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Building their business one bounce at a time

  • Story Highlights
  • Couple invested life savings to open indoor child playground franchise
  • After economy took a nose dive, they changed their business strategy
  • They changed focus from weekend activities to smaller, less expensive parties
  • Since then, business has increased by 20 percent with zero layoffs
By Reynolds Wolf
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CHARLOTTE, North Carolina (CNN) -- Scott and Julie Hamilton took their life savings and borrowed money from family and the bank to invest in their dream.

BounceU, founded in 2003, has 52 locations in 24 states, with 30 locations in development.

Scott Hamilton and his wife, Julie, changed their plans for an indoor playground business after the economy tanked.

Parents of three boys, they opened a kid-friendly franchise, BounceU, last year in Charlotte, North Carolina, an entrepreneurially strong city. Then the economy took a nose dive and changed their plans for the indoor playground and party center.

"We knew we were going to have to get creative and proactive," says Julie Hamilton, whose franchise comes complete with bouncy castles and inflatable slides.

That meant coming up with a marketing strategy to get customers in the door. They focused on children's birthdays, smaller, less expensive parties, and even some weeknight activities.

"We now have party packages that start at $150 and ... we have all kinds of different sizes for different budgets, and that seems to really help a lot," she says.

Adds her husband: "It's not just a weekend business, which is what we originally thought we bought into it for. Now ... we have parties on the weeknights, we have summer camp during the day and we'll have open bounce as well."

The Hamiltons are seeing a payoff. Business has increased by 20 percent with zero layoffs.

It's a common story in Charlotte. According to the Chamber of Commerce, more than 7,300 jobs have been created by new businesses -- mostly small businesses -- so far this year.

The Hamiltons say TV and direct mail ads, online marketing and fundraising partnerships have helped.

"We have called every school and every church and every youth group and every scouting group, and we're talking to them about our programs," Scott Hamilton says. Video Watch the Hamiltons discuss their strategy »


It's all an attempt to get people through their doors -- and keep them coming back.

"It's real easy to get on the inflatables and play with the kids and see them laugh," Scott Hamilton says. "But at the end of the day, it's Mom and Dad who you want to go home feeling like they got a good value for what they paid for."

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