How to Start Your Own Indoor Playground
Kids' indoor playgrounds are becoming increasingly popular as parents seek a safe, enclosed environment where their children can play, socialize and have fun. Indoor playgrounds are either franchised or independently owned. Some states require special permits for indoor playgrounds, while others don't have any special requirements because parents are supervising their own children.
Investigate the Competition
Check your local area for indoor playground franchises such as My Gym, We Rock the Spectrum and Gymboree. Not only will you get a feel for the traffic the different models attract, you might decide that one of the franchise models is suitable for you. Investigate pricing for drop-in play as well as classes. Most offer a sibling discount and have birthday party programs as well. You may choose to go the independent route, which saves the cost of the franchise fee and the regular royalty payments, but you miss out on the training and startup experience of the franchise and its name recognition.
Write the Business Plan
After you complete your research, write a business plan. If you plan on purchasing a franchise, budget for the franchise fees on top of the startup costs. Confirm with the franchise which play structures and activity items, if any, are included in the franchise fee. Indoor playgrounds require build-out with bounce houses, jungle gyms, slides and various play and dress up items. Detail in your plan the cost of the build-out along with other projections including labor, insurance and marketing.
Your business plan should describe the theme of your indoor playground, how you plan to market and which programs you will offer. Operation procedures that include cleaning, maintenance and sanitization should also be described. In general, indoor playgrounds require everyone in the play area to remove shoes and wear socks. Food consumption is limited to specific spaces while changing tables are in the bathrooms.
Check Out State Laws
Because parents are required to watch their children at all times in an indoor playground, the facility usually doesn't need a child care permit. However, some cities and states require a permit such as in Chicago where a Children's Activities Facility permit is required at a cost of $500 and renewable every two years. Contact your city permit office or the state department of child and family services to follow all permit rules and protocol.
Establish the Business
Before you can secure a location, you must have general liability insurance. To get insurance, you need to be a valid business entity. Register your new playground name and business with the secretary of state. Obtain the articles of formation and then get a tax identification number from the IRS. Once you have these, you can acquire insurance and any additional permits needed for your indoor playground. If you are selling anything, whether bottles of water, socks or games, you need to get a seller's permit from your state franchise tax board.
Find the Location and Build It
When you have all the legalities in place, find a location that is large enough to meet your needs. In general, high ceilings and a large open area are ideal so you can customize the playground for your theme. Design the layout so you have a check-in area separated from the play area, food area and bathroom areas. You may also want to build side rooms where you can host classes and parties. Be sure everything is up to code and that you have safety procedures in place in the event of an emergency such as a fire or injury.
Advertise and Market
Look for local parent organizations to join. Have a grand opening that lets families come and check out the new location. Offer party specials during the opening. Offer to give talks and host parent events to attract more families to your area. Become an expert on safe play so families don't view you just as a business owner but as a valuable resource.