AirTime Trampoline & Game Parks

AirTime 1

AirTime Trampoline is expanding into a nationwide franchise.

By Tim O’Connor

Jumping is fun at any age. On any given day, AirTime Trampoline & Game Park welcomes families, college students, teens and tweens to jump alongside each other while listening to the most energetic pop music to help them get in the mood. "We've had people jump from five years old to 85 years old," COO Sam Lundy says.

The universal appeal of jumping eventually caught the attention of Jimmy Nafso, the founder of Fortis Payment Systems and a Planet Fitness franchisee. Nafso took his children to the original AirTime location in Troy, Mich., and was struck by how quickly they took to the trampolines. He realized it was a much more active way of engaging kids then video games and tablets and understood the potential of the business.

Nafso purchased AirTime from its original owner in 2014 and quickly opened a second location. In 2015, he started franchising the concept.

AirTime now has six locations in Michigan, four of which are franchises, and the company is getting ready to growAirTime info box nationwide. AirTime signed a franchisee Boston and is expanding in early 2018. "We're franchise driven," Lundy says. "We're really not looking to expand our company by building company-owned parks. We want to expand the franchise concept."

The constant across its growing franchise system is the focus on providing outstanding experiences to guests.

AirTime's trampoline parks range in size from 22,000 square feet to as large as 35,000 square feet and feature several riffs on classic games with a trampoline twist, such as dodge ball and basketball. A separate area is available to younger children to let jump without worry of colliding with larger kids or adults, and the facilities also offer activities such as climbing walls, battle beams, ninja warrior type courses, traversal walls and arcade games.

"The industry is continuing to evolve, coming up with new and challenging types of attractions," Lundy says. "We're always looking at these new attractions to see if we can incorporate some into our existing parks and what should go into our new ones. We always first look to assure the safety of these attractions before considering them for our parks."

High-Traffic Locations

Part of providing an outstanding experience is being located in convenient and attractive places. Many trampoline park competitors tend to open in industrial areas with ample available warehouse space. But while warehouses supply plenty of room for jumping, they tend to be located far away from residential neighborhoods and have few amenities or supporting businesses in the immediate area. A trip out to an industrial park is a full-day commitment for a family.

AirTime believes it has hit upon a better strategy. Instead of locating its parks in isolated industrial areas, the company targets high-end locations with high foot traffic such as shopping centers. That gives parents the opportunity to let their children jumping around for a few hours and burn off energy before a shopping trip or to enjoy AirTime as a family and then go out to dinner together.

"We've been able to work with the right real estate agents and developers to find those spots," Lundy says. Early on, AirTime had to aggressively pursue those location opportunities, but the company has become well known enough in Michigan that developers are now approaching it about acting as an anchor business in their upcoming projects.

Three Pillars

Prioritizing high traffic areas is an example of how AirTime separates itself from competitors, but it's not the only difference. The company stands on three pillars that create a foundation for happier guests and more successful franchisees: strong corporate support, dedicated focus to safety and excellent customer support.

Corporate support covers the behind-the-scenes ways that AirTime's centralized team helps its franchisees, from marketing to training. The company is one of the only national trampoline park companies with a centralized corporate call center dedicated to supporting franchisees in booking birthday parties and groups for all of the parks.

That investment has increased revenue in all AirTime parks for groups and parties substantially and allows franchisees to focus less on bookings and more on interacting with guests and assuring an outstanding guest experience. "They're professional salespeople and they're there to make sales for the franchisees, but they also take the burden off the franchisees," Lundy says.

The corporate team even guides the activities within each park by identifying the latest and best quality attractions and then helping franchisees implement them. It then helps franchisees develop customized local marketing plans to advertise those activities to their communities. On the procurement side, AirTime manages national contracts for items such as food so that franchisees can purchase whatever they need without worrying about negotiating pricing.

Good collaboration between the corporate team and the franchisee requires strong communication tools, which is why AirTime developed its own franchise portal. The portal contains all of the company's marketing materials, revenue data and training tests and certifications for employees. The portal acts as a single central repository for any information a franchisee needs to know. "As new things come up, we have control over it," Lundy says. "We don't have to go through anybody else, we just put it on the portal."AirTime 2

AirTime understands potential risks with patron safety and stresses safety in every part of its operation. Every employee, from the floor managers to the concession stand cashiers, is trained in first aid and staff constantly supervises every play area to watch for unsafe behavior. On weekends, when guest volume is at its peak, the company keeps an EMT on-site to provide immediate response to any emergency. Its primary focus is on accident prevention: ensuring patrons are well educated on safety and how to jump safely. The approach is similar to that of a lifeguard at a pool.

The customer experience is the last of those three pillars, but equally important. Happy families will keep coming back and introduce their friends to AirTime, creating a tree of positive word of mouth that grows the business. As an experienced hospitality industry professional who previously owned hotels, Nafso understands the importance of getting feedback from the guests. AirTime takes customer reviews seriously and prides itself on making sure every person walks out with a smile on their face.

Ideal Franchisees

The guest experience does not end at AirTime's door. The company participates in community events and programs such as sending staff to local schools to talk to students about the importance of fitness. Within the parks, it brings in athletes from organizations such as American Ninja Warrior and the Detroit Lions to talk about their charitable foundations or fundraisers. "We want to be a community-based business," Lundy says. "We want local ownership, we want to be involved in the community, we want our ownership to be involved in the community."

Essentially, AirTime is looking for franchisees that want to do more than simply turn a profit. "Something that would turn me off a potential franchisee is someone who comes in and the first question they ask is 'how much money can I make'" Lundy says. "If that's the first question you're asking, it's not someone we want to get involved with."

That's not to say there isn't money to be made. A 2017 study by research firm Technavio predicted that the global trampoline market would experience a 5 percent compound annual growth rate through 2021. AirTime simply wants to work with owner-operators who can deliver on its values of customer service and safety as they create a successful business. "We're not looking to just sell franchises," Lundy explains. "We're looking to grow our business with the right kind of people and the right culture."

Lundy himself was drawn to the company after visiting an AirTime location in person and enjoying how guests arrive with the expectation of having a good time. "It's a fun industry to be in," he states. "It's not overly complicated and the returns are phenomenal."

When considering a potential franchisee, the company doesn't necessarily need someone who has experience in the trampoline industry, but does look at what other skills or experience they can bring into the business. Even more important is their attitude. AirTime looks for franchisees who have a positive attitude and will dedicate themselves to growing their company and the brand.

Once it finds those people, AirTime helps them learn every facet of the trampoline park business. New franchisees must train at an existing AirTime facility for three to four weeks before taking over their own location. The process includes both hands-on and classroom training, after which the franchisee will know everything from how to open in the morning to how to operate the POS system. Meanwhile, the corporate team helps with site selection, demographic studies and provides all the other resources to help the location get off the ground.

That level of involvement continues even after the location has opened. AirTime holds weekly and monthly meetings with franchisees to review revenue, discuss best practices, reinforce culture and share data.

With those resources in place, AirTime is ready to transition from a regional company to a national franchise. "The company is now geared for growth and geared for franchise growth," Lundy says. The Northeast is a prime target for expansion but AirTime is also seeking franchisees in Midwest, West and South. "We're really targeting people more than areas because if the demographics work it?s all about the person or persons we want to be involved with," he continues.

That growth will be controlled and thoughtful. The company is careful to ensure that the demographics of a potential market can support a park and it will continue to be selective about the franchisees it works with.

The global growth of the trampoline park market creates some temptation to expand rapidly and open multiple locations in quick succession in a single market, but AirTime would rather work with an owner-operator to get one location up and running successfully before having conversations about additional parks. "One of my other jobs is to make sure we don't outgrow our infrastructure to make sure the service we provide our franchisees won't diminish as we grow," Lundy says. 

 

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