Toy Selection When Opening a Children’s Indoor Play Centre

It’s so easy to get carried away visiting toy shops, flicking through websites in the UK and abroad trying to source toys for a play centre.  Just remember your goal is always to have toys which look the part, work seamlessly within your brand’s style and are a perfect fit for all ages even as young as 18 months. If you have ever wondered how to choose toys when setting up a children’s indoor play venue, or what safety rules apply to children’s toys, then read on as we delve a little deeper into how to make these right choices. These principles apply whether choosing a children’s franchise role play business, or opening a soft play venue incorporating role play.

Durability

With many children visiting your play town every day and ranging in age from toddlers up to an average of six years old, there are certainly some serious choices to make when selecting toys that will last.  In comes in the wooden versus plastic debate.  Yes plastic toys last, but are they pretty? Some work well in a play venue, some definitely don’t!  I personally am not a fan of the Little Tyke cars in a role play centre; popular with little ones they may be,  but they are always found at parent and toddler groups and I would want something more when I visit a dedicated role play centre.  For those plastic toys that do work in each role play setting, I would always ensure that they are the correct size and have the correct level of interaction for the ages coming to play. Getting this balance correct is one of the hardest things to get right and it’s part of the reason we often consult with a team of experienced children’s play experts to find equipment that works for a wide range of children’s abilities. Definitely put a system in place to make sure that batteries are replaced…children get very disappointed if they press a button and the toy does nothing when it is supposed to light up and whirl around! 

Wooden toys – it’s true – we love them! However, they do need to fit the role play area rather than take over the setting. The durability of these toys after being repeatedly dropped and occasionally even chewed is a tough one.  Since we opened in 2016, we have come up with many inventive ways to increase the lifespan of toys in the play area without affecting the appearance, use or safety.  With all our effort and time we have been successfully extending the life of the wooden toys and by doing so is really effective in terms of cost, time and customer enjoyment (no-one likes to see worn out toys in use do they!). Luckily the toys are all put back in their place throughout the day between play sessions, and as we operate from a fixed site they stay in the building rather than having to be repeatedly loaded into a van to be taken to the next little hall where they could suffer knocks or damage.

Making links with suppliers

There are a huge number of suppliers we use based in the UK and across Europe.  When we first opened a role play town, we tried to stick with one supplier believing this would give us the most buying power, Over time we felt this was not what the customers wanted, nor looked as good in the role play town.  Some centres restrict themselves having deals with suppliers and also selling toys on to customers.  What surprised me most is how quickly new toys come on the market even from existing popular suppliers like the wonderful Melissa and Doug (link https://www.melissaanddoug.com/).  They follow trends in play just as closely as us and if something is big they often capitalise on it; for instance, as we drafted this blog they released furniture which children can have at home to role play dentist complete with the chair,to compliment their existing supermarket check-out till complete with a conveyer belt.  They are great for home but may not last long in a role play centre!  Whether you want to open a role play venue in a little village or a city, we feel a role play centre should be ‘right-sized’ to what you need, and not sized just to fit around the toys you can buy easily. We dedicate a lot of time to researching the latest kids toys and making them work seamlessly with the surroundings, to ensure that children and adults visiting a play venue created by the team at Tots Town have a fun inspiring play experience much more enriching than they would have just playing with similar items at home. For parents (typically mums) wanting to know how to open a children’s indoor play venue as part of the Tots Town family franchise, we provide a list of recommended suppliers, but the real magic is working alongside each other to create fantastic play settings.

Costumes

Costumes definitely deserve a paragraph of their own.  Adding good quality costumes makes for a believable play experience and if role play venue owners choose to setup their business while also raising a family, they often keep aware of latest trends in costumes!  Dress up clothes can be sourced very easily from online party suppliers through to supermarkets, but you need the right fit for your setting and clothes which are easy to clean and last.  Princess costumes often have beautiful netting on parts which can tear quickly, often within its first week. It’s great when you have costumes you know work well. Selecting the right size for the children coming to play always needs to be given some thought.  As well as the actual costume choice, consideration needs to be given to storing the outfits within each play setting, making them accessible for children and clear to see.  A good procedure should also be in place to make sure costumes are regularly washed and ready for use.

Safety

The rules about toy safety are far too complex to delve in to here. It’s an area that is focused very heavily on consumer retail shop safety which means you not only have to find and read the rules, but also have to decide which ones apply to a role play centre. If you are opening a children’s indoor role play venue with our help, we will go into this in detail during the design phase. If you want to go it alone and become an independent play venue owner then you need to allocate time to research and read the rules, understand what your responsibilities are and be able to justify why you made these choices. Try searching for EU rules on toy design and manufacture, then search for British Standards on play centre design rules (some of these documents have to be purchased to be read). The rules you have to follow are specific to the design you want to build. There are standards for gaps between bars, fireman’s poles etc so don’t be shy…start researching now or consider opening your own little city or role play village with our assistance! Once you are open, you need to inspect your play settings regularly. The British Standards for indoor play venues talk in detail and daily, yearly and other checks time-based inspections, as well as the level of competence you should have to do these checks. But the main things to consider that if a toy is broken or damaged, you need to know about it before a children or parent do. At our play venues, we have a specific and proven inspection methodology we follow, but you need to be able to prove how you maintain the safety levels every day that you are trading.

Replacement and recycling of toys

We all want to build an indoor kids role play venue that has toys and equipment which never need replacing. But the reality is the toys are played with multiple times a day as children explore the world around them. At some point, you will need to fix or replace toys; do consider what level of maintenance might be needed on the play venue or toys and whether you will need additional skills or support in this capacity. We recognise a role play centre is often seen as a perfect business for mums, or professionals such as teachers looking to change careers. With our training package we can assist with these additional skills. Your regular safety inspections should identify toys that need changing soon – check you can still buy them before it’s too late as some items have quite ‘variable’ levels of availability! Wooden toys…..yes we really do love them; once they can no longer be repaired or used safely you can take them to your local recycling centre and add to the woodpile where they will either be turned to new wood panels for construction, made into animal bedding or burnt for carbon-neutral electricity. For other toys that can’t be so easily recycled, just take comfort in the knowledge that they have been used by so many children every single day to foster their imagination and development.

With all these thoughts in mind, it’s time to get set designing and toy shopping!

  • Want to open your own play centre? Contact with us here so we can introduce ourselves to each other and discuss how to help you on your journey to running your own town or city themed role play venue.
  • Own an existing play venue and looking to be part of a larger family of like-minded owners? Email play@tots-town.co.uk
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by Lindsay

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