When the idea for Scramble first formed in Laurence Smallman’s mind, he was “across the pond,” visiting family in his native U.K. “We were with my brother in Birmingham,” Laurence, a father of three, says. “He took us to a World of Play indoor play place, and it was an amazing experience. The children played, while he and I chatted and kept an eye on them. Everyone left after 3 hours, very happy.”
Laurence realized immediately that there was nothing comparable in Northern Virginia, where he lived. Inspired by the popular indoor play system, Laurence envisioned a massive, vibrant space that would encourage independent self-guided play, as well as exploration, activity, and imagination for children of all ages. “I researched how to start a business and linked up with the Alexandria SBDC,” says Laurence.
Working closely with Business Analyst Jack Parker, Laurence developed a business plan while commencing an exhaustive two-year hunt for Scramble’s perfect home. The desired space needed to be at least 12,000 square feet with 20-foot ceilings, in addition to room for birthday parties, a bookstore, reading area, and a café for parents. It was a tall order, finally filled by a property on Eisenhower Avenue in Alexandria. Jack helped Laurence search for a lender who would recognize the potential of Scramble. In June 2017, Scramble closed on a $500,000 loan from EagleBank, and opened its doors that November.
Despite spending nothing on marketing, Scramble has thrived, generating over $1 million in sales within its first eight months. Like any proud parent, Laurence views the success of Scramble with great emotion. “It’s still sinking in to me,” he says, “that I’ve gone from having an idea, pushing through difficulties and persevering despite the challenges, acting as my own general contractor, then opening Scramble and managing the amazing success of having what I feel is a steady business ready to grow.”
Laurence’s impulse of bringing a new concept of play to the U.S. has met enthusiastic approval. Investors, who want to expand the Scramble model to other locations, have already approached Laurence, which has not surprised him. “Our play equipment is the best in the world and the only one of its kind in the U.S. It gives families the chance to engage in play that is vital to our development and the amazing human beings we are,” Laurence adds.
“Without the SBDC, I would not have had the confidence to tackle the bureaucracy, while also dealing with the business-related aspects of financing, writing a business plan, and finding a location,” Laurence says. Today, that confidence has paid off. “Seeing families and their children playing in Scramble, hearing parents celebrating some new achievement of their son or daughter, the many smiles and happy faces – these are my biggest joys,” says Laurence. “I look forward to coming to work every day.”