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Laois couple Seamus and Jacqueline Hassett are carving a niche in the Irish market with an innovative new product for children. Playchimes allows children to create music without tuition using a system that matches numbered chimes to a songbook. The couple have already sold the product to Montessori and primary schools, and teachers are reporting improvements in the social and motor skills of the children using it.
"When hitting the chimes, they are enhancing their hand-to-eye coordination and they are concentrating on what they are doing, trying to play the numbers, so they are enhancing their focus. It is a very stimulating product, and you can have up to three or four kids playing it at any given time so it’s also interactive." said Seamus Hassett.
For the Hassetts, their light bulb moment came while on holiday in Wales, where they came across a set of large-scale playchimes in a children’s playground.
"if we could take this thing and scale it down in size, make it mobile so that you could take it around classrooms, put a songbook to it and add a variety of percussion instruments you could turn it into a beautiful instrument for schools. I couldn’t get it out of my head," said Seamus.
The Hassetts spent two and a half years developing the product, trying different instruments, sizes and models, and re-designing their prototype several times. Once satisfied they began their market research and approached Laois County Enterprise Board.
"They saw the potential in it and they grant aided us to renovate our own premises here. The renovations were in or around the €70,000 mark and the funding was on a 50:50 match basis. We have invested substantially in this, all out of our savings. It is tough but we know we have a fantastic product," he said.
The frame is manufactured and powder-coated in Dublin and Seamus cuts and tunes the chimes himself while Jacqueline, a Montessori teacher, looks after most of the assembly.
The company is also generating employment, having taking on a business development executive and an administrator. Its recorded a healthy €100,000 turnover in its first year.
In the school environment, Hassett said the Playchimes were proving particularly useful in helping to engage and educate children with different learning needs, including children with autism.

"They are finding it very beneficial. The chimes can have a calming effect and kids with autism sometimes try to relate through music. Overall, it has a very positive effect on them," he said.
The biggest challenge the Hassetts face is getting Playchimes into more schools. Hassett cited networking as a huge factor in the company’s success so far. A friend suggested attending the local chapter of Business Networking International (BNI), and he said the contacts made through the organisation helped to open doors.
It was through BNI that Hassett was introduced to Niall Murphy of Irish Autism Action, who was so impressed with the product that he helped arrange sales meetings even attending himself in some cases.
At the moment, the company is gathering case studies and testimonials with the aim of getting product endorsement from Boyzone singer and Irish Autism Action patron Keith Duffy.
"Primary schools are our bread and butter. Schools can get their younger classes to learn and teach music themselves and in the older classes, they can use Playchimes to compose and play their own music. There are 3,165 primary schools in Ireland and we need to try and get to as many as possible," said Hassett
The company has a patent pending for the British market, and also plans to explore opportunities in the North. It is importing additional children’s products, including magnetic wall board games and balancing bikes, for the Irish market.
By Gareth Naughton

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