Tackling kids, accounting, toilets

ExploraWorld: Two women learn the lessons of running a children's activity center

now they're thinking about franchising

Small business

Howard Business

March 13, 2000|By Liz Atwood | Liz Atwood,SUN STAFF

Running a children's activity center the size of a supermarket isn't easy. The job requires a knowledge of accounting, marketing and management.

It also helps to know how to finger paint and unplug toilets.

Linda Black and Donna Zinn Fanning have learned these lessons and more in their 20 months of running ExploraWorld, a cross between a children's museum and a playground at 6570 Dobbin Road.

But as the second anniversary of their business approaches, the two friends say they have overcome the odds against starting a company and are thinking about franchising.

"I love this," said Black, a former prekindergarten teacher, who came up with the idea for ExploraWorld in 1997 and took the idea to Fanning, a franchise consultant.

"I wasn't familiar with the concept, but I thought it was an interesting idea," Fanning said.

They decided the best location for their center would be Columbia with its growing population, young families and easy access to Baltimore and Washington. Parents told them to make it big and they did -- 24,000 square feet in a converted warehouse.

Inside there are rooms for birthday parties and numerous activity stations. Kids can play dress-up, climb on a firetruck, play in a sandbox, climb on a jungle gym and play in a make-believe pizza shop.

"We want it to be exciting every time they come," Fanning said.

Black and Fanning, who own the business with their husbands, depend on each others' differences to operate successfully. Black, with a master's degree in early childhood education, comes up with the ideas for children's activities; Fanning, with a master's in business administration, keeps tabs on expenses.

"We cover all the angles in different ways," Fanning said.

Both say they enjoy running their own business, exploring new ideas and tackling problems.

"It's never boring," Black said.

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