How a Couple of College Kids Turned a Silly Sport into a Booming Business
Damon Grace and Lucas Andrews were poking around YouTube one day and landed on a kooky video of some Norwegians playing just about the craziest-looking sport ever. It was soccer -- but every player was encased in a giant bubble that began at their waist and went up past their head. It looked fun and ridiculous. And, the guys thought, it might also make a great business. “Instead of going to play laser tag, bubble soccer is a new entertainment product,” Grace says.
Now the question: But what is this business? They could just sell the bubbles, but how many people would want to buy those things? They could launch a league, but that would be cumbersome. Then they got it: They’d rent out the suits, nets and other equipment, and market the game to local colleges, high schools, church groups and parents of bar mitzvah boys. (Grace and Andrews know the market. They’re business students: Grace goes to Michigan State University; Andrews is at Western Michigan University.) They raised $4,000 from a venture fund at MSU to purchase 10 suits and became Detroit’s first bubble soccer guys.
It was tough at first. The early suits popped, so Grace and Andrews scrambled to patch holes until they found a different, more reliable supplier. They also discovered the hazards of unambitious branding. They initially called themselves Bubble Soccer Detroit but later realized that the name, well, limited them to Detroit. So last spring, they rebranded as Bumpin’ Bubbles and have since found 40 partners across the United States and Canada. And they’ve added to their rental offerings: For $250 an hour for 10 bubble suits (or $350 an hour for 20 suits), customers also get refs and everything else needed for a game.
Last year, Bumpin’ Bubbles clocked more than 250 rentals, with $80,000 in sales. Projected sales for 2016 are $200,000. And because bubble soccer can be played indoors or out, the company has begun honing its pitch based on the season. “During the summer months, we get corporate events and corporate picnics,” Grace says. “In the winter we do school groups and church groups. Some people rent them for the entire night for an all-night party.”
But despite the growth, it’s still very much a college operation. “We can fit 20 suits in my Trailblazer, which is like the company car,” Grace says. He drives to events across Michigan to set up -- and enlists fraternity brothers to work as needed.