John Wilkinson, president
Benicia-based Total Rebound Interactive Games
and Team Building
Designing, manufacturing and renting interactive
games for corporate events and parties
1990, as a bungee-jumping company
40 year-round; about 100 in the summer
Real estate development and hotel development
Elements of success:
Listening to the customer, and creativity
Words of wisdom:
Start small. Test your concept before going big."
Finding people with the right personality and attitude
for this kind of work
John Wilkinson knows how to ride a wave. In 1990
he left a career in hotel development to capitalize
on the bungee jumping craze, setting up jumps for
customers and himself doing a flying Elvis impersonation
(on a bungee cord) for San Francisco's Black and
Today, his Benicia-based Total Rebound has evolved
into the life of the party in the Bay Area's booming
economy...providing customized team-building and
party games for corporate events and meetings.
The evolution has been a natural one. "We
knew bungee jumping was a fad," Wilkinson
said. "We set it up to disappear in a week," mainly
by leasing the equipment. When interest evaporated
in 1992, Total Rebound expanded what had been a
peripheral money-maker -- over-sized games Wilkinson
had set up to entertain would-be jumpers while
Marketing the interactive games -- like Big Time
Boxing (pictured top-left) (with heavy, over-sized
foam boxing gloves). Human Bowling (a human in
a sphere pushed in an enclosed "rink")
and Bungee Bull Ride (in which one person attempts
to keep his seat while four others rock the bull)
-- to Bay Area startups was a no-brainer.
"I recognized that all these companies were
growing, and were almost all men," Wilkinson
said. "But they'd throw parties with a band
and a dance floor. They needed something else to
So he sent letters to corporate event planners,
and Total Rebound bounced back. In 1995 Wilkinson
expanded into corporate team building, which now
accounts for almost half of Total Rebound's revenue.
The team-building market has been particularly
strong in today's fast-paced economy, where team
spirit is commonly seen as vital for productivity
and mergers create the need for ways to integrate
diverse groups of employees. Total Rebound can
set up a team-building event on site at a corporate
campus for half the cost and far less hassle than
a company trip to some ropes course hours off site.
And a company with specific desires can have a
game custom built for its events, if the extensive
variety of games already in the Total Rebound repertoire
doesn't do the trick. Return customers have learned,
however, that the company probably has something
good for them -- "They call us and ask what's
new," Wilkinson said.
Wilkinson said the intangibles are the most vital,
however. "we've always been selling experience.
Clients hire us for the atmosphere we're going
to create, and the memories."
That atmosphere starts with the employees who
set up the games and keep the party rocking. "Our
hardest challenge is finding extremely capable,
quality staff," Wilkinson said. "It's
also what we're best at. We get people who want
to rent our staff."
In recruiting, Wilkinson said, "we don't
hire for skills, we hire for personality." Personality
and attitude -- along with killer games -- are
what make the customers happy, and Wilkinson keeps
it a priority. "we treat our staff the way
we want our clients to be treated."
The focus on service doesn't stop there. Wilkinson
has "checklists for everything," to ensure
that every event runs smoothly. His staff even
has one uniform to wear while setting up and another
to change into for the event itself. "we make
everything we do look professional," Wilkinson
It's paid off -- a Total Rebound event makes a
lasting impression. "The main reason we've
grown is through referrals," Wilkinson said;
some 85 percent of Total Rebound's business is
from return customers....Hewlett-Packard, Cisco
Systems, Oracle, Sun Microsystems, Genentech and
Clorox, and the larger corporations hire Total
Rebound to run events across the country, despite
the presence of cheaper, local competitors.
"[Clients] don't take a chance," Wilkinson
said. "They trust us to do it right."