Franchise Players is Entrepreneur’s Q&A interview column that puts the spotlight on franchisees. If you're a franchisee with advice and tips to share, email email@example.com.
Phil Stoops worked for 20 years in corporate America before a downsizing led him to consider other options. In their research, he and his current business partner stumbled upon the idea of trampoline parks – and they were hooked. Today, the two run two Sky Zone locations in Philadelphia, with plans to open up four more locations. Here’s what Stoops has learned.
Name: Phil Stoops
Franchise owned: Sky Zone in Philadelphia
How long have you owned a franchise?
For 18 months.
For us, it was the path of least resistance. We looked at whether or not we could build our own park and our own company culture from scratch, but we wanted to be in business sooner and we didn’t feel we could build it within the timeframe we were looking at. Our own financial considerations were also a factor. It still took us a good period of time to get the park open but with franchises, the brand and operational parameters are already defined. You don’t have to reinvent the wheel but you do get to put your own spin on it along the way.
Still, you don’t just sprinkle water on it and it grows. You get handed a playbook and you have to go execute it. We felt it was the best way for us to enter the trampoline park business.
What were you doing before you became a franchise owner?
I was actually in corporate America for 20 years. I started in sales and worked through different roles, taking on more and more. I built and managed wireless distribution from Best Buy, Staples, and Target, down to the small mom and pop wireless stores down the street. It gave me a lot of insight into business management and entrepreneurial spirit.
Why did you choose this particular franchise?
As we were looking at a few different opportunities, I happened to stumble upon a friend that said these parks were popping up everywhere. My business partner and I took a look at several trampoline parks, but once we came to Sky Zone we just said “wow.” They had a defined set of core values, a leadership team in place, and based on our experience we could tell it was a great company. We decided to visit some franchisees to get a sense of the culture and what the company was all about. After we met with them and the Sky Zone executives, we felt even more strongly about the opportunity. It had what we were looking for: brand, growth, people, and leadership.
How much would you estimate you spent before you were officially open for business?
About $1.6 million on the first park.
Where did you get most of your advice/do most of your research?
The advice came from a couple different avenues. It came from other business leaders we know, and talking to existing franchisees about the business model. Sky Zone is a strong network of existing owners that are very helpful. We met with six to 10 different franchise owners and even became friendly with some of them. Also, my business partner and I gave each other advice, drawing on our own experience.
What were the most unexpected challenges of opening your franchise?
We tried to plan for everything, but the real estate and zoning process was more challenging than we expected, from locating the property to getting it zoned properly for the use. The challenge of opening a trampoline park is that you’re going into warehouse space, and owners have usually used it for storage, trucking, or manufacturing, and you come in and say, “Hey, we are going to put a trampoline park in here.” And they look at you sort of cross-eyed! Then you have to go to the township and make sure that its acceptable to even have a trampoline park in that area. Some townships aren’t zoned for family activity and physical fitness. It was a lot harder than we expected.
What advice do you have for individuals who want to own their own franchise?
Do your research. Make sure the job you’re signing up for is something you could see yourself doing in five to ten years down the road. For the first six months to a year you’re in the honeymoon stage, but you have to think about it for the long term. It may sound exciting up front, but you could get to eight months in and not be happy with what you’re doing. Make sure it’s a passion for what you want to accomplish in your life, and not just to make money. Otherwise you could burn out really fast and then no one wins.
What’s next for you and your business?
We are adding multiple locations. We have two open now in the Philadelphia market, and we just finished signing leases for the next four properties. We expect to have six Sky Zone locations open in total by the end of 2015, four of which will be in the Philadelphia area and two in central New Jersey.