Perfect Layout Digital Marketing visits local businesses regularly to talk about how they established their business and how they are getting on. The aim is to acquire knowledge and insights inspired by these business owners’ personal experiences.
Perfect Layout believes that sharing knowledge is a way of helping other business owners develop. We are passionate about promoting the fantastically, creative and varied companies that are all around us in Essex.
Read our interview with founder of Baby Bears Upminster – a weekend baby and toddler group.
Business name – Baby Bears Upminster
Owner – Hayley Worton
Location – Upminster, Essex
Tell us a bit about you?
When I went on maternity leave I wasn’t sure if I wanted to go back to teaching full time. I had done that for 15 years and felt that it was perhaps time to do something different. I thought about running a sensory group or something along those lines. At the end of the first year after my son was born, all the mummy friends that I had met returned to work. I realised that I didn’t see them anymore. They couldn’t take their children to classes either, as they were working. My son also suddenly stopped seeing his friends. My partner Jon and I had a chat about running a weekend baby and toddler group. We have started by running it once a month, so that it doesn’t eat too much into our own family time.
How long have you run Baby Bears? Can you explain what happens during a session?
We started it in August 2018. We were very lucky in that many of the items we use in the playgroup were donated from a local school and the community. I have a trailer to take things back and forth. My mum makes the cakes for us and does the refreshments. Each session has different toys for the children to play with, so that there is variety each time they come - we even have puppet shows. At the end of the session we have songs, bubbles, parachute etc and we sing happy birthday to anyone who has a birthday that month. They also get a birthday card too.
In the new year we are introducing messy play. We are also aiming to bring in other local businesses to showcase their products and services to the parents attending. Companies that we have invited include: Painted Peppermint, Logan’s Plate, The Little Letter Company. In December, all parents will have the chance to get a free neck and shoulder massage.
Where are your premises?
It’s at St Lawrence’s Church Hall in Upminster. There are two halls in the building. We started in the smaller hall but have recently moved to the bigger one. It is more practical for the refreshments as it has its own kitchen, as well as allowing us to hold more families in each session – 25 families vs 15 families.
How did you come up with your business name?
After my son, it’s his nickname.
Did you need any formal training?
Not specifically for this role, as I am a qualified EarlyYears Teacher I am transferring my skills from that to the playgroup.
A recent Facebook post shows that you are fully booked in November and many of your December places are filling up fast; so business is going well. Do people book in blocks in advance?
Yes, they book online, which secures their place. Payment is taken on the day. The price is £4.50, and it includes homemade cakes and refreshments.
It’s unusual to have weekend groups. Do you find that both parents attend? Or do you find that it’s a chance for the parent that is working during the week to do some one-to-one, baby bonding?
I get a lot of families coming altogether although there are some dads who come on their own with their children. Sometimes grandparents and aunties join in as well. I have had some parents comment that they are surprised when we say that the whole family is welcome as there are some groups that only allow one parent. We welcome everyone and we ensure that dads feel comfortable coming on their own.
I have also had a group of NCT parents come together too. It’s lovely so see the word spreading and new people attending.
Do you have anything special planned to celebrate the Christmas season?
We are having a Christmas Party with Father Christmas and have an elf dropping by. We are finding out how old the children are and what they are in to, so that we can buy an age-related present that the children will enjoy. The play session will be all Christmassy too.
“I really loved the session. My husband joined us and he didn't feel out of place as there were lots of other daddies there too. It was nice to play as a family and meet other families too!
Setting up a new business comes with its challenges. What would you do differently if you started over?
Storage has been the biggest issue. It would be nice to have a hall with storage. Unfortunately, the one that we are using now, doesn’t. We had to buy a trailer to take things back and forth. The trailer also needs to be stored. So, if we could do things differently it would be to get the logistics more aligned.
I also need to find a way to stop the repeat offenders who book and then don’t show up. I’ve noticed some people who book several slots in advance, but then don’t show up. It’s a shame as it means someone else could have used that space. We are not at the point of taking money in advance, as it’s such a small amount, but if we were bigger, it would be something I would investigate.
What are your hopes for the business?
Continue to be fully booked for every session. I’d like to secure the bigger hall for all of 2019. I want to arrange more themed sessions. As I have done already, I would like to bring other local businesses into each session to give them some publicity.
I want to add an educational slant to my sessions by adding numeracy and literacy activities. I have lots of ideas I just need to get them out of my head and action them.
Do you have a marketing strategy?
Not a structured and regular one, as such. I post regularly on the Baby Bears’ Facebook page and then I post out to other groups on Facebook. I am listed on Mums Guide to Romford. I also have a poster up in the Soft Play in Harold Hill. The business has grown from friends and word of mouth. A few mums have told me that they found me on Netmums.
I know I need to do more, but as we have strong numbers at this point, until we upscale, our marketing efforts are working.
Your business is doing well on social media, but have you thought about growing your business with a website?
Yes and no. I don’t think I have time to manage a website. Social media is more on the go. I don’t know how that will help me at this stage, with the business only running once per month, but when this grows there may be a need for it then.
If you would like to find out more about Baby Bears Upminster go to:
Facebook - https://www.facebook.com/babybearsupminster
You can also book places by visiting: https://bookwhen.com/