Lilongwe Play Centre (LLPC) asserts to be the trend setter in children’s party planning. For two years or so, it was the only centre in Lilongwe providing a place for children to come and play until competitors jumped onto the bandwagon. In September this year, LLPC will celebrate seven years of servicing Lilongwe with children’s party planning and drop-in services. Since inception, they have hosted 1 678 birthday parties. BRENDA TWEA spoke to Esther Madalo Kawale, the woman behind the idea of the play centre.
Kawale, director of the first kids play centre established in Lilongwe, was born in a family of three children to Lester and Elizabeth Chikoya. She is the middle one of two siblings—Jacob and Dorothy.
Esther went to Likuni Girls Secondary School before proceeding to study business administration at Shareworld University. She later joined University of Sunderland in United Kingdom where she graduated with an honours degree in business management.
Married to Paul, the mother of seven-year-old daughter, Atikonda Kay, also wears the hat of an agribusiness specialist during weekdays.
“Monday to Friday I wear the hat of a programmes manager at Agricultural Commodity Exchange for Africa; and on weekends I am director at Lilongwe Play Centre,” she says.
The idea for the play centre started on her daughter’s first birthday party in May 2009. During the party, she recalls hiring some play equipment not usually used for children’s parties.
Says Kawale: “You know most people would just have a jumping castle at children’s parties. This time I had a play house, an inflatable swimming pool, ball pond and some electric cars. These few play items made the party unique. When I posted the pictures on Facebook, so many people asked to hire the play equipment from me and asked me to set up their children’s party place. This is what opened my mind to this business opportunity”.
The 35-year-old says it later turned out that her friend Mercy Kubwalo relished a similar idea of providing a stable fun place for children to come and play on weekends and school holidays. On September 26 2009, LLPC was launched as Partnership Company in Area 6, Lilongwe.
Planning a children’s party is more than what people see in the pictures. There are pre-party meetings with the party owners to find out their expectations. They also need to ensure that all items for the party theme are available, which sometimes poses a challenge as they have to look for theme supplies outside the country. And then there is the fluctuation of the kwacha, which is yet another challenge, according to her.
Among other attributes, Kawale says she is a good listener and a people-person who takes criticism positively. This, she says helps her to know where they need to improve in their services. She says she also likes taking challenges.
“I have had clients that would give me a setup that we have never done before. I take such challenges; I have always told my clients that ‘I will bring it out how you have stated’, and it has always been wow! I have also made so many friendships through this business which has helped in the growth of our clientele,” says the youthful entrepreneur whose business offers employment to eight people.
The play centre offers children’s entertainment; specialises in children’s drop-in services, birthday parties as well as corporate and family events.
“We offer children friendly play items including jumping castles, play houses, rides, swings, see-saws, junglejims, trampolines, water slides, swimming pool and bicycles, among others. On our party workshops we offer services such as face painting, loom bands making, bangle making, sand art and many other party games,” she says.
She attributes the business’ success to hard work, determination, perseverance and passion. Seeing her on a weekend, one would wonder if she is not one of the employees at the play centre as she will be seen busy with the staff working for the success of parties. She says she is always ready to sweat and get dirty for her passion to serve children.
On top of all that hard work and passion, she has a hardworking partner in Kubwalo, who she says has also proved to her that there are other women out there who cannot pull others down.
She also feels indebted to her supportive husband who helps a lot in running the errands of LLPC.
“He hardly makes any plans for himself on weekends. Come Saturday morning, he is always with me and we run around together,” she says.
Asked what makes them unique at children’s party planning, Kawale says: “We are the trend setters, and that cannot be changed. We have the wealth of knowledge and experience that allows us to create the most unique designed party décor and styling, and we nurture our relationship status with clients.”
No one can manage a business well if they are afraid of taking risks. Kawale believes risk takers are the ones that progress well.
“Yes, we started this before anyone else, but I am sure there were others out there who had the idea but didn’t kick it off for fear of taking risks. I encourage those wishing to venture into business that there is no one who can bring out their dreams, it is their dream and only they can bring it out. They need to go on and face their dreams. There will be ups and downs, but that’s what business is all about,” she says.