Innovative Leisure hits the heights

Climbing walls and high ropes specialist, Innovative Leisure, is continuing to develop its range of products and increasing its reach into new parts of the attractions market. Managing director, Phil Pickersgill, talked to GAP about how the firm continues to scale the heights…

A good place to start would be with a little potted history of Innovative?

Founded by myself in 2000, the company was born from my experience in the leisure industry in Europe and a desire to develop a new niche in the market. The initial objective for the company was to introduce unique, family-focused adventure products which started with climbing walls.

I wanted to introduce a whole range of adventure attractions to the European market and we have stayed focussed on that all the way through the past 18 years.

Today, our portfolio consists of hundreds of successful installations and an ever-evolving product range. The company is constantly researching and evaluating new ideas in order to introduce, as the name suggests, the most innovative attractions.

The addition of the Sky Trail range of high ropes courses, and the partnership with US based manufacturer Ropes Courses Inc. since 2010, has fuelled significant growth for the company and our team.

The diversity of our product catalogue means that we supply attractions to fit many sectors of the leisure industry. Our clients include theme parks, visitor attractions, zoos, safari parks, activity and outdoor centres, holiday parks, farm parks, indoor play centres, scout groups, local authorities, emergency services, the Army, RAF and The Royal Marines, schools, colleges and independent operators.

You clearly offer a lot more now, than when you started, but how did those other parts of the business develop?

We are always looking to develop the product range with new adventure attractions so keep a constant look out for new product developments and those our existing manufacturer partners are working on. Since starting out with climbing walls we have shifted gear significantly with the introduction of the Sky Trail high ropes courses and the work we do with Ropes Courses Inc.

What have been the key products for you?

The high ropes courses as far as volume and turnover are concerned, but we’ve also done over 120 climbing towers over the years. We’ve done multiple projects with some clients too, while the service work and operator training is also a key element of the business. Indeed the operational side of the office is now a very large operation. A big part of the value we add for any client is the layer of on-going service.

What are the fastest growing parts of the business?

The high ropes courses. The growth here is clear to see in the scale of the projects we are now doing. The average size of the projects in terms of weight of steel, surface area and value is double what it was three or four years ago and the market is still moving. Recent projects have included three with Sky Rail zip tracks, for example, and projects planned for 2018 all have this element as it is something all operators want to include.

How has the attractions market changed since 2000?

When I talk to people I have some interesting conversations about this. As a specialist supplier we are now dealing with a wider range of operators. It began with theme parks in the main but now we work with a wide variety of operators including farm parks, maize mazes and many more.

There are some economic and political worries currently but we are seeing positive results in how they are doing.

Quite a few attractions also charge adults for entry at similar levels to children at what are substantially venues for children, so one area I focus on is trying to improve the parental experience and what they can participate in. There is a very valuable role for our products to play here.

Also, if a child is between 1m and 1.2m they need to be accompanied by an adult on a high ropes course and so, while some parents want to go on them anyway, this provides a valuable shared experience, something a lot of visitors want and something operators are increasingly looking to provide.

What are your customers demanding more of now?

People (visitors) are a lot wiser as to what’s out there in the market these days and what they should be getting for their ticket value. They’ve been to other places and seen other things and what’s on offer. There is so much more available these days for the visitor, so operators need to up their game to compete in every aspect right from the start of a visit. This includes everything from the car park onwards, as well as providing a good range of experiences that are well paced. A lot of suppliers are helping operators to achieve this but sadly some (operators) are unable to make the large investments necessary to compete and maintain a good value product. 

What are your key new products?

Our range of Sky Trail adventure ropes course and Sky Tykes junior ropes courses, climbing walls and towers and the Water Wars water balloon game.

What does the future hold for IL?

We’re excited about the future. We have a raft of new developments on existing products in the pipeline, while more new products are coming too. We are definitely not standing still. We don’t do standing still!

What about international markets? Any expansion plans there? Any territories which are growing particularly well?

We continue to be very busy in Europe and Scandinavia and are keeping a close eye on Brexit negotiations.

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