Sunday, September 9, 2012

Three Years! The Joys of Business Ownership!

This week I found out about yet another locally owned indoor play space closing their doors. Since I've opened, I can name a long list of others that have not made it or that will be closing soon. It truly makes me sad, especially knowing all of the hard work and dedication that goes into maintaining a place like this. I have had the pleasure over the past five years (two planning, three owning AP) of connecting with many awesome indoor play-space owners. We share ideas, stories, feedback and offer support to one another about these community meeting places that we have created in our communities. While we sometimes appear to be bursting at the seams during our "busy season," there is the dreaded "slow season" that seems to linger when we are struggling to get people in the door. We don't have grand marketing budgets; rather, we rely on word of mouth from our fabulous customers and other forms of gorilla marketing   to spread the word about these little places where kids can PLAY. Each year that Amaya Papaya sustains and grows, I am humbled by your support and that of other people in our community who not only bring their kids to play or participate in activities at Amaya Papaya, but also spread the word about us as they are at the playground, in classes, or simply passing by another parent who looks like s/he could use a break! I've even heard stories about people spreading the word about Amaya Papaya in other cities, states or countries and then meeting those guests at AP when they come to visit Central Florida! Thank you!

So here I am at year three and one month. I could say that it has been all me and my big ideas that have kept AP open; however, that would be a big untruth. If it had been all me, I would have given up a long time ago. Although some people have thought of me as a super hero with a cape (that's just the shadow of a kid who follows behind me), I am simply a mom who depends a lot upon the persuasion of two year olds who can convince their parents to bring them to play in a little piece of play heaven (LOL). It's been a blessing to wake up each day, come to work (on time I might add), see your kids' smiling faces, and talk to each of you about our experiences as parents. Lord knows that it takes a village to raise a child, but I also think it takes a community to help keep a mommy/daddy sane.  ENTER THE AP COMMUNITY TO THE RESCUE! When I first began to think of this place, I imagined a place where community could be "created.” I imagined that all types of families could come to enjoy AP and be accepted. I imagined that parents could come into AP and be safe from parenting-style judgment, that kids could learn at their own pace, and that friendships would be formed. All of this and more has happened! YOU have helped to shape the AP culture!

While the latter has been grand, some people have found that they don't fit into the culture of this community. I've heard that some don't like our variety of toys, some disagree with the staff that I have selected over the years, some have not connected with other parents at AP, and some simply find the idea of AP to be silly. I've heard earfuls from people over the years about how I should structure AP, about which programming I should bring to AP, and even how I should run AP in general. Just last week a parent told me he did not see the value in AP. While all of these things offer me valuable feedback (lots of which I take and use), it has also provided me with a valuable lesson in life and business. Although I am  a person who loves to help others and wants to make people no less than happy,  I have learned that I simply cannot make everyone happy. I cannot expect everyone to see my vision or understand the purpose to my AP madness.  In this day and age, customers can easily share their opinions and cause harmful damage to a business' reputation by posting negative reviews on the same social media forums that we use to build ourselves up. When sharing these opinions, it is easy to forget how much effort was put into growing and sustaining the business. It's easy to forget that no business, its owners, or the people they choose to hire, will ever be perfect. My hope is that those who don't agree with my business model, or any business for that matter, will understand that I/we   work hard to provide a place that is simply here to bring a smile to the face of the children and the parents who need it. So what's next? Come see me and ask. I LOVE to talk (if you haven't already discovered that)!   I will simply embrace growth and change and move forward!