Rob Arnold doesn’t mind shoveling cow poop at 6 a.m. In Wendell Berry-like-fashion, his small family farm serves as an escape, a release from the anxieties of running a business and poring over spreadsheets.
Arnold and his wife, Erin, founded Launch Entertainment in 2012, a year-round, family entertainment franchise that offers trampoline parks, arcade games, bowling, laser tag, ninja ropes courses and more. Though it sounds like nonstop fun, the Arnolds have a tendency to put in 150 percent effort, to the point of exhaustion.
“For the last 10 years, Launch has consumed every minute of every day, and if we’re not working, we’re coaching sports or spending time with our kids,” Arnold said. Though it was a long-standing dream for the Arnolds to start a hobby farm, they always pushed it off, blaming bad timing and busy schedules—until the pandemic forced them to close their doors.
“We were constantly on the go, constantly pushing the business to the next level, constantly just grinding away every waking minute of the day,” Arnold said. “And what ends up happening is you just eventually burn yourself out, creating anxiety and other mental issues. So to us, you need to find a way to unwind.”
The Arnolds tried many methods to avoid burnout and create a work-life balance, from meditation and working out to coaching their kids’ sports teams. But even those started to get too competitive, intense and stressful. There’s something about growing vegetables and tending to chickens, cows, baby goats and even bees, meanwhile, that the Arnolds find relaxing. “I never thought that shoveling cow manure would be a stress reliever,” Arnold quipped.
“You get some sense of accomplishment taking care of animals, keeping a nice clean farm, sitting out there and enjoying time,” he said. The mental health benefits feed into his work life, helping him think through decisions while completing mundane tasks.
“I think what ends up happening, you’re getting yourself into a steady state of mind, calmer, which better preps you for the day,” he said. “You’re not rushing into decision-making when you have a minute to stop and think through things, so it creates this sense of patience and ability to stop and critically think.”
Arnold credits some of that mindful thinking time with helping Launch evolve. With 30 locations open and about 10 more in the development pipeline, Launch has undergone three different model transformations since inception.
The first location the Arnolds opened in Warwick, Rhode Island, left them with $80 to their name and featured trampolines, “awful pizza,” nine video games, a check-in desk and some party rooms, Arnold said. Yet within an hour and a half of opening, they were sold out. After six months of “madness,” the Arnolds started writing an operations manual and detailing a plan for how to grow the business.
Arnold’s father was their first franchisee, and by 2016 there were six units open and owned by friends and family. Their goal was to test out the systems and processes before bringing on outside franchisees, and during that time, they began manufacturing equipment for locations in-house.
For the second generation of parks, the Arnolds started incorporating more attractions for the whole family to enjoy and added laser tag, ropes courses, revamped the food and increased the size of the arcade. The average spend per customer jumped from $16 to $26 per person. By the concept’s third iteration—which rolled out in 2020 and features a bar, bowling, an XP arena and an interactive playground—the average spend per customer increased to about $47.
“We are a growing, younger company that’s not as mature from a number of units standpoint, but we have some of the best retail real estate available to us,” Arnold said. “The Amazon effect is working in our favor because of our experience.”
And as a bonus, the farm is training the Arnolds’ children to be business savvy. “My daughter negotiated a deal on four ducks,” Arnold bragged. “She was 10 years old at the time, working the Craigslist phone line. My dad had to drive out to Connecticut to pick them up. She’s a little business person, it’s unbelievable.”