Welcome to my latest ongoing project! Over the coming months I’ll be featuring “portrait interviews” with women who own their own businesses in the Kansas City area. I say ‘portrait interviews’ because they’re exactly that – I photograph and interview them to learn about their business and backgrounds, and share all the details with you. You’ll get to learn behind-the-scenes stories of cool local businesses, hear business (and life) advice from women who have been there and done that, and also get to know a group of creative entrepreneurs. Since I’m an eternal student, I also see this as a chance for me to have one-on-one master classes with some incredible women. Check back every Friday to read about another entrepreneur!
So without further ado, let’s kick things off with Jodi Gale, founder and owner of Maze Craze.
It was her son’s birthday. Being the awesome mom that she is, she pulled him and three of his friends out of school, and told them they were headed to Mall of America. The boys, though glad to be out of school, were somewhat confused – why would she take them shopping? In Minnesota? For his birthday? They were actually headed to a Muse concert (surprise!), but the Mall of America ruse turned out to play a bigger role in her plans than she intended. While at the mall, they stumbled upon a mirror maze – sprawling hallways of mirrors where it was comically never clear what was real and what was reflection. She watched as group after group emerged from the maze, families all ages laughing together, clearly having a fantastic time. Cue the proverbial lightbulb – on the long drive home from Minnesota, she was already planning how she could bring the mirror maze to Kansas City. Maze Craze was born.
Though savvy with an eye for a good business idea, Jodi Gale is not a veteran start-up entrepreneur. After earning a degree in elementary education, she spent 16 years as a stay-at-home mother. No doubt the experience of managing a busy household served her well when she was coordinating the activities of three separate companies and an endless stream of contractors in building Maze Craze. Of course, there were moments when she wondered whether she was ‘qualified’ to create this new company. But she had grown up hearing about the bravery of her father who, at the age of 20, purchased a huge piece of land to create a golf course. At the time, this huge investment was a risky move, but his hard work turned the golf course into a success. Her father passed away in the 1980s, leaving it to her mother who held no college degree. Jodi explains that at this time, women simply didn’t run golf courses. But that didn’t stop her mother from rolling up her sleeves and learning how to handle it on her own. This family legend – a bold move of a huge initial investment, the determination of a mother to work through adversity to maintain a successful business, served as a source of inspiration for Jodi when she decided to take the plunge and create her new business.
When I called Jodi to set up the interview, she answered at work. I could hear happy shrieks and hip music in the background, and she welcomed me into her brand new digs the following week. Jodi’s first priority in building Maze Craze was creating a place where families of all ages could have fun together. “I love seeing grandmas play laser tag,” she says. Truly, Maze Craze is one of the few attractions around Kansas City where kids and grandparents can share the same activity and all have a blast. Before she had even opened her doors, she had emails from mothers thanking her for building a place where they could take their whole family. Maze Craze opened this past August, and three weeks into business she already had regulars.
There are three main activities – the famed mirror maze, where you don white gloves and feel your way through wonderfully confusing halls of mirrors. Then there’s the laser maze, where you have to thread yourself between a field of lasers without touching any of them (think Ocean’s 12 or Mission Impossible). Finally there’s high-tech laser tag, where you dart between obstacles and around corners, zapping everyone around you. Maze Craze has already been a high-demand place for birthday parties, but she has also had an elderly gentleman drive from an hour away to play by himself (she borrowed a contractor to play laser tag with him), who also had a fantastic time. “I love that people come here to laugh,” she says with a grin of her own.
Amazed at her seemingly instant success at her first business venture, I asked her what advice she might have for other women starting their own businesses. “Be clear what your objectives are, and believe in what you’re doing, because you’ll question it a lot.” She cautions that everything will cost more, take longer, and be riddled with more obstacles than you could ever anticipate. Coordinating the efforts of multiple companies, handling permits and red tape, and creatively solving new problems kept Jodi busy for months before Maze Craze even opened its doors. She smiled when she said that one of her strengths is never pretending to know something when she doesn’t. “If you don’t know something,” she says, “find someone to be on your team.” Don’t be afraid of your own weaknesses, just create a network to address them. Building any business will take awhile, but if it’s something you believe in, it will be worth it.
And the best part is, we get to enjoy the results of all her hard work:
The entrance to the Mirror Maze, the inspiration where it all began:
The Laser Maze:
The Laser Tag field:
This is one place that you absolutely have to check out! Here are all the Maze Craze details:
Where is it? : 7331 NW 86th Terrace, Kansas City, MO 64153 – in Zona Rosa, near Bravo’s Italian Restaurant
When can I go? Monday-Thursday: 10 am – 9 pm
Friday & Saturday: 10 am – 10 pm
Sunday: Noon – 6 pm
How long do I need to spend there? There’s something for you no matter how long you have! If you need a shopping break at Zona Rosa, you can drop in for 10 minutes and acrobat your way through the laser maze a few times. Or you can spend 45 minutes and fit in all three activities! (I warn you, you’ll probably want to do these more than once.)
Where can I find more info? Visit their website – http://themazecraze.com/. Like this link below to spread the word about this fabulous place for family fun!
Come back next Friday for an inspiring business story that begins in Guatemala……