Transparently on 2023

We review 2023 milestones, setbacks, plans, and pivots with our community

I wanted to take a moment to talk about our first year of Catalillies Play Cafe and share the journey that we are continuing on today. One of my personal favorite parts of the month of January is setting your goals for the next year, by first taking account of the previous year to incorporate the challenges you faced, lessons learned, and wins and losses as a total rather than an in the moment reaction. 

January 2023 saw our family finishing up a build out plan to turn an unused studio space into an engaging space for kids, their caretakers, and the community as a whole. We had big dreams of building this business while helping as many other small local businesses and service providers as possible along the way. We wanted to create a space that was universally welcoming and well cared for so that families felt that they were appreciated during each visit. Looking back at our goals, dreams, and plans I think we've hit most of the markers along the way this past year and continue to work towards making a bigger impact in our community while also being open more flexibly for our community members. 

We opened our doors for our soft opening on January 27th and worked through the quirks of a space focused on caretakers comfort and kid's engagement and safety. Lots of updates, changes, and requests were taken from that day to our Grand Opening celebration on March 11th. We tried many different hours for play and several different programs before and after our grand opening and found that the majority of the community needs us before "naptime" and we have worked to keep this offering available steadily throughout the year. 

We have excelled at reaching other small businesses in the area and bringing awareness of their products and services to our community base that seldom finds time to explore small shops and local "adult" venues with their children in tow. Being a community networker that brings needed connection to the families of Williamsburg has been one of our biggest wins this year, and we look forward to building relationships and connecting our community of families to new options in the local area. 

One of our major wins this year has been creating a private party experience for our guests that gives caretakers the ability to enjoy engaging with other parents and their families while kids celebrate and play with freedom and independence. We found a few tweaks were needed to give the best experience, so we updated our packages in December and the new package has made the experience even more seamless and enjoyable. With private use of the facility assisted by a dedicated helper, families are now given more time and freedom to setup decor, food, and drink with added time to gather their items at the end, which has made the caretaker experience less stressed and rushed for everyone hosting and attending. The flexibility and space given is a unique offering for parents in the Williamsburg area and we are proud that we have curated such a well reviewed offering to over 100 families in 2023! 

We had more losses than wins when we look at our classes and events for 2023 as we may have missed the mark on what the area was looking to attend and availability. The focus in 2024 is now getting more feedback and slowly launching ideas to our community. We will pull back on offerings that caused loss in 2023 and focus on how to make experiences more accessible during our main open play hours that have consistent attendance. With a focus on sustainability, our goal for 2024 will be to listen and pivot as we receive attendance based responses so we can serve our community best when they are available to attend. Our community's feedback on offerings and times is crucial to making us sustainable moving forward, so we can conserve resources to serve as many families as possible. We want to continue to make a positive impact and are looking to give back more year over year. To do this we need to make sure we are not operating at a deficit moving forward, as the most important thing will be to keep our doors open to the public throughout the week. This will mean making tough decisions to cancel and reschedule low attended offerings and work towards more awareness of our schedule so we can fill more varied times and offerings. Our community can help us with this by sharing times and offerings they want to fill so we can get enough attendees to run after hour offerings. 

A major pivot we focused our attention on in 2023 was creating the opportunity to lift any age limit to our play space. We found older kids attracted to the imaginative and gross motor aspects and wanted them to be able to safely and kindly play with kids of all ages. Through sourcing wins and a lot of research we have been able to upgrade our entire play floor so that kids of all ages and abilities can enjoy the experience and come to play with their families. During our 1st year celebration we will fully reveal our new 6+ rec area to add even more for older siblings to enjoy during their visits. 

Our biggest hurdle in our first year was awareness and consistency. We struggled to reach the community through usual avenues to keep our space filled consistently. As we have found some fresh ways to reach our community of local families and have had several founding members offer their assistance to us, we are beginning to fill our space and work on building back towards a sustainable community space for Williamsburg. We hit a couple of really tough months in 2023 where we weren't sure if we were going to be able to stay open to the public which hit hard after all the work and community support we had invested in the space. January saw our first month of rent being paid after being in arrears for 4 months. We will continue to work hard on the quality of our services and space so that we can get back to 0 and grow in 2024 into a thriving community supported business. 

The amount of risk we took on to keep the cafe going at the end of 2023 is definitely not for the faint of heart. We kept investing, taking out further loans and lines of credit, and finally using our last savings account resource to keep the doors open last year. We hope that our kids will look back at the sacrifices they made this past year as a lesson in building towards a greater goal with faith and not just as the loss of their long time plans for the coveted Disney trip we saved for over 5 years to enjoy. As the holidays rolled around we took our ability to make the most out of the least for a lean but family centered time where we shared more quality enjoyment together than physical gifts. It was what our family needed to repair and refresh after a long year of work and commitment to the business and community. We hope to be able to continue on the sustainable footing we are on currently to dig out of our 2023 losses and grow in 2024. 

We talk a lot about membership and sponsorship in the ways that it helps sustain our community space, and it is needed more than ever now to rebound from a tough year and keep our doors open consistently moving forward. Having regular visitors, filling our play sessions, serving more of our community will give us the ability to be more stable, sustainable, and most importantly keep pricing affordable for most of our community to enjoy the space which is one of our core goals for the company as a whole.

Giving is our love language and we will continue to work hard so we can continue to give through this very special space in Williamsburg that we have created for our community. Thank you for your support along the way and we look forward to seeing you a bit more in 2024! 

Catalillies Play Café is happy to be a member of the Williamsburg, Virginia community and wants to help grow local businesses and local family interactions to make our small town as welcoming and positive as possible!

Thank you for being a part of our journey!!

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