How the Playseum book and toy store survived the pandemic
How Gina Seebachan kept her business, the Be With Me Playseum, open during the coronavirus The pandemic can be summed up in an alliteration: faith, family and frugality.
“The core of my faith is that if I do the right thing, God will also do the right thing through me,” Seebachan said.
Seebachan opened its first Playseum in Bethesda, Maryland, in 2009.
Ashlen, Seebachan’s daughter, said the loss of her mother in 2006 by Seebachan played a role in her decision to open the Playseum.
“She was a little puzzled as to what meant the most to her about her mother, and she looked back and realized that what made the most sense was spending time with her mother,” said Ashlen. “She looked around and didn’t see a lot of places where parents could be exclusively with their children and that stimulates the child.”
The Playseum has several rooms, each with themes such as a doctor’s office, grocery store, and a theater designed for play. It also includes a bakery, soap and science bar, art studio and art store. toys. It is ideal for getting parents to spend time with their children.
Shortly after opening their store in Bethesda, Seebachan opened another in Washington, DC This store was often busy but struggled financially, so when its five-year lease expired, Seebachan closed it.
In 2018, she opened another Playseum in the Westfield Annapolis shopping center. The success of this store prompted Seebachan to open another in 2019 in his hometown Minnetonka, Minnesota.
She gives her daughters a lot of credit for her recent Playseum expansion.
“My daughter Ashlen is now the store manager in Annapolis and this is one of the main reasons 2019 has gone so well,” Seebachan said. “My daughter Ianna is the genius behind creating systems in the Playseum that we can replicate elsewhere.”
At the start of 2020, the Playseum were doing quite well financially. Then the pandemic struck.
Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz ordered all non-essential businesses shut down on March 16, and Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan did the same on March 19.
Seebachan closed its Playseums in Maryland earlier.
“I was working in Annapolis on March 17 when I heard that the Apple computer was shut down,” she said. “I thought if they closed, then we had to close. I thought it would be for two or three weeks.
Fortunately, she was careful about the money she was making from the Playseums. She rarely takes out loans to start a new Playseum, preferring to pay with savings. And when she gets into debt, she insists on paying it back as quickly as possible.
“I find so many business people who are reckless in their decisions, whether it’s with marketing or how they spend their money or they pay themselves crazy amounts of money,” she says. “I have never done that.”
The money Seebachan had saved, along with some Paycheck Protection Program loans and two Minnesota state government grants, helped her pay rent for the Playseums while they were closed. She was even able to repay the only loan she had taken out to open the Minnetonka store.
Seebachan had to let her employees go, but she hoped to hire them back.
“It was really stressful. We contacted all of our employees, but less than half of them responded, ”her daughter said. “It was difficult because we were worried when we reopened who would work for us.”
This turned out to be a boon for the company as most of the employees who returned were those who are committed to providing a good experience for the children and parents who come to the Playseum. It also meant that businesses could operate with reduced payrolls when they reopened in late June.
“It affected one of my managers, Olivia, my daughters and my son, Alex, as well as some part-time employees who came back,” Seebachan said. “A lot of us worked seven days a week. My daughter and I didn’t take a paycheck for a while, and we made it work. … We have learned to be more efficient, sometimes running stores with two or three employees.
She also refunded money to parents who had planned birthdays and trips to the Playseums that had to be canceled, including a non-refundable deposit of $ 100.
“I really believed I had to do it because for me COVID was out of their control and out of my control,” she said. “But I believed if I did the right thing, then God would bless me, and he did.”
For years, she has donated 10% of Playseums income to various charities, some of which fight child trafficking and help provide children with clean water and the anti-abortion movement.
In October, Seebachan received a check from the federal government for overpaying her taxes when her charitable donations were taken into account.
“It was a blessing,” Seebachan said. “It helped us pay our bills.”
In January, the owner of the building where the Bethesda Playseum was located sold it. The company that bought it decided to demolish the building. For Seebachan, that meant closing the store.
But this is only a temporary setback.
“In six months I think we’ll be ready to grow again,” Seebachan said.