top of page

ForestTots: Our First Year(s)

Myself and my wife Natalie started ForestTots in April 2023; but the idea was originally conceived about a year before, and I kept a business diary of every stage. I've decided to transfer the scribblings into a slightly more coherent blog.

Michael & Natalie grinning but also terrified about the first event
Michael & Natalie grinning but also terrified about the first event

I've always wanted to work in leisure - when I was a little lad I'd design theme parks and events on paper (before all the simulator games came out...)


July 2022

I was at a local tourist attraction with my daughter, and we had a pretty bad experience (which I won't go into here, in case you've worked out where I'm talking about!) I don't want to start this blog too negatively so I'll quickly move on to the positive bit; it made me want to start the leisure business that I'd always wanted, with the mantra 'the customers is a parent, and therefore, deserves massive respect at all times'.


In the proceeding months, I went to some networking events, did some market research, had some interviews, attended some courses and wrote a business plan. I came up with the concept of ForsestTots, which would be a beautiful indoor woodland-themed cafe with a high-end play structure. I had it all designed out and was speaking to agents about leasing a space. It got quite real. But wait, what?! That's not what ForestTots is... so what happened?


March 2023

Before I put my house up as collateral and got out a £150,000 business loan, I took up the Rebel Business School, a free 2-week course, which essentially teaches you how to get going on your business without spending any money or writing a business plan. It was more of a motivational course, than anything. There was no reason to wait around for (insert excuse here) and it didn't need to cost anything. It was a eureka moment.


So: How best to just get going? The course teaches you to do 'mini-experiments', which I did. I'm a dad, there are other dads out there, what if ForestTots was a Saturday dads club? Meet up, have a sausage sandwich and do some activities with the kids? This mini-experiment didn't work: this might sound old fashioned, but some of the Dads said they are only really available on the weekends, where they will want to have family time with Mum and their kid(s). Other Dads seemed to not have the confidence to lone-parent for the morning. It was a tricky situation that I'm still interested in tackling.

Our A-Frame for Big Up! Southend - we charged £4 to play.
Our A-Frame for Big Up! Southend - we charged £4 to play.

Still wondering what this business was going to be: in late March, I saw an advert on Facebook for "Big Up Southend", a makers' market being held in Victoria Centre. Time for my second mini-experiment. I contacted them and asked if we could have a double-plot if we paid double, so we could get some kids activities or crafts in there. I still didn't know what we were going to do, but we'd paid £30 for the space. So we had to do something.


April 2023

We got together some mats, tuff trays and some activities that we knew Sanara (our 2-year-old daughter) loves to do and bought some picket fences to keep the tots in. The activities on our first market were sensory dough (with nature-themed stamps and rollers), bugs and pretend mud with hiding places, a potting shed with black rice and scoops to pretend-plant wooden veg, and a potting table, with pots of herbs and toddler-friendly scissors.

Our first event had a bug hunt, potting table, sensory dough and herb garden
Our first event had a bug hunt, potting table, sensory dough and herb garden

We'd decided we would let tots come along and play for £4. We were blown away with the response from parents! They loved it! The biggest takeaway was that it had a calming effect on their toddler. We got lots of people on our mailing list and even got a birthday party booking. Big Up Southend was an amazing opportunity for us to build our following and meet people through the footfall of the Victoria Centre.


We didn't make a huge amount of money, but that's not why we are doing this. At this stage we are just sharing the activities that our 2-year-old daughter loves, and seeing if other kids like them. They seem to love them.

Our first social media advert for Big Up! Southend
Our first social media advert for Big Up! Southend

May 2023

A-Frame for our free taster session at TrustLinks, Westcliff
A-Frame for our free taster session at TrustLinks, Westcliff

In May, we wanted to build our audience of parents a bit more, and show people what we are and how beneficial nature-themed sensory play can be. I'd been chatting to Betterstart Southend and TrustLinks during my quest for a Dad's Club, and mutually decided we should hold a free ForestTots session there for local parents.


It was a real success! We got lots of email addresses and interest, including for more birthday parties. We set up the same, trusted four activities that we had at the Big Up! market in April. Kids loved it, and we realised that this concept works fine outdoors.



Our Big Up Southend market setup in May 2023
Big Up! Southend, May 2023

At the end of May, we did another Big Up! Southend market. This time introducing a new "Sand & Sea" activity, where kids could find fish with magnifying glasses and scoop the sand. This was a really successful activity. However, we made a loss this month, partly due to the footfall in the Victoria Plaza being low during the hot days like today. We realised that, mostly, people didn't want to 'stay and play' in the concourse of the plaza, especially if they hadn't planned it. We also weren't selling anything. One parent did come over to us and tell us that they loved our setup, and that she has a tuff tray at home and always struggles to think of ideas for it.

Advert: Free Taster session at TrustLinks, Westcliff
Advert: Free Taster session at TrustLinks, Westcliff
Advert, Big Up! Southend, May 2023
Advert, Big Up! Southend, May 2023

June 2023

Advert: Runway Fitness Event
Advert: Runway Fitness Event

June we did our first event in an indoor space, at Runway Fitness, where opened up prebookings a week before, and set out the same four activities but in a bigger space. We did our four activities from the Big Up! session in May, but with added mud kitchen and toys for the smaller children. It was lovely having a bigger space and we realised that having pre-booked tickets was much better for us, as we knew how many people were going to turn up!



Our Bugs & Mud kit
Our Bugs & Mud kit

In June, we also made a home activity kit called "Bugs & Mud", as parents were telling us they loved our activities and even have tuff trays at home, but they never know what to do with their toddlers on them. "Bugs & Mud" came with a pouch of the same pretend mud we used at our sessions, along with bugs, toddler tweezers, scoop and a fluffy bumble bee and viewfinder. This has always been our most successful kit.




July 2023

Earls Hall Summer Fete
Earls Hall Summer Fete

July brought us good weather and the Earls Hall Summer Fete, where we showcased our new Bugs & Mud sensory play kit, along with a second Fish & Sea play kit. We put on our favourite activities for the tots, and added a new Frog Pond activity, which was a hit with the kids.

We also did some birthday parties, we got really lucky with the weather as I'm not sure how well the pretend mud would have gone in the rain!







August 2023

Water Week
Water Week

In August we built on what we had learned from having a hired space in June, and decided to put out 3 themed sessions throughout the summer holidays at a venue called Do It Like A Mother. This was a hit with Westcliff, Chalkwell and Leigh parents, as they could come to something different to soft play in walking distance. Our sessions were "WaterPlay", "Dinosaur Day" and "Bear Hunt". All of these sold out and we had to put on second sessions! We were really pleased with how the themed sessions were going, so we continued this trend. Dinosaur Day was so successful, that we put out our third sensory play kit: "Dino Adventure".




Secret Garden Event
Secret Garden Event

September 2023

As another mini-experiment, we tried our "Secret Garden" event in September, on a Friday instead of previous Saturdays. We sold out here too, but had a whole new group of people... more mums, and generally people were very happy (especially the tots!) By comparrison, on Saturdays, we generally get a mix of mums and dads. It's nice to offer something different that Dads can come to aswell.

Our Secret Garden event was really magical, and was lovey to meet a whole new audience.



October 2023

Michael & Natalie at Pumpkins & Potions
Michael & Natalie at Pumpkins & Potions

We put our "Pumpkins & Potions" event on sale, and it too was very popular. We added a new venue onto our roster; Little Adventurers in Southend Victoria Centre. Both venues sold out here too, and we were so happy with the feedback! We had to charge a little more as the offering was quite a lot more, including take home craft pumpkins and sweets. The favourite activity was the potions tray, where the tots mixed liquids to make a foaming potion!


Frozen Sea Creatures
Frozen Sea Creatures


November / December 2023

We finished the year with our "Penguins & Polar Bears" event, adding "Myles of Fun Daycare" to our roster of venues. This would serve parents in Shoebury and Thorpe Bay, on top of Southend, Westcliff, Chalkwell and Leigh. The best activity at our winter event was the frozen sea creatures! The tots loved to use the pippettes and warm water to try and save the sharks and octopuses from the frozen blocks. It was a massive success! Then, we ended the year as it begun: at Big Up! Southend, doing a stall at their Christmas Market. This time, we popped a couple of activities out for the tots to try for free, and had our three play kits and new Senory Dough, Rice, Pasta and Pretend Mud for sale.


2024

We started the year with a "MiniBeasts" themed session in January, where we showcased our original Bugs & Mud activities, and a new Hungry Caterpillar tray. In February we had a breather to think about how the rest of the year was going to go... (and do a couple of birthday parties!) March brought us a Celebrate Spring event, with carrot-growing and bunny-spotting, and in April, we decided to bring back Dinosaur Day as it was our most requested event!

The rest of 2024 is looking bright, we have a "Stories Through Play" session coming up in May, and a brand new kit and tons of blog articles. For events, we are planning on having a quiet summer as we prepare for some big events of our own (more on that soon...) But we will be back in full swing in Autumn for more sensory fun for your tots!


MiniBeasts!
MiniBeasts!

Thanks so much to all of our customers for your support this year, we really do appreciate it, and we are looking forward to the next phase of ForestTots!


Michael & Natalie











15 views

コメント


bottom of page