Whiz Kids Play Zone and Tutoring Center caters to a local market that’s often overlooked.
Forget the conference table and water cooler: Patricia Lenz’s workplace boasts things like a puppet theater and obstacle course. That’s because she’s the owner of Whiz Kids Play Zone and Tutoring Center in Naples, an indoor play and party space where kids can exercise their bodies and minds.
“It’s not a place you walk into that has an arcade filled with video games,” she says. “We have a lot of options for imaginative play.”
Lenz felt that kids were an underserved market in Naples, so she saw the opportunity to fill a need. “It’s something where families can drop in and play when it’s rainy or hot,” she says. “And it’s great for socialization.”
Lenz graduated from Florida Gulf Coast University in 2009 with a degree in child education and then worked as a teacher in Collier County. After having her first child, she wanted the chance to stay home with him more. She’d visited indoor play spaces in other locales and knew that Naples didn’t offer lots of kid-centric entertainment options.
Including tutoring in the mix was a way for her to use her education skills even more. “I do love teaching,” she says. “I always wanted Whiz Kids to have an educational aspect behind it.”
Because she didn’t have a business background, Lenz got help from the Small Business Development Center at FGCU, which assisted with all the legal elements of setting up a business. She found a location on Pine Ridge Road and started researching equipment options.
Whiz Kids opened in July of 2013. With the help of her mom, Lenz built the business primarily through word of mouth with essentially no advertising.
“We have these little postcards, and in the beginning my mom would hand them out at Publix when she saw a mom with some kids,” Lenz says. “In the past year or so when she’s done that, everyone says, ‘Oh, we go there all the time.’ So the word has spread.” In fact, Whiz Kids held its 200th birthday party this past summer.
And the kiddie customers aren’t the only ones getting an educational experience. “I’ve had a hard time realizing that you can’t please everybody,” says Lenz. “I’m still learning quite a bit as we go along.”
The self-funded venture deals with seasonality unusual for the area: business picks up in the summer when kids are out of school. “Naples isn’t the cheapest area to do things in, and there are many months when I pay more in rent than I pay to myself,” says Lenz. “But that’s what it is. It wasn’t my intention to make millions off of this.”
Whiz Kids recently added karate classes for ages three to 12 and began trying out a support group for moms of small babies. “I’m open to other people coming in and sharing what they have to offer if it fits what we do,” says Lenz.
She recently renewed the lease for her current location and has her eye on two empty units next door to hers. “I’m constantly looking over at them, thinking I could knock down some walls ...” she says. She still needs to run the numbers to determine if expanding is a possibility at this point.