Interview with mumpreneur Charlene Sriwarin, Owner of Play Town
Just outside Stamford in Essendine, is Play Town - opened in November 2018 - where children learn through play. They can let their imagination run riot in Play Town’s 12 areas designed to reflect a ‘mini town’ from the hairdressers ‘Little Snippers’, a theatre, to a Health Centre, and vets. This inspired idea is that of owner and mumpreneur, Charlene Sriwarin. I interviewed Charlene, who shares her thoughts on her motivations, the challenges, her best moments, the reactions to Play Town and her tips for mumpreneurs.
Motivations - why did you set up the Play Town?
‘I’ve got three kids, they’re age 2,4 and 6. It’s hard work. I worked in Marketing and went back after my third, but my priorities had shifted and I decided I wanted to start my up on my own ...I wanted more flexibility. You know what it’s like, having to ask for time off for school plays, or sports day, I wanted to be able to manage my own time.’
‘I had seen the idea down South when I was off on maternity leave with my third and thought it looked like a great idea. So we took the eldest two children and they absolutely loved it. Then I realised there’s such a gap in the market here. Rutland is fabulous in Summer, but in winter there’s not that much to do.’
‘It’s easier to juggle life. Although I work 6 days a week, it feels like a better work-life balance. I can organise my week how I see fit. And it’s for me.’
What have been the key challenges?
It was hard work and stressful to start up. Initially, it took me about 8 months to get up and running. I had never run a business before, neither had anyone in my family. There was no guidance, I had to figure it out...so from that perspective, it was quite difficult. The hardest thing was finding trustworthy, reliable contractors when you were investing a lot of money and figuring out the building regulations, and the health and safety regulations. It was a big learning curve!
What were your best moments?
‘In terms of creating the business, the fun bit was being creative, designing and making Play Town, choosing the colours, and the materials to make the theatre, and the signs.’
‘I also really love school visits. Children are different when their parents are here than when they are with their teachers. They know they are not going to get cakes with their teachers, so they focus on play, and interacting with each other and it’s lovely to watch.’
What’s the reaction been?
‘As a mum, I thought it would do well, but from November when we launched through to Christmas it was just so busy, I couldn’t have asked for more. Some parents have said that it’s nice their child is not stuck in front of a tablet or TV screen.
We are getting a lot of nurseries and schools coming. Roleplay is part of the Early years foundation stage, we get schools coming to support certain topics, for example, exploring topics such as careers and ambitions. Roleplay is good for children to learn about the world we live in.’
Have you any tips for Mumpreneurs?
‘For anything, get a few quotes. Work with people you like - If you don’t like working with them, if you can’t get on with the builders, for example, you are going to find it very difficult and also follow up on testimonials and references.’
‘I would say really, really research your market. I started listening to a lot of business podcasts, to get some business advice.There’s one I follow which talks about having a “blue ocean” idea, it tells you to ask yourself is there a lot of customers there, but no one meeting their needs?.’
‘Once you’ve decided to do it, you just have to go for it. You have to really believe it’s going to work. It’s hard when you have kids and a mortgage to pay, it’s very different but that makes you work so much harder.’
Consider starting your business whilst you are in paid employment if you have time and
it’s not a conflict of interest - ‘dip your toe in the water’.
Find good suppliers, get numerous quotes and testimonials.
Do your research thoroughly. If you are a busy mum or dad, try listening to podcasts in the car, to get business advice.
Recognise the power of Facebook and social media ‘It might not always translate directly into sales but what it does is build brand awareness.’
Ask yourself if you are solving a problem.