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|First high-end playground of Hanoi on road to expansion|
This past year was not fortunate for indoor playgrounds, and those just starting up business were facing glum prospects due to lockdowns, social distancing, and a general aversion to crowds. Thus, the success of Smart Kids Playground in its first year of operations in this setting is indicative of tremendous demand for high-end playgrounds among high-earning Vietnamese and expatriates raising families in Hanoi.
Smart Kids Playground was set up in October 2019 to meet the unmet demand of wealthy urbanites for a safe play area that is less overpowering for the senses than most locally-run playhouses – and found warm welcome from the residential community of the Hapulico complex in Thanh Xuan district.
In fact, its business model, showcased by relatively high resiliency to the pandemic via steady customer footfall, has drawn the interest of investors looking to spread the model to other cities by franchising.
Founder and CEO Nguyen Van Anh said, “After such a turbulent year, we were not actively looking to expand just yet – especially not under a franchise model. However, we received several requests and are currently discussing new locations in differents cities.”
She added that negotiations regarding the new playground in Ho Chi Minh City and Bac Ninh are close to wrapping up while the talks in Danang, Nghe An, and Haiphong are still very fluid.
Hanoi may be a wonderland for some, but space comes at a premium. Families with young children know the struggle of finding enough room for their young ones to really let rip and run to their hearts’ content. The lack of suitable green spaces within the city has turned parents, local and foreign alike, to indoor playgrounds.
Local facilities, however, do not meet the requirements for all and are a particular culture shock to many foreigners. It is a chest-high version of the sensual overload encapsulated by Hanoi’s night market, with all its colours, the tinny blaring of Vietnamese and Chinese children’s songs from age-old carnival games, and a constant throng of young children pressing in from all sides.
Much like the night market, playgrounds often remain a one-time spectacle in which foreign families visit once and never go back.
“When we returned to Vietnam with our children, we wanted to find them a place to play that is clean, high-end, and above all, safe,” Van Anh explained, adding that the only real option turned out to be opening a playground of their own where they can make sure everything is up to standard.
“We have created a space where both children and parents can enjoy themselves in peace while getting plenty of physical activity and mental practice,” Van Anh added. “Smart Kids Playground has been designed to welcome families for a whole day of wholesome fun – with plenty of places to climb, run, and enjoy physical activities as well as the largest, best-appointed children’s library in the market.”
The overall ambience at the playground differs a great deal from others. As opposed to the loud colours akin to fast food restaurants – designed to encourage swift customer turnaround – the high-end establishment features a muted, light colour palette that is calming and radiates cleanliness. Paired with low music, the playground is far easier on both children and parent’s sensibilities.
The toys and games are also designed to “stimulate children’s sense of wonder”, according to Van Anh, with a mock city built with a restaurant, police station, and fire station complete with a firetruck, as well as an interactive wall where children can learn about the world through animated projections activated by touch.
“We take special care to keep the place and toys in good order, maintaining absolute cleanliness and hygiene by sterilising the space with a room disinfection system each week,” she added.
With no real established industry standards to point to when it comes to hygiene at playgrounds in Vietnam, it is deemed especially important to find the right level of commitment and ensure that potential franchise partners have the same standards in mind.
Van Anh is also running several courses for children, importing curricula designed to “awaken the natural curiosity of children” while endowing them with crucial life and technical skills such as STEM, and creative skills like arts and crafts, and dancing.
The same goes for food, she added. “We import most ingredients from Germany and Hungary, to make sure they are free of GMO or unhealthy artificial additives.”
Smart Kids Playground charges probably the steepest entry fees among playgrounds in Hanoi, with tickets going from VND190,000 ($8), including free participation at ongoing classes and activities when booked in advance. A 6-month pass costs VND4 million ($170).