Some people can make a career out of playing a game. For others, they make careers out of enjoyable, fulfilling endeavors that don’t really feel like work. Three-time Super Bowl champion and New England Patriots Hall of Fame defensive back Ty Law has done both – and he’s as hungry as ever to continue growing a successful life based on having fun.
Retiring from football in 2009, Law said he always knew he’d go into business after his first career ended. Many athletes revolve back into the game, becoming coaches, assistants or analysts for sports media outlets. Entrepreneurial types often get into franchising – primarily within the hospitality industry – and Law almost went down that same path.
Then he met Rob Arnold, a North Kingstown native who owned an independent contracting firm and was hired to do some renovations on his home in Lincoln. At some point during the month-long project, Arnold brought up the left-field concept of trampoline parks, which captured Law’s interest.
“I had no idea what a trampoline park was at the time. My son wanted to go, so that’s why I went to one, and the rest is history,” Law said on Tuesday, seated in a booth of the dining area at Launch Trampoline Park, located at 920 Bald Hill Road in Warwick. “I took a chance. I was pretty far down the line on some of the other things I was going to do, as far as being a franchisee, and now I’m sitting on the other side of it as the franchisor. It’s been good.”
The new business duo decided to give the venture a shot and, self-funded, they opened their first facility, which opened in Warwick further down Route 2 on Pace Boulevard six years ago with a team consisting of just Law, Arnold and his wife. Utilizing Arnold’s contracting prowess and Law’s entrepreneurial passion and name recognition, the business gained traction.
Launch has since exploded into 21 locations spanning 13 states, over half of which have opened since the beginning of 2017. There are six new parks set to open through the end of 2018 and throughout 2019. An additional 30 new parks throughout the country have signed franchise development deals at this time as well.
Looking around the facility, it’s not difficult to see why the concept has caught on. Launch incorporates every different type of entertainment module you can think of, from large areas full of foam pits and spongy flooring with trampolines throughout, a ninja warrior obstacle course, a video game arcade, a mezzanine space turned into a laser tag arena and plans to incorporate virtual and augmented reality. A food court area hosts specialty pizza and a make your own sundae bar, among other snacks that can be regionalized based on the location of the park (gator meat in Mississippi was mentioned)
As Arnold calls it, it’s basically “Chuck E. Cheese on steroids.” The strategy is not merely to throw a random combination of toys into a building and see how it works – it’s a necessary philosophy of constant evolution to keep up with a constantly shifting industry.
“Family entertainment is really interesting. It’s probably next in line to technology as far as the speed of evolution,” said Arnold. “Technology is changing super fast, and with family entertainment you need to be right on top of things and evolve quickly in order to stay relevant and fun and cool.”
Perhaps most interesting about the Warwick location is that it is actually the smallest Launch facility they operate, hovering around 20,000 square feet. Others are more than twice as big, and a planned location in Orlando, Fla. is sizing up to be around 60,000 square feet.
“The building kind of dictates the design and what you can and can’t put in there,” Law said, adding that the Warwick location was a good example of optimizing available space with a little bit of everything that Launch seeks to offer.
The facility in Warwick is also the home to Launch corporate headquarters, where new franchisees are trained in the workings of the business. If you’re looking to start your own Launch franchise, it will cost you a franchise fee of $50,000 and you can expect to spend between $1.1 to 2.8 million in an initial investment.
Another interesting Warwick-centric wrinkle to the business lies across the city on Jefferson Boulevard, where Launch operates a metal fabrication shop that constructs everything from the ninja warrior courses to hand railings for all of their facilities nationwide.
Going from the mindset of being a player in a business-first organization like the Patriots – where he expected to be cut or traded the moment it made business sense to do so – to being a business owner himself, Law said that the game taught him valuable lessons that has helped him in being a franchisor.
“You’re always dealing with people. Even if you’re playing football, it’s still a people business,” he said. “Within the locker room, everyone comes from different backgrounds and we have to get along to go out there and play the game. We all knew what we were there for. Here, it’s the same thing. Our folks come from all different walks of life but at the same time, we’re a team."
Launch has launched a successful post-playing career for Law – and his enthusiasm for the business is palpable. Of course, he remains a competitor at heart, and said he could still talk about football all day if given the opportunity. However, being a business owner has provided him fulfillment in a different way than making crucial plays on the gridiron.
“Nothing is ever going to replace being an athlete – being a football player and playing in front of millions of people and thousands of people out in the stands, it’s a different feeling,” he said. “But I do get a sense of satisfaction by one, not only being successful, but like Rob mentioned earlier, we’ve created jobs. We’ve created opportunities. We’re keeping kids off the streets. More so than anything, that is very important to me, and to us.”
All told, Launch employs 1,300 people across the country, which will expand to about 2,800 by the end of 2019. In Rhode Island alone, between the Warwick park, its corporate office and the fabrication shop, Launch employs 86 people.
“For us to be sitting here talking to you guys today and we’re still growing, I do feel good about that,” Law said.