InPlay is the latest in a large number of new kids-orientated businesses to open in Botswana. Its owner, an elegant and poised 30-year-old named Chah Garde, is from Kalakamati near Francistown. In recent years she’s lived abroad and her husband and young children are still based in Angola today.
I discovered Chah wasn’t always a globetrotting entrepreneur. When she finished at UB she started her career in social media and web design. It was through her job as a web developer she met and fell in love with her Irish husband Moss. It was because of his work they moved to Mauritius and then onto Angola.
I sat down with Chah to find out what brought her home to Botswana. And why she chose to open an indoor playground and restaurant here.
What was the big inspiration for starting InPlay?
It was my kids. Because we’ve traveled a lot, we always took them to indoor playgrounds. Every time we came back to Botswana we found that lacking. Our kids would nag us because they wanted to continue going to those kinds of places. There wasn’t anything here so we decided… let’s open an indoor playground!
At first my husband thought it was one of those ideas that runs through your head and you don’t follow through with. But we couldn’t shake the thought and eventually… it happened!
Why did you come home to open it and not stay in Angola?
I’m the baby in my family. My parents and I have always been close, so going away was hard for me. Even though it was exciting to see the world with my nuclear family, I missed Botswana and wanted to return home. I couldn’t back and do nothing, so after I envisioned this play area I thought I can actually do this.
It’s not easy being away from your family; especially when you have kids you need that support base. I missed that connection. My kids also needed to be closer to their cousins, aunts, uncles and grandparents.
So do your parents live in Gaborone?
No, actually they live in Francistown.
So why did you choose Gaborone for InPlay’s location?
The population. Gaborone is bigger and it’s more developed than Francistown. It also made sense because our house is in Bokaa.
Do you hope to grow InPlay?
Definitely, and the next place we are looking at is Francistown!
How long did it take from the start of the project to actually opening?
In June 2017 I started on a business plan. In August I quit my job in Angola and began working full force on InPlay. I designed the logo, researched where could I get equipment, and planned trips to China. Before going abroad I visited Botswana and identified a location that would work. That gave me specifics on the space I had and allowed me to decide how I wanted to the playground to look.
In October I went to China for a week and saw four possible suppliers. From those I identified one that I wanted to buy from. By the end of November Moss and I finalized what we were getting.
We set a target opening date of the beginning of March. Our first container arrived at the end of January and our second arrived third week of February. So we worked like slaves. We worked 14 to 18 hours, 4am to 10pm, every day, to open our doors.
What age range does InPlay cater for?
0-13 years. We have a section for toddlers aged 0-4, and the large play structure is for 5-13 year olds. But the little ones can go in the large area too, depending on how busy it is.
Since you opened on March 3rd how busy have you been?
We are not complaining; so far so good. We had one day that was quiet and that was ok too. It gave us the opportunity to spring clean and market it. We went to local schools and handed out fliers to mums. It was a good InPlay day.
How many employees have you got?
We’ve got 16 in total between the restaurant, play area, reception, and cleaning staff.
What qualifications does your staff have?
All our playground assistants have an early childhood diploma and first aid qualifications. That’s important; we are looking for people that can think on their feet if they need to.
What safety standards have you put in place?
Botswana doesn’t have safety standards when it comes to playground equipment. So when we went to China, we asked for them to use U.K. standards. For example, the normal piping for indoor playgrounds is 1.2mm thick. So we asked for ours to be 1.6mm because that is to U.K standards. We paid extra so we – and parents – can have peace of mind that it’s built the best it can be.
How do find managing people?
I’ve managed people before at my previous jobs. I wouldn’t say it’s tough but I wouldn’t say it’s easy either. You have to get in sync with other people’s personalities. During the interviews for InPlay we said ‘there’s no boss and there’s no subordinate’.
I wanted to hire proactive staff that have something to say; not people who wait for an instruction. That’s something I instilled in my staff from day one and I must say it’s worked so far. On a quiet day my staff came to me and suggested they go distribute fliers. I’m learning from them as much as they’re learning from me.
Other than fliers, what advertising have you done?
This is a new project in Botswana so everyone who is working at InPlay is doing this sort of job for the first time. Nobody has previous experience at an indoor playground. So it was important to us that we do a soft launch. We didn’t want to be too strong with our advertising because wanted our staff to be able to manage their jobs first. We didn’t want to overwhelm ourselves.
Once we’re satisfied with the level of customer service we’re offering, that’s when we will launch our marketing.
Like most businesses here we advertised on Facebook and Instagram, but that’s it. So far it’s working for us.
Since you’ve recently done it… what advice would you give other businesses starting up?
Chah laughs; I would say you have to be patient. For instance with things like licenses, they do happen, but not at the pace you might want them to. Eventually they do materialize. We paid for our internet six weeks ago and they came to install it today.
As Chah and I wound up our interview I wondered what the future of InPlay held. With such a sophisticated mum-preneur as its driving force, I feel it can only be good things. Families in Botswana deserve to be able to go somewhere and connect and play. And having done a tour of InPlay, I can’t wait to let my 18month old loose in the amazing play area. Hopefully I will meet you there. Please leave us a comment if you’ve been to Inplay and tell us what you think. Jennifer also did a fantastic post on all that is on offer at Inplay, have a look here if you want to be in the know.