PlayCore

PlayCore

PlayCore is the parent company of several play and recreation companies and is known for their educational research and programming as well as their diverse family of brands. The company believes in building stronger communities by advancing play through research, education, and partnerships.

PlayCore began as the Swing-N-Slide Corporation when Thomas and Michelle Baer began producing and marketing do-it-yourself swing set hardware kits in 1985. With the partnership and additional capital of DRS Investment Group, also located in Janesville, Wisconsin, Thomas expanded into manufacturing and marketing do-it-yourself wooden home playground equipment kits. By the early 1990's, they had six basic designs for swing sets and five basic designs for climbing units. Each of these designs included an assembly plan, chains, seats, brackets, hangers, ropes, fasteners, etc. - in short, all that was needed except the wood, nails, and tools for assembly. A list of these additional supplies was also included.

Swing-N-Slide manufactured slides to augment the swing set kits and climbing units. They briefly offered metal slides but soon switched to the greater flexibility and popularity of the plastic slides. They also added accessories for the swing sets and climbing kits, including nets, tarps, and merry-go-rounds.

By 1992, Swing-N-Slide products were not only available through lumber yards, but through more than 6,000 retail outlets including 19 of the 20 largest home center chains with operations throughout the United States. That same year the company became a publicly traded company. Sales peaked the following year but then stagnated, such that by 1996 the company needed a change: Thomas, as president and CEO, was replaced by Frederic L. Contino.

Frederic made changes by streamlining their existing services, expanding their reach into outlet markets, and adding a focus on designing new and better playground systems. His key strategy, however, was “to grow the company through a comprehensive acquisitions plan.” In 1997, GameTime, Inc. of Fort Payne, Alabama, was the first of these acquisitions. As a manufacturer of commercial outdoor playground equipment for schools, parks, municipalities, day care centers, churches, hotels, campgrounds, and amusement parks, GameTime not only contributed playground products, but a national and international sales network.

GameTime's products included their three lines of commercial playground systems (PrimeTime, PowerScape, and TotTime) and a commercial outdoor furniture line called StreetScape. They also had the skill and facilities in metal fabrication that improved Swing-N-Slide's Tuff Kids commercial playground line. In return, Swing-N-Slide's manufacturing plant in Janesville took on the production of bubble windows and panels for GameTime.

In 1998 Swing-N-Slide became PlayCore, Inc. to reflect their expanding focus on play and playgrounds beyond the consumer swing, slide, and climbing basics. That year they also acquired Pentes Play, Inc., designers of indoor contained play equipment. This again broadened PlayCore's offerings and gave Pentes a ready production facility in Janesville for the manufacturing of their products.1

With headquarters and a manufacturing facility in Janesville and a 400,000 square foot manufacturing plant in Fort Payne, Alabama, PlayCore continued to acquire play-related companies, such as Heartland Industries, a “manufacturer and marketer of installed backyard wooden storage buildings and premium consumer playground systems.”2

Play & Park Structures became a part of PlayCore in 2003. With headquarters now in Chattanooga, Tennessee, and as a portfolio company of Bear Stearns Merchant Banking (BSMB), PlayCore continued to expand in both the consumer and commercial playground industry.3

Expanding into the playground surfacing market, PlayCore acquired Robinson Industries, Inc. in 2008.4 Based in Chandler, Arizona, Robinson Industries manufactures and distributes TotTurf through their six strategic distribution centers. Later that year, PlayCore became a part of Irving Place Capital, Inc.5

Site amenities, bleachers, spectator seating products, and preschool furnishing products were next expanded through the acquisition of UltraPlay Systems and their GT Grandstands in 2009. This added two more manufacturing plants: UltraPlay Systems’ plant in Red Bud, Illinois and GT Grandstands’ plant in Plant City, Florida.6

Also in 2009, PlayCore acquired Everlast Climbing Industries to expand their fitness division through climbing walls. This division and manufacturing plant is located in Mendota Heights, Minnesota.7

Continuing their acquisition strategy, PlayCore added BigToys, Inc. and Spectrum Products, LLC in 2010. BigToys, based in Olympia, Washington, manufactures “earth-friendly, architecturally-focused, commercial playground equipment from sustainably harvested wood or recycled steel and plastic.” Spectrum Products is in the industry of commercial swimming pools and spas and specializes in assisted access lifts and products for therapy and rehabilitation needs.8

As a strong advocate for play, PlayCore hosts educational seminars throughout North America promoting play. It has also funded and published research and education programs, such as PlayOn! a physical education program for the playground that meets the National Association for Sport and Physical Education standards;  Me2/2Play Together, a program for inclusive play space design and programming, demonstrating PlayCore’s Seven Principles of Inclusive Design; as well as NatureGrounds and Pathways for Play, programs designed to combine the benefits of nature with the built environment.9

PlayCore's mission to help “build communities through play” was recognized in 2009 by the Chattanooga Chapter of the Association of Fundraising Professionals (AFP).10 They were named the 2009 Corporate Philanthropist of the Year for their Employees Days of Caring events, corporate match programs, and employee-initiated community volunteering.11

  • 1. “Company Perspectives.” PlayCore, Inc. < http://www.fundinguniverse.com/company-histories/PlayCore-Inc-Company-History.html > 28 July 2010.
  • 2. “About PlayCore.” PlayCore. < http://www.playcore.com/ > 25 May 2001.
  • 3. “PlayCore Holdings, Inc.” Bloomberg Businessweek. < http://investing.businessweek.com/research/stocks/private/snapshot.asp?privcapId=199345 > 7 Feb. 2011.
  • 4. “PlayCore Adds On.” Private Equity HUB. < http://www.pehub.com/article/articledetail.php?articlepostid=10628 > 3 Mar. 2008.
  • 5. “History of Play & Park Structures.” Play & Park Structures. < http://playandpark.com/about/history-of-play-and-park-structures/ > 4 Aug. 2010.
  • 6. “About Our Companies.” PlayCore, Inc. < http://www.playcore.com/content.asp?p=Our%20Companies&rid=46 > 7 Feb. 2011.
  • 7. Ibid.
  • 8. “PlayCore Announces Acquisitions of BigToys and Spectrum Products.” Marketwire. < http://www.marketwire.com/press-release/PlayCore-Announces-Acquisitions-of-BigToys-and-Spectrum-Products-1367459.htm > 10 Dec. 2010.
  • 9. Personal correspondence with Playground Professionals. 3 Aug. 2011.
  • 10. Ibid.
  • 11. “PlayCore Awarded Corporate Philanthoropist of the Year.” PlayCore, Inc. < http://www.playcore.com/news/playcore-awarded-corporate-philanthropist-of-the-year.html > 15 Dec. 2009.