Here’s a sign of the times: Instead of getting annoyed when a staffer sprays disinfectant a few feet away, patrons at Flying Squirrel Sports trampoline parks have been giving the thumbs up.
“It just shows how much everything is flipped,” observed Luke Schueler, COO and co-founder of the Coeur d’Alene, Idaho-based trampoline park chain, which has locations worldwide. “Before the pandemic, if a customer saw you cleaning in front of them, they might leave you a bad review.”
A lot has changed during the COVID-19 pandemic, which has upended the trampoline park industry. Many facilities remain closed nearly a year after the initial lockdown, awaiting the green light from local officials. But those parks that have reopened report healthy attendance — a hunger on the part of many Americans to get out and blow off steam.
“We see a lot of kids being stuck at home for long periods of time,” noted Jonas Roter, owner of Launch Trampoline Park in Doral, Fla. “When kids see other kids here, they instantly make friends.”
Still, reassuring the nervous public will take time and remains the greatest challenge for the industry, according to everyone interviewed for this story. “It’s getting people to be comfortable and confident again and getting out — and not just trampoline parks,” said Roter. “We’re seeing the same challenge for restaurants and other indoor venues: regaining that trust.”
For Launch and many other facilities, the solution so far is to emphasize hygiene, distancing, and mask-wearing for those who are not actively jumping (a legal requirement in Doral and many other places). Roter noticed that parents will often bring their families during the week because they expect fewer crowds.
And so far, he said, reviews have been positive. “We were always the cleanest park, so a lot of the procedures, we already had in place,” Roter noted. Having completed a building expansion last July, Launch is ready for the day when capacity restrictions are lifted.
Anecdotes suggest that eager jumpers are out there. “One Saturday recently, we had to stop selling tickets because we’d be over capacity otherwise,” said Jemeecia Trice, a manager at Rockin’ Jump Trampoline Park in Buford, Ga. Fortunately, the facility’s computer automatically stops processing sales once capacity is reached.
At the Georgia park, where masks are required except during jumping, Trice said employees roam with disinfectant spray and hand sanitizer. “They clean constantly, and on Mondays, we do a really deep cleaning,” Trice said.
Facilities aren’t just cleaning more; they’re also paying greater attention to the chemicals they use. “Before, if you had a disinfectant, it was good enough,” said Arthur Pidlaoan, director of Operations at Elevated Sportz Trampoline Park & Event Center in Bothell, Wash. “Now, we look at the ingredients to make sure it’s active against COVID. We’re really serious about cleaning.”
And after nearly a decade of allowing some patrons to jump barefoot, Elevated Sportz is now requiring grip socks for all jumpers as a hygiene measure. “That’s something we will continue in the future,” noted Pidlaoan. Another change likely to become permanent is the adoption of more hygienic practices in the dining area, including individual plating and single serve condiment packages.
As they prepared to reopen in mid-February, Pidlaoan and his team were bracing for a wide variety of reactions. “Many people think we’re really harsh with our COVID rules, while others think we’re not harsh enough,” he observed. “Everybody’s kind of divided in terms of what they think is best. But after having been cooped up for so long, people were just happy that we’re open.”
A kind of test run came in November, when local officials allowed the facility to briefly reopen. Starting in February, Elevated Sportz is performing temperature checks, requiring masks and capping attendance at 25 percent of capacity, or about 50 people jumping per session.
Even with those reductions, Pidlaoan said staffing has been a serious challenge. At work places around the country, any worker who feels ill is advised to stay home out of an abundance of caution. That can lead to chronic labor shortages. “But you want to keep everybody as safe as possible, follow all the policies and protocols,” Pidlaoan said.
In the less-strict regulatory environment of Valdosta, Ga., Recoil Trampoline Park re-opened last summer — and the experience is not too different from what it was pre-pandemic, said General Manager Will Ganas. Masks are optional; instead, the emphasis is on a strict cleaning regimen.
Recoil has been open since last summer, and may add attractions such as arcades or laser tag in the future, Ganas said. “Aside from all the extra cleaning, not too much has changed,” he added.
And Americans still love to jump. That’s why Schueler is bullish on one of Flying Squirrel Sports’s newest locations, in Lutz, Fla. After a truly unfortunate grand opening on March 15, 2020 — the week most of America shut down — the 40,000-square-foot facility reopened in November at 50 percent capacity.
By then, Schueler had identified the new challenges of operating a trampoline park during a pandemic. “At first, with masks and social distancing, communication was a barrier,” he recalled. “It was harder to communicate with customers around check-in and other customer service issues.” The staff quickly adapted, learning to more effectively use body language where faces and voices are obscured.
Perhaps the bigger challenge, however, is one familiar to airplane personnel and other stewards of public spaces: enforcing the mask mandate. “A lot of our customers appreciate that we enforce it but others are angry — they see it as a violation of their rights,” Schueler explained. The Flying Squirrel management team developed a protocol for diffusing potentially violent confrontations. Staff is trained to explain that public safety measures keep facilities open, save jobs, and ensure that Americans have somewhere to recreate.
“We have locations all over the world, so we’re able to take a look at everything we’ve implemented in locations that are open,” Schueler said. “We use that knowledge to improve our customer experience for the safety of all.”