Indoor Playground Themeing
To Theme or Not to Theme?
If your children's entertainment center project or indoor party center business is hoping to attract copius amounts of profitable birthday parties, then chances are good you are thinking about including an indoor playground of some kind. When pursuing this goal of ours, we sometimes forget who our target market is and focus on what we (adults) think is cool. Many times as a fun-loving entrepreneur that works out pretty good, but sometimes, it's just selfish and not in the best interest of your overall business goals or your target market. Playground themeing seems to fall into that category often, as grown adults stretch themselves to create their "fantasy-land" instead of focusing on the target customer.
Themeing Your Indoor Playground
There is no doubt that a lot of indoor playground companies are going to encourage you to theme your indoor playground structure. You may end up hearing how important themeing is and how you must create a wow effect to compete, or how much more kids will like it and that a highly themed indoor playground will ensure lots and lots of repeat visits - don't you believe it. The number one reason an indoor play manufacturer will tell you themeing your indoor playground is important, is because there is huge margin in playground themeing.
Absolutely, themeing creates a Wow effect, and this does have an affect the minds and attitude of your guests, but it also affects the play-a-bility of your indoor play and how kids interact with that playability over the long term.
The challenge with playground themeing is two-fold;
- Once a castle, always a castle
- Indoor playground themeing costs.
|Minimal use of themeing with colors, murals and painted panels helps to reduce the cost and creates an 'expandable' theme that can grow, or be changed as dictated by the business at a reasonable expense.|
Playground Themeing - Always a Castle
As you know children have a vivid and active imagination. Many early childhood practitioners will tell you the best and natural way for children to develop their own creative imagination is through pretend play. While a themed environment can help facilitate this, once your play area is themed a particular way, due to the expense and effort it usually stays that way over the long term.
Now little Jimmy who may feel like a pretending to be a King on one visit fits right into the Castle theme. Next time he may wish he were Tarzan or the Hulk, or a Pirate chasing buried treasure, but he is still forced to play in the Castle. Kids are incredibly resilient and will tend to make a new environment whatever they want it to be - for awhile. The risk you run on a themed playground is that over time it may lose it's appeal to your repeat (core) market.
This scenario may change if you are located along 'themed-row' in Orlando, for example where you HAVE to have some kind of themeing wow-factor to catch the over-whelmed tourist eye. However, if your indoor party center is dependant on your local community for repeat visits, parties, etc then your key to success is not so much in the wow! factor, but your fun center's overall play-a-bility factor.
Themed Playgrounds - At What Cost?
The other factor when looking at themeing your indoor playground is the cost. Themeing can very quickly consume 20% - 30% of your overall playground budget - and that's for "esthetics" only. There is next to zero play-value (play-a-bility) in themeing. As we have previously discussed, the critical success factor underlying your entire facility is "play-a-bility". From your activity mix, to your party packages, to the way your staff members engage your customers... play-a-bility is the key.
For Example: you could design a playground with a capacity for 80 children at one time that may turn out to be 32' x 28' x 18' tall. Inside the play-a-bility factor may include 26 activities, events and play components and may cost you $70,000 (plus installation).
Spend $14,000 on themeing (20%) and your play-a-bility budget drops to $56,000 - so now your play-a-bility factor is down to 17 or 18 activities, but it looks really cool. Parents and children on their initial visit will be wow! this is cool, but the play-value has been compromised, and it will become quicker for the child to become bored with the reduced amount of activities and events that make up your indoor playground's overall experience.
Themed Options for Indoor Playgrounds
There are methods of reducing the costs to themeing, while still managing to create a playground design that is attractive and with some wow! factor for your guests without having to compromise too much on play-a-bility. Rather than using structural or fiberglass themeing, (actually building a large tree-fort out of steel with a fiberglass cover), carved spray-foam is one way of reducing costs. However, this method does require an artisans time in carving, painting and protecting so used sparringly is also a good idea... maybe as a theme entry way to the main entrance of the playground.
A second method is to use simple themed panels that are airbrushed. These can be done on vinyl right on the exterior grids of the playground, or directly on the box-netting (safety no-climb-netting) of any specific grid. This, along with a themed background painted on the walls around and in behind your indoor play structure can also create a themed environment without breaking the bank.
On the right is a neat example of this very strategy by Atomic Playgrounds - notice how they use murals along the grids, and cut those murals so they do not interfer with visibility and site lines for mom.
There are a lot of good indoor playground equipment manufacturers that can help you with the design and themed options, just try to keep any themeing costs below 20% of your overall playground budget.