The soft play market has become more and more competitive as the number of indoor play centres has significantly increased in the last 10 years. Operators are continually looking to differentiate their offering to provide their customers with a unique and educational experience each time they visit.
The past 5 years have seen the emergence of Ceramic Studios in soft play centres and many have proven to be a huge success. Utilising existing space and furniture, its educational nature and appeal to boys and girls of all ages, Ceramic Studios can positively impact indoor play centres at a very low cost.
This article has been written by Ken Shelton of Cromartie Bisqueware, a company based in Stoke on Trent with many years experience of supplying materials and training to Ceramic Studios. With this article they hope to educate existing and new soft play operators on the merits of setting up a Ceramic Studio, and outline the basic principles to consider.
What is a Ceramic Studio?
Ceramic Studios have been springing up all over the country during the last decade or so, you can find them in high street locations, there are many in garden centres, art complexes and soft play centres. Customers visiting a studio choose a piece of blank pottery to paint; they decorate it with special ceramic paints. All sorts of shapes are available from plates, mugs and bowls to collectable figures, vases and plaques. When the piece is finished it is dipped in glaze by the studio staff and then fired in a kiln to produce a piece of real and shiny pottery that can be cherished forever.
Why put one in a Soft Play Centre?
Ceramic Studios provides a very different and complementary play experience, a complete contrast to the energetic running and climbing activity of a soft play centre. Painting pottery absorbs the children’s attention completely: where else can you hear a pin drop with a room full of kids? It’s not only for children, Mums and Dads also enjoy the activity with many becoming hooked and returning time after time to produce real works of art. Of course it is an activity parents can enjoy while the little ones are enjoying themselves in the soft play area. Ceramic Studios add a new dimension broadening the appeal of your centre, it will also bring customers back again as they need to return within a few days to collect their fired pots.
Health & Safety Considerations?
It is important that all the colours and glazes used are non toxic. Electric kilns are controlled by sophisticated program controllers that have safety protection monitoring the whole firing process. Kilns are designed to contain heat so there is no fire hazard when elementary procedures are followed. The kiln should be kept away from customers, your chosen supplier should advise you of the best place to position your equipment.
As a guideline, a profitable studio could be set up with a seating space of around 40 square metres. This will be sufficient for seven tables each seating four people in comfort giving you 28 customers at once. In addition, a couple of metres is needed for glazing, the kiln will take up around a square metre or possibly a small separate room and there will have to be display shelving and a cash and wrap area.
Set up Costs and Profitability
The cost of setting up a Ceramic Studio is surprisingly low, leaving aside the cost of furniture which will depend on size and existing facilities, the cost of initial stocks of colour glaze, brushes and equipment is likely to be from £3000 to £5000 depending on the scale. A kiln costs around £2000. Note that kilns are very economical to run, a typical firing is less than £5.00 depending on the size of kiln. Ceramic Studio businesses have a very high gross profit margin: if you take the cost of colour, glaze, bisque and the electricity used in the firing we calculate that you will be able to charge sufficient prices to achieve a margin in excess of 80%.
Training and Support
Most Ceramic Suppliers who appear on www.shareandcompareplay.com use their wealth of experience to provide the necessary support and training to help soft play centres operate Ceramic Studios efficiently. Training is provided with only minimal costs and in many instances with no charge at all. They provide training in the operation of the kiln, application of glazes and use of the colours, all you need to operate a studio. Many also offer marketing and business advice and technical staff should be reachable by phone during office hours.
Choosing your Ceramic Supplier
After you have set up your Ceramic Studio, and received the necessary training and equipment from your Ceramic Supplier, you will need to continue the relationship with them to purchase pottery, paint and kiln furniture on an ongoing basis. Some Studios can spend anything up to £10,000 per year on this stock, and hence having a good working relationship with your Ceramic Supplier is important. This makes choosing the right Ceramic Supplier from the start very important and it is worthwhile spending some time to:
- Decide whether you want to work with a supplier who can provide all the relevant materials on an ongoing basis, or a company that may specialise in one or two of the aspects required in a Ceramic StudioUnderstand the type of training you need to make the most of your Ceramic Studio and choose a supplier that can provide the right type for you. Some will offer courses based from their own studios/factories, whilst others will come to your site and complete the training.
- Speak to existing customers of each supplier to check out the pricing levels, delivery times/reliability, range of products on offer and ongoing support service. These factors will significantly impact your ongoing Ceramic Studio business, so this will be time well spent.
When starting or operating a soft play centre, consider including a Ceramic Studio for the following reasons:
- Ceramic Studios add a creative and educational aspect to the play experience.
- The start up costs are very low and comparatively little space is required.
- A broader demographic will be attracted to your play centre which means more (repeat) visitors
- Ceramic Studios are proving to be a profitable addition to other soft play centres