My Urban Toddler reduces play place hours in strategy shift
Pittsfield Township play store My Urban Toddler has been attracting families in the Ann Arbor area to “play, shop and learn” since 2006.
The store — located in a strip center east of the city of Saline on Michigan Avenue across from Walmart — offers a drop-in community-themed play space alongside a boutique-style children’s and maternity retail shop, as well as classes geared for toddlers.
But when owners Rosa Lee and Lorrie McKee recently announced some changes in the way they would structure the drop-in play area at My Urban Toddler, they received a lot of feedback. It was “the talk of the playground,” one Facebook user posted.
Angela Smith | For AnnArbor.com
On Thursday, the partners published a newsletter, and sent an email notifying clients that they were limiting the drop-in play time to 9 a.m.-5 p.m. Mondays and Tuesdays with daily rates rising to $10 per child effective March 1.
In 2006, Lee opened My Urban Toddler at 7025 E. Michigan Ave. in Saline after becoming a parent and looking for local places to make connections with other parents while her children played in a safe and clean environment.
“It’s imagination-driven, colorful, clean, but it is also sophisticated and designed with parents in mind,” she said. “The spaces are intimate enough for conversation without being over-stimulating,” she said of the play area, which was the original element of the business.
Though the space turned into exactly what Lee was hoping for, she immediately noted the need to expand and offer retail items.
“As a business model, the playscape was not viable on its own,” Lee said. Lee explained that since 2006, the play area has never been profitable, explaining that the retail and learning components have kept it afloat for 6 years.
Recently financial advisors confirmed this information for Lee and McKee, telling them that even if they were to attract nine customers per hour per day, they would still barely make a profit. They were faced with a decision: close the play area or make significant changes.
Angela Smith | For AnnArbor.com
McKee, who joined the company in August, just before the birth of Lee’s 4th child, came at the problem from a business perspective.
“What can we do to save the play place?” she remembers wondering. She and Lee added an expanded cafe area to the front of the shop, and renovated the play area in fall 2011.
Even though traffic flow has felt steady during the winter, the play area continued to operate at a loss. The new change in operations was an idea that came about after many hours of discussion, said Lee.
Customer feedback has been both positive and negative, McKee said.
“But we want to be completely transparent,” she said. McKee and Lee are responding to customer comments with as much clarity as possible, even revealing what their monthly costs are to run the facility. The entrepreneurs said the operating costs for the play space are $320 per day, which includes rental cost for the 4,000-square-foot area, insurance payments, labor and cleaning.
“It all adds up,” said McKee.
Their solution is to continue the drop-in play times on a limited schedule, and to also offer more scheduled opportunities for local groups such as daycares, playgroups and mom’s groups. Families can also book sessions in advance with open play, structured activities and a catered lunch.
The owners feel that they have arrived at a workable solution, which partners them with community groups that can make more steady use of the facility. They are working with locally owned What’s Cooking to provide catered healthy meals, and neighboring Brewed Awakenings Cafe to make birthday cakes.
The owners hope to attract a fitness trainer to offer classes to parents while kids can use the play space. “We’re willing to work with the community,” McKee said.
“We really want to reach out together,” adds Lee, “to build a community of families supporting each other.”
She echoes the same sentiment on the business’ Facebook page: “Dear families, The feedback has been tremendous and understandably mixed, but what we take from this is that our customer base is very engaged. We appreciate the time that you have taken to write to us Please send us your ideas for consideration. Thank you again for your involvement.”
Angela Smith is a freelance contributor to AnnArbor.com. You can reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.