Step 1: The building

The first section of our 3 step process is finding the right building. Within this section we cover the various characteristics you should look out for when looking for the ideal building for setting up your play area business.

However, before we get started...
If you:

  • Already own the building, or...
  • Found your building and already have the required Class E (used to be D2) planning, or...
  • Already an existing leisure facility - a pub or leisure centre for example, then...

Congratulations! You can skip right to step 2: Design & Manufacture! For those of you that don't fall into the above, don't panic! We'll cover everything you need to know in this section, so read on...

What type of soft play offering are you looking to set up?

This opening question will have a significant influence on the type of buildings you look at.

Smaller boutique style build
If you are thinking of a small, boutique coffee shop offering you will probably look to the high street for vacant premises. Please be aware that this type of property often has expensive rent and rates since they are often in prime location with heavy footfall and good passing trade. These types of premises lend themselves to soft play corners (padding to the floor and walls with loose soft play features) or small soft play structures. It is common for operators of these kinds of businesses to not pay for the use of the facilities, the operator simply benefiting from higher sales of food and drink as a result of the play equipment. This type of unit is likely to require a change of use to make it suitable for your business.

Converting a Retail unit
These are often much larger ‘shed’ like units enabling much more play equipment to be accommodated. These are normally modern units in good condition often with toilets and some basic form of kitchen facility on site already. They usually have greater height available lending themselves to being able to accommodate a larger slide – which is always a great attraction at any soft play centre. Despite the advantages of scale these type of units also have high rent and rates as a result of having large footfall and good parking and easily accessible locations. This type of unit is likely to require a change of use to make it suitable to your business idea.

Converting an Industrial unit
This is a very common route to opening a soft play centre. There are often a range of these available in an area at any one time providing an operator a choice of locations. Despite the element of choice that this type of unit often presents the operator with they do come in a wide variety of quality and conditions. These types of units are often the cheapest in terms of rent and rates available to the potential soft play operator. When viewing such buildings there is the need to mindful of the building works which might be required to get the unit up to the standard required. Remember people will pay to visit your play equipment not because you have spent £1000s on the roof of the building being replaced. The more money spent on the building the less is likely to be available in your budget for the main play equipment attraction. This type of unit is likely to require a change of use to make it suitable to your business idea.

Existing Leisure properties
This type of property usually has the advantage of having a Class E (used to be D2) Assembly and Leisure Usage already in place so no delays or uncertainty of change of use being granted. These type of buildings typically are in good locations and in good condition requiring less building works, have adequate car parking and a nicer exterior appearance (glass frontage etc) Examples of such buildings are gyms, swimming pools, cinemas and nightclubs. The rent and rates of such properties are likely to be slightly lower than the prime retail units discussed above.

So you know what type of building to look out for, what happens next?

Where do I start?

What are the initial steps?
Start looking for buildings!
Looking online is a great place to start but you also should register with local agents and provide them with the basic criteria of the buildings you are searching for. Also remember that not all buildings are advertised so network and keep your eyes open as you drive around the areas you have in mind. Fluctuating economic climates can unfortunately mean businesses circumstances can change week to week. This can mean that units can become vacant quite quickly. Equally, they can get snapped up quickly too - so make sure to register your interest!

How do I evaluate the building’s suitability?
A couple of things to consider:

  • Is there a need in the area?
  • What is the closest competition and what is it they are currently offering – could you do it bigger or better and offer something more unique?
  • Does the building have adequate height for the size of structure and slide you have planned? +4m in height is ideal, but we can make the most of less!
  • Is the building easy to find by your potential customers or is it buried deep in an industrial estate?
We have further details of these and more in our “Site Analysis documentation” call us on +44(0)1925 837733 to receive your free copy via email today.

Do I need to get planning permission for my soft play area?
Unless you have been fortunate enough to have found a suitable leisure property, then the chances are you will need a change of use to a 'D2: Leisure Usage'. We suggest you contact the local planning department to discuss the likelihood of a Class E (used to be D2) Assembly and Leisure usage being granted. Most planning departments operate a 'pre-planning service' which is an informal discussion on your potential application. Not all planning departments operate this way however - we are aware of some geographical areas insisting on formal submissions only. It is also advisable to notify your potential landlord, if you are going to be renting, of your intentions of change of use too.

How many car parking spaces do I need?
General guidelines for car parking at a Class E (used to be D2) Assembly and Leisure Usage site would be one parking space for every 22 of gross floor space. If this is limited then it might be worth identifying overflow parking at adjacent units. Also look at other modes of transport to get to you site such as walking, cycling or bus - identifying where your nearest bus stop is.

How do I know what might fit into the building I have found – and how much is the play equipment likely to cost?
We can produce an initial floor plan or Building Layout as we refer to it as. This will serve two purposes. It will give you a good indication of the cost and capacity of the play equipment and can also be used when you submit a formal change of use (if required) to your local planning department. It is useful if you are able to provide us with rough dimensions of the area to speed this process up but there could also be the opportunity for us to visit the site and view it with you.

You can read more about our approach to designing your play area by reading our 'Step 2: Design & Manufacture'

Once I've found the building, do you charge for designs?
No, Soft Brick do not charge for any of the advice or design time offered by our team! The only condition we have before completing a full 3D design and quotation, is that you have either submitted a change of use request on the building or that the building already has the required Class E (used to be D2) usage.

Will you do my business plan / planning application / negotiate terms etc for me?
The short answer is no - but let us explain why.
Some suppliers will lead you to believe that getting the required Class E (used to be D2) planning or negotiating with landlords is a complicated and lengthy process. In truth, it isn't difficult at all and we feel that you would rather your budget went towards actual soft play product rather than bolt on services you could complete yourself for free. By completing these aspects yourself you will also be comfortable in the knowledge that you are in control of your project and your applications are not subject to you going with a specific supplier! Our Soft Brick team have a wealth of experience in assisting our customers with these areas and can offer advice on anything related to business plans, planning applications etc.

If you would like to discuss any of the above information in detail, then please get in contact with our team or call us on +44(0)1925 837733 and we will be more than happy to discuss it with you.

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