Let’s Play Work sounds like an oxymoron but Angela Hart, who hopes to open her new business at 25 Elgin Ave. in April, says it’s more like a compromise.
Her business concept is to provide a space where children can play and their parents can get work done, but the two will not be completely walled off from each other. For the children, the business located on street level of the Forest Oaks apartment building, will have a large play space with staff supervising. Snacks like yogurt and fruit will be available.
For adults, Let’s Play Work initially will provide three work rooms furnished with a dining room-sized table and lots of electrical outlets for the computers of six to eight people. Kribi Coffee will be served.
What makes Hart’s concept a compromise is that the workspace will be separated from the play space by a half-wall without a window blocking the noise. Children will have access to their parents through a gate which only the play space staff member can open.
“The adults won’t be in a private office,” Hart explained, “but it’s better than trying to work at home where the kids are driving you crazy.”
Hart is also marketing Let’s Play Work as a space for birthday parties, especially on the weekends, where kids can have fun and parents can have their own area without segregating the two.
The original plan was to accept children from toddlers to 8 years old, but with the acquisition of the whole retail area, Hart is considering opening an additional space for children age 8 through 11.
The cost for a day at Let’s Play Work for a parent and children will be $16 or a five-day punch pass for $50.
The inspiration for starting her business came from her own experience. Hart herself has two young children and works at home, so she knew how stressful that combination can be. She also noticed that on the three to four days a week when she had to get some work done, there was no place in the area where she could bring her children.
When she looked on the Facebook page called Oak Park Working Moms and another one named Oak Park Moms she found that, combined, the two sites had thousands of members.
“When I saw so many moms looking for the same thing,” she explained, “that’s when it clicked.”
When she looked around for models, she found one in Oak Park which did not impress her, because although it had a great children’s area, the space for adults was too small and had few outlets. That business no longer exists.
Her market research was done mainly online, learning from the webpages for working moms. In addition to learning from online sites, when she posted her ideas on social media, she received many responses indicating an interest in her concept but also providing ongoing suggestions regarding what working moms are looking for.
Let’s Play Work is very much a work in progress. She said that she never thought of herself as a business owner, having majored in fashion design at the Illinois Institute of Art and presently working for Ulta Beauty, Inc., a chain of beauty stores. Her husband Joe is a mechanical engineer.
So her preparations for opening her business are very much in the mode of “ready, shoot, aim,” meaning take a shot, see where it lands, and on the basis of what you learn, take your next shot.
Hart’s first major marketing effort was in the St. Patrick’s Day Parade, in which she dressed up in a leprechaun outfit made up of green balloons. She said she was worn out by the end of the parade but felt great because kids were running up to her to give her high-fives and hugs.
She also had members of four families, adult friends and their children, who had fun passing out things to kids watching the parade along the way. She had the whole gang over to her house for corned beef and cabbage afterward.
Her marketing so far has been targeted mainly at the mom pages on social media and by word of mouth.
Hart grew up near Pittsburgh and became familiar with the Chicago area while going to the Institute of Fashion Design. Her husband grew up in Hanover Park and introduced her to Forest Park.
“This town reminds me of where I grew up,” she said. “Madison Street is just like Allegheny River Boulevard back home with all the shops and the parade. I feel like I’m back home.”
Successful business owners will tell you that the main reason new starts fail within a few years is that they are undercapitalized. The Harts understand that they probably won’t make a profit for a while, and that’s why both are keeping their full-time jobs.
Hart, however, contends that she also has another, perhaps even more important supply of capital: social capital, some of which is internal. She explains that her grandparents had faith in her.
“I wouldn’t be here if it weren’t for my grandparents,” she said. “I don’t doubt myself because they didn’t doubt me.”
The husband and wife team also have been intentional about creating their own “family” of friends away from where they grew up.
Hart also attributes her willingness to take risks to her temperament.
“I used to say that I was not OK with change,” she explained,” “but I’ve experienced so much change in my life that now I roll with the punches. You could say I’m optimistic almost to a fault.”
Hart hopes to hold her grand opening in late April. For more information call (708) 303-8430 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.