The business of role play
Hayley Milne had been made redundant from her job at direct-selling company Amway and was re-evaluating her life. One day she was playing with her young daughter. She asked her what she'd like to be when she grew up. Her daughter replied that she would like to be a teacher. Hayley suggested she role play being a teacher, but her daughter said she had nothing to play with. She needed a register, stickers and a bell.
Hayley looked around in shops and online for the stuff she would need to play being a teacher. “It was really difficult and time-consuming to find things,” she says.
It was then she had her eureka moment. “I could see a gap in the market,” she says. While there were fantasy fancy dress costumes galore in the shops, there was a niche for everyday outfits that inspired children by educating them about the world around them. “Children always look up to the people around them like their family and want to copy them. I thought why not give them the real resources to do that,” she says. “And while they are playing they can learn about the job they are role playing and the world around them.”
Hayley, a single mum of two, set up Bizyplay last year at a time of considerable personal upheaval. Not only had she just been made redundant, but she was also separating from her husband. “It was quite an emotional time,” she says, “but I was very motivated and determined to get the business up and running. I felt I had a good business idea and wanted to share it.”
Using her redundancy money, she asked children at nurseries what jobs they would like to role play and what resources they would need to do those jobs. She sourced the material for 20 different professions, paying particular attention to the kind of details that children notice, which are not always the things adults hone in on. For instance, for the hairdresser outfit there are appointment cards, a drinks tray, a play magazine children can personalise, a gown and hair equipment including pretend scissors, rollers and clips. “We want to make it real. Role play is about many things that are needed in the real world, such as communication, friendship and trust,” says Hayley who lives in Tattenhoe, Milton Keynes.
Using her knowledge of direct selling at Amway where she was in the European communications team and ran the project management department for 28 different affiliates, she started selling her products at coffee mornings and evening parties, with part of the money going to the children's cancer charity, CLIC Sargent. “Selling in this way meant I could talk people through the products and the role play,” she says.
She piloted the parties before Christmas and the feedback was very good. She launched her website earlier this year with help from a designer.
In addition to the costumes, she provides party material, such as bunting children can colour in the occupation theme of their party, plates and cups and also educational and bilingual books.
She has also written some role plays with advice from early years specialists. “Children are not just playing when they do role play. There is a learning aspect, although they do not see that. And it starts them thinking about job options,” she says.
She hopes to increase the number of professions on offer, which currently range from astronauts to vets and she wants to create a special needs area, as she already stocks material for children with special needs.
Eventually she wants to offer Bizyplay as a party plan business to others. “It would be perfect for mums to earn extra income,” she says. She has spoken to the Direct Selling Association about it and she is working with them to develop the business. She is currently working on her sales and marketing plan including social media and hopes to have some return on her investment before the end of the year.
She adds that one of the hardest things about setting up the business was getting up and speaking at her first party. “It was very nerve-wracking.” she says. “But I have become more confident over time.”
She works during the day when the children are at school and when they have gone to bed. They also come with her to craft fairs and help out. “They love being part of it. They were my inspiration,” says Hayley. “Alistair [nine] is my ideas manager and Lucy [seven] is my bits and bobs manager. She will do anything. I want them to be part of it. I think it's inspiring for them to see that even in tough times we can achieve this.”
Working from home and for herself she can also pick the children up from school and be more around for them.
In her old job she had been used to early starts and lots of travel. “Now they always have the best of me,” she says.