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In the media

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San Francisco Business Times
July 23 - 29, 1999

Growth Strategies


Snapshot of Total Rebound

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."
Key challenge:
Finding people with the right personality and attitude for this kind of work

Benicia-based game-maker is the life of corporate parties.

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 White Ball.

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 they waited.

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 entertain them."

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 said.

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."



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