By Sara Karnish
Trampoline park owners and operators say the industry is thriving once again, but the last two years were admittedly challenging. “We were shut down for three months and then it took about six months to get back to full capacity,” said Denise Lindbo, owner of HighAir Ground Trampoline Park in Minot, N.D. “As of right now, we’re back to basically where we were before all this happened. We’re just blessed that people are comfortable being around other people again. If something comes up in the future where we have to do the same thing again, my knowledge is 100-fold of where it was. We’ll know how to handle it better.” Lindbo said cleaning and hygiene were always high priorities at their park, but COVID forced the team to increase their efforts even more. She explained their in-house protocols: “We did the basic sanitary requirements—shields, installing several Hepa air filters, we trained the staff. We keep our park pretty clean anyway, but we’re really upping the sanitizing. We’re teaching the public about what we’re doing to keep the park clean through social media posts, et cetera. We were doing all that stuff anyway—sanitizing, cleaning of trampolines, all the surfaces. We just doubled what we did. We put hand sanitizers in the lobby area, put packs of wipes all around. We just upped the game on what was already being done.”
Jamie McMurtrie, owner of Flying Squirrel Trampoline Park in Zelienople, Pa., said when the facility was allowed to reopen (it closed two different times for several months each in 2020), she and her team essentially doubled down on their already-strict cleaning and sanitizing routines. “We bought the new cleaning supplies the CDC recommended. We have to clean high-touch surfaces. We were constantly cleaning but we really have to be on top of it. Everyone has a checklist—all workers are given a checklist that they have to go through. Some cleanings are every 10 minutes, 30 minutes, one hour. We bought a cleaning system that cleans the foam blocks and trampolines every night. If we’re busy during the day, we try to keep up with the cleaning, but it’s usually just wiping things down with a rag and cleaning supplies between shifts. Most of the heavy-duty cleaning at night and in the morning.” She added, “I think it’s good to be like this anyway. I was very a*** before and my staff knew that. I’ve always been around germs and ‘everyone wash your hands.’ We weren’t doing every 10 or 20 minutes before. I think it’s a good thing to do. I think it should remain always. We have the cleanest restrooms in Cranberry Township!”
Brayden Strate, operating owner of The House of Jump in St. George, Utah, said he and his team simply increased their cleaning and sanitizing frequency. “We always prided ourselves on maintaining a clean facility. We have simply increased the amount of cleaning we do per hour. We plan on these changes sticking for a while. No one ever complained about the facility being too clean,” Strate explained.
Ben Chavalas, general manager of JumpStart Adventure Park in LaCrosse, Wis., said their facility shut down for approximately 2.5 months in 2020. When the state allowed them to reopen, “it took about a week to reopen. We had to get everyone on board, we had to get all the employees okayed to come back to work. Many employees didn’t want to come back because they were collecting unemployment. We were short on staff that first summer. We had to cut a lot of our advertising. Basically, we had to cut out anything unnecessary. We had a cleaning service that came in—we had to stop that. We had to cut out the DJ. We just closed—we didn’t do anything for two months. Here in Wisconsin, we weren’t allowed to be open or go to work.” When they reopened, there were some changes, such as to the concession offerings: “When we reopened, we didn’t do any pretzels, nachos, or pizza. We mostly sold pre-packaged food like chips, cookies, and drinks. About six months after we reopened, we got the kitchen back up and running.” JumpStart’s facility measures approximately 20,000 square feet.
Other operators have implemented long-term changes. Strate said they now accept reservations and online purchases. “We had the infrastructure in place, but never implemented it. This now allows us to better track our capacity as well as our reach to our customers. By providing online sales, we have also made it easier for our customers to know the ideal times to visit,” he said.
Lindbo and her team began offering “buyouts” on weekend mornings for private use during the pandemic, and continue to have them available because they have been so successful. “Customers can buy the park out either before we open—from 10 a.m. to noon, or after we close, so, say from 8 to 9 p.m. or 8 to 10 p.m. We did that right after we re-opened again, and that’s something we’ve continued to do,” she explained. “For food, we do basic reheating—we don’t have a full restaurant in our facility. We make sure all the kids wear gloves, make sure the kitchen is as clean as possible. We do a small amount of food—most of it is pre-packaged. As far as jumpers, we’re in North Dakota. We’re a little more lenient than other parts of the country. Just came back from Atlanta—there we saw masks all over. We’re not as strict in North Dakota—we just don’t have nearly as many people. We try to keep the jumpers separated anyway for safety reasons,” she explained. HighAir Ground’s facility measures 24,000 square feet.
Attendance has increased across the board since facilities were allowed to fully reopen. “This year has been great. It’s been up and over 2019’s numbers,” Lindbo said. “Most people aren’t as nervous as they were six-eight months ago. They aren’t as nervous to be around people—if they are, they just don’t come in. On a Saturday, they know it will be busy, so they will come at a less-busy time.” Chavalas said they are now almost back to pre-COVID numbers. “We have roughly the same number of employees—we’re at 26, and usually fluctuate between 25 and 30—and the same number of participants which are about 1,000 to 1,500 per week. That’s about where we were pre-COVID,” he explained.
McMurtrie noted, “We had the best December we’ve ever had. We put in some new attractions—had them ordered pre-pandemic so we slowly paid for them. We did start picking up again this past November. From November to now, we’ve been doing great. People are coming out—I pray they’re being smart. I wanted to give people raises because they were working so hard but I just couldn’t. For our food—everything is pre-packaged (chips, candy, Icees). We have little mini pizzas but they’re individually wrapped. Our staff always wears gloves, they wash their hands when they come in, put gloves on. Distancing hasn’t been a problem because it’s so large (30,000 square feet). We’re able to clean everything.” Strate said, “Sales have increased since the pandemic. We were able to see about a 15% growth in 2020 and a 50% growth in 2021. We have continued food sales, and we do our best to social distance our customers when they visit.”
Operators said they’ve learned many important lessons about running a business during a pandemic. Lindbo said bonding further with her already-tight staff, consisting largely of high school students, was one of the biggest positives to come out of the experience. “They missed a lot of school, [they] missed seeing their friends. Having them be able to come in here and vent about what they’re feeling and what was going on …we’re like a family here. As far as bonding with my staff—that’s been a positive,” she said. “Upping your game on what you’ve already been doing—if you’re doing something for a long time, you kind of get lax. When you’re put in a situation where you have to think outside the box to keep your business going …I learned a lot about grants, loans, and just learning what’s available to keep everything going.”
Strate said there have been “lots” of positive outcomes from the last three years. “Owning and managing a business is all about perspective. 2020 and 2021 could have been years to doubt and worry about the future, or they could have been years to adapt, not be complacent, and overcome. We chose the latter. Because we did that, we were able to still see growth and we were able to put our business in a better position for the future.”