Ashleigh Hill longed for a gathering place where her two daughters could play freely as she catches up with her mom friends over a cup of coffee. Over the last few years, Hill, of Hatfield, visited a few kid-friendly indoor play spots, but none were exactly what she had in mind.
So, she created her own 13,000-square-foot “imagination-based” play area for kids ranging from crawling infants up to 10 years old. She held a grand opening recently for The Barn Yard, her Collegeville-based idea-turned-business and has sold out of daily play passes most days since.
“It was born out of us not wanting to chase the kids all the time,” Hill said. “We focused more on making it as relaxing as it can be with kids while still watching them.”
That’s the goal of The Barn Yard, where parents can book three-hour play sessions from 9:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. or 1:30 p.m. to 4:30 p.m. The hour in between is reserved for deep cleaning and organizing toys.
“We are very clean,” she said. “Everything is scrubbed down.”
Hill, who previously worked in insurance, transitioned to a stay-at-home mom and nanny after the birth of her 6-year-old daughter.
“I’ve always been around kids,” she said. “I’ve always loved kids.”
In the process of opening The Barn Yard, she and her staff have all had child abuse and criminal clearances, as well as CPR certification. Hill and staff have also been trained to understand how to handle situations involving kids on the autism spectrum.
None of the clearances or training are required since parents or guardians are onsite while children are playing. It’s one example of Hill striving to go above and beyond to serve her patrons. Another is that her play center is doubling as a baby formula drop-off and pickup site amid the nationwide shortage.
“It’s all free,” she said of baby formula. “We have a pretty good collection.”
Leading up to the launch of her business, Hill sought guidance from someone other than her husband, who had been her sounding board since she first shared her idea five years ago. In September, Hill began meeting with SCORE Bucks County mentors Carl Rubin and Nina De Rosa.
“I wanted somebody other than my husband to weigh in,” Hill said. “Nina and Carl were great. They were there from the beginning of me saying ‘this is what I’m doing’ until we got the loan.”
In addition to daily play sessions, The Barn Yard offers summer camp programs, special events and hosts birthday parties. The play center also has some of its Melissa & Doug toys available for purchase in the retail store, allowing kids the chance to try it out first.
De Rosa commended Hill for her collaboration with local restaurants to create party packages and the positive response she has received from the community. De Rosa also noted Hill’s steadfast commitment to the business despite roadblocks she faced.
“She has had a number of obstacles and challenges put before her but has done an excellent job at pivoting to meet those challenges,” De Rosa said. “Both Carl Rubin and I agree, she is the most focused, organized and passionate client we have worked with during our time at SCORE.”
Besides help from her SCORE mentors, Hill leaned on her sister for support, ultimately asking her to quit a long-time food service job and come work alongside her at The Barn Yard.
“I’m very lucky with who I have in my life,” Hill said. “I definitely could not have done it by myself.”