GO AIR – ON THE UP!
Mark Blayney Stuart of Wales Business Insider interviewed Evans Entwistle Partner Damian Evans, who is also a Director of Go Air, the Cardiff trampoline park business which aims to be a UK market leader.
Meeting Damian Evans is a lively experience, as behind us hordes of excited children – and a few adults too – leap and dive on giant trampolines. Moving to the viewing gallery of the former warehouse in Cardiff where we can talk in relative quiet, Evans is in no doubt about the reasons for the leisure attraction’s success. “Kids are having fun, but they’re also exercising,” he says. “Obesity is a big issue at the moment, and you can burn 1,000 calories in the space of an hour here. They think you’re treating them – it’s a win-win for parents and children.”
Go Air is new, and it’s growing fast. In less than a year’s trading, 183,000 visitors flocked to the parks in Cardiff and Manchester, and the company expects to hit turnover of £3m this year, rising to £7m or £8m in 2017. “We want to be one of the largest trampoline park operators in the UK,” says finance director Evans, and the company is fast-tracking its way towards this. Next to open will be Swansea, followed by Plymouth, with planning for Glasgow also agreed.
“It’s low-impact exercise, so it’s good for all age groups,” Evans says. “We have strong interest from companies for awaydays.”
A strong Welsh flavour runs through the business. “Most of the board members are Welsh and we use Welsh suppliers wherever we can for our fit-outs,” says Evans. “We want to be proudly Welsh, right down to the look of the parks.” Deciding that red and green was “a little obvious”, Go Air chose yellow and black, the colours of St David. “We want to take on the big established businesses and create a tangibly Welsh brand,” says Evans.
Employees are an important part of the mix: “Every company will tell you the staff are its greatest asset, but we really do ensure they are appreciated because in the leisure industry it’s essential. How friendly and knowledgeable they are makes all the difference.”
Each month a mystery shopper is engaged to see if standards are being met – “not even the directors know when they’re coming in” – and if the report is good, staff are rewarded. The company now employs 160 staff, which is expected to double over the next year.
FUTURE PARKS ARE LIKELY TO BE MORE ACTIVITY-BASED. WE’RE INNOVATING ON EACH DESIGN, AND THAT’S KEEPING US BUSY.
The business started in December 2013, when founder Jez James saw a trampoline park in Florida and felt there was a gap in UK market. Penarth accountancy firm Evans Entwistle came on board in a corporate finance role, raising the first round of funding in 2015. Trading began towards the end of last year, when the second slice of funding was secured, and Cardiff was the first park to open. With Manchester not far behind in early 2016, key to the stellar growth is a solid management team. “We have a chartered accountant, a chartered marketer and former banking board member,” Evans says. “The range of skills and contacts means we have good relationships with the local business community.”
Trampolining is a fairly new entrant in the leisure industry, and lessons have been learnt over the past year. “We had no trading history, so we didn’t fully appreciate the impact of the Six Nations on trade in Cardiff. It didn’t affect Manchester at all, but was very noticeable here.”
And there are the seasons to contend with. “Really understanding that helps us plan more effectively now,” Evans says. The site is all indoors, so a hot day impacts figures. “For future parks, we’re considering rolling out a temporary trampoline so people can bounce outside as well.”
Evans has an unusual way to detect the rise in repeat visits. “Everyone who arrives for the first time buys a pair of non-slip safety socks,” he explains. “To begin with, we’d be selling one pair per visitor. That’s now down to about 40 to 45 per cent, showing that many of our visitors have been before.”
He doesn’t see Brexit as an obvious impediment to growth: “The leisure sector is dependent on individuals having a certain level of income and living standards being high. But you can’t predict what will happen; we don’t know about potential trade tariffs, inflation or interest rates.”
The company is unlikely to stray too far from its original product: “Trampoline parks are what we do well – we don’t want to spread ourselves too thinly. We know what works, and we want to focus on that.”
But there’s room for innovation. Manchester’s design evolved compared with Cardiff. And the parks feature related activities: dodgeball, for example, and parent and toddler sessions. “Future parks are likely to be more activity-based. We’re innovating on each design, and that’s keeping us busy.” The company expects to have 750,000 visitors over the next year. “When we expand, we can get that figure up to a million.”
As Evans talks, in another area people are bouncing on platforms before hurling themselves into a pit of foam rocks. Within a few minutes Damian has handed me some yellow safety socks and I’m bouncing along with everyone else. “Is it fun?” Evans calls over. “That’s the most important thing!” Yes, it is – challenging and tiring, and lots of fun.