It's a truism that life seems to speed up as you grow older. There's no getting away from that feeling, but it's often accompanied by another one – the realisation that you have been on a journey that has taken you to a place you never thought you would get to or even envisaged reaching. And of course, there have been some major bumps along the way...
It's now 20 years since I first set up what was to evolve to become ZooLab as a small, animal-handling company that introduced children to the wonders of the natural world by getting to see touch and handle animals at our small, pet shop in Torwood near Falkirk. This was really part of the pet shop business that I ran with my then husband. We were soon inundated with visitors to the pet shop and youngsters keen to learn about our animals. Ultimately though the business did not work out for us: we were high on entrepreneurialism, but not on how to run a business profitably.
Our next venture was Tropical Rainforest World at West Calder in West Lothian, at the Freeport Leisure Village. This too proved not to be a smooth path: the venue and our inexperience worked against us. But it did lead to an important development in terms of our business model...
I came to realise that, rather than having schools (a primary customer group) visit us, we could go and visit them to deliver educational content – and also remove a whole welter of problems for teachers relating to trips. We developed our first animal-handling workshops, which we took into local schools in support of everything from social subjects to the big ideas of science – from adaptations and evolution to classification. We also developed sensory workshops for the youngest children in nurseries.
Today, we have over 30 ZooLab rangers permanently on the road across the UK. Every year we see some 1 million children in schools (nursery, primary and secondary), as well as in community settings such as clubs and associations – and in family settings at birthday parties and family events that include weddings, where we provide animal-handling entertainment that gets children of all ages (adults included) enthused!
ZooLab is also taking its animal handling experiences to the corporate and events sector, providing some great team-building and corporate workshops as well as corporate entertainment and family days - with clients that include Endemol, the BBC, Tesco, and Shakespeare Birthplace Trust. Again, back in 1996, I would never have dreamed this could be possible. And there's another twist to this tale too: this July, we are opening a major new visitor attraction (The Jungle Room) at Torwood, right back where we started! (More on all this to follow).
It's funny how some journeys bring you back to the same place, but in very different circumstances. I would love to hear your experiences of business growth (the good and the bad bits) – just drop me a line here!
(By the way, that Leatherback Turtle image at the top of the post is part of ZooLab too! The ZooLab Foundation, our charitable arm, supports Leatherback Turtle conservation in Trinidad.)
To keep up with ZooLab's imaginative work, please take a look at our website at www.zoolabuk.com to find out more about what we do, or follow us on Twitter andFacebook.