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Fun Brands

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A Family Brand of Fun
Fun Brands strives to be national leader in family entertainment

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If you’re pondering a destination for an inflatable-centric birthday party, Sean Bock is more than happy to sing the praises of his organization – Fun Brands LLC – which operates kid-friendly franchises like BounceU and Pump It Up in hundreds of locations across the United States.

But what the company’s vice president of franchise development and real estate is really hoping for over the next few years is to add some extra reasons to seek out his family entertainment brands, too.

“Our goal is to extend beyond being a go-to destination for birthday parties and be looked at as a leader in overall family entertainment,” he said. “We want to meet the community needs on a seven-day-a-week perspective. And that’s anywhere from doing toddler classes, special events to charity fundraisers and fitness programs, adult team building even field trips. We feel there is tremendous potential in growing the business beyond birthdays.

 

Bock said that a lean toward diversifying will not only be a prudent business practice – it’ll be a necessity as the marketplace experiences what he expects to be sizable expansion.

“Between the years of 2007 and 2008, we had more births than in any two-year history of the United States, more than any two-year span in the Baby Boomer years,” he said.

“Now, these kids are between 5 and 6 years old, and their parents will be seeking more and more  opportunities for activities outside of the box – particularly in venues that offer active play.”

Fun Brands’ storyline stretches back 14 years, to when significant trends toward inflatables at county fairs and similar outdoor rentals – coupled with the realization that many mothers are averse to the idea of hosting 20-plus children in their homes – convinced the co-founders of Pump It Up to create a destination where parents could take parties to a separate facility, yet still be together as a single group.

The model, Bock said, allowed for “all the fun” of putting on a party, but “without the stress” that typically comes from pre- and post-event cleaning and the other issues of having people in a home. The key differentiating factor for the two brands is that they are 100 percent private. The focus is always on the special birthday child, in the play areas and party rooms.

The Pump It Up concept was born in 2000 and the BounceU brand followed three years later, and the two were ultimately purchased by a private equity firm a year apart in 2007 and 2008 – though Bock said the initial transaction was likely made without an eye on a consolidated roll-up of children’s entertainment functions. When the second deal was made, however, the equity firm brought in an experienced franchise team that identified the opportunity to brand the parent company as an expert provider in kids-focused entertainment activities.

These days, Bock said, 140 Pump It Up franchises are operating alongside approximately 50 BounceU entities throughout the United States. The family’s newest acquisition, Fun Brands Carousels, includes 17 company-owned units that are operated in large malls – including 14 double-decker machines.

Fun Brands runs two corporate-owned locations of Pump It Up and one of BounceU’s sites, and, while upping the number of franchises over the next several years is part of the plan; so, too, is identifying and going forward with acquisitions of “like-minded businesses from the kids-service sector and the entertainment sector,” Bock said.

“We identified the fact that this model really succeeds when you have a local owner/operator who is well-entrenched in the community,” he said. “Typically, our franchisees are parents of children between the ages of 4 and 16 and they frequent the churches, the schools, the charitable organizations that a lot of other parents do.

And it’s a big part of what sets Fun Brands apart from other children’s franchises.

“It’s been a key to our success,” Bock said. “A younger worker may not have the understanding or empathy of what a mom or dad typically goes through when they’re looking for the right birthday party establishment.”

The locations are most often housed in light industrial or flex space, where access is easy, but perhaps not at a rental rate that equates to a typical retail strip facility. Up to four different parties can be hosted at one time at each location, usually from 90 minutes to two hours, and the individual sites are home to multiple zones that allow groups to move from one to the other and also ensures the 100 percent privacy during an event.

“Privacy is a crucial component that parents seek out for their child’s event,” Bock said, “and we’re one of the few who can offer that.”

Birthday parties are the biggest time commitments and revenue generators for the brands, which usually reserve Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays for birthday-only traffic. “Open Bounces” or “Open Jumps” are scheduled at other times of the week, and allow parents to pay a general admission rate and let their kids play for as long as they want.

On-site camps are hosted at various times of the year, as are camps or field trips from separate organizations that reserve time blocks. The final revenue driver, Bock said, is special events like pictures with Santa Claus or the Easter Bunny – where a specific appointment time is reserved in the midst of a general admission play session, so parents can avoid waiting in line with impatient kids. National holidays, Parents Date Nights and Lock-In parties are other examples of special events that can be held at the Fun Brands’ establishments.

Typical franchise candidates are married couples between 35 and 45 whose goal is to own a business that can be a legacy to their families, Bock said, and who are attracted to a function that involves kids.

“I can tell within the first 15 minutes of an initial call whether or not a candidate would be a good fit,” he said. “Candidates who focus exclusively on return on revenue, rate of return, profitability, don’t seem to do as well as those candidates who are focused on the intangible aspects of the business like our SUPER STAR service model. It’s almost reverse thinking, where if we have a candidate who focuses on ‘Hey, I love this business and I want to deliver the best experience for the customers,’ those are the ones who turn out to be the most profitable.”

Ideal markets are those with an under-18 population of at least 70,000 within a 30- to 35-minute drive time, and the ideal franchisee prospect has a fiscal liquidity of about $200,000 with a net worth of about $500,000. The initial investment, Bock said, is anywhere between $400,000 and $700,000.

“It’s emotionally rewarding,” he said. “One of our franchisees used to work as a regional vice president for Starbucks, obviously great pay and incentives and everything, but he said, ‘Look, the emotional paycheck you get from Pump It Up, you can’t compare to anything else.’”

 

AT A GLANCE

WHO: Fun Brands LLC

WHAT: Family entertainment company whose brands include BounceU, Fun Brands Carousels and Pump It Up

WHERE: 195 locations in 35 states

WEBSITE: wwwFun-Brands.com

Short URL: http://www.businessworld-magazine.com/?p=3453

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