Home' Trinidad and Tobago Guardian : July 20th 2014 Contents | BUSINESS |
MAGAZINE | 5
There are times when being a woman in business
can present challenges, when female entrepre-
neurs feel like the deck is stacked against them
simply because of their DNA. This isn't one of
those times. When sisters Kristine Thompson and
Joanna Rostant approached the owners of the
much-loved Chuck E. Cheese's franchise, with a
view to bringing it down to Trinidad, their gender
and status as mothers weighed in their favour.
"We were about the fourth group from Trinidad to
go to them. There were large conglomerates seek-
ing the franchise. They're very hands-on. The CEO
and the Chairman interviewed us. They said, 'We
like that the two of you are mothers. You're our
target audience. The passion you feel that your
children want to be happy and secure in Chuck E.
Cheese's is the magic we want to create. You un-
derstand the brand. You get it.' We were two very
successful women in terms of our careers, but
we're also moms. That's what they were looking
The two women took the daring decision to give
up thriving careers to leap off the edge of a cliff,
investing years of work and huge sums of money
into their dream.
"We were both searching for something else,
something over which we had more control," ex-
plains Rostant. She is a geologist by training, and
was employed in a senior executive position with
a multinational company. Thompson has an MBA
and worked in finance and business development.
"My four year old saw a Chuck E. Cheese's ad on
TV, and asked to go there when we went to Dis-
neyworld. 'It's a place kids go to have fun,' he told
me. When I saw his reaction, I thought, there's
something to this brand."
And this is where the feminine element kicked in.
"We loved the social purpose of bringing families
together in a society where the family has broken
down. It's a fun way to spend family time together,
and if we can help bring families together, that
would be an amazing outcome."
A very important element of the brand is the sim-
ple, yet almost foolproof security system in which
families are all tagged with the same number
upon entry, and children are thereafter only al-
lowed to leave with adults bearing the same num-
ber. This makes it almost impossible for a child to
be lured outside by someone with ill intent, and so
parents can feel free to relax at the tables while
their children roam and try their hand at the never-
ending array of games and arcade machines. "You
know your child is completely safe," Thompson
says. "They can run around and have fun."
And fun is the name of the game. The first words
that come to mind upon entering are "controlled
chaos". The air is filled with the beeps, dings and
chirps. Lights of every colour blink in and out, and
everywhere, EVERYWHERE, there are laughing,
eager children, clutching their game tokens and
trailing streamers of prize tickets behind them.
They are so excited that they pay little mind to the
fresh salad bar and delicious, piping hot pizza ---
but that's what holds the parents' interest.
Establishing the franchise was no mean feat. From
inkling to reality, it took about three years; every-
thing was constructed and set up according to the
rigorous specs of the brand owners. Furthermore,
managing a project of that size in Trinidad has its
pitfalls. The sisters were faced with labour and
shipping hurdles, industrial action, and the list
went on. "You have to have a very strong network
of support. We had a very good general contractor,
a very good customs broker, and great warehous-
ing. Of course, our husbands have been really sup-
Was there any time when they started to panic,
we ask. "Was there ever any time when we
DIDN'T?" Thompson responds, and laughs.
But they relied on their shared experience in busi-
ness, and their reputation for transparency and in-
tegrity, and their ability to inspire loyalty in their
workers and contractors.
Motherhood, the element that has been one of
their greatest strengths, has also been their
Achilles' Heel. The intense amount of work it takes
to start and maintain a business definitely takes
a toll on their own families. "In the past month, our
kids have suffered. We come from a family when
we spend a lot of time together. Especially now, in
the holidays, when they want you at home. We're
going to have to trade off; take turns." Neverthe-
less, their kids look happy, and mill in and out with
the others. Kids have a way of understanding.
In the midst of the madness, Thompson and Ros-
tant look tired, but satisfied that they have stayed
the course, and T&T's newest and funnest pit stop
for kids is finally here. In the end, they're satisfied
that it has been worth it.
Photographs by Edison Boodoosingh
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