Furniture makes way for play at Play it Now Sports

Children play soccer at Play it Now Sports, which was once home to a large home store. A quarter of the floor space is still devoted to office furniture sales.

A few years ago Chris and Jill Phillips were advertising “a football field of furniture” in their 60,000 square-foot retail store on Academy and Union boulevards.

Now, they are coaching football and other sports, in their showroom that was once packed with sofas, lamps and desks.

The couple changed their game plan so their business would survive.

“That’s what the best entrepreneurs do — they reinvent themselves,” Jill said.

The couple, who opened their first office furniture store in a 6,000-square-foot store in 1995, bought the 60,000-square-foot store in 2004 and expanded their offerings to home furnishings.

In 2005, business was thriving in their Home Furnishing Express and Office Furnishing Express store with about $5 million in sales a year. That year, more than 6,000 houses were being built in the area and people needed to furnish them.

“It was going fantastic,” Chris said.

In 2008, housing sales plummeted and so did the furniture sales — more than 50 percent. In down economies, new furniture is a luxury people pass on, Chris said. In 2009, the couple liquidated Home Furnishing Express and scaled back office furnishings — letting go half of their employees.

After 14 years in the furniture business the downturn was frustrating and a little heart breaking.

“We kept trying to find the positive,” Jill said.

They spent close to year researching the indoor youth league concept, attracted a few investors and spent $400,000 on building renovation and sports equipment, including a state-of-the art synthetic rubberized turf similar to turf NFL teams use in their stadiums, Chris said.

Last October, they launched Play It Now Sports, indoor youth sports leagues. The couple still devotes about a quarter of its floor space to office furniture sales.

“The two businesses are about as far apart as you can get,” Chris said.

The couple knew youth sports. They have three children and had been volunteer coaches for Colorado Springs Parks and Recreation programs for years.

“Part of the idea for (Play it Now Sports) came about because we have three kids — when you have kids and they are old enough to do activities you are running around constantly,” Chris said. “We thought, wouldn’t it be nice if we could do all the sports in one day and in one location?”

One day, one location appealed to parent Michelle Gungler, who enrolled her two sons in two sports each this summer and one sport each this fall. She found the indoor leagues when she was shopping for a table.

“I like it because it is a true one-stop,” she said. “And, I never worry about rain or snow.”

Play it Now Sports begins its next eight-week season Nov. 1. Already about 1,400 children have participated in leagues. Children ages 4 to 14 can sign up, at $69 per child, for flag football, basketball, soccer, volleyball and t-ball.

The couple have built a youth program somewhere between a hyper-competitive club that requires children to tryout and the city leagues that don’t keep score. Gungler said the couple has created a real homey feeling among the furniture and sports fields.

“Parents will spend money on sports for kids even in a down economy,” Chris said. “It’s not as affected by the economy the way that furniture is.”