Entrepreneurs Look at Obstacles as Child’s Play - How this Small Business Pivoted from COVID-19 with SBA Help
Matt Borawski and his wife Lauren never met an obstacle they did not like. The owners of Child’s Play Challenge Courses of Scotch Plains are used to presenting challenges and not so much receiving them.
However, when COVID-19 struck, the business owners were faced with their very own challenge of how to pivot and recover from the economic hardship they were facing. “At the height of the outbreak in March and April we lost all of our business,” said Lauren. “It’s not exactly easy running a business that relies on social gatherings and shared equipment during a pandemic.”
So, the couple turned to the tried and true small business resources of the New Jersey Small Business Development Center at Kean University. Their first encounter with the center and its Regional Director David Margulies was in 2017, when they presented him with the idea of expanding Child’s Play Challenge Courses. “Initially we were going to take out a massive loan to have our obstacles professionally designed and manufactured,” said Matt. “David advised us to slow down and use the prototypes we had. That advice alone saved us thousands of dollars and helped us learn what worked with our prototypes and what did not work. During that same time, our business doubled and even quadrupled.”
Now faced with the challenges of keeping their business going, they once again called on David Margulies to help them navigate through the COVID-19 Pandemic. “Despite how busy David was at the time, we were grateful for how quickly he responded to our calls and emails,” said Lauren. “He answered our questions about SBA's Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) and Economic Injury Disaster Loans (EIDL), as well as unemployment and other financial assistance.”
By June, business started to pick up again. That is when Matt and Lauren began to implement a COVID-19 safety protocol for Child’s Play Challenge Courses that include: all bookings must be outdoors; all equipment is sanitized with an EPA approved cleaner for the recommended contact time; staff wears masks; participants can be socially distanced on the Challenge Course and while standing in line at the client’s request; implementation of a touchless hand sanitizing station at the first obstacle (that a friend’s son designed); and reconfiguring obstacles as needed to minimize contact.“We have shared our procedures with our customers and it definitely helped to alleviate the concerns of those who decided to book us,” said Lauren. “It showed them we were taking it seriously.”
Since that time, Child’s Play Challenge Courses has replaced every canceled event with a new client, and those who had to cancel events have asked Matt and Lauren to come back next year. “We matched last year’s bookings,” said Lauren. “And our fall business is way up. We reinvented the popular enrichment programs we typically bring into schools and created the backyard enrichment program for pods. The most we ever did in the past was six classes a week in schools. We currently have 18 classes a week in the backyards. Just this October alone, we have booked 101 events. That’s a 248% increase over last October’s bookings.”
“When you think about how the COVID-19 Pandemic has turned our lives upside down and has ravaged sectors of our economy, it is refreshing to see a small business like Child’s Play Challenge Courses pivot, adapt and recover,” said U.S. Small Business Administration New Jersey District Director Al Titone. “SBA programs like the Paycheck Protection Program, Economic Injury Disaster Loan, and the business counseling services from the New Jersey Small Business Development Center are in place to give companies exactly what they needed to continue. However, it was Matt’s and Lauren’s resolve, resourcefulness, and creativity that has helped them to reboot,” added Titone.
Through it all the Borawskis are optimistic about their future. “We have learned that no matter what life throws at us, we will find a way to reinvent ourselves and keep moving on. Thriving during a pandemic has empowered us as business owners,” said Lauren. “There are always opportunities if you make opportunities. That really is the key to rising above whatever obstacles life puts in your way.”