It’s been a Coronacoaster of a year for us all. Sadly in March we had to close our messy doors to the public to protect our team, our customers, the NHS and to support the government in their attempt to suppress the virus. I have been running Mess Around Ltd. for over 8 years and of all the things that I thought could possibly put us out of business, a bat in China was not one of them. Nobody in the children’s activity sector could have foreseen this happening or have been ready to adapt their business in such a short space of time in order to survive. Many unfortunately did not.
However after having dedicated 8 years of my life to our Mess Around family, I wasn’t going to go down without a fight. The Mess Around team all work extremely hard and have invested their time and money into their businesses and it was my role to protect Mess Around Ltd. and all of our team’s businesses and to support the team through this crisis wherever I could.
Right from the start our team set to work. We collated all of our resources from work that I had done with the Mess BoxTM over the last 2 years and created a diverse extended range of boxes catering for our customers, so that they could continue to have messy play fun at home during the lockdown. Our Mess Boxes have been flying out to door steps across the UK for the last 6 months.
We also added an extensive library of free messy play and arts and crafts activities to our DIY Blog on our website. During the dark days of the virus I wanted to help our exceptionally loyal customers wherever I could. The DIY Blog has been a great success and many families from around the world have had the opportunity to enjoy the work we have done.
We watched as the world went online, and knew that it was a global movement that we needed to be a part of. Although the nature of messy play meant it was going to be difficult to take our programme online, we nevertheless wanted to support our customers during this difficult time and set to work developing an online event.
Knowing that our core business is to host events, where children choose what they want to play with and how, with no end result, we knew going online was going to be a challenge.
However we persevered and our Born to Mess Around at Home was launched! In April we hosted our first online event, with the aim of entertaining parents and children at home and to give some light relief from the effects of the lockdown. We wanted to give parents messy play ideas with simple instructions and arts and crafts activities using materials that we knew they would have at home. The concept was simple: to provide a way for our customers to recreate their very own Mess Around party at home.
We took our fantastic themed events and turned them into an online party. We launched with our Dinosaur Detectives Party and received an overwhelming response from parents which inspired us to launch a weekly Mess Around at Home programme, throughout the lockdown period.
The Dinosaur Detectives Party went out live on Facebook, unfortunately broadcasting from a remote island on the west coast of Scotland proved tricky and sadly we had to come to terms with the fact that our internet connection wasn’t reliable enough to do live events. So as not to be defeated we turned our living room into a green screen video studio for 3 months and pre-recorded our videos each week.
We planned our initial 6 weeks of online events and our team set about creating fantastic messy play and arts and crafts activity blogs linked to each event theme. Each week on a my family and I would film the online party and then Dirk would spend the day editing the video to create the finished product, which was then premiered live on Facebook and YouTube and thus Mess Around TV was born.
Every week we created a fantastic blog of the online event with links to our team’s messy play and arts and crafts content and sent it out to our customers.
Our online events were so successful, (we hosted 14 online parties) that we created a brand new series of events including the Wizards of Mess, Philosopher’s Mess and Mythical Slime to keep our customers entertained throughout the summer.
The team had worked so hard on our online events and had created such fantastic resources to support those events that we didn’t want the work to go to waste. We wanted children from across the world to experience the magic of Mess Around and felt that they could via an online digital resource pack of our events. We set to work on creating a digital product and The Mess Pack was launched.
A themed Messy Play Resource, delivered directly to our customers email addresses, the Mess Packs are crammed full with messy themed activities, video events, step by step guides, video instructions and themed Arts and Crafts activities, with instructions and downloadable templates. The pack made a great resource for homeschooling parents, nurseries and schools and went on to prove itself to be a great addition to the Mess Around family.
As the UK eased out of lockdown the team began to strategise on what we could offer our customers during this transition period. The Mess Boxes had been a huge success during lockdown, but we were keen to support our leaders at a local level to generate revenue; not having been able to work since March was hard on the team. Building on the success of the Mess Box, the team set about creating the Mess Kit. Our leaders recognised that by July parents were feeling the strain of home schooling and having to entertain their children all day at home whilst running a household and a career, and they wanted an activities that were easy to set up, but also interesting enough to keep their children engaged.
Our leader (Alanna) from Mess Around South Yorkshire rose to the challenge and lead the way creating our first Mess Kit and our next baby, The Marvellous Mess Kit was born; a ready to use kit which included a range of materials with play idea instructions delivered straight to your doorstep. No fuss, just mess!
The Mess Kits went down a storm with parents across the UK and we have sold thousands. They have been so popular that we have now developed a fantastic range of kits which we have continued to develop them. As such they now form a key part of part of our core business model during these Covid restricted times.
Building upon the success of the Mess Kits, we kept on climbing and launched a brand new product called the ‘Mess Around Takeaway’. An equipment hire service where by our customers could book all of the equipment they would need to hold their own private family messy activities, birthday parties or play dates. Garden parties were very popular during the summer months despite the epidemic, although the fantastic weather we had certainly helped.
As venues started to re-open and being eager to get back to delivering face to face classes, we relaunched with our Slime Lab UKTM programme for children aged 5 years and above. A new workshop format had to be developed which was Covid secure, but it was important for us to keep the fun element too to keep within our values. In August our leader Rachelle from Mess Around West Suffolk trialled the new format and we were delighted with the results. The new format worked really well and so the programme was made available to the network to roll out within their territories.
September arrived and we desperately wanted to relaunch our Mess Around events; we were inundated with emails and messages from parents wanting to know when they would see us all again. We knew that under the restrictions, it would be a considerable challenge to adapt our programme, however we didn’t let that put us off. We had been working on the concept of the Tuff Tray Club, a brand new membership only online club however the Mess Kits had been such a huge success, that we decided to creating a face to face Tuff Tray Club using the Mess Kits as a resource. The priority here was to adhere to social distancing, to ensure no equipment or materials were shared and thus to provide a COVID-19 secure activity but it was also vital for us and the brand, to ensure that what we created, kept within our values and was also fun!
So the latest member of our family arrived. The Tuff Tray Club, a creative and personalised messy play club for children aged 6 months to 5 years old. The clubs gatherings are smaller than our Mess Around events allowing for compliant social distancing. Each child is provided with a themed messy play kit, filled with a pick and mix of messy play materials from paints, coloured rice, soap slime, cloud dough plus lots more! All materials are age appropriate and individually created for children with related allergies.
Once seated customers are provided with their own dedicated tuff tray loaded with their Messy Play Kit, and additional sanitised toys and utensils. Parent and child get to unbox their kit and explore the messy materials at their own speed.
Included in the kit are a number of keepsakes including our Messy Memory certificate on which children can make their mark with their very own hand prints. Our leaders are on hand to give tips on how to make materials and share examples of how to extend our customers play at home and better yet, they get to take their remaining messy play materials and kit home with them.
We launched the Tuff Tray Club in September in West Suffolk with Rachelle from Mess Around West Suffolk and the feedback from parents was incredible. Parents have been so grateful for the opportunity to come and play with their child that we are now getting ready to open Tuff Tray Clubs across the UK. We can’t wait to see families enjoying the new experience.
This year has definitely been a roller coaster ride albeit with more downs than ups, but we have remained positive that one day soon we will be able to host our fantastic Mess Around events again. Necessity is the mother of all invention and 2020 has very much been about innovating and adapting our business model.
Thankfully we have done this successful and I’m really excited about the fantastic products and services that we have developed this year and I can’t wait to see what 2021 brings.
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