Shortly after taking over the kids train at Short Pump Town Center, a pair of local entrepreneurs has fast-tracked an expansion into another Henrico mall.
PlayRVA started to offer rides on a newly acquired kids-sized train at Regency last month. The company, owned by Taylor Pace and Proctor Trivette, has operated the kids train at Short Pump Town Center since November.
Regency’s owners are in the midst of a project to revamp the mall into a mixed-use development, a change that made it an exciting prospect for a second location, Pace said.
“We were looking at Chesterfield Towne Center and a couple other places a little further out. Regency was attractive for a couple reasons. One, I’ve been in there a lot recently and really believe in the concept they have of bringing in family activities rather than retail stores,” Pace said. “We got our feet wet (at Short Pump) and found the system there really works well. What we do at Regency is the same thing.”
The idea for the PlayRVA venture came when Pace and Trivette, friends who both have several children, noticed that the Short Pump train powered down during the pandemic in 2020.
They launched the company, which now has six employees, in early 2021 to make a play for what they knew to be a popular kids’ activity and began contacting malls to gauge their interest in having a train on premises. Short Pump was the first to bite.
“They hadn’t been running it for a solid year and a half and they really wanted to figure out a way to get it up and running,” Trivette said.
Added Pace: “They want the activity and we want to be able to provide the activity for the kids. Not a kid walks by that thing and doesn’t want to get on it.”
PlayRVA owns the train it operates at Regency and pays a monthly fee to use the mall’s upper floor for its route. It’s a used Wattman, a high-end brand based in Canada. Pace and Trivette bought it from an amusement park equipment dealer.
“They are the Rolls-Royces of mall trains, if that exists,” said Pace, and added the brand’s trains sell for $60,000 to $75,000 new.
Short Pump Town Center owns the train that runs there, and PlayRVA leases and operates it.
The company generates revenue through ticket sales. Tickets are $4 at Regency, and $3 at Short Pump, according to the company’s website. PlayRVA splits its ticket sales at Short Pump with the mall. At Regency, PlayRVA keeps ticket proceeds.
The Regency train is fitted with special phone holders to ease selfie-taking for passengers and also has music, both of which are features that aren’t available yet on the Short Pump train.
“We’re trying to think outside the box a bit to make the train ride a bit more interesting,” Pace said.
At Regency, the company plans to expand on its core concept of ticketed rides around the mall with birthday parties that feature train rides. The company said it already has the Regency train booked for two birthday parties in the spring.
Pace said business has been strong thus far, which he attributed in part to the pandemic and how it compelled many people to hunker down at home for months.
“When we started, I know last November COVID was still here and masks were a thing. But it was the right place at the right time. At the end of last year people were so tired of being home,” he said.
During the holiday season, between 3,000 and 3,500 tickets were sold per month at Short Pump, Pace said. The company anticipates that between the two locations, it will be able to hit a similar level of sales during the spring and summer.
Looking to add new routes, Pace said the company is working on expansions into Chesterfield Towne Center and Southpark Mall but a timeline on when trains will be running at those locations hasn’t been determined.
The company would like to further expand into other venues such as parks and breweries.
“Because it’s such a niche business, there’s no other competition. We’re in a mall and there isn’t going to be another train company there,” Pace said. “We have two under our belt. The likelihood we get more is high.”
PlayRVA is the latest in a series of niche ventures for Pace and Trivette. Pace owns website development company Taylor Pace Web Development and Wall Candy Printing in Scott’s Addition. Both those companies and PlayRVA are based out of Pace’s office in Scott’s Addition.
Trivette owns photography studio Southern Smiles Portrait and a small vending machine company. Pace said having a business partner is a welcome change and that the friendship and different professional backgrounds has helped them tackle challenges more effectively.
“Doing a partnership is cool because we have an office in Scott’s Addition and it’s nice that we can joke on each other. It’s more interesting to have someone you know and like. It makes building the business better,” Pace said.
PlayRVA is among the latest tenants to join Regency amid its revitalization project. Breakfast-focused ghost kitchen A.M. Kitchen recently opened its second location at the mall, and Henrico County Public Schools plans to open an adult-learning center there.