world headquarters of Total Rebound, the hotshot
service company, is in an ordinary looking office
park in Benicia. Everywhere else in the complex,
business is business. But at Total Rebound, business
is fun -- and the company takes it very seriously
Total Rebound's job is to help business build
teamwork and morale. The firm does it the
old-fashioned way -- by having fun. "A
happy workplace," said Total Rebound president and founds John
Wilkinson," is a productive workplace."
That's the corporate vision at Total Rebound Interactive Games, where
they make fun work, and work fun. The company's list of clients reads
like a who's who in business, including Fortune 500 companies, Silicon
Valley 100 companies, top universities (including Berkeley and Stanford)
and even sports teams like the 49ers and the San Jose Sharks.
Last year the company grossed $3 million. It has 100 employees in
the peak summer season, and affiliates in Honolulu and London. Wilkinson,
42, found a need in corporate life and filled it. In his travels,
he discovered social interaction in the work place -- hanging around
the water cooler and shooting the breeze, playing softball at the
old-time company picnic -- had nearly vanished. Instead, Wilkinson
said, workers e-mail each other and confer by phone.
Even the old business social
events have withered away. "The days of
white wine and canapes at a company event have
been gone for years," Wilkinson said. "Now,
(the staff) want to be part of the entertainment.
Silicon Valley loves to be different," he
So companies hire Total Rebound
to put on company entertainment with a difference.
And Wilkinson believes some of the party
games contain important lessons. Some of
it turns out, involve team problem solving. "A
technique," Wilkinson said "to
get people to work together, when they demonstrate
the whole is greater than the sum of its
is a gospel of games. According to Total
Rebound's brochure, "getting people
active, mobilized, and viscerally involved
with each other overcomes
stereotypes and breaks down barriers. We
provide a relaxed environment where training,
and fun happen in sync. Our programs motivate,
inspire, build trust, improve communication
and create an atmosphere designed to reward
employees for a job well done."
companies attract and keep good employees,
morale and sales. "People work and help
those they know and like," said Wilkinson,
as hey played at this desk with a silver-lavender
"We all need to play more," he said. "It's good for us personally
and in business. It breaks down barriers."
It may seem like a waste of good money to the outsider, but companies say team
building and wild and wacky parties are important in today's business culture.
Firms pay good money for it. Last week Cadence Design Systems, a high-tech firm
in San Jose, had 1,500 employees spend Friday afternoon with Total Rebound toys
and staff, some in team-building exercises, some just enjoying play on a summer
day. Cadence paid an estimated $30,000 for the afternoon, not including the cost
of food and tents at its corporate campus.
That's not an unusual price for companies to reward their people," said
Wilkinson. Wilkinson charges based on the number of people participating,
with rates as low as $5 per person for a very large group to play with
the interactive games. Average price is about $30 per person. When it
comes to team-building, rates rise to an average $75 per head and includes
Wilkinson got started in the corporate real estate and hotel development business.
But that was too tame. In 1990, he started Total Rebound by organizing bungee
jumps and charging for them. Bungee jumping was at first a huge hit -- people
lined up to jump. Wilkinson, even then an innovator, bought inflatable games
for clients to play while they waited in line.
But bungee jumping, it turned out, was only a fad. The real money was
in the games. Wilkinson kept the old name -- Total Rebound is the heart
-- and moved on. "When people did not want to bungee jump anymore, we could
walk away from it," he said.
At first, Wilkinson used the inflatable games leftover from his bungee days.
But he realized he needed to inventtoy his own games. He is the Abner Doubleday
of human shuffleboard,
the James Naismith of Velcro Drag Racing. He also has cooked up dozens more,
like human bowling, "Mission Impossible" style scavenger
hunts, and missile launching aboard the retired aircraft carrier USS
Hornet in Alameda.
One of his best games is called "Rescue
at Sea." In this game, four copilots standing around a pool of
water must work together to operate a toy helicopter using cranks, pulleys
to rescue bikini-clad Barbie dolls jet-skiing in shark-infested waters. The
operators must work quickly -- most games don't last longer than 20 minutes
-- and cooperate
to pluck the damsels in distress from the dangerous waters to safety on a tropical
isle. Waiting for the Barbies are G.I. Joe and Ken.
Many companies are pleased with the results. "The games were both visually
exciting for onlookers and incredibly fun for everyone who tried them," said
Lorie Hannigan of the San Francisco 49ers." "We have a 98 percent satisfaction
rate from customers," said Wilkinson.
After experiencing your imaginative, creative and outstanding games, Hewlett-Packard
will never again settle for less," wrote event planner Beth Huth. "Who
would of thought that 2,000 corporate executives would love riding a
bungee bull and bounding into the air on a hydraulic trampoline? Well,
all of the other games were the talk of the town! All of the business
units have expressed
interest in using you again."
Wilkinson says he is perfect for the fun and games business. "I am very
competitive, I don't like to lose and I love games." He gets new ideas
for games by going to Toys R Us and playing with the most appealing games on
floor. He waits to see which ones create the most interest among other shoppers,
then combines ideas of several games to create his own giant version. He creates
about two or three new games a year.
Wilkinson and his family live on a ranch in Napa. He chose Benicia for
his world headquarters because he didn't want to commute more than 30
game is Risk, he said. "that's the one where you take over the world."