How Did Gravity’s franchise network expand?
MH: We never really expected to franchise; we’re operators, and we operate really well. The fact was that demand from landlords for Gravity was so great that we could only keep up if we brought partners on.
Companies that own malls in the U.S. and the Middle East are looking at the impact that Gravity is having here in the U.K., and want to bring the brand over. For example: every single shopping center in the U.K. is between 10 and 30 per cent down on 2019 footfall – except one. That’s Southside Wandsworth, where we’ve opened. Those footfall numbers are up 30 per cent. When you can present those kinds of numbers, there’s no wonder that this is going to change the way that people view the high street.
How has Gravity evolved since launch?
MH: I was born into a traveling funfair; I’ve literally done this all my life. I’ve seen a season at the coast, and at the beginning of the season, everything is bright and there’s thousands of people. But towards the end, the numbers dwindle. Shutters come down, and the worse businesses start to close.
When I went from the coast to first opening in a mall, it was like Christmas every day. I’ve seen seasons dwindle no matter what, but if I offer the right experience and the right product, then this doesn’t need to end.
We started with trampolines, then took on more real estate in the mall and put in climbing walls, then a skycoaster, and we’re now working on a 30,000 square feet build for karting.
The big difference between what Gravity offers and the stand-alone bowling alley or karting track, is that this is a fully-themed destination. The minute you walk through the door at Gravity Wandsworth, you’re wowed. Not one thing is the showstopper; they all contribute for one experience.
The fact that our midweek is still busy – not just weekends – has taken everything to a new level.
For entrepreneurs unfamiliar with this industry, why is experiential leisure the place to be?
MH: There will be a lot of pretenders that go into this without the correct experience, and there will be a lot of people getting tripped up. The operational standards and engagement are what will make a successful business in this sector. Why is it at the forefront now? Because the space is available. Before, everything was retail. That’s not enough now. Locations are more affordable because landlords are thinking that if they bring leisure in, the footfall of their sites will rise and retailers can sell.
Why do you think the Middle East is a key market for the Gravity brand?
MH: We signed a Saudi partner four years ago, and they have a trampoline park. It has traded its socks off ever since. It’s almost the awakening of leisure out in the Middle East. They haven’t had 50 years of bowling out there; this is new to market, and it’s a little like where we operate really well in northern European countries, where people avoid the cold; this is the opposite. They’re trying to avoid the sun, so you get really good, long seasons for entertainment.
What does your ideal franchisee profile look like?
MH: For me, first and foremost, they’ve got to believe in the brand. I don’t necessarily need somebody who’s going to be involved in the running of this thing. But they need to be financially secure, because there’s a lot of investment into Gravity – but the rewards are there.
We offer so much in the way of partner. I look at them as partners; it’s not a case of giving them the design and telling them to get on with it. We have all sorts of data, and because we’re good operators, we have lots of comparable information. It’s in our interests to pass this data to make that franchise partner aware. We’ll pick the teams with them and run through everything on a weekly basis to compare data and figures.
There isn’t an exact, perfect profile. But they need to be able to invest, and it’s all about the growth. If we open one site with a partner, I think we’ve all failed. It’s about a journey.
We sell fun. It’s a lovely business to be involved in.
“The fact that our midweek is still busy – not just weekends – has taken everything to a new level”
Why is 2022 the best time to join gravity?
MH: At the moment, Gravity is the fastest-growing leisure business in the U.K. Landlords are desperate to get Gravity on board, and we can broker some really great deals out there. Everyone in the world is looking what we’re doing, and in the next few years, some big players will try to mimic what we’re doing.
I think we have an 18-month window to take the best locations and push this business to the next level. There’s the opportunity for a partner now to get a great location and the best leisure facility in the sector.
At a glance Gravity
Established: 2014 (franchising since 2017)
Number of franchised outlets: Six and one master (min 14 units)
Location of units: U.K., Europe, Middle East
Investment range: Up to £6m
Minimum required capital: £500,000
Contact: Richard Lang, chief development officer, firstname.lastname@example.org