Today I was keen on staying out of the house for as long as possible. It’s not because today was a particularly warm day but because my husband had been man down with a vomiting bug since 4am. After buying him meds at the local pharmacy I wanted to take the kids out for some fun and so they would also be out of dad’s hair (so to speak) and give him some time to recuperate in peace at home.
While at the Constantia Virgin Active gym I went online to find places to visit. I was at the gym as my son had just had his swimming lessons. I put him and his brother in the creche afterwards so that I could have a break and some much needed coffee. I remembered that one in-door play area had invited me to come and visit after I made a post about 12 Child friendly venues to visit not so long ago.
This was the perfect opportunity to visit Tumble Bear Make and Play, which is based in the Southern Suburbs of Cape Town in an area called Lakeside. When I ventured on its Facebook page to double check it’s opening times I found to my surprise that Lisa Lombard, one of the owners, had posted that the business was up for sale on the 1 November. “It is with much regret that Suzie [Thomas] and I have to close. Our last day will be Saturday 3 December 2016. We would like all our customers to pop in for a free play on that day.” The pair also own and manage The Tumblebear Gym Program, which offers gym classes at various schools in the Southern Suburbs in Cape Town.
Lombard added that she would love for one of the loyal customers to take over the business. “We have costed it at R120 000. This cost includes all the play equipment, coffee shop furniture, kitchen equipment, counters and fridges etc. The lease is valid until December 2017. Should anyone be interested please email us email@example.com.”
There was also concern for one of their permanent employees. “…we are also looking for employment for Yolanda for next year. Yolanda has been a very reliable and loyal employee who loves working with children. Most of our regular kids have a special connection with Yolanda. We have formed a friendship with Yolanda and will be sad to see her go. We would love to secure her employment in the best place for next year. Any school, family or au pair agency would greatly benefit from Yolanda’s skills.”
Why the sale?
Besides finding a place to amuse my busy boys I was keen to find out why these owners, who were clearly passionate about the business, wanted to sell it after such a short time.
According to its Facebook page, the business has been running since January 2015. It appears to offer what most indoor play areas in Cape Town do such as a soft play area for young kids, a separate play area for babies, and a play and art area. It also specializes in kids party packages, which includes two hours of play and decor.
For the adults there’s cappuccinos, lattes, tea, muffins and toasted sandwiches. “Our value add is that we will supervise and play with your little one while you relax,” they say on their Facebook page. Neat! There aren’t many places in Cape Town that will look after your children while you go shopping.
But when I arrived there I found the place was virtually empty save for another couple and their daughter. Soon we were alone, as they left within 30 minutes of my arrival. I stayed from 1;30pm till 3;30pm and in that time no one else joined us. It was a pity as the place deserved more than that. It was a decent size and there were a mountain of toys there for the kids to play with. In fact, my kids didn’t even blink an eye when I told the owner I was taking advantage of her drop and go service to pick up some food for a braai which I got invited to around the corner.
Later, when I spoke to the one partner who was manning the venue she admitted that business had been poor and that they hadn’t made profit yet. We talked lightly around the reasons for the lack of support. She blamed her lack of marketing skills and offered the ‘tough times’ most people are currently facing as possible reasons for the struggle. She added that the drought had a possible impact too – few people want to leave their children indoors when the weather is good.
It can’t be denied that South Africans are facing tough economic times at the moment. Food prices, petrol, school fees, etc., are all going up. Christmas is around the corner too, which means that people are saving towards the festivities as well. Making use of a drop and go indoor play facility while you shop is a luxury expense and if you’re tightening your belt this is typically the type of thing you would give up.
However, if I think about other indoor play venues such as The Kids Shack, which has opened another branch in Tokai’s Blue Route Mall, and The Playshed – they have all been busy when I’ve visited, even during this dry winter.
I couldn’t help but wonder if these were the only reasons that the business was struggling. Could it be the location and the access? It’s not a pram friendly venue as it’s accessed via a narrow flight of stairs.
Also, the Lakeside Shopping Centre isn’t one of the most renowned shopping hotspots in the Cape. There’s a small Pick n Pay there (and a separate liquor store) and most of the other shops and facilities are small too. Most of its eateries are takaways. There’s one beauty and hair salon next to the Tumble Bear facility that I saw, called Ecosencial Organic Hair and Beauty, but when I ventured in to ask for their price list they didn’t have any brochures to give me and there was only one customer. Maybe I just hadn’t come at a popular time.
My overall experience
I feel quite sad that these ladies couldn’t make it a good go of it because I actually enjoyed the facilities and my boys had a lot of fun there. The two hours whizzed by and the owner was very hands on and helpful with my children. The equipment was one area they had clearly invested in. The toys were in good condition and the place, save for a store room next to it, was tidy. The toasted sammies that I’d ordered came hot and there were lots of snacks and treats to eat such as muffins, popcorn, chips and cooldrinks.
The service was good and others seem to think so too. On their Facebook page they have a rating of 4.6 out of five stars, so the place is clearly loved by those that do attend it.
The owner relayed how she hoped it would be sold and that Yolanda, who typically manned the place, would find employment. “I think if I were to have to sell all the toys and start painting the room, that’s when it would hit me,” she said, nearly welling up.
Upon announcing that the place could close as early as 3 December if a buyer wasn’t found there were several messages of condolences and sadness. One fan said: “So sad such a wonderful play place is closing!!! You will be missed.”
I couldn’t agree more.