At Sky Zone, bouncing off walls is not only allowed, it's encouraged. So is somersaulting into a foam pit and hurling balls at opponents as they jump their way through a dodgeball court.
"They love this place," said Paulina Onate, watching her sons, ages 11 and 9, dunk balls through basketball hoops on a recent night at the indoor trampoline park in Columbia. Onate said she brings her kids frequently so they can get exercise and because "they have fun, and they don't get bored."
The 10-year-old franchise concept, which bills itself as the first trampoline park of its kind, has 80 locations, mostly in North America, and is growing fast. The Los Angeles-based company expects 17 new parks to open by the end of the year, including Sky Zone Timonium, opening Sunday, and another opening in Gaithersburg next spring. Sky Zone Columbia, the first in Maryland, opened last year.
"We are dedicated to providing you with the pure joy that comes with flying," the company says on its website. "We are sky lovers, thrill seekers and people who believe that jumping is freedom. We believe fitness can be fun and play can be smart."
The indoor entertaiment is growing in popularity, and parks are popping up with names such as Stratosphere Trampoline Park, with locations in Eldersburg and Delmar and coming in Frederick and Hagerstown, and Flight Trampoline Park, which is coming to Beltsville.
The Columbia park, tucked into an industrial center on Oakland Mills Road, features the multiple wall-to-wall trampoline courts found at every Sky Zone, one for jumping and acrobatics, one for basketball, two for dodgeball and a pit full of 10,000 foam cubes.
Customers can sign up for trampoline aerobics classes, join activities targeted for toddlers, teens or adults, or pay admission by the hour during open jump sessions. On a recent Thursday evening, children attending three birthday parties rotated from court to court.
"It's a business that makes money," said Braden Holcomb, owner of the Timonium location and three other Sky Zones outside Maryland. "I didn't go to school hoping to own an indoor trampoline park. But I'm a big believer in brands. And I love the concept of having a business that caters to all ages and that is a lot of fun and great exercise."
Holcomb, who has a degree in sports management, started working for the Sky Zone corporate entity in 2006 as general manager of its first location, in Las Vegas. When the company began franchising in 2009, Holcomb became vice president of franchise operations. By 2012, he wanted to work for himself and opened a franchise in Kansas City, Mo. He has since expanded with additional locations in Rochester and Syracuse, N.Y.
Demographics play a key role in determining locations, Holcomb said. Franchisee investments range from $850,987 to $2.5 million, the company says.
"We're looking for markets that have a fair amount of high-density population, that have active communities of young families, that are middle to upper class," he said.
While staying relevant to consumers is a concern for any business owner, Holcomb said he sees the year-over-year sales increases in his most established Sky Zone in Kansas City as an indicator of future growth, as long as "we're delivering a great experience so people want to come back again and again."
Growing a successful franchise business takes a mix of strong leadership and ideas that meet a need, said David G. Liu, a franchising expert who is president of Foliage Design Systems, which began in 1980 franchising its concept of providing indoor plants for office buildings and malls, including Harborplace. Liu was not familiar with Sky Zone but said it appears to be meeting the growing demand from families looking for activities with their kids.
"What I find interesting is the hottest concepts are the newest ones," those with "a slightly different angle to a business concept," he said.
On a recent weeknight at Sky Zone Columbia, Elkridge resident Wendy Ferris watched as her daughter Jessica celebrated her 11th birthday with 19 of her gymnastics team friends. The girls leapt into the air on the dodgeball court, practicing split jumps and back flips.
"They love it here," Ferris said. "We've been here three times in the last four weeks."
The Columbia trampoline park does a brisk birthday party business — groups are booked through January, and on weekends it's typical to host three dozen parties in a single day, said Jenee DeAngelis, the general manager.
At the Timonium facility, a 28,000-square foot space on West Aylesbury Road that will have 149 connected trampolines in six courts, Holcomb said he expects birthday parties to account for a big chunk of business. They'll also have open jump periods, with tickets ranging in cost from $11 per person for 30 minutes to $23 for two hours.
But bouncing doesn't only appeal to kids, DeAngelis said.
When it came time to plan his company's annual retreat, advertising executive Dave Imre booked Sky Zone in Columbia for his 85 employees. During an afternoon of team building and award giving last month, employees squared off in a trampoline dodgeball tournament.
"It was unbelievable," said Imre, CEO of Baltimore-based advertising firm Imre. "We have a very competitive workforce. Dodgeball is either every child's dream or nightmare. It brought back childhood memories for a lot of us."
His employees left with more than sore muscle, he said.
Bouncing alongside co-workers, he found, "fuels creatively and camaraderie. It was an inclusive type of event people could relate to."