By Peter Saunders
Some franchises fit well-defined industry parameters, but others seem to appear out of the blue. So it was when Canada’s first Sky Zone Indoor Trampoline Park opened in Mississauga, Ont., in November 2011. The closest point of comparison may be a bowling alley, as families and groups of friends flock to a dedicated indoor facility for ‘pay-to-play’ entertainment—but in this case, to literally bounce off the walls.
“Our original idea, back in 2002, was to start a new professional sport,” explains Jeff Platt, CEO. “We soon realized that would cost tens of millions of dollars, so instead we opened our research and development (R&D) centre as a trampoline park to the public. No one had done this before and there were no experts we could go to. We had to grow the concept organically and develop our own procedures.”
The first location opened in 2004 in Las Vegas, Nev., following refinement of the business model. The second opened in 2006 in St. Louis, Mo., to test the concept’s appeal in more of a typical city market.
Franchising began after a third location opened in 2008 in Sacramento, Calif. Five franchises opened across the U.S. in 2010.
“My sister-in-law opened the franchise in Boston, Mass., and I saw it in January 2011, filled with happy people,” says Caroline Irving, who soon became the first Canadian franchisee. “I was so impressed and intrigued. I knew it would work in Toronto.”
Irving credits her strong faith in the business model not only to market research, but also to ‘mom research.’
“I have five kids and I want them off the couch, doing something active and healthy,” she says. “Canadians spend a lot of money on their children. And everyone loves trampolines. They appeal to kids for their birthday parties, to teenagers who love dodgeball and to parents seeking a simple pleasure that’s not technological. The concept offers something for everyone.”
She began speaking with Platt and looking for properties in the Greater Toronto Area (GTA) by February. By May, when she signed a multiple-unit franchise agreement, she was deep into negotiations for her first facility, a former indoor soccer field in Mississauga, just west of Toronto. She took possession on September 1 and was open for business on November 8. It was soon bustling, with a typical Saturday seeing 14 birthday parties booked.
“I hope to open a location within Toronto proper next,” says Irving. “I want somewhere big enough that people can get to easily. Then we’ll head east to Ajax or Pickering, Ont. The idea is to open the second location within a year and then the third on in the next year.”
Platt is pursuing franchising opportunities in other parts of the country, too.
“We’re looking at cities like Vancouver and Montreal, so long as we can find the right partner,” he says. “It’s not a cheap investment. A facility like this costs several million dollars to buy and build out.”