Walk-In Playcare and Speech Therapy Center Opens Its Doors In Memphis  

A Memphis family business breathes new life into the old adage, “the family that plays together stays together,” as three generations play a part in launching a new concept marrying speech therapy with playcare.

Play Care Meets Speech Therapy

Imagine Nation owners Ashley and Al Verser (Memphis, Tennessee)

Walking through the doors of Imagine Nation on the upper level of Wolfchase Galleria’s east wing, you enter a dreamscape for children. A massive, bright red-and-yellow play structure centers the immaculate and lovingly designed space. Partitioned child-scale play areas line the perimeter – a reading nook, dress-up station, play kitchen and workshop among others – ready to activate the imaginations of their occupants.

Any given night, you’ll find owners Ashley and Al Verser and their children – Addison, 1, and Al Junior, 3 – padding around in sock feet and interacting with guests. Ashley’s mother often joins them so Ashley and Al can focus on their guests.

The space also houses Ashley’s speech therapy practice, Power of Words, where she sees clients during after-work hours several nights a week. The on-site play space is integral to her practice. She rewards her clients for their work during therapy sessions with play time and interaction with typically developing peers that deepens the gains they make in therapy.

“Our model means we can be more than a play center. So often, parents wait until their children enroll in school to raise speech development concerns, but we’re here in a mall where anyone can stop in if they have questions or concerns. We love being that community resource,” explains Ashley, a speech pathologist with degrees from UT-Knoxville and TSU and 11 years practicing for Shelby County schools. She and Al are both West Tennessee natives, Ashley from Memphis and Al from nearby Jackson.

Pathway Makes Space to Play

The Versers’ second shift as business owners – both work full-time day jobs – began months earlier. They secured the space, which they first spotted in 2017, with funding for the lease and buildout from Pathway Lending. They had been declined by banks, so when Ashley saw a shared post on Facebook advertising a Pathway workshop, she decided to inquire about a loan. Thanks to a solid business plan she started writing on maternity leave with Addison, funding moved quickly after the state approved their license. By January 2018, the Versers had the keys and contracted Ashley’s dad to handle the buildout.

Working in tandem to speed up the work and save on expenses, Ashley and Al picked up each night where the construction team left off. They worked tirelessly, maintaining their children’s routine by arranging for them to sleep in the darkened party room while they worked, to begin welcoming clients to their immaculate new play center in just 48 days.

“It was a labor of love for our whole family. The prior long-term tenant had been gone five years and left everything behind, so there was a ton of clean-up to do. We’re so grateful to have this support system, including the team at Pathway.”

From Imagination to Reality

Opening the doors to Imagine Nation realizes a dream for a concept the Versers have been developing since 2013. In its infancy, the business still keeps Ashley up at night.

“This is our third ‘baby,’ and just like a newborn, it’s keeping us up! We have a loan to pay back and people to pay.”

She feels confident they can meet the projections she developed working with Pathway’s Business Advisory Services, who is also helping them implement QuickBooks, if they persist in their efforts to get the word out. They would eventually like to make the business Ashley’s primary speech therapy practice by the time their children are school-aged. In the future, they see a franchise business across the state. They already draw guests from all over the region who ask when they will open other locations. They also look forward to their kids working for them one day.

Says Al about the future, “We’re most excited about being a resource for the community and for what this can become. We know right now our kids may not understand why we spend so much time here, but someday when we can employ them and have something to hand down to them, they’ll understand what they’ve been a part of all these years.”

Visit Pathway Lending to learn more about a loan program that could fit your business.