Having been impressed by Flip Out’s formidable growth in Australia, Jon Inwards jumped on the opportunity to bring the trampoline franchise to the UK
Breaking into a new market takes guts. However, when Jon Inwards, director of Flip Out UK, brought the Australian trampoline franchise over to Britain in 2015 he proved that he had the courage required. “No one knew what a trampoline park was,” he says. Fortunately, the British master franchisee was determined to make the brand jump to the top of people’s minds.
Part of his conviction came from the fact that the business stirred something deep inside him. “It’s every kid’s dream,” Inwards says. “At the same time it had street cred and a bit of an urban feel to it.” This was in no small part due to the founder and CEO Brent Grundy who launched Flip Out in 2012. Due to his entrepreneurial flair, the franchise had grown to about 17 locations across Australia by the time Flip Out came onto Inwards’ radar in 2014. “I had never seen a company grow that quickly,” he says. “I just knew that I wanted to get involved with this business, one way or another.”
Both the exceptional growth and the chance to please his inner child played into him joining the franchise. But they weren’t the only reasons. “Everybody loves trampolines,” Inwards says. “It offers so many market opportunities.” And where other trampoline parks often end up feeling very much the same, Grundy had created something truly unique. For instance, he had signed an exclusive contract with a trampoline manufacturer. Not only does this mean that franchisees can quickly set up shop but that they can also rapidly evolve their centres with new equipment. Moreover, it also means that every centre feels like a part of the brand. So even though Inwards could have set up a business of his own or joined another chain, he felt that Flip Out would come out on top. “So I decided to back the winning horse rather than a competitor,” he says.
Having decided to join the business, Inwards set out to learn everything he’d need to bring it to the UK. “I worked in a centre for three months,” he says. Additionally, he closely shadowed Grundy to learn the history of the business and to understand what it would be like to operate a franchise. This training paid special attention the company’s supply chain, how to market the business and areas the franchise would be successful in. “I learned every element of the business in order to make it a great franchise opportunity in the UK,” Inwards says.
But even with this training, it would take some effort to adapt the brand to Britain. “Obviously, there are many differences between Australia and the UK,” says Inwards. For instance, trampoline parks were a reasonably new thing in Britain at the time. As a consequence, it proved to be a bit of a challenge to persuade interested parties that the company would be successful in Blighty. “There really wasn’t a market we could compare it to,” he says. “So we had to look at similar businesses like cinemas, bowling centres and other leisure businesses.”
And while breaking new ground in a market can be a huge advantage, the fact that no one understood the opportunity made finding properties a huge challenge. “Landlords laughed at you,” Inwards says. And given how famously expensive the British housing market is, it’s hardly surprising that it was difficult to source locations to set up Flip Out centres. “It’s comparatively easy to find a commercial property in Australia,” he says. Luckily, thanks to the help of some agents, the company was able to eventually solve this issue.
Cultural differences aside, finding the right franchisees for the expansion was perhaps the most critical issue Inwards had to resolve. This was especially challenging as Flip Out is very particular about the people joining the business. “You can have the best business in the world but unless you’ve got the perfect driver behind the wheel it won’t succeed,” he says. To make the cut, candidates have to have strong leadership, communication and people-management skills. With such a range of qualifications required to be successful, it’s hardly surprising that the ideal Flip Out franchisee is someone who will have run a business before. Nevertheless, all these skills will come to naught unless Inwards can detect that candidates possess the right attitude. “If they are inherently passionate about Flip Out as a business then they will have a great time and the money will flow in,” he says.
Flip Out kicked off its recruitment effort in October 2015 by going to the Franchise Expo in Birmingham. “We received eight applications out of that,” Inwards says. Of those, three would eventually become the franchise’s first UK franchisees. And just before the holidays a few months later, Flip Out opened its first stores in Portsmouth, Bristol and Stoke. ‘This meant that we had secured our position as number one in the UK from day one,” he says. “While there was another operator at the time, they only had two sites. So when we came in and opened three straight away we were immediately ahead of the game.”
In a bid to ensure that no competitors get the jump on the franchise, Flip Out makes sure to support every franchise from the get-go. “We start with two weeks of training at our head office in east London,” he says. From sales and marketing to finance and accountancy, these workshops cover everything they need to know about spearheading a business. Additionally, in order to secure the culture and feel of Flip Out throughout the network, Inwards’ own team joins the franchisee for the first couple of weeks when every a new site opens. “So basically, we hold their hand throughout the process,” Inwards says.
And recognising that relationships require constant attention, Inwards has made sure that the support doesn’t end once each centre is up and running. “We’ve introduced a franchise council,” he says. This enables trusted franchisees to raise concerns or make suggestions for improvements to the franchise. Similarly, the annual conference also provides every member of the network with a chance to connect and to be heard. “Franchising is all about communication,” Inwards says.
Given this extensive support, it’s hardly surprising that Flip Out UK has been able to continuously reach new heights. “We have 15 franchisees now,” Inwards says. These franchisees together have a turnover of over £50m and run 20 stores in Britain. But it won’t stop there. “We’ll definitely get up to 40 stores by the end of the year,” he says.
Moreover, Inwards is also playing an important role in Flip Out’s international expansion. “Anyone who is interested is free to come to the UK, see how we have done it and get the blueprint,” he says. In other words, while the company today has more than 80 stores in ten countries, the groundwork done in the UK is sure to inspire even greater expansions. For instance, new franchisees are already setting up shop in Germany, Spain and Turkey. And the franchisor is actively looking for more master franchisees in Europe to follow the path trodden by Inwards. “We’re here to stay and we’re not stopping,” he concludes. “We are going to keep on going.”