At the recent HTA marketing conference, Hillview Group chief executive Boyd Douglas Davies said: "The Soft Play Barn has been a fantastic investment for Hilltop Garden Store. Not only has it achieved its initial aim to attract a younger demographic and increased footfall to the site, it has also benefited the whole store, with Hilltop's sales up by 29.8 per cent this year."
Prior to Hillview Garden Centre's acquisition in 2012, Hilltop was known locally for its plant and gardening products, with little appeal to families. After the Soft Play Barn opened in October 2014, 26,123 children have been charged to play, with 1,035 attending birthday parties. Some £197,210 has been spent by customers in the barn, with £13,000 raised for the Greenfingers charity and total site sales up 29.8 per cent year on year. Set-up costs were about £40,000.
Hillview located the rustic-themed Soft Play Barn away from the existing catering offer in a previously quiet area so as to not alienate the existing customer base and to develop a pizza restaurant offer at the play barn. Entry is £2.50 for Seasons Reward Card members and £3.50 otherwise, which increased loyalty card membership from six per cent growth to 27 per cent, month on month. Greenfingers is donated 50p from each entry.
The centre is now running more children's events, such as Breakfast with Santa, and has extended its range of children's toys, books and clothing, introduced a food shop and expanded a home and leisure offering. There is also now a woodland walk and party packages with Ramsden Rare Breeds Farm. Hilltop sponsors a local under-9s football club and offers "Pizza 'n' Play" as well as summer specials. The Soft Play Barn operates daily, with 1.5 members of staff per day.
Soft play - Facilities raise cash for charities as well as footfall
Wyevale Garden Centres now has more than 50 soft play facilities across its stores. It charges a fee of £1.50 from which 25p goes to the Marie Curie charity and 25p goes to the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children.