Once you’ve signed your lease on your indoor playground or play cafe space, it’s time to design the interior of your business! I recommend hiring a skilled local architect that specializes in entertainment or retail space. Someone who specializes in office space, for example, won’t be able to help you design a check-in process that will boost your sales and streamline your customer’s experience.
Even if you hire an architect, they will only be able to get you so far in your planning process. Once you come up with a basic layout, largely be determined on your lease and whether it’s build-to-suit or an existing space you must adapt to, you’ll want to keep your customer’s experience and your specific business model in mind when finalizing the details.
I’ll be honest, I didn’t do everything right when planning my space. In fact, most of these tips appear on this list because I DIDN’T implement them and saw the immediate impact on my business. I don’t have a time machine (or the budget for a rebuild), but if you haven’t broken ground on your construction yet, you need to read these tips before you do!
1) Put Your Check-in As Close to the Front of Your Space as Possible
Luckily, our check-in counter is right when you walk into our cafe. This helps us to greet customers at the door, walk them through the entry process before they have time to wander around in confusion, and prevents theft. When your cafe is bustling with a line of customers waiting to check in, and that line is running through the center of your cafe bothering your paying customers, your customers will not have a great experience.
2) Incorporate Retail Space
One effective sales-boosting strategy we have implemented is incorporating a small retail space near the entrance. Every guest walks through the area before checking in and has the opportunity to browse items while they wait in line or make their way to the counter. Choose small, inexpensive items that don’t require a lot of space like books and activity pads and practical store merchandise that regulars will love. We also include “pop up” shops (and vendor events!) around holiday times when customers may be looking for gifts. These temporary spaces offer a nice surge in sales several times per year in addition to our normal retail revenue.
3) Plan your restrooms with your customer’s needs in mind
We have 2 restrooms in our 2,500 square foot space, and I am thankful every day that we opted for both! Even when we aren’t busy, there is usually a line for the potty, and only having one would severely disrupt our customer’s visit. Since we cater to parents of small children who need extra time in the restroom (for diaper changes, potty training, etc.), this second option was essential. We also opted for family restrooms instead of gender-specific ones which reduces waiting.
While customers request child-sized toilets once in a while, most landlords will not support them as very few businesses will have a need for them. (Remember, landlords are always thinking about their NEXT tenant, and adding details such as child-sized toilets will increase their build-out costs the next time they lease their space.)
We have found that as long as we have changing tables and step stools, our customers (both adult and children) are happy and can do their business without hassle. As a convenience, we also have a rack with free diapers and wipes which our customers appreciate.
4) Make use of ALL your wall space
It wasn’t until our 3rd year in business that we realized how much wasted space we had inside our play area! We hadn’t received any complaints, but I was noticing that children were all flocking to our playhouses and there was little to occupy them along the perimeter of our space.
Since we incorporated “sensory walls” both in and outside the play area, the response has been incredible! Not only do parents and children love the new equipment, but it has allowed us to serve more children inside the play area than we previously could. Since children were now playing in the playhouses AND along the perimeter, it made our entire space seem less crowded and improved the play experience for all. This will be especially critical for small spaces who reach their capacity quickly.
Outside your play area, consider using walls to post community events and information about upcoming promotions in your business, to share your social media handles and hashtags you use, and to hang photos of moments in your business you’re especially proud of. Remind customers why they want to come back to your indoor play space, and where they can follow you in the meantime.
5) Take storage out of the equation
A major mistake many play-cafe owners make is including too much storage space in their build-out. Rent is expensive, so you should not be wasting your precious space doing anything other than serving your customers and your bottom-line. Consider including a room that can be used for drop-off care or classes (both revenue generating activities) instead of planned storage space.
Aside from a very small (100 sq feet or less) on-site office that can be used for storage, you should be utilizing off-site storage as much as possible. Large off-site storage units can cost as little as $30 a month and can be used to store any and everything you don’t use every day. Party supplies, seasonal decorations, and paper products are all examples of things we store off-site. This allows us to use as much of our customer-facing space as possible to sell and serve our clients.
Should you do the math, your cost-per-square-foot of space will almost always be less in an off-site storage unit. Our manager has access to the unit and makes a weekly trip to gather the supplies we need for that week, so it does not add to the time I need to spend on my business.
6) Cater to your ideal customers
When dealing with parents, especially parents of small children, thoughtful details will matter most and will keep customers coming back again and again.
For example, we mainly cater to children under 5 years of age, so we built a 3-foot wall between our cafe and the play area. We knew that parents would want to have eyes on their children no matter where they were inside our facility. We also included comfortable seating (mothers who are breastfeeding will appreciate if you include chairs with armrests) inside the play area since young children often like to keep their parents within their sight.
Our play area is gated, which prevents children from absconding from their caregivers. This helps our guests (especially those with multiple children) relax and allows them to enjoy themselves a bit more knowing their children are safe and secure. If your facility will mainly cater to children over 4 who may be more independent, though, you may not need to ensure parents can see their children at all times.
Other examples of details we were sure to include that we get positive feedback on are multiple high chairs with trays, child-sized seating options, and many, MANY hand sanitizing stations we keep filled at all times.
If you haven’t yet finalized your business plan yet, be sure to include these details! If you HAVE finished your business plan, be sure that your space is reflective of your revenue streams and goals. For example, if you must serve 50 customers per day to be profitable, plan your interior space so that it can accommodate that number.
Again, this may seem like a no-brainer, but these simple details are SO often overlooked by play cafe owners and will eventually need to be corrected down the road (sometimes by closing the facility or relocating). I don’t want that for you, so heed these tips and plan ahead!