One heck of a (train) ride: we talked to Joga Shoker about his thriving kids’ events business, which involves a whole lot of family fun… and some seriously big train tracks.
FunWithTrains is a kids’ events business that sees little ones playing with gigantic train tracks across over 30 venues in the UK. It’s family run, and prides itself on providing great fun entertainment for kids without breaking the bank – not least because adults go free!
Read on to find out about how Joga Shoker turned an afternoon out with his son into a successful events business (that also happened to survive a pandemic…)
🔥 Trends to watch
Letting adults go free to kids’ events means a lot to the people who are actually buying the tickets – the parents. It’s a great way to shout from the rooftops that your events genuinely are for the kids, and that you’ve got a strong company ethos. Ultimately, it means parents, grandparents and extended family can enjoy seeing their children have a great time, without worrying about the eye-watering prices that are often associated with kids’ attractions.
Simple branding can be highly effective for kids’ events, as it lets you communicate exactly what your event is about upfront, without the need for busy parents to go digging for more information. Case in point: FunWithTrains is pretty much as self-explanatory as it gets, and the events regularly sell out. The fun’s baked right into the name 😎.
✅ Key takeaways
Promotion in the early days of setting up an events business is key. Joga speaks about how not promoting their events enough was one of the challenges they faced early on.
Being passionate about what you do is invaluable. The FunWithTrains team and its franchisees are all people who understand what it is to be a parent, and they all genuinely love seeing the kids’ at their events having a great time.
Using a ticketing solution that’s too expensive can be really restrictive – FunWithTrains switched from Eventbrite to Ticket Tailor for this reason. The fact that Ticket Tailor was more cost effective let them move at their own pace.
Now, over to Joga!
🚂 About the business
FunWithTrains is a family run business based in Hertfordshire and brings the ultimate train track events to venues around the UK. In a nutshell, we run kids’ events where we set up gigantic train tracks – including tunnels, stations, garages and bridges – for kids to play with.
Children absolutely love it; there’s so much for them to interact and play with, and plenty of space for them to enjoy watching the trains race around the tracks. We run general events where anyone can come and play, and we do kids’ birthday parties, too.
✨ How it all started
FunWithTrains all started when I went to a Trackplay event – that’s what FunWithTrains used to be called – with my boy who was two at the time. Suffice to say he absolutely loved it and didn’t want to leave when it ended. I knew the owner of the business and when he mentioned he was selling up I thought I could run it – it was as simple as that! It all began from that one venue in Hertfordshire.
The first steps I took after acquiring the business were setting up a website, and getting Facebook and all the usual social media channels up and running. I also looked at revenue generation and set about finding additional venues straight away. As soon as we’d found new venues to run FunWithTrains from, it was really all about promoting the event and getting tickets sold as quickly and easily as possible.
I remember parents coming up to us and saying they hoped we stayed in business
Of course, it wasn’t all plain sailing. One stumbling block we encountered early on was finding the right venues. In hindsight, some just weren’t very good. We realised quite quickly that venues that weren't easily accessible or popular with parents in general needed to be discarded.
Another of the main challenges we faced was not promoting our events enough. I remember that we only had 14 kids attend our first event outside our regular venue for the whole day. But I also remember parents coming up to us and saying they hoped we stayed in business because they genuinely loved the concept. Fast forward six months on from that day, and that particular venue was selling out with over 100 kids a day attending. That was brilliant to see.
💡How we expanded
Our second venue taking off was the first big turning point for FunWithTrains. Then, when people started to enquire about franchise opportunities, we really started to believe that the potential was there for the business to get much bigger.
The franchise enquiries kept coming in, and we realised it was our ticket to get to more venues and scale the business up quite quickly. This wasn’t actually part of our plans when we first took on FunWithTrains. But, when we kept getting asked to go places that were further and further away from home for us, things clicked into place and we realised that franchising would be a good route for our business. The team and I have first hand experience of running food franchises, so we felt confident that we could draw on that experience in turning FunWithTrains into a franchise business. Of course, it’s also really important to work with the right franchisees.
Our best contact came from someone who attended our events regularly
As we expanded, we started to take on a few staff, and we also took the plunge into opening venues in different counties. We changed our brand, too – we wanted something simple that explained what we did. We felt the original name, Trackplay, didn’t express what we were about, and when we came up with the name FunWithTrains, our customers told us they loved it. It's so simple but it’s really effective because it communicates exactly what our business and events are about. It’s right there in the name!
Another key moment in our expansion came about when we were approached by a parent who loved the idea and concept. He worked in the management of leisure centres and thought we could use their halls for our events. This led to a relationship that meant we could regularly host events at over 15 different leisure centres from Lincoln to north London (which we still do!). It did surprise us that our best contact came from someone who attended our events regularly and loved the concept as much as we did.
Ticket Tailor’s recurring events feature has saved us so much time
When it comes to the practical side of selling tickets, we’ve found that Ticket Tailor has really allowed us to go at our own pace because of its cost effectiveness. We tried Eventbrite first off, but the cost was too restrictive.
Also, the fact Ticket Tailor integrates with Stripe and PayPal has been amazing. And the fact it lets us have regular recurring events has saved us so much time. We also just generally love its ease of use. The tutorials and customer service responses are extremely useful.
In terms of marketing, Facebook and Instagram are the most effective platforms for us. Parent groups have also been amazing in promoting us to schools and local areas when we launch new venues.
🚀 From two venues… to over 30
When it comes to thinking about what makes us a success, I think it’s really quite simple. First off – the clue’s in the name. FunWithTrains is, at its core, about seeing the kids’ eyes light up when they enter a venue and see the largest train track they’ve ever seen. Having fun and interacting with other families and kids is the best part about our business. In fact, all our staff and franchisees say that it doesn't feel like work.
We never charge extra for parents to attend events with their kids
Ultimately, we’re a close group of friends who had an idea and expanded it into a business we all enjoy and have fun with. I think what really sets us apart is that both our franchisees and the core team at FunWithTrains are all parents of young kids, and we all love the idea of being able to entertain other kids at our events. With all of us being parents, we feel we have a real insight into what other parents want at our events. For example, one of our key principles is that we never charge extra for parents to attend events with their kids. This means that parents, grandparents and extended family can come and enjoy the atmosphere and see their loved ones having fun.
With us all being parents, we just felt that the business cannot prioritise profits over people. The people are our customers and they are all parents or grandparents. So we felt it only fair to allow families to get together and enjoy events without worrying about the extra costs that are usually involved with kids entertainment.
You get what you believe…
There have been many ups and downs throughout our FunWithTrains journey, some to be expected, and some not so much! One of the hardest things has been fear of the unknown – like not knowing if people would like the concept or if we would actually fill a venue, or if we would restart after a pandemic. However, as a wise person once said, you don't get what you want in life, you get what you believe. We believed from the beginning that we had a great business – one that would be even better after the pandemic.
Believing in ourselves has really paid off. We’ve gone from two venues and a turnover of £12,000 in our first year to over 30 venues and turnover of £150,000 in the past 12 months.
We sold more tickets in the first quarter of this year than we sold in our first two years combined.
Watch this space…
As for the future, we aim to expand even further across the UK – we want to have FunWithTrains events in every major town and city! Also we have plans for FunWithBouncing coming up soon to make our events even more unique and fun. Watch this space!