Monday, November 1, 2010

How To Select a Playground Company

Recently our company was passed over for a major renovation project and another company was selected to manage a very LARGE project. When we inquired with one of the decision makers in the organization we learned that after looking at our website, the decision makers believed we didn't engage in the type of projects and scope of what they were looking for. They selected another organization who has a much smaller website, and in fact used the product manufacturer's website as their experience reference.

In another situation, a customer came to us and asked for examples of a playground we would provide. Not a small task when we have 30,000 options! No size of equipment was provided, no budget. This customer made their decision based on random answers, and random offerings.

In a third scenario we discovered a new playground at a facility. We didn't even know they were looking for a playground. Where did it come from? We immediately recognized the components, design and layout and identified that the equipment was imported from a foreign country.  More about this in a moment.

In each of these and hundreds of alternate scenarios we find that playground selection is both subjective and objective. The end result needs to reflect your organization, community and children. What "looks" right isn't something that a single question or answer can convey. Here are some tips to help you stay on the right track. This isn't the only way to the end, but helpful tips to consider:

1. Identify the decision makers. Who in your organization can represent the majority? Select members that will ask questions and provide input. You will also rely on this team to convey the decisions to the population of your group. A strong leader is important to keep the project on track and not derail after the first questions arise. Some individuals solicit input from children to find out what they like to do and how they interact with various types of equipment.

2. Identify the goals. What are your needs? You won't know you have found "IT" until you identify what you are looking for. Are you trying to fill a space 30' x 40'? Are you trying to provide play for 20 children?

3. Identify the target group. How many children, at what ages? Is there a variety of abilities and interests from the children?

Did you see budget yet? While this is IMPORTANT, it isn't a concrete step. Certainly you may have a budget, but a plan is more important. Your PLAN may design a goal that won't be reached for 10 years. Many groups find out that commercial grade playgrounds cost considerably more than discount store equipment for a backyard. Do we wait until we have enough money and then go shopping? Certainly NOT! Utilize the experience of your playground professional to help and guide you through your process. Big trees don't get that way overnight. Good plans may require years of execution to achieve. Timeline may be important in your project. You may have a deadline.

4. Review product offerings from vendors. Use multiple sources. Don't make your judgment solely on who has the glossiest images in their catalog. The biggest or smallest catalogs may not adequately represent the abilities of the company. Your entire plan may in fact be found across several catalogs or sources.

5. Know who you are dealing with. Is this a manufacturer? Many manufacturers don't sell direct. Manufacturers often rely on dealers or distributors to represent their product. They may have exclusive or shared relationships. This adds another tier of investigation to your process. If your plan involves more than one product manufacturer you may be looking for more than ONE single company. Verify credentials of each. Will they work well together? How will they interface and come together to represent your interests and goals rather than their own?

While on credentials, there is a significant issue our company has seen in the past few years. How long has the company been in business? What is their history? They may be around long enough to finish your project and collect your check. Will they be there to provide maintenance? Can they back up their warranty they offer? Where are they located? This doesn't mean to select the oldest company. This doesn't mean select the closest one to your new park.

In yesterday's mail we received a beautiful 278 page catalog from a dealer. They are representing a foreign manufacturer. The writer has NOTHING against foreign manufactured products. Unfortunately the catalog is in metric measurement. There are some impressive credentials on the first pages. This is also the third USA based company representing this foreign manufacturer in three years. Involvement with multiple levels of this organization will require you speak several languages. A quick part or replacement will take weeks if not months. We've seen this before, simply put- those impressive credentials don't stack up. This particular company's experience in reaching standards for playground equipment in the USA simply hasn't been established or proven.

WOW! And you may have thought to look for the best price! For every point raised in this article, there are probably a dozen more. YOUR children are involved! Go ahead and ask more questions. As a parent, I'd rather be safe than sorry. I wouldn't let your children play on the equipment if it wasn't good enough for my own children. Ethics and integrity should have been listed somewhere above. Again, this is for your children!

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