DENNIS ODA / DODA@STARBULLETIN.COM
Brian and Mary Kalogirou Melzack are expanding WeePlay & Learn, an interactive children's center, and soon will kick off a parent/child preschool where parents and their children will attend school together. The Melzacks' are shown with children, Georgina, 7 months, Arianna, 5, and David, 6. CLICK FOR LARGE
All in the family for Melzacks' growing businesses
The owners of WeePlay & Learn are adding a preschool that will facilitate both kids and parents
BRIAN AND MARY Kalogirou Melzack, owners of Bestsellers Books & Music and WeePlay & Learn, have been inspired by their children to broaden their retail holdings to include a preschool where parent and child can learn together.
The Melzacks, who moved to Hawaii after retailing from Canada's corporate world, have had plenty of experience with launching successful retail concepts. Next to parenting, retail is what they both do best.
Brian is the former chief executive of the Toronto-based Classic Bookshops, a chain of 150 bookstores in Canada and the United States. Mary, who developed Hazelton Lanes in downtown Toronto, is also a formidable entrepreneur.
The Melzacks, who operate multiple Bestsellers Books & Music stores in Hawaii, have reconfigured their Hawaii Kai bookstore so that WeePlay can expand across two levels. The play center, which has grown to 1,000 customers, will need some of the space formerly occupied by the bookstore to accommodate its sister preschool.
A NEW ARRIVAL inspires many families to expand their living space, but Brian and Mary Kalogirou Melzack, owners of Bestsellers Books and Music and WeePlay & Learn interactive children's center, have taken that concept one step further and applied it to their business, too.
The couple's children, David, 6, and Arianna, 5, provided the inspiration to carve out room in their Hawaii Kai bookstore for a children's play center in 2004. Now, it's only natural that the arrival of infant daughter Georgina would prompt the Melzacks to add an innovative preschool to their WeePlay offerings where parents and children go to school together.
WeePlay & Learn Preschool, which caters to children from 3 months old to 3 years old, will offer daily classes for the under-4 set and their parents to attend together.
The program will focus on early childhood development schools and offer integrated play programs with developmentally age-appropriate curriculum.
"Mary wanted to go back to school with Georgina," Brian joked as he gazed adoringly at the family's newest addition. Georgina is only 7 months old, but already she's inspired her parents to create a retail concept that responds to their changing needs as a household with an infant and young children.
"I wanted to provide a place for meaningful play," said Mary, who opened WeePlay on the philosophy that play is the work of childhood and that parents make the best teachers.
"I had visited other programs and they all had merit, but I found them each lacking in some way," she said.
In just three years, the couple have grown WeePlay from a $500,000 startup to a retail concept that boasts 1,000 clients and appeals to a broader demographic than their independent bookstores in Hawaii Kai, downtown Honolulu, at the Hilton Hawaiian Village and the Honolulu Airport.
The combined bookstore and children's play center positioned the Melzacks' chain so it could compete with Barnes & Noble
and Borders Books & Music for space in neighborhood shopping markets.
"Independent bookstores don't work in neighborhood centers. You have to have a coffee shop or a cafe. WeePlay allows us to compete," said Brian, who along with Mary has plenty of experience with big-box operations.
The Melzacks have had plenty of experience with launching successful retail concepts. Next to parenting, retail is what they both do best.
Brian is the former chief executive of the Toronto-based Classic Bookshops, a chain of 150 bookstores in Canada and the United States. The business, which merged with W.H. Smith in 1987, was purchased in 1992 by Chapters, a Canadian big-box company similar to Borders Group Inc.
Mary, whose specialty is in retail concepts and real estate, is also a formidable entrepreneur. At 19, she opened her first retail store, Lady II
, which was similar to Merle Norman
in Toronto and grew it to a five-store chain. After she sold the chain, Mary made a second career in high-end retail shopping center development, developing Hazelton Lanes
in downtown Toronto.
The arrival of Georgina temporarily has disrupted the couple's five-year plan to open more combination bookstore and interactive play centers in Kapolei, Pearl City, Kaneohe, Mililani and Kailua. However, it also has brought new opportunities.
"We've already had 40 calls about the preschool in less than two days," Mary said. "It's gratifying to find out that not only is this concept needed, but that there is plenty of demand for the program."
Nate and Christina Lee, who have been bringing 2-year-old Aidan to WeePlay for about a year now, are among those considering enrollment in the preschool program.
"For the parents that have the time, it's a great opportunity," Christina said, adding that Aidan is already on the waiting list at several area preschools.
Dr. Kent Keith, a expert in early childhood education, agrees that one-on-one interaction enhances learning for children.
"We know from research and personal experience that the first few years of a child's life are extremely important and nothing is more important during those years than close parent-child interaction," Keith said.
Parents are designed to be perfect playmates for their children, he said.
"When we hold them, talk to them, sing to them and play with them, we stimulate their mental and emotional growth in ways that will benefit them for a lifetime.There is no substitute for this kind of intimate interaction," Keith said.
David McNeil, co-owner of public relations firm McNeil Wilson, said that his 4-year-old twin daughters, India and Skye, have benefited from their time at WeePlay.
"They've developed such confidence," McNeil said in between a break from a play group. "WeePlay was absolutely invaluable to us. It was magic."
DENNIS ODA / DODA@STARBULLETIN.COM
Parents and children played together at the WeePlay & Learn interactive children's center. From left, Marie Toussaint, 4 1/2, with her mother, Serena Edwards; and Tina Olkowski with her two children, Erika, 6 months, and Kirk, 3, who is raising up his hands. They were playing with toy eggs and moving to the sound of music. CLICK FOR LARGE
To expand the magic, the Melzacks have reconfigured the Hawaii Kai Bestsellers Books & Music store so that WeePlay will have more room. The play center and preschool will need some of the space formerly occupied by the bookstore to make its broadened concept work.
"We removed many of our books and will be taking them to our other bookstores," Brian said. "This store will mainly cater to parents and children; although since it's still on the tourist bus route, we'll keep offering retail items for visitors as well."
Mary also has developed commercial WeePlay music CDs and DVDs to sell.
From the start, there's been a symbiotic relationship between WeePlay and Bestsellers, Brian said, adding that cross-promotion between the two stores has boosted bookstore sales by 25 percent.
"It's a give-and-take world, so when my wife said that she wanted to negotiate for more space, I listened," Brian said. "I believe in what she's doing and she's good at what she does. Mary can execute. She's a wonderful translator of ideas into reality."
While the Melzacks' staff and clients will attest that their unique business plan has both created and filled a niche market within the community, proof of their success is easier to glean.
It can best be found among the smiles and laughter of the little children that find comfort inside its doors.
"This is Cheyne's kingdom," said Sabine Nelson as her 14-month-old tyke began building a castle out of soft primary-colored fabric blocks.
It's small moments like these that have turned WeePlay into a small empire and helped the Melzacks corner a growing market -- one building block at a time.