(Ambrosio’s note: Pump It Up is the nation’s largest franchise of indoor inflatable playgrounds specializing in private parties for birthdays, and programs such as corporate events, school outings, field trips, and more. Trained staff provides guests with supervision, food and beverage set-up, and clean-up services. The Pump It Up franchise opportunity has been refined over 10 plus years of operating more than 150 stores across the nation. By pushing for constant innovation, they are able to stay ahead of the curve and provide their franchisees with the competitive edge to succeed in kid’s entertainment.
It’s my pleasure to share with you this candid and insightful interview with Lee Knowlton, President and CEO of Pump It Up. I’m grateful to Lee for sharing a lot of specific information on Pump It Up that you won’t find anywhere else. If you are looking for a franchise that caters to children and families, in a fun and playful environment, Pump It Up is one franchise that deserves your consideration. Thank you, Lee!)
Lee Knowlton has spent most of his career in industries with a strong focus on customer service and operations. Before joining Pump It Up, Lee was with Cold Stone Creamery for seven years. As President of their International Division, Lee signed more than 20 new countries — resulting in more than 350 open stores — and was later named Chief Operating Officer. Prior to that, Lee was with T.G.I. Friday’s for 11 years and a NASCAR-related company for five years.
Franchise Chatter (FC): What made you decide to join Pump It Up as its President and CEO?
Lee Knowlton (LK): Pump It Up is the clear leader in the active children’s party industry and I knew it had tremendous potential. I felt there was a lot of room to grow the business — in sales and store count, as well as broadening the experience and awareness — so when I was offered the job to lead that effort, I gladly accepted. Once on board, I saw a significant opportunity to create a vision for the brand’s future and formed a truly talented team to help get us there. We’ve since made a lot of progress and are definitely headed in the right direction.
FC: Why should someone interested in owning his or her own business consider a franchise of indoor inflatable playgrounds for private parties?
LK: Our business is about creating positive experiences and bringing joy to children and their families. Because we host parties and events not only for families, but for schools, churches, youth organizations, and other groups, Pump It Up often becomes a centerpiece in the communities where we operate. Our franchise owners love that role. Plus, being in an upbeat environment where people come to have fun is very appealing to nearly anyone who wants to own their own business.
FC: What sets Pump It Up apart from your competitors in the industry?
LK: While there are many things that set us apart from others in our industry, chief among them are the strength of our brand and our commitment to innovation. We are three times larger than our nearest competitor, which gives us a distinct competitive advantage in attracting the best franchisees, creating brand awareness, and reinvesting in our brand. This in turn allows us to continue to innovate and further differentiate ourselves. Over the past year, we have rolled out online reservations, new goodie bags, new interactive programs, and online invitations, just to name a few.
LK: Our typical franchisee is between the ages of 35-45, is married, and has children. Most of the time, they are Pump It Up customers who loved the concept so much they wanted to own their own store. While we do have a minimum net worth requirement, we are even more focused on whether the candidate is actively involved in the community, has a passion for working with children and families, and excels in either customer service, sales, marketing or management. Additionally, a person with a positive attitude and progressive mindset that allows for flexibility to evolve as a brand is also something we carefully consider in our franchisee selection.
FC: Can you describe the ideal territory and neighborhood for a Pump It Up franchise? Where has the concept been less successful?
LK: Places that have a large concentration of young children and families make ideal locations for our franchise. This typically means our stores are located in the suburbs, rather than high-density urban areas. Our numbers continue to show that we can be successful in nearly any location that has the right number of children. When you think about it, every community has a need for a place to hold parties and events, and where children can go for active play.
LK: Our most successful franchisees are the ones who consistently deliver on all four of these areas: they’re engaged in their business, they conduct local store marketing, they provide SUPER STAR service, and they honor their commitments. Since our primary business is bringing joy to kids, successful franchisees are immersed in their stores at all levels — marketing, operations, community work, developing their staff, and ensuring a safe, positive work environment. When a franchisee executes at a high level on all of these fronts, we see positive same-store sales, increasing average unit volume, and very profitable stores. Our role as the franchisor is to develop and communicate a national strategy to assist them with this, then support it in the field with store visits, webinars, market meetings, and national conventions.
FC: What are some of the biggest mistakes your less successful franchisees have made?
LK: The biggest mistake a franchisee can make is lack of attention to the important details that make a big difference in our business. It may sound simple, but details such as greeting every customer with a smile, personalizing each experience, connecting with the community, and anticipating both customer and employee needs are essential. While there will always be business issues that need to be addressed, successful franchisees stay focused on the customer and consistently deliver on the Pump It Up daily purpose: Bring Joy to Everyone.
LK: One of our core mantras is that our company is only as successful as our franchisees. While we can’t speculate as to what their actual profits might be, we give them all the tools they need to determine whether Pump It Up is the right concept for them. We’ve been in business for more than 10 years, and you can’t succeed like that unless both franchisor and franchisees are profitable. Even during a recession, parents tend to continue spending on their children. So as long as people have children and children have birthdays, there will continue to be a demand for our concept. We are constantly evolving our brand to stay relevant with today’s consumers and remain the leader in our category.
FC: Can you tell us about your participation in the Veterans Transition Franchise Initiative (VetFran) and why you’ve chosen to particpate?
LK: At Pump It Up, we believe we have an inherent obligation to support those who have fought for our freedom and defense. To show that support, we discount our franchise fee 25% to any honorably discharged military veteran.
We have some very successful veterans in our system who have told us that although they are no longer in the military, they still have a strong desire to serve. Owning a Pump It Up location allows them to serve their communities by holding local events for families and children, and building relationships with local charities. They are continuing their career of service, just in a different way.
FC: Is there anything else that you’d like to share with us about Pump It Up?
LK: We are very excited about our future as a brand. We recently purchased a corporate store near our offices in Tempe, AZ where we are testing new programs, party concepts, rides, and potential new store prototype designs. We are on the cusp of introducing some cutting-edge innovations and experiences that will broaden our appeal, knock the socks off our customers, and ensure we’re the category leader for many, many years to come.