Indoor play centre for kids proves winning concept for Yale grad

By Brenlee Coates

Deena Caplette knows a thing or two about maintaining an active lifestyle – in fact, she reached the ultimate heights for a female hockey player by earning a scholarship to a Division 1 school in the United States.
For her though, the educational aspect was just as important.
“I knew that I couldn’t go to the NHL to make a career out of it. I wanted to do something that would shape my life,” she explains.
If you’re going to be playing hockey and concentrating on your studies, you may as well do it at the prestigious Yale University on a full ride. The powerful centre earned a degree in psychology, but she had different plans for its practical use.
“I’ve always wanted to own a business,” says Caplette. Despite no formal training in business management (a general business degree isn’t offered at Yale), Caplette found tremendous success with her hockey career and higher education – a solid foundation to build on.
She stirred up several business ideas, but none seemed to give her the spark she needed to carry them through. “None of them I was super passionate about, and when you open a business, you have to put a lot on the line,” she says.

Deena Caplette, the powerful hockey player and successful entrepreneur behind Kid City.
Deena Caplette, the powerful hockey player and successful entrepreneur behind Kid City.

At the time, Caplette was spending a lot of time with her nephew, Carson, and their visits together started to feel like a recurring dream. “When I was hanging out with my nephew, we would always end up at the McDonald’s play centre,” she laughs. Wanting to influence him to keep active during the winter months, she came up short on other venues. “I was like, ‘Y’now what? There’s got to be something else.’”
Finally, she had the inspiration she needed to execute an idea. And it was a good one.
Filling a void
“I think that being an entrepreneur is filling a void, and I think in Winnipeg, a void was family entertainment,” says Caplette.
Despite the fact that she knew she was on to something (especially since research told her a similar concept was already viable in Brandon, a much smaller market), Caplette had to do more to prove herself locally. Particularly when it came to renting a building.
“I found out I kept getting denied because Kid City wasn’t a proven concept (in Winnipeg),” says Caplette.
When the first Kid City opened in 2010, Caplette had persisted through a year of getting excited about a perfectly fitting space for her business, hearing she was likely going to be approved, and getting rejected. “I was living on an emotional rollercoaster,” she remembers.
When it finally did open, the response far exceeded Caplette’s expectations. “Weekends are insane,” she says. “We can have 25 birthday parties in one day.”
Two short years later, she added a second location, and direct competition to her business has begun popping up now that it’s a proven business concept.
As a natural competitor, the athlete has found ways to distinguish herself from the competition, adding Winnipeg’s only laser mazes to both locations, a kind of Mission: Impossible course where you have to weave your body through lasers untouched.
She also introduced a summer camp due to demand from her customers, and a monthly Friday Fun Night where adults can drop off their kids for three hours in the evening; the kids get a meal and organized playtime in the centre.
“I do have more competition,” she says. “I have to constantly be creative and innovative (and) listen to my customers because they’re the ones who drive the business.”
Though her openness to ideas helps keep the play centre teeming with kids, the 30-year-old also chalks up some of her success to the loyalty of Winnipeggers. “I think that Winnipeggers are really loyal, and I’ve had really loyal customers.”
It also doesn’t hurt that she found something she can really get behind. “I have been active my whole life, and I believe in it,” she says.

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