Indoor Playgrounds

soft indoor playgrounds for children's entertainment centersAfter 30 some years, that standard indoor play structure is still the number one activity when it comes to driving traffic and party guests at the local children's entertainment center, or indoor party center business. Indoor playgrounds, soft play, climbing structure, jungle gym, soft modular play or simple playground equipment - whatever you call it, soft indoor playgrounds have really stood the test of time as a successful amusement attraction.

If you target young families with kids aged 2 to 12 years old, there are only a couple of activity options for gross-play that have good through-put, low staffing requirements and minimal ongoing maintenance; soft indoor playgrounds and inflatable jumpers. There are other activities that have capacity for good through-put, like miniature golf, laser tag, some carnival type rides and high ropes course. But all of these require either more build-out expense, staffing and/or regular maintenance.

Indoor Playground vs. Inflatable Bounce Houses

We all know inflatable bounce houses and jumpers are by far the cheapest way to get into and call yourself an "indoor party center" business. However, these inflatable bounce houses are a dime a dozen, often very noisy and are really a one-trick pony that mostly offers jumps and slides. In this writers opinion, your typical bounce house business could be a good business to start, in terms of capital required. However at the sign of your success others who are counting cars in your parking lot on a Saturday afternoon may be eager to get in on your action, and can do so by creating a better experience with the addition of a soft indoor playground structure.

Creating a successful, long term children's entertainment center business is not just about how cheap can we do it, or how many inflatables we can stuff into an old warehouse. Nor is it about building the largest indoor soft contained playground you can afford and just watching the cash roll in. I would suggest, that the best formula for creating a successful indoor party center is to look at creating a purposeful design indoor playground climbing structure as the anchor attraction with an assortment of complimentary activities and a superior guest experience.

For this article, lets just focus on the indoor play equipment.

Indoor playgrounds simply offer more play ability through a diversity of activities. Climbing, sliding, crawling, jumping, swinging, plus the added stimulation of a multi-level playground structure that encourages kids to think creatively as they explore a multi-dimension environment. I have nothing against inflatables jumpers or bounce houses, but I do see a lot of new amusement entrepreneurs who build their long term financial expectations on throwing 5 or 6 blow-ups into a warehouse and waiting for the customers to pour in. There is a place for inflatables as part of well designed attraction mix for a children's entertainment center, but I think (and the market has validated) the long term profitability of an inflatable only type business, is a difficult, low margin business to be in.

Indoor Playgrounds From China

On the other side of the coin, looking for the cheapest indoor playground equipment from China, or trying to find a used playground and make it new, are expensive lessons waiting to happen. I know from receiving literally hundreds of emails a month from Chinese manufacturers, that they are very eager and flooding the North American market with offers to buy competitive designs at 70% off pricing. Recently, one of our Startup Academy graduates, went against our best advice, and was lured into the attractive price-based decision to purchase an indoor playground from China. Having received quotes here in North America for upwards of $180,000 - $200,000 USD for a rather large 70' x 40' 3-level soft play climbing structure, he decided the $70,000 indoor playground from China, at the same size with even more activities (so he was told) was a much better buy.

The promise of great savings clouded his judgement and apparently disabled his hearing, because a couple of things we discussed during the academy program went in one ear and out the other. First off, these guys wanted 90% payment before they would ship the indoor playground, and the balance due at port before they would release to container - are you crazy? Are you going to give these guys full payment BEFORE you see your product? See what low prices do to people. Once the shipment arrived at the location, it sat for close to a month because the installers from China who were going to set it up were late on arrival. Once the installers did arrive, there was one guy instead of the 5 that were promised.indoor playgrounds from china

This did a couple of ugly things. First, he had to pay extra for onsite storage of the container. Secondly, he had to scramble locally to try and find some Chinese speaking labor he could hire to help the installer from China, which cost him more money. A late start with less labor then agreed upon delayed the opening of the center, and he lost money on initial marketing. The construction delay ate into the three months free lease he negotiated, affecting his projected first year gross revenues. It also trickled everything down the line, delayed the hiring and training of staff, and it caused him to miss the seasonal group opportunities prior to Christmas. And guess what - because it was paid in advance, the buyer had no recourse but to suck it up and try to get it completed asap.

Once the playground equipment was finally installed and finished, the biggest slap in the face was, unknown to him all of the playground grids were 4 feet tall, including the lower level where guests enter the play structure. This is bad news because you now have a very restrictive anchor attraction that is difficult, if not comfortably impossible for adults and/or staff to get into the playground. No big deal you say? Well, in this case it was a big deal, because the fec business plan and financial projections were based on the local community and a target audience of 2 to 12 year olds. I hate to break it to you, but 12 year olds are not going to have fun crawling around in 4 foot grids. For that matter, most 8 year olds will not either.

So, one year later, his gross numbers are about 65% of what they should be, and the toll on his initial business branding (for ages 2 - 12 years old) has gone out the window, now that the community has branded him an indoor play center for 8 year olds and younger. Ouch!

This is just such a shame, because the location offered wide open, 24 foot ceilings with lots of room for beautiful fast slides and a big, open and inviting ground level that would have encouraged adults to enter and participate with their children along with easier access for staff to monitor and nurture the play experience. In this case, the cheapest indoor playground was not the bargain it initially looked like.

Price is important, we all know that. But I hear similar stories to this one more and more as new amusement developers look to get started "on the cheap". There are many things to be aware of as you head down the road to fec startup, but at the end of the day, keep in mind that it is the guest experience you deliver that will ultimately determine your community success. Balancing the right attractions for your business goals and local market opportunity is paramount to indoor party center success.


Arcade Games vs Redemption Games

Arcade Games vs. Redemption Games

When starting a new family fun center or other indoor party center business deciding on which arcade games (if any) to include is a decision that needs to be based on the kind of business you are looking to start. Depending on what kind of facility and target market you are trying to attract has a great deal to do with the kind of games you may want to offer. The industry has two types of games; Arcade Games and Redemptions Games.

Arcade Games are typically games that appeal to older children, teenagers and young adults. They include a wide variety of genre's, from first-person shooters to race games, riding games, role-play games and even some sporting and virtual reality or simulation games. They are typically found in arcades and most multi-attraction family entertainment centers offer some variety of arcade games.

Redemption Games are easily identifiable as they give out tickets as you play. You redeem these tickets for merchandise and prizes. Redemption games also come in a variety of sizes and arcade game machinesgame play and play value.

Like every other activity in your fun center, both types of games have a "play-value" or play-a-bility. The greater the play-value, typically, the greater the return to the player and in most cases the greater return to you as those games are sought after more then others. However, your center needs a wide assortment of play-value from your selection of games. You need some games with a quick return, like the coin-shovel games, and you need other games that offer a longer play-value, like Skee-ball or mini-basketball bankshot.

Arcade Games

arcade game machines include driving gamesAs discussed in how to start an arcade business, arcade games have received a lot of attention lately with their perceived tendancy towards violent and destructive content. They tend to attract teenagers looking to beat the recent high scores and that's good news for you if you plan on attracting this age demographic within your target market. If not, then arcade games may be a detriment, as many parents we talk to are not interested in their children playing these games, or in taking their younger children to an "arcade" where the perception of games and game type is often negative.

Redemption Games

A family entertainment center business will do well to include these kinds of games. Typically, they offer good play-value for younger children and parents and with a little work can really add dollars to your bottom line. With the right mix of redemption games and play-value, in the right location within your facility and in conjunction with a well stocked, value-based merchandising counter, you could see as much as 30% - 40% of your revenues come from these games and your "up-sell" merchandise counter.

In addition, for many children's fun centers appealing to dad is a challenge as the focus generally tends to be more heavily on mom and the younger child then on dads. Redemption games offer fathers an opportunity to play along with their child in a fun and exciting manner. Together they can play and earn tickets, and make the trip to the redemption counter to get their prize.

Arcade Games vs. Redemption Games - Where's The Money?

Good game location, plays directly into good facility design. Which games should you offer and where should you put them has a large impact on how well the games will drive revenues for you. Same thing applies to your merchandise. What products to include, how to display them prominently, how to tap into pop culture - all have a direct impact on your gross revenue potential.

The true strength of the redemption game is the ability to redeem the tickets for prizes. Once that child approaches your redemption counter and see's all the other possible prizes, she is redemption games with ticket dispensersimmediately drawn into a habitual process of trying to get that bigger prize. Luckily for you, she always come to your center with her bankers (parents) and what parents can deny their child at least one chance at that prize? With a keen eye to merchandise and display, your redemption games and merchandising counter could make a substantial difference in your monthly revenues.

Arcade Machines at Home

As gaming systems from XBOX, PS3 and Nintendo started being bought by more typical families, game halls were still as a majority able to stay in business. In those times, the game halls still typically had available more advanced games than the home gaming systems. The animation were more realistic and the way the games were played was more intricate and true to life. The set up of penny arcade games led to more advanced options and for more types of games, games like simulations and shooters with realistic weapons.

After this, developments in the gaming realm began to be deployed towards increasingly in the household gaming devices. A ever evolving time line of give or take 3 or 5 years created even more realistic games. The animation, experience itself, genre and basic prospects of individual games advanced at a crazy velocity.

Video Game Rentals On-Line

Household games also moved towards party games, which paved the path for a handful of guys not needing to head to the game hall to face off against each other in their most liked game type. They were able to square off against one another from their own homes. What was a bad development for the game hall was the fairly recent technology of internet gaming. Using that gamers can log on and enjoy assorted tests in a vast quantity of video games. They did not need to move from their home to play a video game, and they could actually play at any time of day they felt like it.

An additional consideration that resulted in the destruction of the game hall has been the furthering in abilities of tvs and computer screens. The cost of both of these has moved lower while the detail of the displayed images has advanced greatly with high definition tvs. Now homes have within their means huge televisions in their living areas or hangout room with superior realism. They could use their game console, participate in superior games and participate against other people all around the world. The game hall just isn’t fundamental resource now.

Game Rentals

The game hall may for all time have its uses in some niches. A few people said the evolving of the amusement arcade was the trendy internet cafe, where anyone took part in mega multi-user games with each other from one location. With that said, the game hall has been phased out by the presence of and stellar qualities of the personal game consoles that are in who knows how many family households.


Writing a Business Plan - 60 Second Guide

No two business plans look alike—nor should they. While many small businesses launch without a plan in sight, if you are bent on seeking funding, whether from a bank, angel or venture capitalist, you’ll need a business plan.

This task can be agonizing to some entrepreneurs—who fancy discussions about the big picture—and liberating for others—who spend too many wakeful nights counting sheep. To grow and survive, strategic thinking is essential.

In just 60-seconds, we’ll show you how to plan for your business’s future without over planning yourself out of existence.

0:60 Think Before You Act
In the reactionary, frenetic pace of entrepreneurs, doing is usually much more important than thinking. Taking weeks or months researching and reflecting on your business idea will help you face some tough questions—ones often overlooked amid all that doing. This means gathering data, evaluating your concept, assessing the market for your product or service and studying the competition. If you’re thinking about outsourcing these tasks, stop right there. It’s best to do it yourself.

0:43 Get Help from Others
Involve your management team (if you’re an existing business owner), professional consultants, other small business owners and anyone you trust enough to take a look at your plan. And, don’t forget to Ask SCORE for help. Some of the best and most unexpected ideas come from discussing your plans with others.

0:38 Get Personal
There is no one template to follow when creating your business plan. While many entrepreneurs start with a software package or template to cover the basics, be sure the plan works for you and meets your needs. But there are a few rules you should follow—be clear, concise and brief. Your plan should not be more than 25 pages.

0:23 Present Facts & Evidence
It’s crucial that your financial projections and sales estimates are based on thoughtful research and evidence. A potential funder will see right though it if you are padding the numbers. So make sure you can back up your assertions. Avoid using jargon and don’t make unverifiable statements—they will be challenged. Disclose any bad news yourself, rather than risk an investor finding out on their own.

0:11 Make the Plan an Oral Presentation
Be sure to structure your business plan to make it easy to present the information to potential investors or lenders. It may be helpful to consult with your intended audience as the planning process moves along. Listen carefully to their advice, so that when the time comes you’ll make an informed presentation.

If your intent is to get started "one day" on writing your fun center business plan, good for you. And you don't need to start from scratch - because many have gone where you are going and you can pull from their FEC experience.

Brought to you by SCORE “Counselors to America’s Small Business”


Amusement Business Mistakes

When I go on vacation, I take a lot of books with me. I try to make sure that none of them have anything to do with business, but sometimes business lessons come from the strangest places. One of my vacation reads this year was "Famous Last Words" by Jonathan Green. This sometimes funny, frequently poignant compilation of deathbed quotations offers a glimpse at the characters of famous people as revealed by their final words. My favorite (as a business columnist, anyway) comes from showman P.T. Barnum, whose last words reportedly were "How were the receipts today at Madison Square Garden?"

Whatever words you may utter if your business collapses (most probably unprintable in this column), the failure can often be traced back to some "famous last words" you once said, if only to yourself. Here are some painful examples:

"My customers will be loyal to me." Ask any small town hardware store owner who's had to go one-on-one with WalMart or Home Depot if this is true. While not totally dead, customer and brand loyalties are not as strong as they used to be.

People won't buy stuff from you just because they've bought from you for 30 years. If a new competitor is offering a better price to your customers, and the cost of changing vendors isn't all that great (for example, if the cheaper competitor is located in a faraway, hard-to-reach place, people may continue to pay your higher prices for the convenience of a shorter trip), people will switch to the competitor in a heart beat. By all means provide better service than your competitors, but don't count on that to save you--you should also offer the lowest prices around and keep your costs even lower.

"If I offer people something they need, they'll buy it." Amazingly, people don't always buy what they need, even if they know they need it, and even if they tell you they need it. Example: Brussels sprouts. Probably one of the healthiest foods on the planet, what with all the vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants they contain. Heck, they probably even prevent cancer if you eat enough of them.

People are educated nowadays, and they're saturated with media telling them what foods are healthy for them to eat, so they know they need to eat more green vegetables. Nobody seriously disputes that. But when you're really hungry and you want something quickly, do Brussels sprouts come to mind? Too many entrepreneurs are out there selling Brussels sprouts to people because they need them, and know they need them, but are scarfing down chocolate-covered peanut butter-filled pretzels when nobody's looking.

"I really don't have to market, because if I do a good job, the word will get around." People don't talk much about the positive experiences they have with their professionals or service providers (but believe me, they talk long and hard about their negative experiences!). Also, people aren't staying in one place long enough to learn about local reputations. While your reputation is certainly important, it doesn't get new clients or customers in the room. In any business or profession, you have to get in people's faces and constantly communicate what you do, how you do it and why you're better than the competition, in a way that doesn't turn people off.

"My business has no competition." If you think this, it's because you gave the marketplace a quick look, and saw nobody doing exactly the same thing as you. Not all competitors are obvious to the naked eye, though. Sometimes your competition isn't a person or a company but rather a "thing." Book publishers, for example, compete not only with other book publishers, but with the Internet. Buggy-whip manufacturers at the turn of the last century had little to fear until the automobile came along and folks didn't have to ride horses to and from work anymore.

Sometimes your competitor may be doing something entirely different from you. A pizza parlor in a small town may have a local monopoly on Italian food, but the Chinese restaurant across the street is certainly a competitor for the "quick lunch" or "takeout dinner" customer.

Sometimes your competitor hasn't yet decided to compete with you. Back in 1995, Netscape dominated the U.S. market for Internet browser software. There were no significant competitors. But in Redmond, Washington, a guy named Bill Gates was thinking about getting into the browser market . . . and the rest is history.

"I don't have partners or employees, so I must do everything myself." Just because you're legally the sole owner of your business doesn't mean you have to do everything yourself. Sooner or later, in any business, you learn that there are a handful of things--five or six at the most--that must be done well in order for a business to succeed. They vary from business to business, and sometimes take a while to figure out, but they are there, and you must learn them.

• Evaluating New Business Ideas
• Ten Signs Your Business Is Growing Too Fast
• Barter Basics: An Old Idea Gets New Life
• Creating Your Own Business Cards
• Incubators: Great Places to Hatch Your Company

For example, in my consulting business, one of my essential activities is to get written invoices out to my clients promptly at the end of each month. I've learned the hard way that if you don't get your invoices out, your clients don't pay you, and they're more inclined to haggle over your fees once the belated invoice finally arrives.

Once you've mastered the five or six essential activities in your business, it's critical that you do them yourself, because no one--not your employees, not your partners, not your spouse--will devote the same level of attention to performing them that you will. Everything else, and I mean everything, should be delegated to outside contractors, and their fees made a cost of your doing business.

"If I make enough and sell enough, and there's money in the checking account, I'm successful." You wouldn't believe how many entrepreneurs I meet in my travels who truly believe you can ignore profits if enough people are buying your stuff. Every business owner has to agonize over what his products and services truly cost. It seems sometimes that every day you stumble across a "hidden cost" you didn't know you had. One young lawyer told me how proud he was of how successful his solo law practice was--he had literally hundreds of clients--until I gently pointed out to him that when you factored in the number of hours he was working every day to keep those clients happy, he was making only $10 an hour after taxes! Today he works as a paralegal for a large law firm--a little less money, but a much better return on his investment of time.

"I can't really afford a lawyer, so I'm going to do my own contracts." Every business involves some form of legal agreement. They can be as simple as an invoice form or purchase order, or as complex as a 50-page property lease. Sometimes you draft them to be signed by others, sometimes others draft them for your signature. Every one of them, without exception, should be reviewed by an attorney before you use or sign them.

Let's face it. Few people truly enjoy dealing with attorneys, and nobody likes to pay legal fees. Yet unlike you, attorneys live with contracts every day of their working lives, which is why you should never trust an attorney who has 20/20 eyesight and a gorgeous suntan. Attorneys know not only what language should be in your contracts, but what language has been left out that needs to be added to protect you and your business.

Even if you decide to draft your own contracts, using a legal form book or one of the "pay per download" legal form databases available on the Internet, you should always have an attorney review your work before you start using it. I can honestly say in the 20-plus years I've been drafting contracts for clients, not once have I taken a "standard form," filled in the client's name and handed it to them as a finished product. Every contract, even the simplest letter of understanding, needs to be custom-tailored to your specific needs.

As for the legal fees, there are tons of attorneys out there vying for your business. I guarantee it won't take you long to find one who's willing to negotiate his or her fee, especially if you hold out the promise of a long-term relationship.


Indoor Playground Designs

indoor playground designThe 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.

Indoor Playgrounds - Design Principles

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;

children playing- Emergency Access and Egress
- Visibility
- 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.

Indoor Playgrounds - Target Marketing

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.

Playground Equipment Activities and Events

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.indoor playground themes

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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