It's like a family entertainment center, Jerry Raymond would tell the bank. Except there are trampolines everywhere.
Trampoline as dodgeball, trampoline bounce to trampoline to get yourself into a soft foam cube pit.
"It's the dumbest thing I've ever heard," said the bank and other potential funders, according to Raymond. "But hey, have fun."
This is an idea that subverts traditional logic. Fill a 20,000-square-foot warehouse with trampolines and hope you'll attract enough paying customers to outstrip rent, maintenance, wages, and insurance claims.
The premise has proven popular and surprisingly lucrative—at least before the pandemic.
In 2006, three months after Raymond and his brother Ron opened their first Sky High Sports trampoline park in Santa Clara, they hit capacity every hour. A row of 100 customers will gather outside before the doors open on Saturday morning.
What about the funders who scoffed at Raymond's idea?
“Two years later, the same people were begging to give us money,” recalls Raymond, laughing as he recalls the early days of the chain, which had 17 locations at its peak, even as the pandemic shrank its business. "We'd say, 'Yeah, well, we really don't need it right now. Sorry.'"
Before COVID-19, trampoline parks were popping up across the country, sometimes right next to existing parks. They set up shop in old warehouses, former airplane hangars, empty shells of Circuit City stores—anywhere with enough space and ceilings to accommodate bouncing kids and accompanying adults.
Profits of $150,000 per month are not unheard of.
The global trampoline park industry is worth $1.4 billion by 2019. It is expected to reach $3.2 billion by 2023.
But the industry now faces a new reality. The pandemic has reduced the number of trampoline parks at more than 100 U.S. locations. Those who survive must figure out how to bring back old customers and attract new ones, while managing the changing health and safety expectations of a public scarred by COVID-19. At the same time, they have to navigate the boom-and-bust cycle of children's entertainment, and companies like Discovery Zone have quickly gone from hot fad to bankruptcy.
"No one could have predicted what we've been through in the last 18 months," said Steve Yeffa, vice president of the International Association. The head of Trampoline Parks, speaking to a small audience at the trade group's annual convention in Las Vegas in September. "Change and adapt, these are our constants."