By Jessica LaGrossa
If you are a parent and have visited a shopping mall in the last decade, then you have probably experienced the wonder that is Playtime. Those large, colorful climbers, crawlers, and interactive elements that eagerly engage kids and serve as a welcomed respite from mom’s long shopping list—that’s Playtime’s magic!
These custom-designed, foam-sculpted wonderlands have their own storybook history, dating back to 1998 with ties to the well-known Koala Kare Changing Stations. And it all comes down to child-friendly foam. Through several buy-outs and name changes, foam was, and still is, the catalyst that has now brought these play-pieces to retail and lifestyle centers; amusement parks, attractions, and resorts; restaurants; childcare centers; and healthcare centers.
Playtime officially launched their own manufacturing division in January of 2005, solidifying their stronghold on the market by acquiring Superior Foam from Koala a few months later. As of 2007, all equipment is handcrafted in Denver using Playtime’s proprietary PlaySoft™process, which coats the foam-sculpted products with a durable, antibacterial, rubber-like substance.
But with Playtime’s success has come challenges, the largest of which has been locating and acquiring appropriate employees. “We don’t have a large HR group that can handle the recruitment to find the type of talent we need,” said Ed Biegel, vice president of operations for Playtime. “We needed to find the right kind of talent and enough of it as the demands of our business ebbed and flowed throughout the year.”
Biegel explained that Playtime’s business is somewhat seasonal. “In the shopping mall business, when Santa Claus comes to town, you don’t touch anything in your mall because that’s when most of your profits come in—between Halloween and Christmas,” he elaborated. “Therefore, our business is typically slow the end of year and on into the first few months of the New Year.”
Overtime, Playtime has expanded into other markets in order to better level their playing field, but problems maintaining proper staffing seemed to be ongoing, especially on the production floor. “During the middle to the latter part of the year, when I need a lot of sculpting and painting talent, I need to have all of that talent here,” said Biegel. “But six months later, I’m not going to need it.”
Avoiding seasonal layoffs and maintaining a solid base of talent, along with seeking qualified laborers without a designated human resource department for hourly employees, eventually became unsurmountable challenges for Playtime. That’s when they reached out to Employment Solutions.
“They have access to a talent pool that we wouldn’t necessarily know how to reach,” said Biegel of the Denver based staffing agency. “We are located in a very affluent area, and there aren’t a lot of hourly laborers here. Employment Solutions brings us those employees and is able to tap into that group of people that we couldn’t get access to.”
Biegel and his team unfortunately also found that there simply isn’t an easy way to hire unskilled hourly labor anymore. “You used to just post an ad in the paper and 50 people would show up, but that’s not the case anymore,” he shared. “It’s hard for a small company to know where to go.”
But by partnering with Employment Solutions, Biegel explained that what used to take at least two to three weeks may now only take two to three days. “If we are looking to hire three people in a department, Employment Solutions will quickly seek out 20-25 people, narrow it down to six or eight, and bring those people through to do a tour of the facility,” he said. “We can do this in batches so that I don’t have my production manager spending multiple hours a day interviewing people. This streamlines the process for us and that has helped a lot.”
It’s a process that is resulting in better business. Playtime can continue to serve customers while not only meeting, but exceeding expectations. “A lot of the time, we can now speed up the production process because we have such a flexible workforce,” said Biegel.
An added bonus of working with the temp staffing agency has been adding to the company’s full-time workforce. “We try not to have a revolving door here—we invest a lot of money into our employees, especially in training,” explained Biegel. “So we use the temp positions as a way to screen employees and often move them over to permanent positions.”
And if a permanent position isn’t in the cards, then Playtime hasn’t lost any bets. “I can increase my capacity in a short time without having to process all of those people as employees if they aren’t working out,” said Biegel. “If it isn’t a good fit, I just call Employment Solutions and we handle it. It allows flexibility.”
But the real benefit of Employment Solutions, according to Biegel, is that the premium Playtime pays to hire employees through the staffing agency is offset by the lack of need for an in-house human resource department. “And that’s how we justify the expense,” he explained. “They take a lot off of our plate and allow us to focus on making playgrounds, which is what we do well.”