Elaina Herber didn't dream of getting into the entertainment business. It was more by coincidence than anything else. She had been a successful IT consultant for 15 years, while simultaneously starting several businesses. When her first child was about 16 months old, she moved to San Francisco. With such a young child, she spent some time looking through parent resources online to find activities for toddlers in the area. She came across a business that eventually became the model for WiggleWorks Kids.
Elaina met with the owner and they became great friends. After some time, she found out she would be relocating to the Seattle area, and she knew that her new home offered nothing in the way of fun or enrichment for toddlers. The owner of the San Francisco facility had no desire to expand her business or franchise other locations, so Elaina took that model and brought it with her to Seattle.
Elaina opened her first WiggleWorks Kids location in November of 2012 in Bellevue, WA. The business was greeted with extreme enthusiasm by the local community. With her entrepreneurial nature, she wanted to keep expanding this business. But she wanted to do the next location outside of the Bellevue area, which was very high in gross and discretionary income. "If this model is going to work, it has to work in everywhere America," commented Elaina.
Her second location opened in December of 2013, in Puyallup. This city offered more of a rural, blue collar culture, with a lower median income. While her second location - and even her first - are still very young, she is overwhelmed with the amazing response from parents in her community.
As a single-amusement FEC, WiggleWorks Kids has a niche market; designed for children 6 and under. Children learn through play, so that is a big part of what they do. But they also spend a lot of time on child and family enrichment. Elaina now has both a preschooler and a toddler of her own, so she understands what parents are looking for. "I am my own customer, which is helpful."
With 2 locations to look after, her day-to-day work is similar a district manager role. She has little involvement in store operations since she has managers to watch over each of the locations. "I'm doing numbers, watching budgets, making sure we're paying the bills, things like that." She also spends a lot of time working on marketing and facilitating the future of the business.
Her favorite part about developing WiggleWorks Kids is seeing the amazing reactions from parents and children when they are engaged and having fun together. A lot of time parents will come in with a laptop, a phone, and a tablet, with a plan to get work done while their child is playing. But more often than not, the mom or dad will put everything away and become involved with the activities. "That sense of reward is something that happens in our stores all the time."
Her facilities have won multiple parenting awards, and they have a zero return rate on Groupons, which is almost unheard of. Even so, there are still some people who are impossible to please - and she sees that as the most challenging part about her job. From her IT days, Elaina has a lot of training and experience working with high-level people at corporations, but it's different to work with parents. "It is so much more of a challenge dealing with the general public because we are talking about the experience that we are providing for their child."
After more than a year of work, Elaina has completed her franchise FDD, so they are able to begin franchising the business. But she is still cautious to move too quickly since her business model is so young, and her target market is so niche. As WiggleWorks continues to mature, it will help Elaina analyze and decide exactly how and when to expand the business.
Elaina sees a strong future for the entertainment industry in general. "Families are doing more together, and there's a lot of money being spent on entertainment." With the new generations focusing on quality, she thinks that entertainment venues that offer quality products and services will continue to grow.
WiggleWorks Kids is only a couple years old, so Elaina is not far removed from being a new operator. Her advice for other new operators is to focus on what you're trying to do. Do that, and do it well. "Don't try to be all things to all people because you will fail."
Elaina has certainly struck a chord with a niche market in her Seattle communities. We hope to see her business expand into a bright future full of wiggling, giggling, and playing!