This article appeared in Issue 1#2 (Jan/Feb 2007) of Business Franchise Australia & New Zealand
There is life before franchising but John Kitiona wasn’t spending much of it with his family.
The Kitionas live in Hurstville, Sydney. John worked two jobs, a morning shift and then an afternoon one which meant he usually got home after his three kids, Paul, Mark, and Sarah aged eight, four, and two were in bed.
Mette Kitiona, his wife, works full time and prior to taking on a Jumping J-Jays franchise the couple felt that something had to change. Family life was suffering and they really weren’t gaining financially from their efforts.
“My husband used to work two jobs basically to get the extra income but we found that tax-wise, for the hours he was working, we weren’t getting much in return,” said Mette.
The Kitionas had hired Jumping J-Jays castles a few times before and when they checked out their website they found that the Hurstville franchise was available.
“There were no other franchises in jumping castles at that time. There were just backyard castle people and we personally liked the idea that with Jumping J-Jays we didn’t have to take the calls and make the bookings. Everything was done for us and we just went out and did the work. Working full-time and trying to take people’s calls just wasn’t viable for us.”
Jumping J-Jays provided all the equipment they needed. All that John and Mette had to do was get towbars fitted on their cars for the trailer that carried the castles. Initially they bought 12 castles but that was four years ago and as the business has grown they have purchased another six to satisfy the growing demand, particularly in summer.
All the bookings are made through a national support office which is open from 7am to 7pm. The office staff take the calls and distribute the bookings to the franchisee covering the area. Customers can pay a deposit by credit card or cheque and Mette logs on to the Jumping J-Jays intranet site each evening to obtain booking details and process invoices.
Jumping J-Jays is a weekend business that entails one extra day a week for implementing a local area marketing plan.
“The first year we started it was a brand new area that wasn’t established so getting ourselves out there, building up the clientele, and then making sure we kept them was challenging.”
John visits local playgroups and child minding centres delivering advertising material and fridge magnets some afternoons after work or Mette may do the visiting on her rostered days off. Getting to know the local businesses and groups has been a major part of their business promotion.
“We do a lot of sponsorships. We provide free castles for clubs and playgroups as part of our marketing plan and we have another part called Funkids where we provide a free castle to preschools during the school holidays and in December.”
Most franchisees live in the area they service and John and Mette get involved in their local community by attending local events and sporting clubs. They also have a sign at the front of their house to draw attention to their business.
Mette and John have built up a solid customer base. They both enjoy keeping in touch with their regulars and watching the kids grow from year to year.
“Kids absolutely love jumping castles. It is good to see. We go back to some families every year and see how the kids have grown. One family books us twice a year every year,” said Mette.
The franchise has given the Kitionas more family time. They set up the castles in the morning and then collect them in the afternoon leaving the middle of the day free for relaxing or going on family outings.
“We have managed to work around the business so that we don’t let it stop us from doing things. It has been a lot better for us than having to work two jobs. Now John is home by the time the kids finish school every afternoon.”
The business is a team effort with both Mette and John taking part in all aspects of the work. Even their son Paul likes to help with the setting up by carrying the hammer and pegs. “He just loves to get involved with Dad,” said Mette who sometimes sets a castle up in the backyard as well. “The kids don’t get sick of it. My daughter asks every weekend if we can have a castle.”
John and Mette sometimes take annual leave from their jobs to cover the busy Christmas period and school holidays and they have hired a contractor to help them if they want to have a weekend off. There is also the option of help from neighbouring franchisees if they cannot make a particular event or are planning a holiday.
“When we go away we can always count on our other franchisees to help. We are very appreciative. You know your customers are still going to get looked after even if it is not by you. If you were on your own and you went on holidays your business would just shut down.”
Each year all the franchisees get together for a national conference where performance awards are given. John and Mette have received awards for Highest Turnover in a Month and Highest Utilisation Rate. There is also a state conference every three months so the franchisees get together regularly.
John and Mette are planning to buy more castles next year and are looking forward to their next holiday. Having the extra money needed to take family holidays has been one of the greatest rewards for running their business successfully.
“It is a good business and I’m glad we did the franchise and not go out on our own because I don’t think we would have been able to do it to the success that we have achieved now,” said Mette. “It is hard work. There is a lot of time put into it, but for us it has been worth it.”