Stop by Charlie’s Safari in Lacey and it’s business as usual for the family play center. The play structure is busy, the arcade is busy and the inflatable bounce houses are busy with children having a good time.
There’s also laser tag, a cafe called the Watering Hole, and a place where arcade winnings can be redeemed for prizes. Parents can join their kids in the fun, or sit and observe from a number of tables, or one of five private party rooms.
The business reopened Dec. 12 in Hawks Prairie in 17,000 square feet of space once occupied by the former Lacey campus of South Puget Sound Community College.
Owner Kurt Kageler, 53, said Charlie’s Safari was missed and overwhelmed with business during the winter break.
“We are the new kid on the block again,” he said.
But he also acknowledged that it has been an interesting transition from his previous Martin Way location to his current one on Marvin Road. He said he’s also older and wiser about running a business, and has a new goal for the Charlie’s Safari brand: He would like to franchise it.
Kageler has strong ties to Lacey. He still teaches as an adjunct business professor at Saint Martin’s University, where he previously coached the men’s golf team and worked in alumni relations. In 2006, he decided to pursue a business of his own and spent time with entrepreneurs who told him to “do what he loves.”
He loves to entertain his family, he said, so he began to write a business plan for Charlie’s Safari. It opened in May 2008 in 22,000 square feet near the Regal Martin Village Stadium 16 & IMAX.
But in running that new business, Kageler saw another side of the business world, too. His landlord would eventually walk away from the space and it fell into receivership. Kageler, too, was encouraged to take an additional 10,000 square feet at the site, but declined, and his lease was bought out. The business closed in May 2016 and Kageler thought that was the end of it.
In time, a new landlord recruited him to his current location, but Kageler would come to learn that the ceilings weren’t high enough for his play structure. He and the landlord eventually settled out of court, and the play structure was accommodated.
All of this has been a learning experience for Kageler, some of which he shared as advice to business owners.
“Control as many variables as you can, start small and get industry experience,” he said.
When Kageler met with bankers in the early days of his business plan, he was turned down by lenders because they told him he lacked that industry experience.
And running a business is still hard work. There were days when Kageler came home dead tired, he said.
Still, now that the business has reopened, Kageler said he has a “little more pep in his step.”
- Owners: Kurt and Janel Kageler
- Location: 1401 Marvin Road NE #201
- Employees: 30
- Online: Find Charlie’s Safari on Facebook.
- Hours: 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. Sundays through Thursdays; 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays.