Case Study - Shenzhen, China
In 2009 Soft Brick embarked on its first project in China – Family Box (now renamed Family Boxes) in Beijing. China is certainly familiar with indoor play, but at the time we had no idea how well our 'British made, British brand' of unique soft play would be received by the Asian market. The owners of Family Boxes were so impressed with their original equipment that they approached us to design what they described as the "best play area in the World!" This latest project, which is in Shenzhen - China (just across the border from Hong Kong), has been described by our Engineering Manager, Trevor Wetton, as being “The best we have ever built and we have built some fantastic play areas in our time!” It may sound like a large claim but when you see the new Shenzhen installation for yourself - the scale, the content, the theming - you will see why!
Located in a purpose built building, this large Family Entertainment Centre (FEC) also contains a huge number of other activities, ranging from a ballet studio to a library! The area allocated for the soft play structure is over 10m in height, spanning 3 floors and is in a prime location in front of large glass windows - easily viewable from the outside. There are some large pillars and beams we would have to incorporate in the design - but it's nothing we haven't overcome before. The impressive building has a large spiral style staircase around the outside of the room - something the customer was keen for us to link up with.
Soft Brick's initial concept for its amazing World of Play soft play range was designed with the Shenzhen project in mind. Soft Brick had designed a conceptual play structure containing their full range of World of Play features and they had always hoped that one day the concept would become a reality! Soft Brick’s key aim with World of Play was to create the best play concept in the World - exploring a World of people, geography, history and science. This is where Family Boxes saw Soft Brick's World of Play range as the perfect fit for Shenzhen.
The brief from Family Box was to simply make it the best. Using our Master Scheme concept as the starting point, we got to work - excited at the prospect of bringing World of Play to life on a scale never attempted before!
As you can see from the visual below - it's big, very big! Out of the +60 zones and 37 countries available in our World of Play range, Shenzhen features 23 distinct areas, spread across 4 x 2m tiers and a 6m, 6-lane wavy open slide running top to bottom!
Here's a quick run down of what we included in the design:
- 6m, 6 Lane Wavy Open Slide - travel theme (railway, roadway & flight)
- Giant Aerial Glide - Ski lift themed, with Eiffel Tower feature
- Wavy Floor - Great Wall of China with Terracotta Army Biff Bash bags!
- Giant Panda enclosure - with real Bamboo!
- Trampoline area in Australia - jumping Kangaroos!
- Secret Egyptian tomb - with 2 x secret, concealed push-block entrances!
- Space Zone with 9 x planets (to scale!) and UV lighting panels
- Lost World Dinosaur zone - including Giant Dinosaur Bone, Lightning Decks and Soft play Volcano!
- Music Zone - featuring giant Piano and drum kit with recording / playback panel!
- Ice Zone featuring interactive Penguin nest, Polycarbonate Porthole decks and Northern Lights & Constellations LED panels
- Giant's Causeway rock scramble - Ireland
- Rope Bridge & Polycarbonate Walkway features above the 6m slide!
- India's Giant Taj Mahal and Flying Carpet Walk of Fear feature
- Under the Sea zone with Dizzy Disc whirlpool, Octopus lair and hidden Treasure Chest feature!
- Giant Battlezone Arena with Cannons, Ball-movers and Ball Shower - in a Wild Wild West theme!
- Giant Burger construction kit and Sky Scraper zone - USA / diner theme
- Giant Ball Pool with volcano erupting Ball Pool Geysir!
- Role Play area - featuring a Shop, Police Station, Pet Shop and more!
- ...and many many more!
The Export Factor
The Shenzhen project was our 4th build in China after completing builds in other cities including, Xiamen, Changde and three builds in Beijing. After exporting our product all over the World, we have no problem with the export process! The biggest factor to consider when exporting to China is the shipping time - at over 30 days to Beijing and up to 45 days to Changde, timing is imperative in order to meet customer opening dates. This is where our team of Engineers managed the Shenzhen project to ensure the product arrived safely and on time, ready for our team of installers. Other than the obvious cultural and time differences there are quite a few additional elements that need to be considered when exporting outside of the EU / UK, for example:
- Dealing with freight companies - air / sea / road freight and the specific pallet / container requirements that go with them.
- Export / Import factors including consignees, customs paperwork, customs inspections etc
- Ensuring the product arrives on site in the same perfect condition it leaves our factory - especially with shipping times of up to 30 days to Shenzhen!
- The required paperwork for calculating import duty, commodity codes and packing lists!
Our experienced teams of installers are well accustomed to working abroad - including China. The Shenzhen job was so large that our team supervised local labour on the more menial tasks like fitting netting, then installed the more specialist product where our expertise was required. This worked well in Shenzhen and meant we could pass further savings on to the customer.
The Completed Build
The Shenzhen build is one of the biggest indoor play areas we've ever manufactured. However, we are always keen to remind our customers that with Soft Brick products, they can differentiate their brand by something other than just size. Biggest doesn't necessarily equate to best-est! So what makes Shenzhen one of the very best builds we've ever undertaken?
“The best we have ever built and we have built some fantastic play areas in our time!”
Soft Brick's Engineering Manager declared that the Shenzhen project was our best yet, so let's find out why - from the man himself:
From an engineering point of view, what is it about Shenzhen that makes it our best build ever?
It's a collection of lots of things really. The building the play area is in is amazing and our play equipment sits pride of place. Constructing in and around the pillars and beams was tricky but the outcome is great - a perfect fit! I'm quite proud of how well it fits - tolerances of a few mm in places - we certainly made the very best use of all the space! As far as getting the equipment shipped over here, there were a few minor hitches - but nothing you wouldn't expect on a project of this scale. I think the project as a whole is a testament to our quality, both in terms of design and specification.
...and from a design point of view?
Ignoring the engineering aspect for a second - I think the design just works really well as far as routes through the system, ways to explore and navigate the different levels in different ways. The collection of products included in the design, some unique to Shenzhen, is amazing and varied enough to make sure there'll be new discoveries on each visit. There are areas or zones within the design that we have done before, but with Shenzhen we were able to expand on the concepts we came up with. Everything has been well thought out - things that perhaps the children won't notice right away. For example, the clock face on Big Ben shows a time of 6:59pm, or 1859 - which just so happened to be the year of the tower's completion. Bubbles' World of Play (in New Brighton, England) was one of the first World of Play builds to get close to encompassing the many many new ideas we had for World of Play - I'd have to say Shenzhen gets even closer!
Everyone at Soft Brick would like to wish the team at Shenzhen the very best of luck and we're looking forward to working with you again on future projects in China!
Family Boxes - www.familyboxes.com.cn