How to open an indoor playground
A lot goes into opening an indoor playground, but it is so rewarding in the end. Creating space in your community for children to have fun, explore, discover, and play is so wonderful.
We will go over each step in the process so that you will get a full understanding of the timeline, necessary funds, and legal requirements you need to follow to open an indoor playground and create this space for classes, birthday parties, open play, and so much more.
If you are looking to open an indoor playground or play space, then you have come to the right place. The team at Sawyer has worked with hundreds of businesses to create and build playgrounds, play spaces, and other children’s activities all over the country.
Requirements to open an indoor playground
What do you actually need to open an indoor playground or play space in your community? Before you think about creating activity plans, hiring staff, and purchasing materials, you need a business plan, budget, and so much more to get your business off the ground successfully.
In addition, it’s important to ensure that you are meeting the legal requirements for your state, city, and county. These vary, so look up exactly what is needed in the location that you wish to open your indoor playground.
Indoor playground business plan
Writing a business plan should be the first step when you want to open any new business, including an indoor playground. When you write a business plan, you clearly state your goals, decisions about your business, and research. Plus, if you are looking to apply for funding assistance (small business loans or grants), they often require a business plan as part of the application.
Business plan template
- Executive summary: The first, and most important, piece of your business plan is the executive summary. As the name suggests, it summarizes your plan and it is often what grant and loan readers use to decide whether to keep reading. The executive summary outlines the problem you are trying to solve and your proposed solutions. A brief description of who you are and the necessary financial information about your business should also be included in the executive summary.
- Description of your business: What are the services you’re offering at your indoor playground? Will you be teaching classes, opening up the space to partner providers, offering open play, or something else? Will you have after school classes and summer camps? In addition to what you will do and provide, make sure to include information about how you are planning to operate as well. What state are you in? Are you an LLC or a non-profit? Give your readers a detailed explanation of who you are.
- Market analysis: In this section, outline your target audience and how you’ll deliver your services to them. What age groups will your indoor playground service? What types of activities will you offer? In addition, take a look at what your competitors are doing to get a sense of the market.
- Your team: Whether you’re a mighty team of one or a room full of wonderful staff, it’s important to talk about the team making your business come to life. Who is in charge of what roles and responsibilities? Why are they right for those positions? What are their credentials?
- Financial plan: This section should be a detailed overview of all of your finances. If you are just starting out, include your budget, projected profit, overhead costs, and any other financial information. A precise section of your financial plans will help you forecast your growth.
Use our guide for more support on creating your business plan.
Business budget and investment
In order to run a successful business, you need a budget. You can stay on track with your business goals and objectives by using a budget. That way, you can ensure you are doing what you need to not only maintain your day-to-day operations, but also scale and grow when ready.
What to include in a business budget?
- Income sources: How much money are you planning to bring in (projected income) or currently bringing in (income)? Make sure you take into account all of your revenue sources. For example, if you have a revenue share with partner providers, if you sell food or drink, or if you offer gift cards. If you tend to see seasonal trends in sales, make sure to take these into account for the respective months.
- Fixed costs: Once you know how much money is projected to come in (or is already coming in), you can begin to determine how much you can afford to spend. Start with fixed costs, which stay the same each month. Rent, utilities for your business like Internet, insurance, employee salaries, and platform subscriptions are examples of fixed costs.
- Variable costs: On the other hand, variable costs change each month. This makes them slightly trickier to budget, but it is important to try. In strong months, you can spend more on them and in lighter months, you likely need to cut back. Commission on item sales, holiday gifts for employees, travel, or consumption-based utilities like gas and electricity, and shipping costs are examples of variable costs. Keeping track of variable costs can help you determine seasonal averages so you can budget more accurately moving forward.
- One-time costs: If you have any planned one-time costs, like buying a new computer or a large piece of equipment that you need for the space, then you can include that in this section. Otherwise, consider this section acts as a buffer to protect your business from large, unexpected costs. This helps keep you prepared for broken equipment, damage to your space, slow months because of a global pandemic, or something similar.
Review our guide for more information and guidance on building your business budget.
Indoor playground license
There are a few different licenses that are needed to open an indoor playground. Beyond these, of course it is also necessary to regularly adhere to tax laws and other regulations.
- Company registration: Your company has to be registered as a legal entity before you can open your indoor playground. A small business is usually registered as an LLC while larger businesses and franchises are usually C Corps.
- Employee Identification Number (EIN): All businesses are issued an EIN from the IRS after they register.
- Certificate of Occupancy (CO): Once you have acquired the space for your indoor playground, you will need to ensure it passes inspection and receives a CO from your local government.
- Doing Business As (DBA). A DBA license allows you to use a different name than the one you registered as your LLC. Sometimes businesses choose to do this to include more information in their public name. For example, their LLC can be “Play Gym LLC” and their DBA name can be “Play Gym & Cafe.”
Indoor playground safety requirements
Safety is the most important part of successfully opening and running an indoor playground or play space business. Parents want to be sure that their child will be safe in your facility. ASTM International is a globally recognized leader in the development and delivery of voluntary consensus standards. They developed the ASTM F1918-12, which is the first safety standard that was made specifically for indoor playgrounds. When purchasing equipment, make sure it is tested and certified to the standards set by the ASTM F1918-12.
In addition, establishing safety rules for within your indoor playground is a good way to keep children safe.
Examples of indoor playground safety rules
- Proper footwear should be worn at all times (different surfaces might require different types of footwear or no shoes at all, so be specific in each area of your playground).
- Children must be supervised at all times (either by a parent/guardian or an instructor if it is a class).
- No food or beverages in the playground area.
- No pushing, running, hitting, or throwing things.
- Age specific rules based on equipment regulations and safety measures.
- Use the equipment as it is intended (for example: do not climb up slides, do not double up on the rock wall, etc)
Registration and management software
Even though software is an added cost at the start of your business journey, it is worth it. Using a class registration and management software like Sawyer can help your business get started on the right foot.
Rather than manually accepting bookings over the phone or via email, class registration and management software like Sawyer lets you take bookings 24/7 so you never miss a sale. Plus, software helps you make schedules easily, keep track of important student information, seamlessly take payments, and analyze financial reports.
Indoor playground activities and games
Once you have all of your legal and business requirements squared away, you can turn your attention to the fun part: building an indoor playground curriculum and writing lesson plans! Success in the studio is dependent on strong lesson plans that keep your instructors (or you) on track when teaching.
Indoor playground activities
When you run an indoor playground, you might not need to write a curriculum or full on lesson plans. However, even if you just plan to offer open play time for the families in your community, you will need to think of some indoor playground activities. It’s useful to provide options to families. Plus, if you run more structured classes, then you definitely need a list of activities for your indoor playground.
- Freeze dance. Freeze dance is a fun game for young children because they love to move their bodies to music. If you have soft floors, you can encourage your students to really get their groove on.
- Obstacle courses. Setting up obstacle courses before children come to your indoor playground is a great way to keep the children entertained and having fun. Plus, when children participate in obstacle courses, they practice important skills like balance, perception, and gross motor skills.
- Scavenger hunts. Hide fun items around the playground and then give families a list of “treasures” that they can find while they are there. They will have fun trying out all of the equipment and searching for everything on the list!
- Make believe. Adding an element of pretend play to your indoor playground can help children get more involved and have fun. For example, add a pirate theme to the climbing gym or slide and let their imaginations run wild!
- Adult/child activities. Include parents and guardians in the activities that you run in your indoor playground to make it more fun for everyone! You can make participation required or optional as long as you let the adults know beforehand.
Indoor playground games
Children love to play games and they actually help them learn! In your indoor playground, games can be a great source of fun and keep them coming back for more visits. Try some of these indoor playground games!
- Freeze tag. Let children get some energy out by playing tag without it getting out of hand. Freeze tag is a great compromise because children get to have fun and run around while still staying safe.
- Duck, duck, goose. Likewise, with soft floors, duck, duck, goose is a fun game that everyone can play together. Even if it gets a little too exciting, children will be sure to have a safe place to land.
- The floor is lava. If you have a lot of equipment in your play space, you can challenge the children to safely avoid the “lava” on the floor. You can put down squares and mats as part of the path and encourage them to use their problem solving skills to find new ways to get from A to B.
- Parachute games. No children’s birthday party or event is complete without parachute fun! Let them take turns going under the parachute, flapping it up and down, and climbing into the middle (safely).
- Musical chairs. Put out chairs and play some funky music. You know how it goes! This is a great game for children to enjoy at the end of a play session.
Lesson plan template
If you are going to run activities, writing a lesson plan is a good way to make sure you stay on track in terms of timing and accessibility for the children. Use our lesson plan template to get started!
Common challenges of running an indoor playground
As you start and continue on your journey to setting up and running an indoor playground, you might be wondering what you are missing. What other elements should you consider that you might not be thinking about from the get go?
Luckily, at Sawyer we work with children’s activity business owners every day to make starting and running an indoor playground more simple. We’ve outlined some of the common challenges of running an indoor playground or play space and how you can solve them to help you get moving.
When you have a large variety of activities, managing rosters can be a challenge. Rosters help you and your staff stay informed and up-to-date. They keep track of registered students, attendance check-in and -out, and important information like pronouns, allergies, and more. If you are planning to run open play slots, adult/child activities, and partner with other providers, then you need a good roster system. We recommend using a class registration and management software like Sawyer to keep your rosters organized.
With Sawyer, students are automatically added to the roster along with all of their information like parents’ names, pronouns, birthday, allergies, t-shirt/costume size, and more as soon as they sign up. Staff can also track attendance at drop-off and pickup online on the roster or by exporting and printing. And if something comes up, you can email everyone on the roster to keep them in the know.
Learn more about how Sawyer can make managing rosters simple for your indoor playground.
Utilizing waitlists can help you capitalize on extra demand when you don’t have enough space and ensure you don’t leave money on the table. Plus, waitlists are a great way for you to see which specific classes resonate with your audience more strongly.
Sawyer provider Oh! Canary, which offers art camps and extracurricular activities for young children in New Jersey, explains that waitlists are beneficial because they also act as a growth projection and planning metric. Lacey, founder of Oh! Canary, explained that “waitlists are helpful because we can really see in real time the demand for our classes. In some weeks, our camp waitlists are up to 70 kids! It shows us the potential of what could be possible.” Read more about how Sawyer helped Oh! Canary grow and scale in our case study.
Taking online registrations
Millennials are online 24/7. They do everything on their devices. That’s why it is important to show that your classes can be booked online at any time without the need to make a call or send an email. In our 2022 Children’s Activity Trend Report, we reviewed 7.2 million activity bookings and found that 42% of parents book outside of typical business hours (9am to 5pm). Plus, over 60% booked on mobile! To capture this business, you need to be available for online bookings and mobile optimized.
Selling semester and drop-in options
By offering registration options for customers, you can increase your enrollment numbers. People are looking for flexibility when they make booking decisions because they have busy schedules. Especially if you run open play, drop-in slots are a great way to get as many children in as safely possible.
Most providers find it difficult to offer options like semesters, camps, and drop-in classes unless they work with a class registration and management software that has these capabilities built in. With Sawyer, you can choose to offer semesters and summer or school break camps as well as drop-in classes. You can even offer multiple options for one class, so some customers can choose to pay for the whole semester or month while others pay by week or even by day.
Sometimes, families need to adjust their bookings due to unforeseen circumstances. Class management software makes transfers an easy process. You can allow customers to choose whether they want to transfer into a different class or program or request a refund. With a few clicks, the booking has been updated, saving you and your team time!
Getting the information you need
Providers who do not use registration and class management software have to ask each customer to print and fill out registration materials, waivers, consent forms, and more documents before they can participate. Then, the provider has to file these papers and keep everything organized. Instead, you can use class management software like Sawyer to seamlessly collect information about each camper and access it easily from anywhere.
Custom form fields
Require custom forms for registration to keep track of consent and waiver forms, emergency contacts, and important responses about medications, allergies, pronouns, and more. This information is then exported automatically into the roster so that instructors and staff have access to everything in one place.
Do you need to use class registration software?
Class registration software makes starting and running an indoor playground successfully much easier. Rather than relying on phone calls and email, handwritten forms, and spreadsheet rosters, you can have everything organized and accessible. (See how Sawyer helped Shredder get organized so they could manage their six locations).
Software keeps you and your staff more organized and efficient. In fact, class registration software Sawyer can save you 28 hours per month on administrative tasks, so that you have more time to spend planning lessons and activities, growing your business, working with your staff, and having fun with the children in your activities.
Features to look for in class registration software
There are a few different class registration and management softwares on the market. How can you tell which one is right for your business? Here are some questions to ask yourself and features to look for so you can find the perfect class registration software for your indoor playground and play space.
- What is your goal? Are you hoping to save time and improve staff experience? Do you want to appear more professional to your customers and provide an easier way to register? Are you looking to process payments or dive deeper into business analytics? What are you hoping to accomplish by using a class registration and management system?
- What are other customers saying? Check reviews on sites like Capterra to hear firsthand from business owners about their experience with certain softwares. This can help you make the right decision for your business.
- How is their customer service? As a new business starting on a platform, customer service is incredibly important. Look at their website to see what goes into their customer service. Do they help with onboarding and continued education? When and how can you reach out to the team? These are important questions to ask when considering a registration software.
- Will they help you grow? How do the features and options on that platform help your business grow and scale? Do they accept customer feedback and make changes so that they grow with you? You don’t want to be stagnant and neither should your software.
Check out our guide to learn more about how to find the perfect registration software for your indoor playground.
Still not sure if starting and running an indoor playground is the right decision for you? Making the jump is a big decision. Check out these frequently asked questions about running an indoor playground or play space to see if it is the right choice for you.
How much does it cost to start an indoor playground?
The short answer is: It depends. Because indoor playgrounds can be as big or small and as full or empty as you want, you can create one within many different budgets. Playtime.com estimates that in general, total investment can start at around $100,000, including rent and startup costs.
If you are not sure how much to invest in your indoor playground, create a spreadsheet with local rent, equipment, and other costs and then see where you end up.
What licenses are needed to start an indoor playground?
There are a few different licenses that are needed to start an indoor playground. First, you must register your company as an LLC, C Corp, or nonprofit. Then you will be issued an Employee Identification Number (EIN) from the IRS. Most indoor playgrounds also get a Doing Business As (DBA) license so they can run their business from a different name than their LLC.
How much do indoor playground owners make?
According to Emergen Research, the value of the indoor playground and play space market reached $24.35 billion in 2020 with 36.1% of this industry revenue in North America. The projected market value of this industry in 2030 is $69.55 billion.
The profit margins and returns of an indoor playground vary by location, business model and overhead costs. Expenses, location, and other elements should all be considered when determining salary.
When should I invest in class registration software?
If you want your indoor playground to start off on the right foot, you should invest in class registration software like Sawyer from the very beginning. You want your first customers to have a great experience when they register for classes so they keep coming back for more. With a class registration system, you can ensure your bookings are seamless, payments are always taken, and important information is organized.
We hope this guide has provided you with all of the information you need to start and run an indoor playground successfully. At Sawyer, our mission is to help children’s activity businesses thrive. With our suite of tools and helpful resources, we can help you spend less time on administrative tasks and more time with your students. Want to learn more? Talk to a member of our expert team and see how Sawyer can help your business grow. Or get started with a free trial.