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Bouncing Back

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  • | 1:25 a.m. October 22, 2010
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There was some understandable reluctance on the landlord's part when Steve Johnston and Rich Heruska proposed putting a bunch of trampolines inside 15,000 square feet of flex industrial space at Ashlyn Park, in Tampa's Carrollwood section.

Sure, the 24-foot ceiling is high enough for bouncing on springy mats, but who would want to pay to do that for hours at a time?

So far, it appears plenty of people are willing, from youngsters to grandparents. Airheads Trampoline Arena opened in mid-August and is attracting a wide range of customers, from small families to larger groups looking for a place to have fun.

Heruska and Johnston, doing business as Vertical Venture Partners Inc., say they worked on their plan for Airheads for a full year before signing a five-year lease at 5072 W. Linebaugh Ave. Elevated blue and green trampolines, both horizontally and along the walls, take up 11,000 square feet.

The remaining space includes a video arcade, a cafe and a lounge for folks who aren't there to jump but are with someone else trying other airborne tricks. Wireless online service is available, as are HDTVs and security cameras.

“We saw an opportunity for something different,” Heruska says. “We believe there's an opportunity to do these in other neighborhoods and towns.”

Johnston, 38, and Heruska, 34, have been business partners for the last 15 years since they were students at the University of South Florida. They started out selling student meal plan debit cards, then later established Home Discovery, a real estate agency that promoted 2% commissions before succumbing to the housing bust.

While there aren't any additional Airheads franchises yet, its sole location is already drawing crowds, especially on weekends. Fitness classes are offered, dodge ball leagues are being formed and birthday parties have become a specialty.

The owners are also getting inquiries from Tampa Bay area companies looking for a different venue for employee outings. “It's not the same thing as bowling or laser tag,” Johnson says.

Airheads wants to make it easy for anyone to use. It costs $12 to jump for the first hour, then $10 for each additional hour, including rental of shoes and helmets for jumpers under age 18. Liability waivers are required for anyone entering the trampoline area.

The location is easy to reach, within close proximity of Westchase and accessible from Dale Mabry and Gunn highways. Heruska counts approximately 50 schools within a five-mile radius, meaning there are plenty of opportunities for promotion to youngsters.

The owners studied various trampoline arena concepts in California and Las Vegas before launching Airheads, and they realize their arena is not unique to the Tampa Bay area, with Boing Jump Center having opened in Brandon this past spring. However, they say they want to set theirs apart from other bounce houses, and having the other elements in place is part of the strategy.

“We built ours to focus on being a family entertainment center,” Heruska says. “We want this to become the next great entertainment franchise, somewhere between Chuck E. Cheese and Dave & Buster's.”

At least 25 employees work at Airheads, wearing themed badges such as “flight attendants” and “air traffic controllers.” The owners won't disclose exactly how much traffic they are getting starting out, or what their initial investment was.

They are, however, already scouting additional locations in the Tampa Bay market before attempting a national rollout. “We didn't get into this business to just do one,” Johnston says.



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