Today’s interview with Helen Griffiths teaches us a thing or two about critical areas in business such as marketing, technology, operations, and finally, getting our business’ message understood by our clients.
Helen Griffiths finished at the Cardiff University with a degree in Speech and Language Therapy. Wales-born Helen and her then-fiancee, Hugh, got married and worked in different industries. Hugh, with his Information Technology background, worked in that industry. Helen worked for a secondary school in Southampton, managing services and giving support assistance at the institution. She was then required to do graduate studies in primary education. Then she got her second degree and qualified as a primary school teacher.
On holiday to New Zealand in 2005, Helen and Hugh, over a bottle of wine, decided that New Zealand would be a good place to bring up their children. Being risk takers, the couple decided to give it a shot. The move to New Zealand was easy for Helen and Hugh to make. According to Helen, it was an opportunity for them to shake things up in their lives. Since Hugh’s family moved around a lot when he was growing up, it was not difficult to convince him to make the move. At that time, their children were 5 and 8 years old. Helen then worked with the Ministry of Education while Hugh continued working within the IT industry.
Three years later, they decided to take another risk, opening up Rumpus Room in 2013. At the time, Hugh found himself in the position where he wasn’t getting the satisfaction that he wanted at work. Seeing that Helen and Hugh considered entertaining people their strength, the idea of Rumpus Room seemed to morph into its own identity
Initially Huw & Helen investigated franchises as a way to get into the business. However, after doing their research, they decided they preferred having more creative opportunities as well as being responsive to the needs of the community. They were determined to create a community asset unique to Taranaki and one which Taranaki could be proud of. Helen and Hugh researched around Family Entertainment Systems, which the industry is called and through their 18-month intelligence research, the concluded that there was a gap in the market and Rumpus Room was launched. Although Helen refers to it as a “multifaceted monster,” she speaks of Rumpus Room with much fondness, showing her love & passion of the business.
Operationally, the Rumpus Room is open 7 days a week from 9:30 AM to 6:00 PM. Helen is currently being assisted by 4 core staff who have various roles in the business. This gives Helen the versatility needed by the business. In addition, they have a pool of casual employees who can provide additional help when needed. Finding the right staff is similar to diamond mining, according to Helen. Once you find them, you need to hold on to them, treasure them, and look after them. Among Helen’s learnings in relation to recruitment, she says that she would trust her gut more when interviewing people. Given the chance to do it again, she would not hire someone as quickly on the mere basis of the person’s availability.
Initially running the business as husband and wife, Hugh and Helen knew each other very well and this has helped them in terms of knowing each person’s strengths and weaknesses. Helen likens Hugh’s strength as being the left hemisphere of the brain. He concentrates on the businesses’ systems, processes, logistics, and finances. Helen is more oriented towards the right hemisphere of the brain. She’s creative, focuses on service delivery, people management, marketing, and promotions. However, in terms of decision making, Hugh had the last say as he wears the CFO hat.
One of the key challenges that Helen faces is the weather and the New Zealand culture. According to Helen, there is a direct relationship between the Rumpus Room’s revenue and the rainfall.
In addition, New Zealand’s outdoor culture has also proven to be a challenge because it is difficult to change people’s mindsets. Facing financial challenges head on has also been something Helen has focused on. In relation to this, demonstrating value takes the top spot in terms of marketing the business.
The delegation was one of the things that Helen needed to learn. When she finally found staff that she could trust and understand Rumpus Room’s philosophy and values, and inner workings this became a lot easier. Like most business owners, Helen was invested emotionally, financial and every other way possible within her business and she didn’t want to fail on the basis of someone else’s mistake. Since then, she has found that her staff has stepped up and done what they were expected to do.
Learning to communicate with her staff has been crucial to the success of Rumpus Room. She strongly believes that if her employees are happy, they are engaged. Regular performance reviews have helped Helen stay updated on things that were happening in her business. She also makes sure that when things go well, she recognizes staff as having done a good job. According to her, it’s the little things that matter to them. In addition, she also has activities with her employees such as croquet evening and barbecues, which have allowed her to create a culture of fun. This kind of organizational culture will emanate through her business processes. The right dynamics and a strong connection with her employees put her business on the right trajectory. Working as a therapist and understanding the psychology of people and relationships has helped her manage her staff well.
One of the strengths in running the business has been Helen’s connection with her market. Helen has a loyal customer base perhaps because she is in tune with them. She is able to manage her customers’ expectations in terms of the range of activities that they have within the space. According to her, the majority is supportive and understand that they’re running a business. Helen also knows who her customers are and how to reach them. Another thing that Helen is known for is idea generation. She believes that an idea isn’t worth having unless she does something with it. If you’re going to have an idea around the business, she believes in giving it a shot or investigate it.
Worrying about her business is something that Helen has learned to stop doing. She believes that it’s a waste of energy and is a negative experience altogether. Worrying about the future is a futile exercise because it’s more important to appreciate the present and enjoy it.
Putting herself under pressure has also stopped. Helen believes that you need to be aware of the struggle that exists between the head and the heart and that it affects your demeanor and affects the way people relate to you. Being authentic is important and as she says “ at the end of the day, it doesn’t matter and if she continued living her life also worrying about what other people are going to think of her, she would be under a tremendous amount of stress”
Helen subscribes to Marshall McLuhan’s belief that “anyone who thinks education and entertainment are different, doesn’t know much about either.” She believes that the Rumpus Room must be able to provide a focused mix of age appropriate, interactive play experiences. While adults perceive play as frivolous, they need to understand its importance in their children’s development. For instance, it has huge implications for a child’s motor skills, social development, and language development, as examples.
Since children are playing less, they are becoming more obese and are entering school with poor language levels. They also lack social and emotional competence. A different type of play that children are engaging in has emerged because of technology. More children are now in front of an iPad screen and playing that way, instead of being more physical and imaginative.
Some parents take the easy option and route. Sometimes, pushing your kid around with a screen while doing your grocery shopping may be an easier thing to do. As a result, children cannot be blamed for this at all. They are being shaped by the experiences provided to them. As adults, we don’t understand them as well. The play does not have to have the reason. We should not focus on the process of playing. We need to provide children a rich environment they can act upon, manipulate, and control. They need to be given the license to play and be kids. It’s all about the process.
In the next 5 to 10 years, the industry needs to revisit the whole perception of play and sell its importance in our children’s development. Grownups need to have a little bit more fun, engaging, playing, and understanding that it’s not about what’s at the end, rather, it’s about being and it’s about the process. It’s about letting go and having fun. It actually helps develop creativity. It is a form of exercise and allows for endorphins to be released.
QUICK FIRE ROUND:
BEST MARKETING TIP: Be authentic.
BEST OPERATIONAL TIP: Always be able to help or go one step further than expected.
BEST STAFF MANAGEMENT-TIP: Appreciate them
BUSINESS GROWTH TIP: Measure. How do you know your business is growing unless you know how to measure growth?
Well, Rumpus Room can be found at 151 Gill Street in New Plymouth. We have a website which is www.Rumpus-Room.co.nz and there’s always our Facebook page which is Rumpus Room New Zealand.
MAKING IT WORK IN THE ENTERTAINMENT INDUSTRY:
AN INTERVIEW WITH HELEN GRIFFITHS OF RUMPUS ROOM
In today’s podcast, Craig of The Project Guys interviews Helen, owner of The Rumpus Room. Helen graduated from Cardiff University with a degree in speech and language therapy. Born and bred in Wales, Helen and Huw got married soon after she got her degree. Huw worked in the IT industry while Helen worked with the National Health Service. She also did a post-graduate course in Primary Education from the University of Winchester.
As fate would have it, Helen and Huw went to New Zealand and over a bottle of wine, they decided to move. As risk takers, they wanted to give it a shot. At that time, their kids were 5 and 8 years old. Nine months after they applied for residency, they started working. Helen then worked for the Ministry of Education while Huw continued to work in the IT industry. They then got to the point where they decided to get into business together to try something completely different. The Rumpus Room opened in 2013.
It always intrigues me when people from the U.K. make their jump to New Zealand and then decide to live here.
Helen: We were living in Hampshire, at that time, in a nice house, in a nice suburb with nice jobs. Everything was nice and it was a bit of a treadmill of niceness and I just asked, “Do you want everything to continue to be nice? That’s a very easy option or shall we challenge ourselves? And I don’t think it’s that bad when you see things slightly out of control. It was just an opportunity. Huw’s family had moved around a lot and his father was a consultant and just lived in the states. So that idea of moving to another country wasn’t an unfamiliar one to him, that’s why it wasn’t unfamiliar to him and the world is a much smaller place these days. Communications are very easy and to be honest, there are times when we’re communicating more often with people in the U.K. then someone else is sleeping, you know, 10 doors down the road. I mean, we have family that are living in the same town and they may not see each other for the century. You know, you make it happen.
What about the 2013 to go from doing something relatively secure and stable incomes to this Rumpus Room business which is almost a brain-built business.
Helen: Huw found himself in the position where he wasn’t getting what he wanted out of the position that he was in and we have always, as a couple, we’d always been pretty damn good at entertaining people, keeping people happy, managing, events, creating events and so therefore, it seemed to be be, “Well actually, this is something that we…together, we are good at doing this. Why don’t we do it?” There’s nothing worse than being stuck in a job that you hate. So why tolerate that? Why continue doing that? Why? When you consider how much time you spend working, why do something that makes you miserable? And at that time, he was in a position that was making him miserable and so some new positions had to be made and we did what was around and at that time, there was a gap in the market for something like Rumpus Room and that’s how we came about?
Tell us about Rumpus Room.
Helen: Rumpus Room is a multifaceted monster, really and it is essentially an indoor play and party venue. However, it has many arms to it, which in fact, could be business within that and so that’s what makes it a multifaceted monster, like you said. But that’s a necessity too. If we were just a pay to play venue, we would be dead in the water. We took on a sizeable building because the nature of the business required that and so therefore the type of revenue to keep that type of building going.
Did your business plan change in 12 months?
Helen: We had the opportunity to take on or investigate our competitors’ franchise, so we looked into that. We looked into taking out on board. However, we felt that as a national franchise, it wouldn’t allow us to have the creative opportunities and be as responsive to the community as we wanted to be. We were determined to create a community asset and we wanted to make sure that it was something that was unique to Taranaki in a sense. Rather than just being another type of indoor play but it needed to be something that Taranaki was proud of, you know.
I know that that type of venue, when we were growing up and the kids were smaller, as a parent of young kids, you know, they preach it a lot in their childhood and when we started out with Rumpus Room, I just wanted to…I guess I wanted to create something that was unique…there was a lot of research around family entertainment systems, which is what the industry is called around the fact that a center that offers a greater range of services has a better chance.
How long did it take you to do intel research? What type of intel research did you do and what sort of research were you doing?
Helen: Just setting up Rumpus Room, I think it took us about 18 months worth. We were new. We were taking a gamble and you don’t just go “Red or black. Oooh, black.” [laughs]
A lot of people would like to be more considered, so we did a lot of reading around. Did a lot of investigating about the current situation and at that time, we went over in terms of the premises. We wanted to get that absolutely right cause that was key in terms of its location and its parking and things like that. So that took a lot of time to find something with the right size and the right place. We went over to Sydney to have a look at the factory where we knew the soft play structure was going to be made and we knew it would have been very easy to have ordered something from China but in terms of the investment, you get what you pay for and we want to be sure that when you are investing the amount of money, because there’s a huge outlay in a business like that. When you’re invest that amount of money, you need to make sure that there’s durability and that after 2 years, it’s not gonna fall apart or have any health and safety issues. It’s made to a particular standard. When it comes to health and safety, you cannot compromise. So yeah. That’s what we did.
What is the size of your business now in terms of the number of staff that you have and what are your operating hours?
Helen: It’s open 7 days from 9:30 til 6. We have 4 core staff who are very versatile. They are very loyal, they’re very committed. They understand the brand Rumpus Room. They take various roles within the business, so we’re not necessarily reliant on one person for the kitchen. I think that’s important for our business, to have that versatility in the staff. We also have a pool of casuals who are available to help out weekends for birthday parties or extra staffing around holiday programs and things like that. All in all, we have 14 staff members on our books.
Improvement in Staffing is one of the biggest problems of business owners. It’s time and staff. What do you think about recruiting staff?
Helen: Okay, I always liken finding staff like diamond mining. It’s a lot of hard work, but when you do find those gems, you need to hold on to them. You need to treasure them and look after them.
Oh, polish them. Absolutely. It is, it is exactly like that. I would definitely say it’s a huge learning curve but out of that learning curve it’s meant to the value I expect from my staff.
If you were to recruit someone today, what would you make make it easier today than it did on the first day of 2013? What have you learned from the past 3 years that would make it easier to do it today? What mistake could you have avoided?
Helen: I would trust my gut more when it comes to interviewing people and just because the rush into employing somebody even if you’ve got one position. That time, I guess and this is how our facility, we had very specific goals. We were looking for one person to fit this specific goal and only one person applied and so therefore, we appointed, when in fact, we should have waited. But we were, “We need somebody now.” That probably came back to bit us a bit.
You mentioned you and Huw started the business together. Please tell us more about how you define your roles and how you manage that?
Helen: So, Huw and I have been together since 1987 so that’s over 30 years and I think by then, we knew each other very well and so that helped in terms of knowing what our strengths are and Huw’s background in IT, I always like to think that together, we’re a functioning brain. Huw’s very much the left hemisphere, so he is systems, the processes, the logistics, the finances person and I’m very much the right brain. So I’m the creative and the operational, the service delivery, people, management, that type of… that’s where I’m happiest. Marketing and promotion and so these are creative and right brain type of strengths. So, it wasn’t difficult because we knew we were bringing different things to the party and in terms of decision making, when you’re in business, ultimately, the buck stops with the dollar. It comes down to the money. So it didn’t matter how grandiose my ideas where and if ultimately, Huw said, “No, the money doesn’t stuck up.” or “The numbers didn’t work.” Then I respected that decision. So that’s how the partnerships worked.
So what’s been your biggest challenge or learnings that you’ve faced as you’re growing the business?
Helen: There were various challenges and there are some that we can control and there are some that we cannot. It’s difficult to pick the biggest challenge. We run an indoor playing party facility and weather is a huge influence. There is a direct relationship between our revenue and the rainfall and there’s nothing we can do about that apart from doing rain dances. [laughs] Or actually, there are things we can do. I know we need to look at and that we need to work to getting people to come into the business on a sunny day, you can market it all you like in terms of keep your child safe. The ultimate smart, safe venue, where children are sent between these periods or the alternative is that you can get out there with them and be part. Go out there and expand what your service is to be out in the community when people are outside.
We’ve done varied things to try and overcome that challenge but it is an ongoing challenge. We’ve just had a long hot summer. We’ve had a warm, dry autumn and in the winter, it hasn’t rained that much but we’re getting a lovely damp spring which is good for us but I’m not a fun of sunny days.
In hindsight, would you have gone for a smaller building?
Helen: Yes. You know how quickly I answered that? In a heartbeat. I would have but then it’s difficult because people enjoy the space. You’re sort of caught between a rock and a hard place. They want the space…We have a large space. We’re central and we’re not in an industrial area. We’re in a building rather than being in a tin shed, type of thing, you know. So again, you’ve got acoustics around the building, so it’s not as noisy, necessarily. Yeah. So, it is a big space and people want the space but that comes at a price and then what goes with that is if you’ve got those costs, you need to charge and then you get comments from the customers saying, “Why do we have to pay for this, why have we got to pay for that.”
It’s demonstrating that value, I suppose.
Helen: Absolutely, it’s demonstrating that value and I guess that comes with the whole diversity thing. You have to diversify and show people what they’re getting for their money in terms of the range of activities that we have within the Rumpus Room space. So, addressing those sort of customer expectations and just making sure that people understand and appreciate…I mean, our customers are great. We have a loyal customer base, they’re very supportive. The majority are supportive and they understand that we’re running a business.
So when you think of that diversity and offering of services that you’ve been asked to supply, do you see anything?
Helen: I’m not sure, yeah. It’s still coming. Someone will say something new and I’ll say, “Oh yeah. I hadn’t thought about that.” It’s really important to listen to our customers and to respond to them.
The thing with Rumpus Room is that it has the hospitality element to it and so you are dealing with people who are using your services, so you need to make sure that they know that you know who they are. It’s really important to know your customers, to use their names. If something isn’t up to expectation, to listen to them and find out what it is and to take action to address that so that they feel that they’ve been listened to. I guess an example might be, we had a birthday party a couple of weeks ago where a younger party could come in. The children were under 3 and they had a platter of food which is the standard platter of party food, pizza, cheerios, that type of thing and it wasn’t best suited to that age group. We then got some feedback that said, “Hey listen, party was great but food not best suited to their ages.” And we said, “Well actually, you’ve got a very valid point there. Let’s do something about that. What would you like to see on that platter?” And then they come back to us with some selections and as a result, we then introduced the Under 3 Food Platter. So you know, foods suited to that age group and why not because they’re paying the same rate. Just things like that, being able to listen and say, “I’m responding,” in that way.
So now you’re 3 years old, apart from the building and the weather, what are some of the challenges you’re finding now?
Helen: Okay well, last year we took part in the TSB Business Excellence awards and the reason we did that was as an exercise to get somebody to take a look at our business and say, “Okay, right. You’re doing this well and maybe these are areas you need to look at developing.” We didn’t enter to win anything and to get some feedback.
The fact that we ended up with a couple of highly commended, Brand Design, Technology, and Marketing Highly Commended and a Highly Commended in the service industry as well. So that was a real sort of moment, actually. Pat on the back for all the hard work and the sacrifice. So it was nice to have that. I think one of the things that came out of that process was that we needed as a family, Huw and I and the kids, we needed to look at Huw moving out of the business so that financially…because it wasn’t supporting us both. So Huw is now Information Systems Manager at First Gas working full-time there and it therefore meant that I’ve had to grow my left brain. [laughs]
The start of the year was a very sort of emotional time. Another thing that came out of the TSB awards was the Business Excellence Awards was maybe getting a business mentor. So we actioned that as well and my business mentor has been great at helping me grow my confidence in being able to say…I think we’ve got to a crossroads decision point where I say, “No, Huw’s come back to the safety of employment. Now here I am being stuck, being eaten alive by this multifaceted monster and what do I do? Do I just roll over and just get eaten or do I fight? Do I do something about this and pull myself together?” So my mentor was great in terms of helping me make a decision around the future of Rumpus Room and passing the tissues initially. She must have thought, “Oh my God, what have I gotten myself into?” The more sessions I had with her, the less I cried and counselor’s first, mentor second. So we got to a point where she allowed me to understand that I had the skills to do it.
So did you go looking for a mentor who was somewhat similar to Huw?
Helen: I went through venture Taranaki. We had somebody, it’s like an arranged marriage. They paired me up with her and she worked in a completely different industry. However, at the end of the day, business is business, so the issues are the same. Whether they’re selling ice creams or air-conditioning units or houses. The issues that everybody, and I’m sure with all the other people that you’ve spoken to, there are common threats, doesn’t matter where you’re working and that’s what the business mentor scheme is about. So she had been in the same profession at me. She had been in the same crossroads, so that was nice for her to say, “Right. Actually, I’ve been there, I’ve done that and look where I am now?”
So do you still speak to her?
Helen: Yeah. We do. It was at the start of the year that mentorship-relationship started. She’s still got me for another couple of months. [laughs]
Are there any challenges or learning? Are you entering the awards this year?
Helen: No, because I think we’ve had enough issues to be working on as a result of doing the TSB Business Excellence Awards. I will enter again but I will enter again with evidence of what I have put into effect as a result rather than just going on and saying, “Well, this is what I’m doing.” I want results. I want to be able to say, here’s the proof. So not this year. It does take a lot of time and effort to pay some people and do it well. I don’t tolerate mediocrity very well at all and if I’m going to do something, I do it properly. So that’s why I didn’t want to do a half-assed entry. I don’t do half-assed. Anyone who knows me knows that I don’t do anything half assed.
I know you have tried and tested numerous things with your marketing. Tell us more about this. What you’ve tried, what has worked, what hasn’t.
Helen: So we had a huge push in marketing initially. It was important for us to build our brand locally and we’ve spent a lot of money and that investment was worthwhile, in getting us known within the community and so we’ve done radio, newspapers, we’ve done rap cards in motels and hotels, pamphlets. We’ve done maps. We’ve done movie advertising, we’ve done public appearances in terms of being involved in community events, we’ve put our hands up over there try to be visible and had a loyalty program and we use social media. Facebook is big for us. Our market is Mums, young mums and they spend, in terms of their demographic, they are Facebook users. The younger, the teenagers, my kids use Instagram, Snapchat whereas the Mums and people I need to reach are Facebook users.
What’s the one thing that you’ve tried that didn’t work?
Helen: The biggest thing with marketing is measuring its effect and that’s something that I’ve gotten better at doing in terms of being able to justify my expenses and find out what is my return on investment on marketing. So in terms of something that’s fallen on its face, I know we’re talking about trying to get people into the door in the summer and I have to say February sucks. Big time. I hate February. So one year, we decided, “Right, let’s do $5 February” and let’s do that. So we did and we promoted that and topped up enterprise but the reality is people still don’t want to commence into a play land in February, you know. So all we ended up doing was freezing revenue. We lost revenue and that didn’t work. So we will never do that again. But you’ve gotta try it. You’ve got to try these things. You can’t just go over…And then there are things like, we often get approached for piggy backs and ask somebody to go to an event and get a goodie bag. The reality is, when you look at redemption rates, they are just a waste of time. I’d much prefer as a business to be doing something on its own merits than just be another heap of pieces of paper in a goodie bag.
If you do something on social media like that last week, for example, the last week has just gone and we said, “Hey, let’s celebrate end of term!” Nominate your child’s class and we’ll give them all a class pass and they can come to Rumpus Room during the school holidays cause we know that school holidays are an expensive time. Nominate your class and we’ll hit them up where each child can come to the Rumpus Room for free. Actually, what we ultimately did was we chose 5 classes. So we said we’re going to choose 5 classes, so of course it went ballistic because the reality is in marketing, there’s a push mindset. Everybody wants a discount. Everybody wants a deal. Even better, everybody wants stuff for free. But the reality is you can’t run your business on free stuff yet. You can use the opportunity to give free stuff to generate business. So, we gave away 5 classes worth, so there was over a hundred passes. But we had a 30% redemption rate and the reality is that those children came with siblings and then they came in and they had hot chips and drinks, mum had a drink, dad had a drink and so it’s that type of…I”d rather as a business be able to see…to be giving things in our own right, rather than join this collective mush of leaflets and pamphlets. Junk mail…that’s what it is, junk mail. We don’t do piggy back, we don’t do goodie bags.
The way we use Facebook, we’re very conscious of the rules around using Facebook and I think there are definitely businesses out there that aren’t and there are rules about how business should operate and so all these sharing and likes and things…you’re actually not allowed to do them and so we don’t ask customers to share posts, to share on your page and like. If you look into Facebook user terms, you can actually have your page closed down for breach of it and I don’t want to take that risk, especially since it’s our number one channel to our market. So, we do use Facebook promoted posts and we don’t promote our page. We’ve never promoted our page. The likes on our page are organic and I think if you pay to promote your page, you end up with people that you don’t need to access but we will promote a post to targeted people within the area and that can be quite useful. Promote posts for us will reach much better than a promoted event, so I don’t like promoting events but those are things that you learn when you’re dealing with social media.
As a leader, what have you learnt?
Helen: I’ve learnt heaps about business. I’ve learned heaps about my husband. I’ve learned heaps about my family. You can always learn more about each other though I love him to bits. And that’s one of the things that I think sometimes, when you enter business is tough. As a couple, we like taking risks but I’d have to say this is the hardest thing we have ever done…EVER done together. It still is. It’s not as if he’s not involved because I’ve sat there at night in my laptop at 7 o’clock going, “Oh God…” [whispers] and we have governance meetings. So he knows exactly what’s going on in the business. He’s still got his eye on what’s going on. And his background in IT, you know, means that we’ve got a damned fine system in terms of how we use technology within the business. WE are a cloud based business and having done…I don’t know if you’ve come across a website called Digital Journey which allows businesses from all walks of life to actually do a bit of a check-up in terms of where they are digitally in terms of what they use it for. We use ……Timely, Collect, iPayroll, everything. Any point in time, anywhere in the world, we can even log on and see on 5 camera who’s in our business and what’s going on, so we’ve got this real access to that data and that information which you wouldn’t have if Huw hadn’t contributed that to the business. That’s really good.
Back to the question, what I have learned? I have learned to let go a little bit. I’ve always been a bit of a control freak.
Tell us about that more about that because it’s a problem and a challenge that small business owners have.
Helen: It’s all about communication and that communication took various forms and so you can write things down in policies or in handbooks or whatever and you can make them aware of that but when it comes to staff, you know, performance management is key. You need to take time to sit with them. You need to take time to help them understand what your goals are to the business and listen to what they want at the job because if they’re at a job where they’re not happy, they’re not going to want…they’re not going to engage. They’re not going to subscribe to your philosophy or be in the same page as you.
Do you have regular meetings with your staff?
Helen: Yes. We have performance reviews every three months and I have out of the core team of 4, there is one person that I regards as my OIC. I meet with her every week and we go through an agenda-structured meeting just to update on where we are with particular things and fortnightly, I meet with the other core staff just to debrief them on where I’m at with the things that are happening. With the projects that are going on and then I’ll use deputy as another conduit in terms of messages around what staff need to know. They see what happens on social media. In terms of things that go well…In terms of things that go well at a party, we make sure that the staff member who’s done it is recognised as having a good job. It’s the little things, it’s doing the little things for the staff. And we have social events. We’ll go bowling. During the school holidays, we had a barbecue and a croquet evening. It’s just having that culture of fun. What was really lovely to see, actually is we had a photo of all 14-15 of us altogether and one of the staff members put a comment on it saying, “Family, love heart.” You know, and that’s how it should be. That’s how I feel my staff should feel that they’re part of a family and everybody’s got a role to play and everybody does it…And everybody is being that positive, then it’s only going to show within your business operations. The dynamic has to be right. The connection has to be there.
Tell me what you’ve done in the past.
Helen: No, I don’t use a plot. I might do internally but I don’t…there’s no value in going off with somebody. No value at all and I can let me know how its made me feel. My staff don’t want to let me down and they know if they’re stuffed up and they feel rotten about it, what’s the point in making them feel even more rotten by shouting at them?
I guess that comes from my background in working as a therapist - The psychology of people and relationships.
One of the things I’m probably known for is idea generation and I’m very much a believer that an idea isn’t worth having unless you’re prepared to do something with it. So, even if it’s just pursuing if to find out if it’s viable or not, do something with it. The implementation of an idea doesn’t happen overnight. It’s not instant. If you’re going to have an idea around your business, at least give it a shot or investigate it. Investigate its feasibility. I like doing that and worrying is a futile process and believe me, I worried a lot in the first couple of years. I worried I got myself into an absolute state at times, but actually, that worrying didn’t…it just wasted my energy and it was really a negative experience. So, you’ve just got to…There’s no point in worrying about what the future might bring cause you don’t know what it is gonna bring. You’ve just gotta appreciate the present, enjoy it if you can, and if something happens, then there’s usually reason for it and it might not be at that time, you might not appreciate the reason, you might not think, “Right, it’s not a very good thing to be happening,” but it all comes out in the wash.
And I think the other thing in terms of things I’ve learned is that I have a tendency to put myself under pressure and I guess I’ve come to realize that the only person that puts me under pressure is me. So I need to make sure that I control that and I come to a point where I say, “Actually, stop the press, I’m going to do something about it.” Sometimes people say, “Oh, Helen, you’re a superwoman.” I think “Okay, yes, I do a lot.” But it almost becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy because I’m going to maintain the perception that I am a superwoman. I don’t have to. What you think of me, it doesn’t matter at the end of the day, it doesn’t matter and if I continue to live my life worrying about what other people are gonna think of me, then I’m just gonna…
If there’s anything you need to be is authentic. When people are authentic, they trust you and then they trust your business. I’m now a fan of Kyle Sees. He’s very much about the struggle that exists between the head and the heart and that you need to be true to yourself and that thing that being in the moment and appreciating here and how. It is huge. It affects your whole demeanor and it affects which way the people relate to you.
How has Huw helped your business in terms of technology?
Helen: I’m lucky Huw is an IT geek. [laughs] I guess the benefits for my business come in relation to things like the process and efficiencies that come with it. Having everything integrated and everything squirting into the thing. Collection and everything is easily accessible. You won’t find other venues like Rumpus Room with the same degree of digital competence sort of thing. I guess that makes us different in some in way.
Where do you see your industry going in the next 5 to 10 years?
Helen: There’s a quote from a guy called Marshall McLelland and he said that “anyone who thinks education and entertainment are different doesn’t know much about either. So, I’m very much a believer in what’s called edutainment. So that’s providing a focused mixed of age appropriate, sort of highly interactive play experiences, really. I think that play is perceived by adults as being frivolous and the importance of play for children’s development isn’t fully understood. Play has huge implications for a child’s motor skills development, for their social development, for their language development, and we’re seeing children who are playing less and as a result, we are seeing children who are becoming obese, we are seeing children who are entering school with poor language levels, we are seeing children who…socially, not having the right level of competence, socially and emotionally and the implications of that for the economy in terms of health…They’re not necessarily playing less, they’re playing differently. It might be in terms of technology. How many children are we seeing children in front of iPad screens and playing that way instead of doing the more physical imagination type of play.
There are more challenges, there are more are more stresses and we all just choose the easy option, the easy route. The one that’s going to not cause us as much hassles, necessarily. So we just choose the easy option and if the easy option is pushing your kid around the supermarket with a screen in front of their face rather than giving your child attention and stuff. Going to the fruit and labelling what the fruit is and stuff like that. We just don’t want to deal to the agro that comes with it. We shouldn’t blame the kids for this at all. They’re being shaped by the experiences that we give them. The other thing is, as adults, because we don’t understand them. I ran a couple of workshops when I was working with the Ministry of Education and they raised something about play and I’m really shocked that as adults…of our inability to play. We’ve lost sight of that or we have an idea that play has to have a point. Play has to have a purpose. It has to have a reason. No it doesn’t. What are we setting out to achieve by playing with these couple of boxes, you know. Let’s play with Lego and let’s build something. We get tied up with the end result and we don’t focus on the process of playing. That’s why children need a rich environment they can act upon, manipulate, control. We need to give them the tools and then they have a license to play and be kids. Rather than us trying to instil a perception of this is what play should be. We need to follow their lead. We’ve got the bouncy castle, we’ve got the soft play. We’ve got those toys but at the end of the day, I was looking at the boxes that we crushed to go into recycling. I said to myself, “Right, I want you to pick out all the decent boxes and I want you to put a stash of them, 20-25 of them in a big pile.” They did it. And the kids came in and we’ve got a quarter of a million dollar play structure and 25 boxes. It’s the whole christmas analogy. We think we know what the children want to play with but they spent hours and they loved it, you know. And again, as adults, we go, “Well, why do you want to play with boxes?” “Because it’s fun!” It was like a cardboard city! I guess that’s where I see the industry going over the next 5 to 10 years. WE need to look at that whole perception of play. We need to start selling the importance of it for our children’s development and we need to get more grownups having a little bit more fun, engaging and playing and understand that it’s not all about what’s at the end, it’s about being and it’s about process.
We’ve had an adults night at Rumpus Room and it was hilarious. Absolutely hilarious. WE had a great time. That comes with a whole license thing and the costing involved with that. You don’t need alcohol to have fun. I know it can reduce people’s inhibitions. But again, you can do that without having to have a glass of wine. The extroverts might be a little intimidating to others so it doesn’t matter who turns out. You’ll be surprised, actually that that sort of whole letting go and having a laugh…we started off with a game of tag and they were running around like kids in the playground. It was hilarious. So yeah, there is potential for corporate team development but again, it’s the whole ideal of selling, the importance of playing and allowing people to understand how important play is in adults with developing creativity. If you let go of all those sort of frameworks that we put around each other and let go of those…
Exercise, laughing, endorphin releasing…but it’s getting business again to understand that investing in that type of corporate day is beneficial rather than frivolous. What relevance does Rumpus Room have to my business? And that’s something to look at.
QUICK FIRE ROUND:
BEST MARKETING TIP: Be authentic.
BEST OPERATIONAL TIP: Always be able to help or go one step further than expected.
BEST STAFF MANAGEMENT TIP: Appreciate them
BUSINESS GROWTH TIP: Measure. How do you know your business is growing unless you know how to measure growth?
Well, Rumpus Room can be found at 151 Gill Street in New Plymouth. We have a website which is www.Rumpus-Room.co.nz and there’s always our Facebook page which is Rumpus Room New Zealand.