Josh Oboler & Joe Henry
ZavaZone is a multi-attraction indoor adventure park – the brainchild of two groups of parents who were sick of hearing their children argue about what to do in their spare time. The cofounders, Josh Oboler and Joe Henry, decided to channel that restlessness into something fun, active and healthy that they could all do together. ZavaZone offers trampoline dodgeball with a main court and a stunt jump, a gladiator jousting ring, the “Zipinator” (their version of a zipline/rollercoaster combo), the Polewalk, four lanes of ninja course, a warped wall, a high ropes course, a zipline over the ropes course, a giant slide, parkour, Flipinators (bungee trampolines), and climbing walls. “Our concept is to have sort of everything for everyone,” says Josh.
Josh and Joe have been in business together since 2001. They met in college, began practicing law, and both decided to pursue new challenges. “We’ve run a variety of businesses over the last two decades,” Joe reports. “We’ve run Montessori preschools in the DC and suburban areas, we run two art galleries with resident artists,” and now on to the industry of family recreation with ZavaZone.
The Making of ZavaZone
Josh and Joe both have families that get along really well and enjoy getting together frequently. They became increasingly frustrated trying to please everyone when planning activities, and that is when the idea for ZavaZone was born. As Joe recalls, “We just started thinking about what was out there, what we could do to make it better, and then at some point there was this ‘Aha’ moment that the customer wasn’t the kids. The customer was the whole family.” This concept encouraged them to appeal to a more accurate target demographic, which made them extremely competitive because a place that put in the effort to make sure everyone had fun was pretty much unheard of.
ZavaZone excels at catering to every customer that walks through its doors. Josh and Joe were able to achieve a high customer satisfaction rating by reverse engineering the typical family entertainment experience, which as family men, they have plenty of expertise in. Tired parents who don’t want to participate can stick around as a spectator free of charge. Age-appropriate activities are available to every family member. The facility is kept clean and doesn’t smell like a McDonald’s playground. “We want a six to twelve-year old boy to walk in and say ‘Oh my God this is awesome!’ And I think we’ve achieved that while maintaining sort of an adult gym positive feeling,” Josh says. “And that was a lot of our design – how to take those two potentially disparate ideas and pair them.”
Challenges and Learning Curves
There were no examples to follow of a similar facility in the area, so half the time Josh and Joe were just making it all up as they went. Joe remembers when he and Josh were sitting in the warehouse with plans out in front of them and he asked Josh, “Have you ever used a cash register before?” Josh interjects, “We googled cash register, and that’s the first time we heard ‘POS.’” They had never even dealt in cash before. The determined team learned everything they needed and knew when to ask questions.
The two biggest learning curves Josh and Joe ran into were running birthday parties and staging equipment. Neither of them had any expertise in those areas, and had to learn largely by doing. They hit a few bumps in the road trying to properly throw parties, but learned quickly and are now proud to call themselves birthday party professionals. When initially setting up all the equipment, they had to figure out how things fit together, the order the vendors should come in, where they were in the production queues, and many other little details they had never faced before.
Though there was a bit of a learning curve, eventually their main problem became figuring out how to manage the crowd, which was not a bad problem to have.
Successful Business Strategies
Josh and Joe attribute their success to their focus on making decisions to get people into the building just to see it, their ability to build relationships, and their readiness to adapt to trends and feedback. According to Joe, “getting people to come in, doing different campaigns…whether we’re doing giveaways to schools or community groups or church groups…Getting people in here and getting the word to spread that way” was the most beneficial marketing strategy they ever used.
Simply being nice to people has gone a long way as well. If someone loses $5 in the vending machine, they’ll replace it without a second thought because they want each and every customer to feel valued and to leave ZavaZone with positive memories so that they will come back. “Everybody is the most important customer,” says Joe.
The Future of the Industry
Josh and Joe recognize that trends are constantly changing and technology is continuing to evolve, so they maintain an adaptable business plan. For example, if the ninja course were to lose interest, they are prepared to replace it with a new up-and-coming trend. Additionally, they are preparing to be the first to marry laser tag and trampolines as one activity. They would like to one day create an augmented reality course that involves climbing walls and trampolines as well.
ZavaZone just signed a franchise in Portland, Oregon and has several other locations being prepared across the country. The original adventure park is located in Rockville, MD and the newest addition is in Sterling, VA. Learn more at https://www.zavazone.com/.