Pump It Up

A group of kids works to climb the slippy slope. The point of the game is to grab the flags off the Velcro and move them as high as they can. The trick is not to slip and fall back down to the bottom.

Allison Hurtado/AFN

Pump it Up in Tempe has been open for almost four years but a recent corporate take over is giving the location new life and making it a testing ground for the latest in inflatable obstacle courses and customized birthday parties.

Pump it Up began in California in 2000, according to CEO Lee Knowlton. Two moms wanted to create a new way to do birthday parties that were a little cleanlier and more private than a Chucky Cheese.

"They really wanted to offer a stress-free environment for the parents to be able to come with their child, kids and friends and have fun as a group and know that it was just them," Knowlton said.

Since then many competitors have popped up but Knowlton says Pump it Up still leads the industry with franchises across the nation. Their concept is giant inflatable parties. Each party begins with a safety video. Kids are then allowed to play freely in an inflatable arena while employees monitor the play to keep everyone safe. After 30 minutes or so they move to a new arena for new challenges and at the end they're taken to a party room where cake and food are provided. The inflatables are cleaned after each party.

Knowlton says in the past the corporate team would have to test new items in different franchise locations because they had no location of their own. This created timing problems and corporate never really got to see the full results. When the Tempe location went up for sale Knowlton decided to purchase it himself and make it into a corporate testing grounds.

The location near Priest Drive and Elliot Road, at 1325 W. Auto Drive St., Suite 101, has two arenas for parties and play time. In those two arenas they have multiple attractions for kids to try out. They have many of the same inflatables they've always had but currently they're trying out a few new games. Sky Tower allows kids to climb up a tower filled with an elastic spider web and go down a 22-foot slide from the top. Motion Madness is a new game powered by a projector glowing down onto the ground. A motion sensor is placed near the ceiling so as kids move the game reacts to their motions. The game changes every few minutes to keep kids entertained.

The store also has a space for parents. A mini wall was built to separate tables and chairs from the play area. A new sound system was installed to give parents some music and free Wi-Fi is available while kids play.

"Having this store really helps us test things so that we can see the customer's reaction, the child's reaction and the impact on business," Knowlton said. "Then we can go on and recommend it to our franchise community so they can order it."

So far, Knowlton says the new attractions have been instant hits with kids and parents.

In the next year Knowlton has big plans for Pump it Up. The corporate store will be testing out "Adventure Parties" soon, which will take themed birthday parties to a whole new level.

"The typical themed parties are really just paper plates and cups," Knowlton said. "We're trying to take it to the next level where you really become something. In our pirate party we'll greet you with pirate talk and then we'll have pirate activities in the arenas to keep that mindset. We'll make it more of an experience and, hopefully, the parent and child can make more of an emotional connection to it."

The company will also be rolling out a new logo and new tagline in 2012.

"We're really hoping to reinvent the birthday party category," Knowlton said. "We're the category leader but we really want to take it to another level and make it more personal. We really want to have that connection and really continue to differentiate ourselves."

Contact writer: (480) 898-7914 or ahurtado@ahwatukee.com




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