The Long View
The Long View – Scottish FEC goes green to the extreme.
Even though The Bubbles Factory in Carluke, Scotland (population 19,000), might be the greenest family entertainment center (FEC) on the planet, Martin Hannah doesn’t consider himself a staunch environmentalist. Rather, the 50-year-old owner describes himself as a “canny Scotsman,” to use the local vernacular.
“It means to be wise and cautious with your purchases,” he explains.
Hannah decided to follow a 20-year business plan for his tiny 5,000-square-foot, £1.1 million (US$1.7 million) facility. With time on his side, he opted to go green in virtually every way. Hannah knew he would spend additional money up front, but in the end it would be more profitable—and much better for the environment.
The brainstorm for The Bubbles Factory came in 2005 when he took his wife and niece to a nearby soft play center. Between the plastic garden furniture and overwhelming smell of French fries (which stuck to your clothes when you left the place, he says), the facility offered little in terms of quality to area families. “We could do it so much better,” Hannah recalls thinking.
Over the next four years, he researched, negotiated, researched some more, and acquired financing. Construction began in September 2009 on the site of an old, decrepit building in the town center; doors opened in November 2010. From concept to delivery, Hannah, who still also owns a billboard advertising company, played a major role in every part of the process—hard work that has already paid off.
People travel as far as 80 miles to visit The Bubbles Factory, which recently won the Play Providers Association’s competition for the best new indoor soft play and café in the United Kingdom.
The mix of diligent planning and use of high-end, environmentally conscious equipment, technology, and materials prove to be his magic formula for business success.
“I think it’s the clever way of doing things,” he says. “There’s a long-lasting benefit.”
Hannah excavated the site into a hill, removing 1,600 tons of soil that was then reused elsewhere in the community. The back of the building is actually about 15 feet underground (more on that below.)
For the construction, Hannah relied on recyclable materials, including steel beams, wall panels, flooring, the slate roof, and insulation.
Heating and Cooling
In the café area, heated water radiates in pipes under the floor and comes up to guests’ feet. Rather than a conventional radiator, this setup creates a more even distribution of heat throughout the room and uses less energy, Hannah says.
For cooling the facility, he installed a passive ventilation system. Between the structure and the hill there’s a maintenance area that doesn’t get any sunlight and contains a well of cold air all year long. A low-level vent from this well is wired to other high-level vents. So when the soft play center reaches a certain temperature, the vents automatically open incrementally and warm air naturally releases outside at the high level and draws the cool air in at the low level. This system creates gentle air movement throughout the building.
“You let nature work for you rather than against you,” Hannah notes.
Hannah purchases most food from inside the town. “We try to support the local economy and local jobs,” he says, adding “low-mileage goods” result in less fuel costs and food waste. Since most items are on his doorstep, he doesn’t have to carry a huge stockpile. “We can just go down the road and pick up what we need as we need it.” Plus, fresher ingredients mean higher-quality eats, always made to order.
While staff in The Bubbles Factory kitchen focus on cooking top-notch food, the appliances work to save energy (and money).
Hannah owns two ovens that required a higher capital outlay but now have lower running costs. The staff uses only the one smaller oven during the slower times; when business picks up, they have greater flexibility: One oven can roast, while the other can steam. Also, the ovens automatically detect the type and size of food to determine the most appropriate cooking temperature.
The eco-friendly refrigeration unit indentifies the quantities in the fridge and freezer and adjusts its chilling accordingly. And the fryer automatically uses internal pumps to filter the oil, leading to less cross-contamination of flavors and extending the oil life by 100 percent. In addition, Hannah recycles the oil.
Lighting and Electricity
Hannah uses low-wattage lighting exclusively, and all florescent lights are zoned and dimmable. This allows output to better suit daily requirements. Also, a smart meter takes an electricity reading every 30 minutes, letting Hannah analyze usage throughout the day.
About 20 minutes after someone leaves the bathroom, all lights and fans turn off. They automatically flick back on when a guest opens the door. The backs of the urinals sport a flag in a golf hole emblem, giving men something to aim for. This simple trick cuts down on the “overspill” mess, Hannah says, which frees up staff maintenance time and cuts down on cleaning supplies.
With tongue firmly in cheek, Hannah has some keen ideas on ways to tap into all the busy energy of his young guests. “If someone invents a giant hamster wheel for the kids to run in, I’ll be the first to connect a dynamo to it to run the lights!” he jokes.
Contact Contributing Editor Mike Bederka at mbederka@IAAPA.org.