Richard Beese is originally from Bristol and was previously a City stockbroker. He became an entrepreneur when a life-altering brush with death and a tube train made him re-evaluate his life. He talked to blooloop about Flip Out’s evolution and its growth through the COVID-19 lockdown periods.
The Flip Out indoor adventure park franchise is a concept that originally came over from Australia in 2014. At that point, there were only a handful of trampoline parks in the UK. The first Flip Out opened in Stoke, a little town outside Stoke-on-Trent. Now, Flip Out is the UK’s largest operator of indoor adventure parks.
“In its first year, it made a profit of a million pounds,” says Beese. “It was booked up for three months in advance. It was clear it was onto something.”
Set up as a franchise, it was able to grow fast:
“A lot of competitors had opened up and tended to run on similar lines: rows of trampolines; an hour’s session. They weren’t expanding as fast. They would invest all their money in one, make a small profit, open up the second. And they were all quite generic.”
Flip Out jumps over competitors
Because Flip Out was using franchisee money, it was able to catapult in front of all the competitors, innovating as its offering evolved.
“Flip Out was the first operator to bring in parkour-style freerunning. We’ve got stunt boxes interlinked with trampolines and brought in life-size models. There’s a [padded] Lamborghini, a Cadillac and a big robot head that people can jump over.”
“It started to move away from just trampolines, and towards an adventure park style. This incorporates interactive assault courses, where the customers wear an RFID wristband that tracks their score as they go round, hitting certain tag areas, which are easy, medium and hard respectively. It calculates your score at the end. It links to an app, so you can compete against friends.”
The next innovation was the slides:
“Flip Out London E6 has a 30-foot drop slide that is almost vertical. It also has climbing and the only indoor caving system in London. Again, there are trampolines.”
Because of the shift away from conventional retail, experiential offerings are being incorporated into retail destinations as retailtainment moves into the mainstream:
“A good example of that is Lakeside,” Beese says. “You have the shopping centre, but right next to it you have Flip Out, Putt Shack, Hollywood Bowl, Electric Playbox, and we’re opening up a Boom: Battle Bar.”
“This still isn’t common knowledge,” he adds. “Unbelievably, some retailers are only just starting to cotton on.”
Lakeside was, he says, an early adopter.
“We are seeing an increasing number of these opportunities coming up, with BHS, for example. Most owners of BHS premises haven’t done anything with them. We’ve been working with landlords who are keen to put in a different offering, at very favourable terms for us, and give us a shot to improve their footfall, which is what they want.”
Flip Out adventure play ‘super-centres’
This is what brought them to Aylesbury, the site of the new Flip Out adventure play park ‘super-centre’ in a former BHS store. Opening in the former BHS department store in Friars Square Shopping Centre, the Flip Out super centre stretches over 45,000 square feet. It cost £1.8 million to refit and will generate 75 new jobs.
“It was a bit tricky,” says Beese. “We didn’t have the head-height necessary for trampolines, or the other systems that we use. So we looked at other products and offerings that weren’t all in one place in the UK, or, if they were, weren’t being done as well as we do such things with Flip Out.
“We decided to give it a shot, and its opening weekend was fantastic. It was one of the best weekends we’ve seen, and that is during COVID, with restrictions in place. But the reception was fantastic.
“There aren’t many centres where everything is under one roof – ice skating, bumper cars, mini-golf, interactive five-a-side football, laser quest, an interactive assault course. We’ve got a huge arcade area at the front of the store and a really good diner.”
“The landlord has been blown away by it. We’ve also taken on the BHS in Aberdeen that he owns as well: a humongous site. We’ve put in a Flip Out and a Boom: Battle Bar – two separate businesses, with separate entrances.
“We are looking at adding electric go-karting, and possibly a 3 screen cinema as a third phase.”
The importance of branding
One thing that differentiates Flip Out from other operators, he says, is its strong branding.
“It’s hard to identify many of our competitors one from the next. Flip Out has a story. It has a mascot – the Ninja. Children feel almost as if they’re stepping into a comic book. Flip Out pumps out adrenaline and fun. It’s just oozing excitement. When a child steps out, the real world is grey, a bit quiet. It’s like: ‘Wow. What happened?’”
“Almost every time I have gone into a Flip Out, I’ve seen kids screaming and trembling with sheer excitement. I’ve heard so many children saying: ‘This is the best day of my life.’”
“Inadvertently, our customers, the teenagers and kids that go into Flip Out, are getting fit at the same time as having fun. It’s very active. We did a big push pre-COVID about fighting obesity. We offered free PE lessons to schools up and down the country to bring kids in, and fight what was seen, pre-pandemic, as an obesity epidemic.
“I’m confident none of us has got much slimmer during the lockdown. Post-COVID, we’re going to do a big campaign to get the nation’s families fit again.”
The philosophy of Flip Out
The philosophy behind Flip Out is rooted in exercise through play:
“It’s about having fun and being active, which is important for mental health, as well. We want to do a campaign around that, offering activities to clubs, leisure centres, communities and schools and colleges, so people can come in, and have a bit of respite.”
“Flip Out is all about fun. Fun is our product. The pandemic has been crippling. There are countless personal struggles that people are having on a day-to-day basis, too many to chronicle.
“We want to scream from the rooftops that after the pandemic, as people begin to venture out again, that will be the time to get people back together.”
“It doesn’t have to be in massive groups. It can all be within government guidelines. No-one wants to risk going back into a lockdown situation. But people must go out, let their hair down, and have some respite from all that has been going on.”
In Australia, where Flip Out attractions are already open again, their business is going through the roof.
“I was reading in the paper recently that some sections of society – not those who have been laid off or suffered a profound drop in income, of course – are sitting on a lot of money,” he says
“They’ve been cooped up, and haven’t been spending money as they normally would. I think we are going to see some really good times ahead, and we are very optimistic about it.”
Flip Out and the experience economy
Flip-Out, tailor-made for the experience economy, is aimed at retailtainment, and the active fitness trend.
“We’re going bigger and better. Because Flip Out is a well-known brand, we had over 5 million visitors in 2019. We have linked up with a licensing partner, and are going to start licensing out our products in quite a big way. Next year you will see outdoor Flip Out equipment. We know from the pandemic last year that you couldn’t buy a trampoline for love or money. We’re doing deals with major retailers.”
“Aberdeen Flip Out is going to be one of the biggest entertainment centres, probably in the world, certainly in the country. It will be over 100,000 square feet.”
“And then we have Flip Out Croydon, Flip Out Hounslow, Flip Out Liverpool, and Flip Out High Wycombe and Aberdeen, all opening over the next six-eight months, even with everything that’s going on.”
Weathering the storm
In terms of recruitment, the company is taking advantage of the current situation:
“You can look at this time from either an optimistic or a pessimistic viewpoint. We are choosing optimism. It is an outstanding jobs market at the moment, teeming with talent and opportunity. We’re recruiting people who just weren’t available pre-COVID; they were wrapped up in jobs.”
“The longer we are in this situation, the more our competitors could fall over. We don’t want that, of course; we are good friends with many people in the sector. On a personal level, this is people’s lives and we respect operators in our sector. However, on a pure business front, its survival of the fittest and less competition is never a bad thing.”
Beese feels Flip Out is better positioned to withstand the COVID-19 storm than many:
“Business is business, and if they’re going to fall over, we’ll see what the pickings are. We bought Peterborough Bounce last year when it went into administration because of COVID and are doing a massive refit on it right now. We’ve spent about half a million pounds doing a large retro-fit, to transform it into something more like a family entertainment centre.”
“It is very rare that Flip Out will do any trampoline centres any more. It has evolved. People want variety. It is modular, so we can constantly take things out and bring things in.”
Future plans for Flip Out
Variety also means the company is not putting all its eggs in one basket, he says:
“We do have some top-secret plans, so I can’t say too much, but it’s something that has not been seen in the UK. It will be in one of the top three shopping centres in the UK, potentially in Newcastle, or Manchester. They are going to trial it with us. It will be a family activity. It’s something that has never been done in this style.
“That is brewing at the moment. You’ll know more about that, probably, in the second quarter of this year. We’re working closely with the landlord, who will also be investing with us, to make it incredible.”
While this is a positive story of growth, Beese stresses that the period hasn’t been without its struggles. He says:
“It has been difficult. We haven’t had to lay anyone off, which is good. And we feel confident that when people are allowed out again, they will come to us. We’re keen to set the trend in the industry, and that’s what we will continue doing. At some point, we would like to explore teaming up with another large player.”
Growing the new concept
Flip Out has seen significant interest from potential franchisees throughout the last year:
“There are people that have been made redundant, and have got a redundancy package,” he says. “There are those, too, who might have thought, ‘now is the time to go out on my own, but I’d rather go with a proven model.’”
“This is why, along with the power of the brand, people go into a franchise. But then there are also people who have been looking for an opportunity to do something different, and this has been a huge kickstart.
“It’s been incredible, not just for Flip Out, but for Boom: Battle Bars, too. We’re getting around 10 solid leads a week. So many people are ready to make changes in their careers. It’s part of that ‘Life’s too short…’ mantra.
“Of course, there are only a finite number of sites. For Flip Out, we’d have a maximum of 50. With our new concept, if it goes how we hope, we could add another 20 on top of that for Flip Out.”