Some of the best franchises to own in the business world today are in the trampoline park/children’s fitness and entertainment industry. With industry growth on the rise from 3 parks in 2009 to well over 1,000 parks worldwide by the end of 2017, the question has to asked, “Is it a fad or the future”?
We all witnessed the phenomenal expansion of the frozen yogurt industry around 2010. The first ones onto the market usually supported healthy lines, both in customers and at the bottom of the P&L. Problem was it seemed to be all smoke & mirrors. For the consumer, the product wasn’t as healthy as expected and even though it was charged by the ounce it turned out to be very expensive. For the operators, the profit margins began to shrink as the local pie was sliced thinner and thinner with each new color and berry that entered the market. In the end, the Froyo businesses shuttered up faster than they opened and the old-fashioned soft ice cream stands once again regained the market share they had enjoyed since the 50’s.
The Froyo industry spread like a fire out of control. Are we looking at another flameout in the trampoline park business?
To get an idea of what the future looks like, we need to take our crystal ball and look into the past at how the industry started, what’s fueling its growth and realize that nothing has really changed…kids want to have fun and parents want their kids to be happy.
Since 1934, when the first trampoline was engineered at the University of Iowa to assist gymnasts and springboard divers hone their skills, people have been jumping on trampolines. In 2000 the Olympics added Trampoline as a medal sport and today trampolines are a staple in backyards across America.
In the past kids were excited to travel long distances to visit amusement parks and carnivals to experience activities like bumper cars, games and rides. Downtown parks had huge slides. Those of us at a certain age fondly remember the arcades filled with whack-a-mole and pinball. Video games were the next innovation, remember PONG? Birthday parties were at home.
Evolution my friend. Trampolines, arcades, rides; all those things are still around. They have just evolved. Kids have not changed; they are still as excited as ever to go to the park. And today these parks are becoming engrained into each community.
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The industry is still in its infancy but we have already witnessed a huge evolution since 2008. In the beginning parks were typically made up of a registration desk and a few trampolines located somewhere in a poorly lit industrial park identified simply by a hand painted sign off some secondary road, entombed behind a series of rights and lefts and over a few speed bumps. Cheap real estate indeed, and what the heck, it’s the only park within a 90 minute drive.
Today that park is out of business and the kids are being entertained down town at the old K-Mart right on the main drag in a 30,000sf goliath of an entertainment center filled with trampolines, ninja courses, laser tag, climbing walls, battle beams, bowling lanes, tunnels, slides, aerial activities and stunt jump towers with full pizza and ice cream parlors and the air filled with stereoscopic undertones that are not quite musical but more like the buzz of a Las Vegas casino. Fun, action, excitement and reward.
The kids are having more fun than ever just down the street. The parents don’t have to go on a vacation to visit distant amusement parks. Great entertainment centers are no longer hidden in the darkness of the local industrial park. Today the parking lots are large, well-lit and moms are happy to drop off the middle schoolers for an evening of fun, fitness, excitement and confidence building.
The downtown outdoor park, amusement parks, arcades and birthday parties are now coming to a downtown location near you! Another phenomenon that has spurred the growth is the fact that retail has gone on line and landlords need to fill the void left in the “big box” retail market. Fitness, food and birthday parties will never go online. Yesterday’s Sports Authority, Sears, K-marts and BI-LO’s have been replaced with new trampoline parks and entertainment centers. This is an undeniable trend, but it is not trendy.
The industry is healthy, the opportunity is plentiful, and so what’s the outlook?
The large markets with ideal demographics are filling up fast and highly visible retail, real estate is increasingly more difficult to find, but fitness and entertainment are here to stay. Believe me, if you are thinking it looks like a great opportunity, 5 other people in your town are thinking the exact same thing. The brass ring does not come around that often and the carousel is full of competitors all reaching out to snag the best real estate in the market.
The old business idiom; location, location, location is no different in the trampoline park/family entertainment business than it is in any other consumer based model. But the key to staying relevant will be found in how the park owner keeps the operation dynamic and exciting for the kids. Owners will have to believe in evolution.
The revenues are strong, great markets are still available and quality franchisors are looking for qualified franchisees. I don’t see this industry as just another Froyo fad. Entertainment and fitness franchises will never fade away and those who capitalize on the opportunity now will be part of the growth toward 2000 parks worldwide.
They said Starbucks was just a fad when they had opened 1000 stores…I was part of that. I see it again.