pushed through and we survived. And the next summer? We did not see a decrease in sales whatsoever. We had learned to completely shift our revenue streams WITH the changing customer needs and wants instead of fighting against them. 

Because no matter how much you do open play sales or do new feature drinks or host fun events– in some areas, people just will NOT pay to play indoors in the winter. Your energy is better spent going WITH this flow, riding the wave, and taking advantage of addressing the wants people DO have in the summer. 

Otherwise, you will be fighting for scraps and barely making it through each day. And that is just not sustainable long term. Not just from a business perspective, but from a personal standpoint as well. You will burnout SO incredibly quickly if you panic and just try to cut cost after cost and turn your business into a skeleton operation to survive the summer, and assume that’s a long-term solution. 

This is the time to hit the accelerator, not to coast or shrink or shy away. 

And if this is something you want to dive deeper on, I have an episode coming out shortly about hiring and delegating even when you have NO money to do so– maybe because of a shockingly slow summer, perhaps– so stay tuned for that one, 

So, anyway- that’s the bad news. That the best time to start gearing up for the summer slow down would have been 6-9 months ago.  

But the good news is that the SECOND best time to do something about your current situation is always RIGHT NOW. 

While you likely won’t be able to scrape together a wildly successful membership or camp program or mobile event division from scratch right now– there are still things you can do to at least make it through THIS summer, and start making preparations for NEXT summer, before you get swept into your busy season and all of a sudden have every excuse in the book to fall back into complacency or “coast” mode. 

Alright without further ado here are 8 things you can do to survive the summer slowdown even if you’re late to the game. 


1) Summer Memberships

And you’re probably thinking– wait, I thought Michele literally just said it’s too late to launch a summer membership program.

Well, if you want to follow my summer membership strategy to the letter, it is. But, there are STILL ways to make this work even if you got a late start.

So let’s talk about how to do a quicker, scrappier version of this strategy. Because it’s better than nothing.

Instead of a whole season membership, consider a one or two month pass at a significant discount. If you already have members paying and are worried about upsetting them, consider a scaled back version of what your current membership offer is.

Maybe you’re slowest in the afternoons, so you can do a cheaper one-month membership JUST good in the afternoons, from 1-4. Or maybe it’s JUST for kiddos under 2, who take up less space and make less mess, and are LESS likely to be able to play at a playground or splash pad or other free outdoor option this summer. 

Trust that there are still people out there who are looking for summer play options, especially teachers who are off for the summer and especially parents of very young children who are not able to utilize as many of the free outdoor options and whose lives are not ruled by summer sports yet. 

And consider a buy-one-get-one option or a referral program– so one sign-up turns into 3 or 4 from one friend group or family or neighborhood. 

And don’t be afraid to offer a REALLY good price– summers are busy for people- and if your open-play attendance has been low, it can’t hurt! More people in the door equals more cafe and retail sales, more opportunities for upselling and birthday bookings, more opportunities for pictures posted to social media and positive reviews,  and more. 

I have found that when people DO come in the summer, they play for shorter lengths of time as well- mainly just for a change of scenery or to escape the heat or any inclement weather! People will not be camping out for hours or the day like they tend to in winter months. 

However, if capacity in your indoor playground is a concern for you, consider something like a “power hour” membership, where instead of limiting the amount of days per month someone can visit, limit their visit length to an hour. 

These less expensive, one or two month memberships make excellent gifts as well, since they are not a recurring charge or as expensive as an annual membership.

This is a perfect chance to utilize the birthdate field in your email list (which we talk about in episode 48 of my profitable play podcast) to send multiple emails to anyone whos child has a summer birthday! This would be a great experience for the parents to add to their wish list from family, friends, or themselves.


2) Summer Camps

Now similar to summer memberships, it’s definitely too late in the game for a full-fledged summer camp program. However, if a drop-off camp program is something you plan on offering next summer to make more consistent and reliable revenue during the summer slowdown, NOW is the PERFECT time to dip your toe in the water, practice hosting drop-offs, and take TONS of pictures and videos to use as marketing assets in your promotions.

Consider doing a single-day camp or two, or consider doing drop-off hours every Monday, or whatever a slow day might be for you.

Many work-from-home parents or even stay-at-home-parents may need just a few hours per week to make calls, meet a deadline, or just run errands. And it will be much easier to sell a one-day offer right now than it will be to launch an entire camp program.

You can also try promoting it to your members or current customers first or exclusively, as a thank you for supporting you thus far in your journey.

And like I said, USE this as a major opportunity to learn what works and what does NOT work for camps in your space and take a TON of photos and videos assuming you have a photo release in your waiver! And ask for both written and even video testimonials from the parents- and reward them for doing so with a gift card off a future purchase. 

Asking parents next year to sign up for a camp program without showing them exactly what they can expect with photos and videos and without any social proof or camp-specific reviews will be an uphill battle. The first year you offer a camp program will be the hardest, because there are people’s kids- their WORLDS. They will want some assurance that it’s a safe place to leave their child. So leaning on your customers who already know, like, and trust you for a beta-program of sorts will make marketing and promoting your summer camps next year SO much easier and more effective. 

Summer Camp Program Tips (Episode 158): https://bit.ly/4biZWDh

Summer Camp Execution Tips (Episode 159): https://bit.ly/4cetjrp


3) Co-Working

Similar to summer camps, consider offering a pilot or beta program for co-working hours, if that is a revenue stream you might plan on launching to make more cash next summer. 

Take photos and videos, collect feedback, consider a referral program to reward your first participants and increase enrollment the next time, and you will be setting yourself up for a much more successful launch if you to decide to roll something like that out fully.

And who knows? Maybe it WON'T work in your space, and having a test or pilot program will prevent you from a lot of headaches and losses and unhappy customers and employees next year. 

Co-working did not work for us, for example, because we just did not have enough separation in our facility for parents to hide outside of their child’s sightline- so event hough we were offering supervision, the children would continuously want to or insist on running back to their parents every free chance, taking away from that parent's ability to focus. 

A great coworking friendly space to check out for inspiration is Play Maker Society member Janell from Jordan’s Corner. She recently launched a brand new space called Jordan Works specifically for the purpose of providing a coworking space for families with small children.


4) Focus on Babies

Learning to focus more on babies and very young toddlers for summertime offerings was a major breakthrough for my play cafe business. As I touched on in a previous point, crawlers and early walkers are typically too little for many of the outdoor options during even the most favorable weather. 

As I have talked about previously, we focused on first birthday parties specifically year-round for a multitude of reasons- but one of them was absolutely mitigating the summer slump.

We learned that if we became the go-to destination for first birthday parties year-round, our bookings were more consistent in the summer automatically without needing to exert extra marketing effort.

We also focused on baby events and classes, especially in spring and summer- because we knew that if we gave customers a great experience at a class or event – it would lead to increases in our key revenue streams – birthdays and memberships. We did baby boo bashes for halloween, a crawler/ early-walker easter egg hunt, lots of craft events for babies for mothers and fathers day, baby music, yoga, sign-language, and foreign language immersion classes, and more. All of these generated revenue and a positive profit on their own, but they all served a longer term goal of booking out our summer calendar and membership spots. 

You can also do babies and brunch, new-parent meetups, and member mingle events for this age group- because socialization is something many young babies need as well– not to mention, their parents too, who probably would not mind making a new friend or two in the process!

So if you are putting together a new class, event, or offer- consider hosting it for those in your audience who likely have the LEAST amount of other options available to them– babies and very young toddlers- and be sure you have marketing and sales systems in place to upsell them to your more significant offers after-the-fact– because of course that is KEY.

These events and classes will NOT convert to larger offerings unless you have these systems and strategies in place.


5) Kindergarten and Pre-K Readiness Classes

If your play cafe space does NOT cater to babies and young toddlers, this could be a great option for you as well. Parents are always looking for socialization opportunities and prep classes right before their little one goes to school for the first time. 

If you have a background in education, you could be a great person to host this class, or you could hire a kindergarten teacher or preschool teacher who is off for the summer to help, which is what I chose to do.

Now I am not saying you should be teaching these little ones their letters and numbers necessarily. There are tons of skills that are crucial in a school environment that have nothing to do with academics, that many teachers and parents view as even MORE important.

Things like raising their hand, waiting in line, being kind to friends, sitting for circle time, washing their hands, sitting and eating a meal with a group, following instructions from an adult other than a parent, and more are all skills that can greatly help a child’s transition to a more structured environment.

So hosting a 3-day parent-participating camp or a recurring class could be a great thing to promote right now as many parents may be panicking that they have not done enough as the school year approaches.


6) Educate Your Customers on Indoor Play Benefits In The Summer

While the benefits of indoor play in the summer like air conditioning, iced drink options, an enclosed play space, and more can seem like no-brainers to us as owners because we are so close to our businesses– it may need reiterating to our audiences.

When a parent is scrolling social media while their kids are eating breakfast wondering what the heck they should do that day- just imagine popping up in their feed at that moment, offering a cool and fun oasis where the kids can get a likely much-needed change of scenery and meet up with some peers. 

We love playgrounds and zoos and parks in the summer- but sometimes we just need something DIFFERENT. And as a parent, I’d especially love a change-of-pace that allows me to sit down and sip on a nice drink while my kids play within eye-sight- as opposed to sitting on a park bench being hyper-observant of every person, sound, and potential danger around me.

I’m not saying one activity is better than the other, but kids and parents alike need VARIETY. But I also won’t just think of going to an indoor space in the summer unless I’m reminded or I see a cool offer or special event or class. 

So staying active and top of mind for your customers on social media and especially in their inboxes, because you KNOW how tricky social media algorithms can be, is so important.

I love compiling summer tips and the benefits of indoor play into a blog article that I can link to in my posts and emails since I can reuse that content  year after year, and because I know that if I can get people to my website– I can give them all sorts of offers and calls-to-action to convert them to an actual buyer– which can be tricky if you are relying on social media alone.

A great example of a Play Maker Society member who’s doing an amazing job with this is Monkey Around Play Cafe in Billings, MT. I did a coaching call with her on the podcast a few months back if that name sounds familiar but if not her Tik Tok is linked here!


7) Mobile Events

I have talked about this on YouTube and I have an entire mini-course about launching a mobile event division for your business but just as a reminder- this is another great way to go WITH the flow of customer needs and preferences in the nicer weather instead of trying to fight against the current.

Offering soft play rentals, tent or table and chair rentals, party decorating services ,balloon services and MORE could all be extremely profitable offers if people are celebrating outdoors.

And going mobile can open your business up to being able to serve not just kids parties at third-party venues and homes but graduations, baby and wedding showers, family reunions, company picnics, and more.

While, like summer camps and memberships, it’s likely too late to launch an entirely new revenue stream and have it make any significant impact this far into the season– there is still PLENTY of opportunity.

Reach out to your existing customers and members first– and ask if any of them have any needs for upcoming summer events. If they say they need some balloons? Offer to prepare a garland for pick up.

If they need an activity for the kids to do and you already do something like sell sensory bins? Offer to come to the party or send a staff member to do a make-your-own-sensory-bin activity that will double as their party favor. 

Is someone getting married and they need help watching some kids during a ceremony or reception? If you already offer drop-off services and feel comfortable– offer to come and keep the kids entertained as a babysitting service.

See what needs are out there with those who already know, like and trust you because THEY will be most willing and likely to pay– and see how it goes.

Use the money to pay your bills and take TONS of pictures and videos and use those assets to expand on this service next season and make an even bigger impact on your bottom line. 

I have also found that it is much easier to sell to businesses than individuals–

So if you know any business owners in the area, see if THEY have any needs. Maybe they would like to do a customer appreciation event, or maybe they have a big sale coming up that balloons would be great for. OR you could even pitch that they throw their event at YOUR space for a special summer rate.

If you are hurting for cash and need to make money RIGHT NOW- the key is to look at your CURRENT assets and what you ALREADY offer and have at your disposal, and think outside the box in terms of how you can use those assets to serve anyone and everyone in your community.

So put yourself out there, go door to door in your business district if you have to– but you have services to sell and value to add– so make sure everyone in your town is aware of it.

Do NOT let me catch you begging and pleading with your customers on social media to support you over the summer or even threaten having to close- BEFORE you have really thought outside the box and presented them with NEW and exciting offers that solve their seasonal needs and problems.

It is NOT your customers’ responsibility to keep you in business during your slow season if YOU are not listening to them and adapting to their seasonal needs. So quit it. Right now.

And by the way– if you are really hurting for cash- skip the fairs and booth rentals.

I have an entire podcast breaking down the cost-benefit analysis of such events- but if you are barely making it month to month in your slow season- these are NOT a good use of your time and energy. Instead, reach out as I said for PAID opportunities, because you can still generate new leads and bookings from paid services, just be sure to have an electronic waiver that allows you to add people to your email list so you can convert guests into future buyers.


8) Community Events

Now while I suggest skipping the crowded booth-type events like fairs and such if you’re really struggling– there ARE ways you can be active and present in your community while making a bigger dent in your cash needs.

Doing a community event like a community baby shower, a fundraiser (more info on this strategy here!), or something similar can get more people in YOUR door and buying your other items, rather than just casually stopping by your booth and probably not making any sort of buying decision. 

And get business sponsors whenever possible for these or ANY of your events.

Don’t forget- if you have a slow season, many businesses in your area likely have one as well. While you’re knocking on doors asking if they need your decor or event services, ask if they are open to collaborating with or sponsoring one of YOUR events.

Business owners have amazing ideas- so tap into their wealth of knowledge and experience!

I recently had a client say they were having trouble filling camp spots and they were thinking of canceling- but refunding and losing more money and disappointing customers who were relying on you is, in my opinion, the worst thing to do in that scenario.

I encouraged her to instead reach out to local business owners, pediatricians, orthodontists, car dealers, real estate agents, financial advisors and more to consider giving away a few camp spots to the community. This is a great way to have a business “sponsor” a camp or event, while creating mutual benefit.

YOUR benefit is getting paid for the spots by the business and filling up your class or event or class so all those marketing assets you take look even more attractive to people next year, and their benefit is looking REALLY generous to everyone who follows either or both of you on social media!

A lot of people are hesitant to ask for money from other businesses during their slow season because they don’t have a lot of traffic in their doors. But THIS is the perfect opportunity to leverage your email list and social channels you’ve worked so hard to build.

While you can’t promise a certain number of people in the door, you can promise x number of posts, x number of stories, x number of emails, and you can put together a creative giveaway or content that gets a ton of shares, engagements, and follows for you both.

Keep your mind open and be willing to be creative in terms of how to get people in the door so you can work your magic and convert them into long-term customers, all while potentially serving your community or a well-deserving family or cause.


The KEYS to surviving the summer season in the family entertainment and indoor play industry can be summarized as:

  • Going WITH the flow of changing customer needs, instead of fighting against it
  • Staying agile and not being afraid to take your current skills and assets and creating a new way to offer them to serve more people
  • Using your downtime to test new strategies and gain marketing assets (testimonials, photos, and videos) to make promoting your full launch of them easier
  • Focusing on BIG IMPACT sales- It will be much easier to make 10-20, $200 sales than hundreds of $15 sales


For more tips and strategies, check out my Profitable Play Podcast or enroll in Play Cafe Academy, my signature program to create a successful indoor playground or play cafe!




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