MILLEDGEVILLE — EDITOR'S NOTE: This is the fourth in a series of stories featuring finalists for the Milledgeville Baldwin County Chamber of Commerce's 2014 Small Business of the Year award. The winner will be announced at the annual Blue Sapphire Gala Awards Dinner at 6 p.m. Saturday at the Milledgeville Country Club.
When Fun Factory co-owner Lori Heayberd received the news that their business was one of the nominees for the 2014 Milledgeville-Baldwin County Chamber of Commerce Small Business of the Year award, she was truly amazed. In fact, she thought the nomination was “off the chain.”
"We're still such a new business," she said. "To even be nominated and appear in the same league as the other businesses who have been at this longer than us is unbelievable."
This year marks the fourth year that Fun Factory has been providing children with games, fun activities, food, prizes and a collection of memories.
Heayberd and her partner, Patti Rushin, came to the idea of creating the business from their own experiences with party destinations.
After attending multiple birthday parties for grandchildren, nieces and nephews, the duo thought it would be a worthwhile effort to bring to Milledgeville all the best things about other party destinations to one central location.
"There was definitely a need for it in Milledgeville. There wasn't anything at the time that was both suitable for children and also offered a general place for them to play games and have fun," Heayberd said.
Deciding to invest in the company was a leap of faith for both women, but well worth it, says Rushin.
“As we started, supply orders kept coming in a different color than we had ordered or plans we had made for one thing turned into something else, but everything came together beautifully. This was our sign that we were doing the right thing,” she said.
The partnership between Heayberd and Rushin is a cohesive collaboration, allowing the skill sets of both women to come together as top notch business management.
“We have very definitive roles in the business that compliments each other's expertise and traits,” Rushin said.
Heayberd mostly handles the business and financial aspects of Fun Factory while Rushin deals with day-to-day operations and personnel matters.
The Fun Factory is more than a party destination. The layout provides areas for parents to give their children plenty of space to run off energy and get exercise.
It features a cutting edge skating rink that combines two technologies to create a one-of-a-kind experience. In addition to the large rink, there is also a padded and carpeted tot rink for beginning skaters.
For smaller children, there is a soft play gym with an open padded design for increased safety and cleaning.
An arcade area features ticket dispensing games children can trade for prizes at the redemption center. The snack bar serves pizza, wings, hot dogs, cheese nachos, candy and Pepsi products.
For at least a year, this entrepreneurial duo have had plans to expand their business on the back burner but are gradually moving towards the steps to turn it into a reality.
Through continued growth and success of the business, the heart of Fun Factory for the ladies has always been the children.
Heayberd enjoys watching the kids running through the doors, anxiously displaying their report cards or running up just to give the 'Fun Factory Ladies' a hug.
The kids often hate to leave and some have been known to hold onto the leg of one of the women, begging to stay.
“It's not the dollar signs that give us the validation that what we're doing is good for the kids; it's the little things they do and say that remind us that we made the right decision,” Rushin said.
Whether they win or not, both women agree, just having the opportunity to sit among other prestigious small businesses during the Blue Sapphire Gala Awards Dinner after only four years as business owners is the real honor.