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Recreational space for children imparts a touch of learning

StarOnline Photo

Shamsul (left) and his partner Jungu. The company which operates Blok Space, a recreational space for children.

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I hear and I forget. I see and I remember. I do and I understand.” So said the Chinese philosopher Confucius.

Parents and educators alike are always on the lookout for ways to impart knowledge to the next generation.

Entrepreneur Shamsul Jafni Shafie and his South Korean partner Kang Jungu believe they have a solution that kills two birds with one stone. The pair are offering the opportunity for children to learn when their parents are busy running errands!

Both have backgrounds in the serious world of handling network security and got to know each other when they were working for their respective governments.

Shamsul, or Sam, was formerly the network security division director for the Malaysian Communications and Multimedia Commission while Jungu was a consultant with the South Korean Information Security Agency.

After leaving government service in 2008, the pair started an information security company that builds and maintains network security centres.

But they also believe that businesses need not be high tech all the time, and there are simple business models that are profitable as well.

“We believe that creativity in children can be cultivated by encouraging them to use their hands more, by feeling and using building blocks and seeing where they fit best,” Jungu told Metrobiz.

They set up Certus Tech Sdn Bhd in 2011 to launch Blok Space, a chain of recreational outlets in shopping complexes where children can play with Lego bricks while their parents do their shopping.

According to Sam, he was not convinced of the idea until Jungu showed him a similar model that has been established in South Korea with over 40 stores, mostly centred in Seoul.

“I was initially not convinced that parents would spend RM15 an hour just to leave their children here to play with Lego,” he says.

They then signed an agreement with the South Korean company and it transferred the know-how to Malaysia. Jungu’s wife was given the task of learning the methodology and subsequently training the Malaysian staff.

“In South Korea, children live a busy lives — they move from school to tuition classes and then to music classes, with some free time in between. Parents appreciate the free time in between to run errands but it isn’t always convenient to bring their children around, hence sending them to such recreational stores makes good sense for both,” Jungu said.

After learning the know-how and paying the one-off fee, they opened their first branch in the IPC mall in Mutiara Damansara in 2013.

They have since expanded to five branches ranging between 600 sq ft and 900 sq ft in other shopping complexes in the Klang Valley.

A very prudent entrepreneur, Sam said the company is self funded, with no bank loans involved.

“We have invested over RM1mil for the five branches. About RM200,000 was spent for setting up a branch,” he said.

Most of the cost goes to renovations and the Lego blocks. On average, each branch has 120 to 150 sets of Lego bricks.

“We cater to children aged five to 14, so the Lego sets we select are age appropriate. There are sets with 50 pieces to those with thousands of pieces of blocks,” said Sam.

Quarterly recurring costs include updating the Lego sets to the latest variety, he added.

Sam said, to encourage parents to send their children (the children certainly need no encouragement) to spend time in Blok Space, the company offers discounts ranging from 10% to 30% for additional hourly packages.

Jungu added that weekends and school holidays see the highest number of children in their store, with about 150 children a day during those periods whereas on normal days, up to 30 to 50 children are expected.

“Some parents have told us that coming here has become a treat for their children, so parents use it as a reward to encourage their children to score in their examinations,” Jungu said.

To grow the business, they also host birthday parties where organisers bring their own finger food and cake.

They also organise robotics classes using Lego’s Mindstorm series for children aged 10 and above.

“They will assemble the body of the robot and can programme the abilities of the robot with a computer and then control it from a smartphone,” he said.

To ensure the safety of children, staff register the parents and the children and issue them a check-in receipt that they have to produce again to pick up their children and also to make the payment. Each store has two permanent and two part time employees.

“Our staff also look at how the children respond to their parents. If they feel uncomfortable, they will probe further before releasing the children,” said Sam.

He emphasises that one of the requisites for the employees was that they must love children as they must have the interest and patience to interact with the children.

Sam said that the company has received requests from many shopping complexes to set up a store. While he was pleased by this, he said with a laugh that they are not in a hurry and are carefully evaluating the prospects just as carefully as they do to ensure that all the Lego sets have all their blocks.

Jungu added they are also planning to roll out origami classes and are also working on licensing some of the stores to aspiring entrepreneurs.