By April Miller | Photo by Laura Watilo Blake
The group decided to try Sky Zone Trampoline Park. It was the first time Kristin and her three children had ever been to the indoor trampoline facility.
“Everyone, including my son Nick, who has autism, had a wonderful time,” Kemper says. “He was calmer and slept the entire way home. We all said we wish we had one closer to us.”
While no stranger to entrepreneurship — she was raised by two business owners — Kemper had never really thought about opening a franchise. Her father, John Kemper Sr., owned a foundry while her mother, Betty, had started The Kemper Co. The latter develops and manages Kemper House, licensed residential care facilities focused on caring for those with Alzheimer’s disease and related dementias.
As executive vice president of The Kemper Co. and a licensed nursing home administrator, Kristin Kemper had been working with her family and managing Kemper House for almost two decades.
“I was nervous going into a franchise, having come from a business that we managed and made our own decisions, but there is a lot of support behind you with Sky Zone,” Kemper, who still maintains her role at Kemper House, says. “They give you a lot of latitude, and they also give you a lot of guidance. You share ideas from other parks. It’s a good network.”
The first Sky Zone opened in 2004 in Las Vegas. Today there are more than 95 Sky Zone indoor trampoline parks across the United States, Canada, Mexico, and Australia.
Encouraged by her own family’s experience in Columbus and the thought of bringing healthy fun to families in the Cleveland area, she made the leap and opened Sky Zone in Westlake in July 2013. She credits her parents as mentors and adds that KeyBank was very helpful. “Key was the one bank that stuck with us,” Kemper says, “and helped get the first one financed.”
In November Kemper opened her second location in Highland Heights. As she selected locations, Kemper needed to keep in mind ceiling height, column spacing, if the proposed city would allow this usage, and whether the site was near retail and easily accessed from the highway. For the Westlake location she ended up building as she wasn’t able to find space that met her needs. In Highland Heights Kemper found an existing building on Alpha Drive.
“When you walk in you are just wowed by the size of the trampoline,” she says, noting that most people envision many small trampolines. On the main course 50 to 60 trampolines are connected, and trampoline walls are on the side. “You can bounce off the walls literally,” she says. The huge foam zone contains more than 18,000 foam cubes.
“If you can walk, you can jump,” Kemper says, noting that Sky Zone attracts all ages. “Our oldest jumper is 82.”
Touted as “fun fitness,” activities at both Sky Zone locations include Toddler Time; Skymania, for ages 10-15; Sky Slam; Sky Camp; dodgeball leagues and tournaments; and virtual dodgeball. The facility can be used for events, fundraisers, birthday parties, and bar and bat mitzvahs.
Both locations offer a Special Needs Open Jump Monday evenings with the building closed to the general public. Exclusively for children with special needs and their siblings, it gives the kids a place to themselves and safe space to enjoy jumping. “We have a lot of autism and special needs groups that come in,” Kemper adds. “I love the idea that we’re giving that opportunity that they wouldn’t normally have in an outlet like this.”
The misconception that this is a dangerous activity has been Kemper’s biggest obstacle to overcome. “We have a less than 1 percent injury rate. This is statistically safer than other sports, than football, bike riding,” Kemper says. “Sky Zone has an emphasis on safety, which is one of the reasons I chose to open this franchise. We have rules, safety videos, court monitors, and size separation. Jumpers are divided by age and size. It is very important to me. We always err on the side of safety.”
Kemper is bouncing around ideas for expansion, considering one or two more Sky Zone locations, possibly in Youngstown or the Erie, Pa., area. With an eye on growing the business, she notes there are many opportunities to explore — such as personal training and more fitness classes.
“Our motto is healthy, awesome fun,” Kemper adds. “You can be active and have fun whether young or old. Our activities engage all of your muscles and strengthen your core.”