LIBERTY TOWNSHIP – Like the children who happily jump and play on their inflatables, the owners of Yo Big Bounce are working to make 2023 a springboard to success.
Yo Big Bounce, headquartered in Liberty Township, rents and sets up large inflatable bounce houses.
While the business became state certified in July 2022, “It really didn’t launch until this year,” says Dominic Lewis, co-owner of Yo Big Bounce.
Lewis owns the business with Tim Petrey, who is also the owner of H.D. Davis CPAs and White Glove Payroll.
The two have been friends most of their lives, deciding to go into business together after seeing an opportunity to bring something “new and exciting to the Valley,” Petrey says. “2023 is the test year.”
Yo Big Bounce rents the units, called “moonwalks” in the industry, for pop-up events, corporate and private parties and other functions.
“We can operate some of our units inside a gymnasium. But the majority of the business is going to be seasonal,” Lewis says.
The goal is to create a proof-of-concept over the next year and begin to franchise the Yo Big Bounce brand.
“Everything we’ve done from Day One we’ve been extremely intentional about, documenting every single process,” from the purchasing and licensing of equipment, to the website and installation of the units, Petrey says. “Most people, when they start a small business, don’t do that until 20 years down the road.”
Yo Big Bounce has been holding free setups at locations around the Mahoning Valley to get the word out about the business and to give people a chance to see the large inflatables.
“It gets the units up in the community and allows people to see why they would want their event to have one of these,” Petrey says.
Lewis and Petrey say they’d like to enter the Cleveland, Columbus and Pittsburgh markets within the next five years.
“If we have a successful business model, then the idea of this being something bigger, being a national product, you’d need to have those processes and operations surrounding it,” he says.
Until then, there is plenty of work to keep the Yo Big Bounce family busy.
The business has 11 direct employees, including Lewis’ two daughters, Jordyn and Ava.
“My wife [Tiffany] helps out every second she can,” Lewis says. “And my best friend my whole life is my No. 1. Ed Zupko, we call him Zup.”
Three of Ed’s sons, one of whom is Dominic’s godson, work at Yo Big Bounce, as well as one of Lewis’ nephews.
“There are three guys who work here that this is their first job. They’re learning hard work and we’re teaching them life skills,” Lewis says.
On a hot Sunday in May, 20-year-old Koby Zupko, Lewis’ godson, is working his second event, a popup at Southern Park Mall in Boardman.
“Working together as a team is the most important thing. If you don’t do that it gets pretty hectic,” he says.
Sitting beside him is Lewis’ 14-year-old daughter, Jordyn, who is working the register, filling out the digital waivers and getting kids set up with wristbands.
“You have to make sure you keep your patience with all the kids that come in and make sure everyone has fun,” she says.
Besides Lewis’ friends and family, employees from H.D. Davis and White Glove Payroll are also involved, assisting with accounting and other processes as well as learning about entrepreneurship, Petrey says.
“I want our advisers to learn from experience. I want people to be able to coach their business owners from
a business owner’s perspective,” he says.
The entrepreneurial process is something Lewis has been involved with since he began cutting hair in a garage at the age of 14.
Lewis visited Akron Barber College his junior year of high school after some urging from a guidance counselor. He enrolled in September 1997 and graduated a year later, immediately taking a job at Bill’s Barber Shop in Austintown.
“At the end of the third week, the owner had me over for dinner and gave me an ultimatum. He said, ‘Either find another job or buy me out,’” Lewis says. “He did it on purpose. He said he knew the second he met me that I wanted to do it and it only took him three weeks to muster up the courage to retire.”
Within three weeks of that conversation, Lewis purchased the business and was on his own.
Since then, he has purchased the building where he now rents commercial and residential space.
Lewis has also worked in the event space, ticket sales and done house flips. So when he saw some old inflatables at a friend’s house in July 2021, “I saw an opportunity.”
The first thing he and Petrey had to do was get new equipment that met all state requirements.
Today, Yo Big Bounce has five units, three obstacle courses and two water slides. The units cost between $8,000 and $13,000.
The water slides each stand over 30 feet tall and are about 100 feet long. In the event there isn’t an available water hookup, Lewis purchased a 330-gallon water tank so he can bring water to the site.
“I just added 9,000 pounds of suspension to my truck,” he says.
State regulations require that the water flow through the slide only once, so Lewis says they control the amount disbursed to allow for eight hours of operation.
The new units arrived from the manufacturer in April 2022 and were followed by several hurdles, Lewis says.
“We were denied insurance. The manufacturer sent us the wrong compliance documents. So we had a struggle for a month and a half to get insured,” he says.
Gaining compliance also involved Lewis passing an insurance course specifically about inflatables. The company “finally” got state-certified on July 17, he says.
Lewis says dealing with the insurance, certifications, as well as learning about the equipment and setup, was a big learning curve.
“I would definitely say I was not prepared,” he admits. “I had zero idea what I was getting into.”
He credits their early success overcoming such obstacles to his and Petrey’s “discipline and dedication,” which he says are key to the success of any business, new or established.
“If you stay disciplined and dedicated to anything you do, I feel like you can have success,” he says.
Petrey also credits the community, which he says has a good track record of supporting local small businesses.
“We all need to continue to support these local endeavors. If we can continue to support each other locally, then we’ll all be in a better place five or 10 years down the road,” he says.
Pictured at top: Dominic Lewis stands in front of the Triple Tidal Wave slide.