Indoor play space draws parents and kids

Story and photos by Daniel Friedman

Kelly Pierce opened Koko Bee’s Playhouse in mid-September 2011 because she thought her Arcadia neighborhood in Phoenix needed an indoor play area nearby. She had driven her three children 40 minutes to an indoor play space, the closest one to her, and then had to wait 15 minutes to get in.

Koko Bee’s opened with very little traffic though over the months business “is starting to pick up finally” says Pierce, adding, “I’m busy  every day now.” Facebook, her website and sites geared towards moms were instrumental in building the business, but Pierce says she was surprised how hard it was to get the word out, as there is so much competition for attention online. She says it is too expensive to advertise a lot, but word of mouth has worked best for her. The morning I was there an exterior, illuminated sign was being installed to advertise to traffic on Thomas Rd.

Rather than duplicate the toys kids have at home she found older toys in good shape that aren’t available anymore like a Little Tykes washer/dryer set and a Little Tykes spaceship. Kids like to have new toys to play with in a different space Pierce says and she has a balance of toys that appeal to boys and girls.

Pierce says the key to her business is to offer a wide range of services. Koko Bee’s closes at 4pm but reopens at 4:30 for classes for kids in dance, yoga, tumbling and sports. She also sells used children’s clothing, has birthday packages , and offers free WiFi for moms to who work while their kids play.

Pierce says moms coming in to work while their kids play is the a biggest part of her business. Often there will be an entire table of moms working on their laptops working while kids play together. Once, a mother who was on the phone the entire time while her kids played told Pierce it was the longest uninterrupted phone call she had had since having kids.

Pierce offers drop-in babysitting for up to four hours, but only for four children at a time since she is not a licensed daycare center.

Planning for, and opening the business has taught Pierce a few things. One is finding money for unexpected expenses like paying up front for the first year’s insurance and having to make a payment to open a business account for electricity that isn’t returned for three years. Pierce advises, “If think you need $20,000 to open the business, have $30,000 as there will be so many surprises you were not aware of. And advertising is very important and very expensive.”

At the checkout counter she even sells a book she wrote and self-published titled, The Boy Who Would Be King (CreateSpace, 2011) illustrated by Nina de Polonia, about a boy who worked hard to achieve his goals. The book offers elementary economics lessons for children.

Learn more about Koko Bee’s Playhouse.

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