Regional Retailer Appeals to Families by Hosting Playtime in Showrooms

profile_Publicity_photo by Katherine Gustafson on August 6, 2014
Kids playing

What better way to sell recreational gear to parents than to get their kids to play with it? Play N’ Learn (pictured), which offers residential and commercial playground equipment in Maryland and Virginia, in 2012 began putting that marketing strategy to the test by opening three of its expansive showrooms to children.

“Ours are not just visual products, but products that you need to touch and feel and sample,” explains Richard Weintraub, the company’s director of marketing. He says that Play N’ Learn started letting kids play with its merchandise to counteract the consumer trend of purchasing online by drawing shoppers into its showrooms.

Weintraub says that it is impossible to track to what extent the open playrooms motivate sales but reports that it is certain that parents have purchased equipment after watching their kids play. “This has been a nice way to get the word out about our products,” he adds.

Engaging Kids and Parents

Play N’ Learn opened its Columbia, Md., showroom to kids in early 2012 and, shortly thereafter, began hosting limited play hours at its Richmond and Chantilly, Va., locations. These “playground superstores” display a wide range of swing sets, trampolines, and basketball goals in indoor and outdoor settings. Some of the swing sets are play sets that feature climbing walls, rope ladders, forts, slides, and more.

While most revenue from the open play sessions comes in the form of increased likelihood of sales, the company is able to leverage the play space in other limited ways. The company charges admission ($6 to $8 per child for two hours) and hosts birthday parties ($219 to $369 per reservation) at the Columbia location.

Play N’ Learn has had to take some modest measures to reduce the risk presented by opening up its showrooms. The company made sure sufficient liability insurance was in place and requires all parents to fill out waivers for their children before they can play. The Columbia showroom has added rubberized flooring to cushion any falls.

Another consideration is the staff time required; extra staff members have not been needed to manage the indoor play sessions, but the company does dedicate one staff person’s time to coordinate and supervise birthday parties.

The company’s approach differs from another popular method of attracting kids and parents to retail: offering free drop-in childcare services. That’s because it’s important for parents to witness the fun their kids are having with Play ’N Learn inventory as they play.

“We want the kids to get excited about the products that we sell, and we want parents to see that, too,” Weintraub explains.

Being Strategic About Marketing

Offering playtime is only one of many marketing tactics used by Play N’ Learn. Its overall strategy includes advertising in family, parenting, and local-interest magazines that feature a variety of local retailers, service businesses, and professionals. The company also sponsors children’s programming on public television and engages in blogging, social media, and search engine optimization.

Play N’ Learn’s efforts also mirror the seasonal nature of its industry: Two-thirds of the company’s sales occur by July 4, and its advertising investment follows suit. Weintraub advises small-business owners to be equally strategic about spending their marketing dollars.

“Understand who you’re marketing to,” he says. “Put your personal biases aside. Just because you may like one particular advertising medium doesn’t necessarily mean that your potential customers use or like that medium. Always be mindful of who you’re trying to attract to your business.”

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Katherine Gustafson is a freelance writer based in Seattle, Washington, who loves writing about small business and entrepreneurship. Her first book, Change Comes to Dinner, explores the way entrepreneurs and other visionaries—from greenhouse innovators to no-till wheat farmers—are changing the business of food.

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