Each month we look at a standout client an ICAEW member has recommended. This month Pennywise Accounting Limited explain why they chose Hen House Soft Play.
The Hen-House is a soft play centre in the middle of Haslemere. It was set up in 2014 by Henri, who had 3 children under 4, and found there were limited activities for very young children in the area. It was predominantly designed to cater for the pre-school market as this segment of the market (toddlers and pre-school) is less seasonal, less impacted by school terms, and because, generally, under 4’s are less wearing on the equipment.
It is the only venue of its type for approximately 10-15 miles, so has a huge catchment area. Henri’s concept was simple; it was to create a place that was enjoyed equally by parents and children. For the children this meant fun toys, a giant climbing frame, and a unique LED disco floor. For the parents it meant decent coffee and cakes, free wifi, and a venue that was clean and didn’t smell of chips!
We provide a cloud based accounting service, which means Henri can stay on top of her income and costs, in particular ensuring cash takings are accurately recorded, late payers followed up and costs are accurately reviewed.
The two main challenges in this market are a) staffing and b) seasonality. Staffing is a challenge because it gets extremely busy, it’s very noisy and there’s lots of toddlers, which can be demanding. Parents of young children are also understandably often be over-tired and stressed.
Seasonality is an issue because when it is sunny people don’t take their children to indoor play centres, but when it is rainy or gloomy, everyone does. Henri mitigates seasonality by offering morning activities, which are prebooked, and has also expanded into after school care which is highly complimentary to the soft play business as it is non-seasonal, operates at a time that would be quiet for soft play, but doesn’t operate in school holidays which can be very busy.
Henri saw a gap in the market and capitalised on it. Haslemere is a busy commuter town, and there are a lot of young families, as well as fantastic transport links, which make it easily accessible. The venue is ideally situated in the centre of the town, next to the central carpark, so parking is easy. Pricing is fair, although this in itself can create issues as it can get extremely busy, which inevitably results in some unhappy customers, so Henri may look to increase pricing during the winter months. Food wastage is kept to a minimum due to the relatively small menu, and their system of keeping a limited number of meals in the fridge at any time, whilst the freezer is stocked. Most food is homemade, then portioned out and frozen ready for use.
The concept is more coffee shop than plastic fantastic as Henri believes it is as important for the parent to want to be there as the child. Flooring and furniture are wood, which makes it easy to keep clean. The LED disco floor is unique and as a result there is high demand for parties, which are highly profitable. Food offerings are healthy, and mostly homemade with a relatively simple menu, and not a chip in sight, although after popular demand Henri did concede and start offering chicken goujons and fish fingers. There is a good range of gluten and dairy free snacks and food as well.
In 2016 Henri adapted her business model and expanded into after school care. This was partly due to demand which came via reverse enquiry from a school– there is a big shortage of after school care that extends beyond 6pm in the area, but also because Henri noticed that soft play revenues dropped off after 3pm, so providing after school care gave an alternative non-seasonal and recurring revenue stream. For 2017, Henri wants to perfect the business model for this side of the business, before expanding into other schools.