KidZania is the theme park where children run their own businesses. Founder Xavier López Ancona reveals the secrets to rolling out a radical idea worldwide
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It’s not enough to be innovative. You need to properly define your business, test it thoroughly – and perfect it. You must do all this before you even think about expanding.
You need big ears to make your creative business a success globally
Hire expert consultants and advisers – and listen to them. They will help you adapt your product to the toughest standards so it will flourish away from your home territory.
Choose your partners wisely
Team up with a local company and group that has the business know-how – and know-who – in the new market.
Credibility is your biggest challenge
Our concept and product was proven in Mexico, but not elsewhere. It was a ‘Mexican’ concept that was unknown outside of Mexico, and there was no other Mexican company exporting entertainment.
We tackled the challenge by developing in parallel our own growth in Mexico with our global expansion through a franchise scheme – firstly in Japan. We over-invested, grew and professionalized our team to create a global brand.
Creativity is still bound by culture
Although roleplaying is a universal concept, we had to adapt it to local cultures, local ways of doing business, local policies, regulations and laws.
Our partners and franchisees help us adapt our business to local regulations and our content to local tastes, local brands and market-specific professions, such as the ‘dabbawala’ food deliveryperson in KidZania Mumbai, or Formula-E electric racing cars in KidZania London.
Creative education is an idea whose time has come
Innovation works – and sells – best when it helps people learn. KidZania is a very generous product that people can see the value in: the concept is well accepted among different cultures and markets, making it easy to market and sell. Emphasizing our highly educational content makes it appealing to families and schools everywhere. Creators who can appeal to people’s wish to develop themselves and their children will succeed in business.
You are only as good as your latest venture
We are only as good as our most recently opened franchise! Although our franchisees buy the rights to exploit our concept and brand, the brand is still ours. If our franchisees do something wrong, their business might suffer, but ultimately it’s our brand that sustains the most damage. Setting the rules in a comprehensive and extensive licence agreement allows creative entrepreneurs to have greater control on what their partners can and cannot do. Our first licence agreement was 27 pages long. The latest one is 236 pages long. That is how much we’ve learned in ten years of exporting
Protect your creativity from imitation
Just like a burger or pizza restaurant cannot trademark a cheeseburger or a calzone, we cannot register roleplay. But we can register our uniforms, our brands, logos and characters. That is where we spend most of our resources, in making sure that our intellectual property is properly registered in the markets in which we already operate
or are developing.
A visionary management style works best
I spend a lot of time clearly and compellingly setting the vision and future strategies for my team, then I step back and allow them to work. I step back in from time to time to check results and suggest new strategies, if required.
In creative businesses human capital is even more important
Although people are any company’s most important asset, they are even more key when you are selling a groundbreaking product or service. Our Zupervisors – the adults that guide children through the activities at KidZania – need to make our visitors believe they are successful surgeons, hero firefighters, or outstanding journalists. It is through their acting and professionalism that our visitors really believe in what they do at KidZania. Having engaged, empathetic, passionate professionals is what differentiates us from our competition.
Shape your marketing to the world – the world won’t come to you
We’ve learned that some regions of the world are more used to specific social networks, for instance. So our communication needs to take that into consideration. Also, since content could be sensitive for some markets due to religious, cultural or political reasons, we need to make sure that we review and take that into consideration as well. The trick is to take your global message then adapt it locally – without losing consistency.
WHAT IS KIDZANIA?
If you have never heard of KidZania, you soon will. The Mexican company is staging a global rollout – it is already in 19 countries (including Japan, India and the UK), and will head to the promised land of the US in the future.
It is more than a theme park – it’s a living, working city built for, and run by, children. Children can take all manner of roles – restaurateur, beautician, doctor and many more.
A raft of big-name brands have bought into the model. Toothpaste giant Crest sponsors the dentist. Portuguese paint major Corporação Industrial do Norte supplies the painters. If the children fancy a drive, they can hire a child-size Mercedes. Clothing retailer H&M supports the fashion academy.
The attractions are generally built within, or close to, shopping centres (the London franchise is in upmarket fashion mall Westfield) so parents can go shopping while their children play. Each child has an electronic armband which monitors their movements in real-time. If parents insist on attending they do so as mere spectators – at a football match or theatre show – or as passengers in a jets crewed by diminutive pilots. “Parents are an impediment,” Ollie Vigors, business partner to chocolate heir Joel Cadbury, chairman of the London franchise, told British newspaper the Guardian. “I say, ‘don’t do that’ to my children a ridiculous number of times a day. If parents are taken out of the equation, it actually gives children the freedom to play and learn.”