Grounds for Play
In 1983 Grounds for Play (GFP) began as a small business grown out of a passion for how children of different ages learn and play. This has been the cornerstone in building the business, and continues to be today. Today, GFP is a division of Superior Recreational Products (SRP), one of the leading recreational products manufacturers and supplies in the United States.
GFP is currently located in Mansfield, Texas, and has light manufacturing capabilities and employs on average 34 people within design, project management and manufacturing. In addition, GFP utilizes SRP’s engineering staff, along with the new product design, structural welding and rotationally molded plastic facilities in Carrollton, Ga. The business also works with a sales team of highly-qualified design consultants dispersed throughout the United States, which is led by Victoria Brooks, GFP’s director of sales.
“We work from concept through installation of each entire playground environment,” Brooks says. “We handle everything in-house, including the manufacturing and installation of the playground equipment and the surrounding grounds. We pride ourselves on being the only U.S.-based playground design-build company with an international footprint that has also never been sued for the injury of a child on the playgrounds. Child safety is a huge factor for us.”
Serving a diverse market
GFP typically works directly with end users, which include schools, churches, child care centers and even the military. The company has designed, manufactured and installed playgrounds in 48 states across the U.S. In addition, GFP has also worked internationally at schools and child care centers, as well as on military bases around the world. The business generally focuses on the early childhood market, built for children up to 6 years old. GFP does not shy away from any play project building play environments for children up to 12 years of age.
The team recently completed a large project in Dallas. “GFP partnered with a subcontractor and completed a $213,000 project,” says Eric Strickland, one of the original founders of GFP. “This was for a private school called Vogel Alcove. The school is the only free comprehensive early childhood education program in the city of Dallas whose primary focus is to provide free child care for homeless families and children.”
Other recent projects include several Texas A&M developments, as well as child development centers at Naval Air Stations in Corpus Christy and Kingsville.
Work hard, play hard
The primary challenge throughout the recession for GFP was the absence of federal spending. “That comprises 25 percent of our revenue,” Brooks explains. “As these programs lost their funding, it negatively affected our business. We had to step back and take look at our business and cut overhead. When we came out of it, however, we developed a lean manufacturing process where we have become more efficient and effective. We sub out most of the installation services and work with specific subcontractors with whom we have good relationships.”
Brooks goes on to explain that there are particular requirements for safety of the installation of the playground equipment. “These relationships are very important and our selection has a lot to do with a contractor’s safety record,” she continues.
Despite the challenges, Brooks considers the company fortunate and takes great pride in her capable sales team. “Our sales cycle can be very long,” she elaborates. “It generally takes months from the initial conception to the start of construction and completion. It is worth the wait though, as we are committed to doing what is right for the children.”
Strickland has a hard time choosing a favorite project and notes that all of his work is rewarding. “If anything stands out, it has been our work with military communities,” he notes. “I feel like we are able to have a small part in giving the children of military families some amount of normalcy. We really enjoy bringing joy into these children’s lives.”
Brooks and Strickland are optimistic about the direction of the market right now. Looking ahead, both foresee growth and plan to expand the design consultant group from 17 to 30 people. “We want to continue to develop new products for the outdoor classroom with an emphasis on musical instruments for the outdoors such as steel drums and bongos,” Brooks says. “We are also working with Goddard Schools, which is one of the fastest growing private school franchise operations in the U.S. Together, we want to bring about a new playground vision of an outdoor classroom area with music, art, stages and other creative features.”
As the business grows, Brooks has a single, simple goal for her team. “We always want to stay true to the notion that we are a full-service company,” she explains. “We gauge our success based on two areas: satisfaction of our customers and developing a profitable business for a sustainable future for our employees and their families.”
GFP has established a strong reputation in the market for quality and creative play environments. With a strong backlog of work, Brooks and Strickland have little doubt about the upward direction of the business. In the coming years, Grounds for Play will continue to grow, building unique outdoor spaces for young children throughout the United States and beyond.
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