From shopping destinations to entertainment centres and food destinations, shopping malls across the world are being looked upon as one stop destinations for a day’s outing. And this holds especially true in India, where the leisure and entertainment industries are growing rapidly.
Lifestyle centres across India are offering people a fun day out, a social experience. Vanishing urban space for leisure and also the massive growth and development in the entertainment industry is a major reason that malls are doubling up as community hubs. Also, since children have the maximum say in the shopping decisions of their parents, it is imperative for malls to be kid-friendly.
In a bid to become out-of-home entertainment options as much as shopping destinations, malls are increasingly engaging play zones as tenants. One such play facility for kids, which made its way into India in 2017 is Playbox.
Playbox is owned by Dubai-based Amusement Services International who have over 20 years of experience in the international entertainment industry and have designed many interesting engagement zones for children. The company is into designing premium quality play areas that meet all international standards including operations, design, and safety.
Founder & CEO of PLAYBOX, Prakash Vivekanand, says, “Playbox is an extremely interesting and engaging facility primarily catering to children between the ages of two and nine and we decided to bring in this offering to India. Towards this, we looked at many locations, malls and FECs in the country. Many of these facilities are great and there are some brilliant offerings, but we were bringing in something unique that adds value to shopping malls and which predominantly needs a family audience.”
Since Playbox is not a traditional family entertainment centre with rides and arcade games, but more of a wholesome and elaborate play area which is very spacious with lots of place for kids to run around, Vivekanand was looking for just the right amount of space – the kind of space where kids could come to explore, engage, express and entertain themselves. Lots of malls approached ASI to host them as tenants, but the space available was not something he had in mind.
“They all offered us space near the food court, on the third floor etc. We felt this made it very tough for parents because to reach us, they would first need to walk from the parking lot, then find an elevator, go to the third floor, and then go through the food court. We wanted to make it easier for people to find us.”
This was one of the main reasons the brand chose Gardens Galleria mall – a mall which has ample parking space and Playbox is a short walk away, conveniently located on the lower ground floor.
Another reason was that malls either had an area of 35,000-40,000 sq. ft. to offer us, which was too big or an area between 5,000 sq. ft. to 6,000 sq. ft., which was way too small for Playbox. Gardens Galleria was an upcoming mall which offered to customize 14,000 sq. ft of space for the brand.
“We were also looking for a more laidback mall rather than an aggressive retail destination. A mall, where parents could come, relax and bond with their kids, enjoying an experience like none other,” says Vivekanand.
“Gardens Galleria had the perfect area for us and fit the bill in as far as everything was concerned – perfectly positioned on the lower ground floor, very easy to access from the parking, with lots of restaurants, a great hypermarket, and just the right number of retail stores to pull people in,” he further explains.
The mall management, Vivekanand adds, has been very supportive towards having a facility like Playbox in their premises.
“They understand the kind of value our brand would add to their mall and also appreciate the quality footfalls we bring in. This is obvious in the fact that even though we are situated in Noida, 60-65 percent of the birthday parties that we have hosted are of children who live in South Delhi. Since parents are making their way to us, we must have done something right in terms of content, value-add, satisfaction and so on. We are very happy with our mall selection,” says Vivekanand.
This is the first of ASI’s ventures in India, a test site of sorts, on the basis of which the brand plans to expand in the country.
“Our larger plans for Playbox are to expand it across India. We’ve got a wealth of international experience designing and operating such facilities around the world, so when we wanted to come to India, we wanted to really test the concept in terms of strength, positioning, how it works, how it supports the community and how it supports a mall,” explains Vivekanand.
The 4 Components of PlayBox
PlayBox – which comprises of two separate areas, My Burrow and My Maze – one for 2-4-year-old kids and one for 5-9-year-old kids. Both the age groups have been consciously provided with separate play areas since older children are at more advanced strength and maturity levels and the brand’s prime focus is playing in a safe environment.
PartyBox – There are two attractive party rooms – Party Box 1 and Party Box 2 – custom-designed for birthday parties.
SnackBox – is a boutique café which caters primarily to parents and kids, with menus that are very child-friendly but at the same time, tasty and fun enough for adults to try the food here as well.
ShowBox – This is a performance, activity & workshop area. This is where various workshops are held, ranging from Active Cross fit programs to Zumba, Yoga and even Pilates, to craft-making, and fun with science experiments. These workshops are specially designed for both children and their parents too. The main purpose of these workshops is to provide activities that parents and kids can do together in line with Playbox’s concept – to encourage parents to bond with children and to promote social & peer interaction, cognitive development, creativity and imagination.
Technology & Safety
Rapid urbanization, an interest in real estate, land being taken away by retail development and we as a civilization becoming a concrete jungle, displacing trees causing less rain and more pollution have all led to a severe lack of safe outdoor play areas for children.
“Playbox is our attempt at providing a safe indoor play zone for children. We want to be defined by simplicity yet variety of activity, not technology and so, we consciously made an attempt to move away from arcade games. We wanted to be – and are – a wholesome play area where children can explore, jump on the trampoline, slide down, crawl through the infinite maze, swing and engage in almost 80 different kinds of interactive activities. Keeping this in mind, we had to ensure a completely different standard of safety, security as well as a whole new superior level of operation standards,” says Vivekanand.
“For toddlers, we have a whole foam padded area, and we have not had a single safety incident so far at this facility in Gardens Galleria,” he adds.
The play area is designed to a very high international standard and almost every component conforms to European safety and construction norms. It is mapped with security cameras, so parents feel very secure leaving their kids in the play zone if they want to do a spot of shopping, assured that their kids are fully monitored.
“We use superior technology in terms of CCTV cameras to monitor the whole space. We have controlled entry and exit points including electronic gates, so children cannot sneak out. We also provide wrist bands that are specially bar coded for the parent and child and only hand over the child to the parent who has dropped the child at the end of play once the wrist band bar codes match at the gate,” explains Vivekanand.
The Playbox team too, is carefully selected for their ability to engage kids and are trained to meet our quality standards.
Investment & Expansion: The Future in India
Since the brand is keen on maintaining high standards, the investment figure is much higher than a normal play area. However, Vivekanand points out that the investment could vary from area to area, mall to mall, based on the type of space that is available.
“We are looking at expanding the concept in India and currently we are in talks with a mall in Hyderabad. We’ve also been offered space in a mall in Mumbai. However, we are taking our time to decide since we want to be very careful in what we choose as we are not just another play area. We’re also talking to upcoming malls as well in India, so that we can customize space for Playbox,” he says.
He explains that the brand is open to working on different agreements for different spaces.
“We are okay working on different formulas. We could go for an outright rental, we can work with a minimum guarantee, we can also work on a percentage of the revenue – it all depends on the kind of malls that we are being offered. There is a high level of investment that has been put into our space – by way of design, by way of play equipment, by way of safety standards, by way of hygiene standards, by way of customer service staff that have been employed. We do understand the importance of rent and we want it to be right, but we are also open to working on a multitude of models that spells profits for both us as well as the mall and converts into a winning proposition for the consumer,” says Vivekanand.
And the brand sure is turning out to be a winning proposition, ticking all the right boxes for both the consumer and the mall.
“We attract a lot of repeat visitations, in fact more than more 65 percent in the last one year. We add value to the mall, since we bring people back over and over again. It’s a concept consumers have loved over the last year, and it keeps them coming back too. Here we don’t try to make a child into an adult, like some of the other play areas do. Our USP is in making the adult into a child for a while,” Vivekanand concludes.
The Essence of PlayBox: Interaction, Bonding
The origins of Playbox is built around an urban fantasy. The story goes that ‘J’ the Fox – the owner of PlayBox – who lives on the banks of the River Yamuna is separated from his parents due to urbanization and the rapid felling of forests. He’s taken in by a farmer who loses his farm land because of the same reason. The farmer raises him like his own son and J absorbs all the worldly and social values from his travels across the globe. He comes back to Playbox and imbibes the same values in the kids who visit his play area.
The story behind the brand is an attempt to help children imbibe and appreciate social, societal and environmental values. A charity box has been installed in Playbox and children are encouraged to donate their old books, clothes, shoes and toys which are still in good condition here. The Playbox team has tie ups with NGOs who receive these items for the underprivileged children.
The brand is also fast becoming a platform where the adults and children can interact and bond with. For example, when a 60+ year old lady approached Playbox because she wanted to read stories to children, they gave her the opportunity and the platform to do just that. She was not a professional but did so well that the crowd swelled to almost listeners.