5 things to consider when opening a role play Centre

Recently visited a children’s role play centre? Perhaps themed like a little city, town, village, or a street, similar to that of the popular CBeebies programme Biggleton! Can you see yourself as the boss of your own play centre, with happy customers and a feeling of pride?  Maybe you’ve already started looking at properties or the cost of equipment.  You’ve probably already started researching, browsing similar business’ websites and costing things on paper. If you can’t stop thinking about opening a children’s role play centre, then this is the blog for you.  We are going to look at 5 key questions that you need to answer if you want to turn your dream into reality.    Ready for some soul searching… then let’s look at the top 5 things you need to consider to open a children’s role play centre.

1. Can you run a business?

Running a business is not the same as watching The Apprentice, being a customer or an employee.  Paying business taxes, submitting company accounts, dealing with the council (planning, food safety, Highways), interviewing employees, writing contracts, avoiding employment tribunals, making a logo (a good one!), doing media interviews, health & safety rules, and carrying the responsibility of knowing that you solely are responsible for paying your own and your employee’s wages. These are skills, knowledge and experience you need to run a successful play venue.  If you haven’t done it before, can you find someone who has and who can mentor you during the first few years of running the business?   Of course, you can read loads of books and websites about running a business but ultimately you are going to learn by success and failure. We aren’t joking when we say that a new business will feel like having a new child in your life; it needs constant attention every day of the week.  Remember when you were a new parent, how you asked other parents for their help – you learnt from them without having to experience things the hard way yourself.  That’s just like us and the other role play venue owners we have worked with….we love helping people just like you make their business as success…..that’s why we will be releasing informative blogs over the next months!  So learn the easy way… sign up at the bottom of this blog to be the first to know about new blog posts!

2. Do you have the knowledge?

Opening a play venue is going to cost you upwards of tens of thousands of pounds, but it’s also going to take lots of time which in itself is really precious. You need to make sure what you do is safe, useful and worth your time and money. So do lots of research and consider seeking professional advice to fill in the gaps in your knowledge. Some council libraries have a business mentoring service which is free, but remember, role play centres are quite a niche market and generic business mentors probably won’t understand many of the peculiarities of this industry.

There’s a great phrase by a Martin Zwilling in his blog about starting a new business.

Success in a new business has very little to do with the idea, and everything to do with execution. Execution trumps everything in a new business.  

He is spot on. Your idea might be great but that’s not the same as making the idea a reality. Plenty of good ideas never work out because the execution simply isn’t right. That’s why programmes like Dragons Den are so popular – the Dragons know how to execute a great idea and turn it into reality.

We have seen play centres built by people full of excitement and good intentions who have copied things they have observed elsewhere without the insider’s knowledge of whether it’s successful or not. They have fallen foul of basic errors because they only saw what was happening on the surface.  A role play centre sometimes feels a little like a film or TV show; what you see on screen is simply the results of masses of hard work and cleverness behind the scenes.   It’s costly to build something with a poor design, it’s costlier to put it right.  A little insider knowledge and experience goes a long way. Hear our thoughts on the closure of Little play town when interviewed by the BBC

3. Where will you open?

There’s an obvious business fact here that many people ignore in their excitement; be careful not to fall in the same trap yourself.

Business Fact: You need enough people to make it viable to run your business.

We sometimes are approached by people who say “There is nothing for children to do near me”; the reality is that if there aren’t enough people then no business will survive however wonderful it is.  We use a number of methods to assess the viability of towns/cities for play venues, but the precise location within an area also really matters.

Right location + right price + right offering = A good probability of success

We would all love a 5 minute stroll to work, a cheap building, which feels nicer than a soft play inside but the priority is about being in the right place.  One where people are happy to travel because they like your product, you have the right pricing structure and the location and building are good for your future customers. Just to reinforce why it was so important not to skip over this, consider the following…….  If you make a mistake running a business, you can normally bounce back. If you don’t have the knowledge, you can learn the hard way (probably expensive and stressful) but you can normally bounce back. But if you open in the wrong place, it can be very expensive to fix. When we meet prospective owners, either as franchisees or independent owners via our Start-Up consultations (click here), the location and building specifications by itself is a 30 minute conversation.

4. Will you make enough money?

Money isn’t everything, right? Time with family and a lifestyle which complements it has huge value.   Making it to the top of the Sunday Times Rich List would be amazing but the freedom of running your own business and knowing how much children enjoy role play is super cool too!

With the right support, a well thought out play venue, and opening in the right location, there is a good income to be made.  People opening role play centres with our help tend to be leaving a career and want to start their own business or mummy franchise where they get the benefit of flexible hours, much more control, and the ability to run a business which reflects their personality.

We see people coming to play centres, counting the numbers of people, looking at how many coffees are sold and then remark to their friend how the play centre ‘must be’ rolling in money.  In reality like most things there is hard work involved behind the scenes, and getting help from experts gives you that head start especially if you have no prior business experience.  We love talking to people who want to set up a children’s role play area.  Just get in contact for an informative visit to Tots Town to discover more.

5. Can you negotiate the right lease?

Negotiating a lease for a building is one of the most critical parts of a role play venue’s success.  While you can rebuild a play setting or change toys, a lease tends to last 5+ years and you are tied in.  If ever there was a time where there is a need to have access to fellow play centre owners who have walked the same journey themselves, then choosing the right building for the right price is it. You will need legal assistance to sign the lease, just like you do when you buy a house, but they won’t necessarily advise you on whether the terms of the lease actually appear compatible with your business plan (that’s where a knowledgeable mentor is needed).  You need to be diplomatic, strong, firm, persuasive and have a little bit of charm, or have someone watching your back whose been there before!

What next?

Do your research about the industry; think like a business owner; be more than a customer in how you approach starting your business. You can read more of our blogs at https://tots-town.co.uk/diary/   and discover more about how we work with brilliant people to open and grow their own role play venues here.  Consider whether you want the long term support with a franchise relationship, or to be an independent business with start-up support.  And of course, be the first to read our new blogs !!!! Sign up here….


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