If you're planning to launch an indoor playground business but are finding it difficult to find a larger-sized location or if you are operating within a cost constraint (i.e. you don't want to pay a bajillion dollars per month in rent) and are planning a smaller-footprint space, this article is for YOU.
And if you're a current owner of an indoor playground facility or play cafe business and you're about to skip this article-- let me stop you right there.
MOST of these tips and strategies I ended up implementing months or even YEARS into my business, after I realized I had not, in fact, made the most of the space I was working with at the beginning. So if you’re already open– stay with me , don’t tune this one out. You can STILL utilize the information here.
And for the information you can’t use– maybe you’re like me and will think ahead and use the tips for your second or third location.
So without further adieu, let's get into the 6 tips I have for you today about how to maximize the space inside of your indoor playground or play cafe business, even if you're already open.
This is one of those tips I did not realize the importance of until I was several months into opening. The cornerstone of our play area was our Lilliput play homes, and due to their size and central location, they felt overcrowded even if just a handful of kids were gathered in and around them. I quickly realized that we needed a way to spread the play activities around to include the perimeter of our space so that we could accommodate 20-25 kiddos at one time in the play area which is what we originally intended.
We added some gross motor activities such as a few slides and a crawl-and-climb-on caterpillar, but it still wasn’t enough. I ended up finding HABA wall equipment on Pinterest while I was searching for a solution, and I found a US based business called Sensory Edge that sold those wall pieces along with many other brands– and they became my complete solution.
We ended up utilizing a kickstarter for this revamp of our space since it cost us nearly $10,000, and if you want details about the logistics of that campaign and the strategies we used, go back and listen to episode 157 of my Profitable Play Podcast.
We spent a few long nights assembling all of the wall toys and BOOM– the results were even better than I had expected.
The traffic inside of our play area DID disperse and adding these toys also had the added benefit of making our space more inclusive of all abilities– since these toys were easily accessed whether kiddos were in wheelchairs or standing– and it also provided autistic children or children with sensory overwhelm an escape away from the more crowded and chaotic spaces inside of our play area.
By providing this fine motor play in the corners and along our perimeters, these wall toys really opened up our space, allowed us to accommodate more customers, and expanded our revenue potential.
And we added wall toys not just in our play area but also by check-in so kiddos would have something to occupy them while their parents checked in, as well as in our quiet corner that many parents used to relax or nurse younger siblings. By sprinkling these engaging toys throughout our space, we enhanced our customer experience as well as the accessibility of our space, and in my opinion was WELL worth the investment.
One strategy I’ve talked about before and also cover in more detail in my course is how to effectively utilize outside storage so you don’t have too much wasted space in your facility.
We invested in a small storage unit less than a mile away from our cafe and utilized wire rack shelving to stay organized– and anything we weren’t going to use that month went straight into this unit.
This meant overflow paper products, seasonal decor and lesser-used party supplies for our more unique themes, equipment like balloon hoops and photo backdrops, toys that were out of rotation, and any important papers that did not NEED to live at the cafe.
This cost less than $100 a month since it didn’t need to be climate controlled or overly large, but it allowed us to make our play area bigger and have less of these items cluttering our home or facility.
Now there is ONE exception to this strategy– and Alicia from Gentle Hands Play Space in Tallahassee wisely brought this up inside of Play Maker Society. While I still recommend offsite storage for the items I mentioned a moment ago– you SHOULD still have at least SOME available onsite space for storage OR a multipurpose room, which I regret not adding to our first location but did include in our second location.
While we still focused on private, high-ticket parties, having an additional room meant we could host classes and camps while also being open to the public if we wanted to– and YES, we could do birthday parties in there as well.
But as Alicia mentioned, she would love some more space inside her facility to store balloon garlands. Because while garlands were not as popular when she designed her space, balloon garlands people pick up and take to their offsite parties has become a major source of revenue now.
By including a multipurpose room in your buildout, you can expand your revenue potential in more ways than you can likely even THINK of now– because we don’t know yet what the newest party trends will be in the coming years.
So if you are PRE build out or you’re working on your second location– make sure you include even a basic multipurpose room.
But if you’re already open and are finding your space and home stacked to the brim with retail stock and coffee cups and halloween decorations you won’t touch again for a year– consider investing in a small and inexpensive offsite storage unit so you can simplify your space and create more room for your customers.
This is another strategy I didn’t know would impact the success of my business significantly until I saw the negative impacts of NOT implementing it a few months into my business.
As you’ll see when you open an indoor playground, even if you feel like you’re underwater and barely getting by–to everyone around you– you’ll seem successful. They’ll come in and see dozens of kids playing, do some mental math, and just assume you are ROLLING in dough.
And who knows, maybe you’re like me and you’re guilty of doing exactly that JUST before you started dreaming about and started planning your own business.
While that may seem like a good thing– that you’re doing an amazing job of hiding the realities of how hard and all consuming this business can be if we allow it– it can very easily backfire.
People who were once your most enthusiastic customers and vocal social media supporters will seemingly out of thin air post a google form survey in your local moms group– asking for feedback about their new business dream. You’ll start seeing go fund me’s pop up left and right.
Once people perceive your success, regardless of how accurate that picture is, they’ll want it for themselves.
Now this is NOT meant to scare you, it’s just reality. It happens EVERY time. Even if you enjoyed complete market share at the start of your journey– it won’t last.
So what does this have to do with investing in versatile, stackable tables and chairs?
It all comes down to empowering yourself and your business with the power of agility. Giving yourself the superpower of adapting to your new or old competitors and innovating with new products and services.
Of being able to transform your space easily and efficiently.
For us, play spaces just like ours started popping up after about a year. And while our revenue wasn’t affected much– my ego was definitely bruised. Even if our main revenue streams (parties and memberships) were unharmed due to their nature, I did see a drop in some other revenue streams like events and classes.
I knew I had to either innovate by offering classes my competitors could not, or I had to come up with NEW revenue streams to replace it.
But it became pretty clear pretty quickly that our space was just not designed to offer some of the hottest class options like music and movement and parent/ child yoga. Our play area did not have enough space and the play structures were just too distracting for the kids– it led to participating parents being forced to chase after the kids the whole class, which did not lead to them feeling like they got much value from the instruction.
So we decided to replace our cumbersome and clunky cafe furniture with more flexible seating options.
This allowed us to again be able to transform our space for things like classes, vendor events, and more. It allowed us do deep clean much more easily, further differentiating ourselves from our competition. We were all of a sudden able to load our tables and chairs into a van and rent them out for offsite events.
Again, it all comes down to not restricting your ability to innovate and evolve– whether it's due to new trends or customer desires– or due to competition. If you restrict the use of your space and your assets– you will directly restrict the revenue you can make and the financial freedom you can allow yourself as the owner.
One thing that we did incorporate into both our locations' build outs was counter seating overlooking the play area and compact seating along our 3 foot wall overlooking the play area. By not needing to scatter seating throughout the play area, we delivered a more open and exciting play experience, while still offering comfort to the parents.
If you want to see photos of all our seating, again, please head over to YouTube. One of the keys is that no matter which table or stool a parent chose, they were able to supervise their children effectively and intervene easily if needed. Of course, if you have a very large facility this may not be realistic, but if you have a toddler or infant area I’d urge you to at least consider adding this into your plans or adding it.
One of the biggest complaints I hear from current owners is that parents do not supervise their kiddos in their indoor playground business. One of the easiest solutions to this is for us as owners to make it as easy as possible for parents to remain close to their children while still being able to rest their tired feet or nurse an infant comfortably.
While this isn’t something I did, I see many owners inside of Play Maker Society utilizing non permanent walls to reduce their build out costs and make their space more versatile.
One of the companies that did this really well is My Play Cafe from Missouri and the owner, Tiffany, used Everblock walls to accomplish this. While these blocks are expensive– they are STILL much more affordable than hiring a contractor to build a new wall, then painting it, then adding a countertop, etc.
And one of the things I always tell new owners is that you just CANNOT predict how customers will use your space until you’re open. Until they’re in it. Only once your open will you see “oh— this maybe should have gone here, or adding this counter here creates a crowd or a line thats uncomfortable”.
And while I do provide all of my best practices for designing a profitable and pleasant interior in my Play Cafe Academy course– there are some issues that are due to a spaces specific nuances that just cannot be controlled for or predicted prior to that opening day.
So non permanent walls are just one more way to empower yourself and your play cafe business with versatility and agility so you can adapt and change as your business needs it.
Now this is one tip I did NOT include on YouTube but it was shared by owner Kim inside of Play Maker Society. She mentioned that one way she is making the most of her smaller space is to build UP inside of her play area, and use her ceiling height as much as possible.
I have shared before how much I regret not adding more gross motor play into either of my locations for various reasons so– if your space HAS height– be sure to put it to use!
Your Business Plan is the first major milestone of your planning process, but MUST be completed with accuracy and detail to ensure success in this industry. Join me WEDNESDAY December 6 at 12:00 PM ET!
I asked 7 Play Cafe Academy and Play Maker Society members what is working RIGHT NOW in their businesses to attract customers and grow sales. I want to send you their answers in my FREE newly updated 2023 "What's Working" Guide!