Three cheers for Cynthia Valenciana, who saw a need for a top-notch communal playspace in her neighborhood and filled it. We’re talking, of course, about the Totally Awesome Sod Room—your pick for Chicago’s best playspace. A South Loop hotspot, Sod Room is unique, eco-friendly, and bursting with community-oriented events and classes. Truly a space for the next generation, Sod Room is also a culmination of a lot of hard work for Cynthia and her husband. Cynthia recently sat down with us to share her reaction to be voted Totally Awesome (she’s thrilled!) her advice to prospective business owners (quality over quantity!) and more.
Red Tricycle: Your community recently voted you “Most Awesome.” What do you think your customers value most about your business?
Cynthia Valenciana: I think our customers value how much time, energy and love we have put in to building Sod Room. Customers appreciate that we do our best to get to know each family by name. They value the fact that our space is eco-friendly, clean, intriguing and fun for their kids and them as well. People love our natural light and the tranquility we exude as well as the many little details that have gone in to make the place unique.
RT: What inspired you to start your business?
CV: When I was expecting our first child it quickly became apparent that resources for new and expecting parents were extremely limited. I found myself driving up north or to the surrounding suburbs to find information or attend workshops that I was interested in. After delivering our off the charts fussy baby, the idea of traveling across the city or beyond seemed impossible. I realized that we needed something in the area for socialization and support. The idea of Sod Room was born!
RT: Any advice for new business owners just getting started?
CV: Quality over quantity. We take extreme care and time in selecting each piece, each toy, each event, each detail that involves our space. It may not be apparent to everyone that walks in your door but you will know it and it will make you feel proud and confident of your business. Take your time in the planning and execution of your ideas. Start slow, allow yourself to make mistakes, review and then get better. Sod Room was a long process for us and we are working each day to get better at it.
RT: Can you give us one tip for balancing entrepreneurship with parenthood?
CV: Something that I continue to work on is the idea of being present. There will always be more do to; more email, more flyers to make, more pictures to post, more updates to share. Try to avoid the temptation of always multitasking and make some time of day, even if it is the last hour of the day, just about your family.
RT: What is your proudest moment as a business owner or parent?
CV: You mean aside from winning Red Tricycle’s Most Awesome Indoor Playspace? My proudest moment was actually a very simple moment that occurred the first week we opened. A couple came in one morning for Drop in Play. They each had a cup of coffee and kicked their feet up on our grassy knoll. They spent hours playing and laughing and smiling as a family. I watched them quietly from behind the desk interact with the space. As they left they stopped and said, “Thank you for such a beautiful morning and for such a beautiful space.” My heart swelled with pride and for the first time I felt like we “got it right.”