While babysitting my niece, I’ve found that she’s entertained watching Beauty and the Beast until she discovers her mom is gone. A wail to pierce the soul of any caring individual ensues. I try to distract her, play ball, and offer to read a book—anything— but to no avail. When I finally say, “Do you want to go outside?” Silence . . . I ask her what she wants to do outside and she exclaims, “Swing!” The neighbors allow her to use their swing set. This small piece of playground equipment is her paradise. The present situation is solved, but what happens when it’s too cold, or too hot outside to play?
Soft contained play equipment answers the call.
Have you researched the soft contained playground market recently? Do you want to know if adding a soft contained playground structure is right for your business or facility?
Soft contained playgrounds are a part of many businesses from restaurants to banks. Many consumers may tailor where they shop to suit their child’s play needs. Is your business a family entertainment center? Does your business see a lot of parents with children? Will making your business child “friendly” increase your range of customers or provide a service need to customers?
If you’re new to soft contained play and are looking to get started, an easy way to begin is by asking a few simple questions (see First Things First). Once the goals or needs of the playground are established, you can identify or create a structure to fulfill those needs.
For example, if you’re looking to develop a family entertainment center, you will want to consider a large contained playground to serve as a major attraction and a hit for children. The design should have “open” components, enabling visibility and parental interaction. In addition, incorporating a theme, lights, and sounds will help create a memorable play experience. Expect to create a large playground that could cost $50,000 to $200,000 depending on budget, playground size and objectives.
On the other hand, you may be considering adding a playground to serve as a feature to a restaurant, health and fitness club or shopping center. The playground will most likely not be designed as the “main attraction” like the entertainment center. Rather, its purpose is to attract families and increase sales, enabling children to play while parents are purchasing products or services. The playground will entertain children for smaller amounts of time and should have durable, low-maintenance products.
A lot of play systems are custom designed, and it’s important when working with the company designing the play structure to ensure site plans are accurate, including details about the ceiling heights, HVAC, sprinkler systems, and flooring.
“In designing the unit, we also take into consideration sight lines, entrances and exits and anticipated traffic flow patterns as well as planned seating, controlled access, supervision and other activities which may be adjacent to the play structure,” says Michaella Zahn, a spokesperson for Soft Play.
Most companies will work with the individual customer and plan the design of the play unit accordingly to meet budget, playground objectives and anticipated numbers of children using the playground.
A soft contained playground may not be the main feature of a business, but its purpose is to attract families. The playground can entertain for short periods of time while parents are shopping.
“If the customer wants to add a play structure to attract families to the facility, the playground will most likely be designed as a feature attraction - perhaps as a themed play area or designed to incorporate Lazer Factory,” remarks Zahn. Sometimes the project manager or business owner wants to create an active play area for children to be entertained and get some exercise. To do this Zahn says, “We most likely will recommend that the play area have active play elements such as our Rocks Course and Wacky Ball.” What if the customer has a limited budget and simple layout? Then choosing a standard playground from a manufacturer’s catalog may be a viable option. Perhaps the customer wants a lot of play elements but has a limited floor space. Zahn says in this situation, “We would recommend that the customer evaluate our AirPlay units that utilize our ‘tree support structure’ to put most of the play elements off of the ground and into the air. Basically, recommendations for building a play structure are as individual as the customer’s needs,” remarks Zahn.
Different people have different needs in soft contained playgrounds. This is why a majority of play systems are custom designed. In order to make custom designing a play system easier for a customer, many companies make individual play elements interchangeable. However, there is not an industry standard for making play pieces interchangeable with one another, so as a consumer, be wary of purchasing equipment to add to an existing structure. It is often more comprehensive and involved to replace individual components (requiring an installer and appropriate documentation of the play unit). Typically, replacing and updating components is something that only occurs when the play structure becomes outdated or unsafe.
IS IT RIGHT FOR YOU?
The market for soft contained play structures is growing as the demand for family-friendly environments increases.
“We have sold medium-sized playgrounds to churches, barber shops, spas, car dealerships, laundry mats, dental offices, grocery stores and even banks. Customers like the appeal of a contained play structure—it’s low-maintenance, ADA-accessible and most of all fun for kids,” reports Zahn.
Contained playgrounds enable businesses and organizations to entertain children in a convenient format. Businesses discover the playgrounds actually act as an attraction to differentiate themselves from the competition. Children even ask to go to the playground location - be it the gym, the grocery store or wherever. How many times have you been asked to go to McDonald’s?
“If you are a working parent that has minimal time with your children, you will most likely frequent those businesses that are family-friendly. Parents will drive an extra five miles to go to the grocery store where their children can play; they will pay extra for the health club membership that offers a fun playground in the supervised child watch area. It’s win-win all the way around: for the business, the parents and definitely for the children,” exclaims Zahn.
By all means, soft contained playgrounds are a business advantage in a marketplace where service and convenience reign. For more information log on to www.softplay.com or www.superiorinternational.com. For a comprehensive list of soft contained builders, visit www.world-playground.com/comindoor.htm.