Entrepreneur Brings Kids’ Imaginations to Life in Collegeville
COLLEGEVILLE — Ashleigh Hill longed for a gathering place where her two daughters could play freely while catching up with her mom friends over a cup of coffee. Over the past few years, Hill, from Hatfield, has visited a few kid-friendly indoor playgrounds, but none were exactly what she had in mind.
So she created her own 13,000 square foot “imaginatively based” play area for children ranging from crawling babies up to 10 years old. She recently held a grand opening for The Barn Yard, her Collegeville-based idea-turned-business and has sold out all day passes nearly every day since.
“It was born out of our not wanting to chase kids all the time,” Hill said. “We focused more on making it as relaxing as possible with the kids while watching them.”
That’s the goal of The Barn Yard, 305 2nd Ave #212 Collegeville, where parents can book three-hour play sessions from 9:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. or 1:30 p.m. to 4:30 p.m. The intermediate hour is reserved. for deep cleaning and toy organization.
“We’re very clean,” she said. “Everything is cleaned up.”
Hill, who previously worked in insurance, became a stay-at-home mom and nanny after the birth of her 6-year-old daughter.
“I have always been surrounded by children,” she says. “I have always loved children.”
In the process of opening The Barn Yard, she and her staff all obtained child abuse and criminal clearances, as well as CPR certification. Hill and staff have also been trained to understand how to handle situations involving children with autism.
No permission or training is required since parents or guardians are on site while the children are playing. It’s an example of Hill striving to go above and beyond to serve their customers. Another is that its play center doubles as an infant formula drop-off and pick-up site amid the nationwide shortage.
“It’s all free,” she said of the formula. “We have a pretty good collection.”
Before launching her business, Hill sought advice from someone other than her husband, who had been her sounding board since she first shared her idea five years ago. In September, Hill began meeting with SCORE Bucks County mentors Carl Rubin and Nina De Rosa.
“I wanted someone other than my husband to step in,” Hill said. “Nina and Carl were great. They were there from the start where I said “this is what I do” until we got the loan.
In addition to daily play sessions, The Barn Yard offers summer camp programs, special events and hosts birthday parties. The play center also has some of its Melissa & Doug toys available for purchase in the retail store, allowing children to try them out first.
De Rosa praised Hill for working with local restaurants to create party packages and the positive response she received from the community. De Rosa also noted Hill’s unwavering commitment to the company despite the obstacles she faced.
“She faced a number of hurdles and challenges, but she did a great job of pivoting through those challenges,” De Rosa said. “Carl Rubin and I agree, she is the most focused, organized and passionate client we have worked with during our time at SCORE.”
Along with the help of her SCORE mentors, Hill leaned on her sister for support, eventually asking her to quit a longtime restaurant job and come work alongside her at The Barn Yard.
“I’m very lucky with who I have in my life,” Hill said. “I certainly couldn’t have done it myself.”
Since 1964, SCORE has helped over 11 million aspiring entrepreneurs. Each year, SCORE provides mentoring and small business workshops to more than 375,000 new and growing small businesses.
There are several SCORE chapters throughout the region. To contact SCORE TriCounty, visit https://tricounty.score.org/; to contact SCORE Berks Schuylkill, visit https://berksschuylkill.score.org/; to contact SCORE Chester and Delaware counties, visit https://chesterdelco.score.org/; to contact SCORE Bucks County, visit https://buckscounty.score.org/.