Innovative changes and developments in the playground sector [Podcast]


This week on The Preschool Podcast, we are excited to welcome Mark Romera, CEO of Spimbey. Spimbey is a new brand dedicated to producing premium quality wooden playsets. They believe in imaginative fun and carefree outdoor play that doesn’t sacrifice style. That’s why they created premium modular outdoor playsets, expertly designed with form, function, and sustainability in mind. At Spimbey, Mark and his team strive to create a proper balance between the digital and offline worlds – inspiring children to disconnect from the digital world and reconnect with their imaginations, playmates, and the outdoors. 

Innovative changes in outdoor play

Adequate outdoor play and outdoor interaction with others are often missing from children’s daily routines. How can children balance our current world and still have enough “offline” time? This is a question parents and educators are wrestling with. There is a need for accessible play spaces that are sustainable, safe, and adaptable to be used around the world. It is important to use wood and other natural materials when building them.

Mark and his team at Spimbey want to make playtime more convenient for parents and educators. They make outdoor play equipment that is easy to set up. They know the hurdles to assembling playsets and looked to make it easier by limiting parts, pre-drilling wood, removing sharp edges, and having a clear assembly manual. Their modular sets can be used to fit in all different sized outdoor areas. This also helps with the budget to expand your play space over time.

Mark encourages parents and educators to create something simple with just a few items outside. Always question yourself and your beliefs to ensure you are doing your best. Every day we learn more and can look for new solutions and adapt to new situations.

Podcast episode transcript

Mark ROMERA:

But also to understand the simplicity in life and that you don’t need to have much in life to appreciate it and to have fun in your life. So, create something simple in life with just a few items.

Ron SPREEUWENBERG: 

Mark, welcome to the Preschool Podcast!

ROMERA:

Ron, thank you for having me today!

SPREEUWENBERG: 

We’re very excited to have on the show with us today Mark Romera. He joins us from the Netherlands. He’s the CEO of a company called Spimbey. And we’re going to talk to him today a bit about Spimbey and outdoor playsets because this is what Spimbey all about, is providing playsets and infrastructure for kids to play outside in safe environments and thrive. So Mark, let’s start off learning a little bit about you.

ROMERA:

Yeah, thank you, Ron, for the introduction. Yes, my name is Mark. I’m half Dutch, half Spanish. I have worked a lot of years in sales, marketing, project management. And last year I had the idea to do something different because I always had the feeling there was something missing in my work. Not that I didn’t enjoy it, but I felt there was something missing.

And I was doing something for my own, starting my own business, looking to help people with the products or services I could provide with all the experiences what I’ve gained in the last years. And in developing the idea of what I could be doing, I have looked into my environment, looked to my own family, looked to my son, looked to his development in his life – he’s now 17 years old. But I’ve learned a lot during those years.

And as well, looking to the to his friends and our family, I saw something interesting developing in the development of children of the generations coming now, that there’s a lot of digital in their lives, which is good. But there’s missing, in my opinion, more and more outdoor play and outdoor being and the interaction with other kids.

So, I started to get the feeling, “Okay, how can I help the next generations, these generations, to keep interacting with others, but also have a balance in life with digital and being offline?” So, I looked at my experience in work. And one of the works I have done in the past is working for playsets in the past. So, it looked, “Okay, maybe I can help stimulate children to play more, to play more outside but in a safe environment.”

And looking to the experience I gained, I started to develop the idea into, okay, something more tangible. And what do I need? How can I create something from nothing? So, I started thinking and looking to people who could help me and gathered my team around the idea were initially the idea of producing, developing and selling outdoor playsets for residential use and began.

And I think it was the second part or the first part of last year. And the idea arised to produce the playsets, but how should they look like? And I don’t want to have something similar to what there is in the market already. I want it to be more safe because there are a lot of unsafe playsets. But also the design should be different and it should be more accessible to the people around the globe because I don’t want to be only a local seller. I want to be a global seller into the future.

And also a sustainable seller and producer of these playsets because there a lot of plastic outside. So, then the main material we use is wood. And beside that we have plastic components. But I’m looking into a solution to have those plastics, as well as sustainable and ecological responsible. And yeah, so the idea started last year to develop modular playsets with a cool looking design, which are also safe for your kids.

SPREEUWENBERG: 

Very cool. And I think our listeners will definitely agree with you that outdoor play and more outdoor play for our young children is super duper important, and we’ve talked about that a bit on the Preschool Podcast. But it’s very inspiring story and great to hear that you took action on that feeling of wanting to do something where you’re making a positive contribution.

And you talked a little bit about what’s different with Spimbey, in terms of the materials and using more wood and natural materials. You talked about them being a bit more modular. Tell us a bit more about what makes Spimbey and in these modular playsets unique to what else is out there.

ROMERA:

Well, the main part is the fact that there are a lot of playsets out there that are not safely developed. So, they lack safety in terms of compliance to the safety standards in North America and in Europe. That’s one part where we have a very stringent production and quality and control. But that’s on the backside.

And on the front side, we have looked to the pains of setting up playsets, for example, to make your choice where we have to looked to, “Okay, how can we make it more convenient for the user, for the parents where they can set it up and in a quick time without too many headaches?” Because it can be quite tedious to set up a playset.

So, we have looked in our product development to say, “Okay, we know the hurdles to assemble a playset,” for example. So, we started to look, “Okay, how can we make it easier by pre-drilling the wood, by taking all the sharp edges off of each board and each pole, having a clear assembly manual with the numbers which correspond to the numbers which are on each wood part, so that it is quite easy to assemble a big playset in less than a day’s work. Whereas a lot of playset manufacturers offer playsets where you have, I don’t know, over 1,000 parts and it takes two guys to assemble them, two complete days.

So, that’s one of the main aspects of our product. And the modularity of course, which makes it more accessible for a lot of parents as well, where they have, for example, smaller or less or a narrow garden. So, they can play around with the different components we have. For example, we have the play deck component module, which is also usable, standalone. And the swing set is standalone, but together you can combine them to become one complete playset. As well with the huts we have developed, you can put it on the play deck, but you can also put it next to the play deck in your backyard, as you see fit. It depends on the size of your backyard but you can play around with it.

As time goes on, as your child grows on, as well, you can buy additional modules to your existing playset and you can attach it to the existing playset quite easily. And that’s something unique you don’t see in the market, as well, where your playset can grow together with the wishes and the play wishes of your child.

For example, now we have produced new ramps and monkey bars, which are easily connected to the existing playsets our customers have bought  already and this modularity is very flexible and you can play around with it and you can make very big combinations with, I don’t know, three, four play decks and a lot of different kinds of huts and swing sets, as long as your garden is big enough.

And third part is the design. There are a lot of playsets out there with the same colors, with the same accessory colors. And we decided to change that to be different, as well. So, we have developed our own brand colors. For example, the Spimbey blue trapeze color with the gray and double-sided tarp colors and pastel colors, which are more modern and fitting to the typical modern house esthetic to have something beautiful in your backyard and not a playset of that you think, “Oof, what do I have now in my backyard? I don’t want to look at that. But okay, my child is fine, but I also want to have something in my backyard that looks nice.” So, these three parts are very important differentiators compared to others in the market.

SPREEUWENBERG: 

Cool. And I think the modular idea is interesting, too, from a budget perspective, as well. We have a lot of childcare programs and early-childhood educators out there listening to the Preschool Podcast and maybe you don’t quite have the budget to get the whole playset this year. But you could sort of buy a couple components and then expand as you get that budget. So, that’s a pretty cool aspect, as well.

And speaking of which, it sounds like there’s lots of parents who are using these playsets at home. And do you find that you also have childcare programs, whether those be smaller family childcare programs or larger ones that that are using these modular playsets, as well?

ROMERA:

Well, basically the playsets we produce at the moment are purely for residential use. So, these are not meant for public use. The public use is something we’re thinking about, as well, for the future. But currently the playsets we sell are strictly produced and sold to private customers.

SPREEUWENBERG: 

And where in the world can you get the Spimbey playsets? Because you’re in the Netherlands, but you mentioned that you have ambitions to be around the globe.

ROMERA:

Yeah, for sure. So, we have set up companies in North America and Europe at the same time. And so we cater to North America and European countries at the moment. So, people living in the United States can buy them, in Canada, but also people living in the U.K., for example, or Switzerland and other European countries can purchase the playsets. And they can purchase it via the website, quite easily. And in the future, yeah, we want to expand, of course, to other countries. But first things first, we have to develop our operations in this first year and then expand and the next years to other countries in the world.

SPREEUWENBERG: 

Cool. And Mark, with all the innovative things that Spimbey is doing with regards to playset design and manufacturing, what have you learned through all that about children’s play and how it relates to the work that you’re doing?

ROMERA:

That’s a good question. There are so many things I have learned in in the last year, especially in the last half-year. But in development of the product specifically, I’ve learned that simplicity is, I think, the most important part. This is also a very, very important aspect of our company and of our brand, to keep everything as simple as possible.

And this is also looking back to the philosophy of why we started this company, is to get children more outdoors, to let them have fun, to create super memories together with other brothers and sisters, friends and families, but also to understand the simplicity in life and that you don’t need to have much in life to appreciate it and to have fun in your life. So, create something simple in life with just a few items.

And I think during the development of our product we quite succeeded at that, looking to the lesser items we have used, the simplicity. Also looking to our name and looking to our logo, we tried to keep things as simple as possible. That’s not always easy. And there’s the lesson, also, I think to keep it as simple as possible, you always have to question yourself. You have to question your beliefs. You have to think, “Okay, am I really doing the simplest thing at the moment? And is this also the best thing?” So, in that I think the main lesson is that you learn every day, again, and also to question your own beliefs and looking for new solutions to be able to adapt and to be flexible to the situations at hand.

SPREEUWENBERG: 

I love it, keep it simple. And of course, Apple is sort of the big case study on how valuable it is to keep things simple. And I can definitely see that with the Spimbey products. And they do look very beautiful, as a result. Mark, a couple more questions before we wrap up. We encourage our own audience to be learning continually, as well. Anything you can share on things that you’ve learned or resources you’ve used to continue your own professional development or learning that you can share with our listeners?

ROMERA:

Yeah, for sure. So, one of the biggest things I think is important in life, but also in business, is that you keep developing yourselves. As I said earlier, question your own beliefs. Don’t trust what you’ve learned already, but keep on learning and learning and learning. So, what I like to do is listen to, for example, audio books in moments I have a little bit of time for that. But listen to books or read books, which helped me broaden my mind about personal development, about business development.

And I have, for example, some books for you guys, which I really love and I really, really listen to them as soon as I can again to keep my mind fresh and up-to-date. For example, you have a cool book is Man’s Search For Meaning by Viktor Frankl, which shows basically that everybody in life can find his meaning in life, and that when you think the worst has come, there will always be something, an opportunity to become better and to find the solution, to take ownership and not to victimize yourself. So, I really love that book and I try to listen to it as much as possible.

Another book is about [and called] Winning Not Fighting [Why You Need to Rethink Success and How You Achieve it with the Ancient Art of Wing Tsun] [by John Vincent and Julian Hitch]. In life there will always be a struggle and it all depends on how you approach those struggles. So, either you choose to win or you choose to fight. But this book tells you how to win without need of any fight. So, you get what you want and everybody gets what they want in life. And this is particularly good for your personal development, but also for your business and daily life, which also I very love.

And another book, for example, the third one… I have many books, so I won’t bore you with all of them. But the third book is a book I’m listening [to] at the moment, it’s about [and called] The Child In You [The Breakthrough Method for Bringing Out Your Authentic Self]. It’s about a shadow child and a sun child and that it’s quite difficult in all situations to keep true to yourself. For example, listen to your sun child as being positive, being happy, finding solutions, being in ownership.

And the shadow child is always in you, what has been formed in your youth, which is telling you, “No, you shouldn’t do that, no, you shouldn’t do that. You cannot do that.” And you have to learn to listen less to your shadow child and embrace your sun child. But there always needs to be a balance. And this is a book I’m listening [to] at the moment and it’s really cool, as well. So, those are a few examples.

SPREEUWENBERG: 

Great, thanks so much for sharing those, I wrote them down. And it also is a good reminder for me, too, because I used to use Audible [online book streaming service] and I tried to getting back into reading more books more recently. But I end up falling asleep or whatever, and so I think, yeah, I’ve got to go back to the listening to books thing, I think.

ROMERA:

Yeah, I can relate to that. So, every time when I have, let’s say in that moment where you think, “Okay, I have to wait for something,” or whatever, then it’s good to have an audio book. You put on your headphones and you start listening and you have learned again something else which you wouldn’t have learned otherwise.

SPREEUWENBERG: 

Yeah, that’s why it’s so great, right? Because, like a podcast, an audio book, you can listen to it when you’re going for a walk, when you’re doing dishes and some other things. So, it can be a quite productive use of your time as well. So, I’ve got to get back into that, for sure. And last but not least, Mark, if folks that are listening to the Podcast here today would like to learn more about Spimbey and your modular playsets, where can they go to get more information?

ROMERA:

It’s quite easy, whey can go to our web shop, our website. It’s www.Spimbey.com. There you can find all kinds of cool blog posts, as well, about play in general, tips to get your kids outside and play with the playset. And we have a shop part where you can look to the different types of playsets we have, the modules we have and get a general idea about what type of products we offer.

SPREEUWENBERG: 

Very cool. And if you’ve listened to this podcast in its entirety, you could tell that Mark is very passionate about his work. And I think you’ll see that come through on the Spimbey website and with some of the articles they have there, as well. So Mark, we really appreciate you joining us on the Preschool Podcast today and sharing some more information about Spimbey and the importance of outdoor play!

ROMERA:

Thank you, Ron. It has been nice being on your show, so nice to be able to contribute to more outdoor play!



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