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Pedal Pub parent Go Xperia targets experience economy


Pedal Pub is the first pillar under the Go Xperia umbrella.

Suppose you could buy up brands in four segments of the experience entertainment category—pedal pubs, escape rooms, ax-throwing spaces and emerging brands (also known as whatever people come up with next)—and franchise them. Sound like a fun business?

That’s how CEO Bob Ruhland describes his new company, Go Xperia. “Think of it as a one-stop shop for experiences,” he said.

Proprietors Capital Holdings, the owner of Pedal Pub since 2017, is backing the venture. Minneapolis-based Pedal Pub, those multi-passenger human-powered vehicles with a party atmosphere, “literally created the pedal pub industry,” Ruhland said, and it will serve as a model as Go Xperia develops its additional three “pillars” or industry segments.

For the escape room segment, Go Xperia has inked a joint venture to bring the UK-based Escape Hunt to North America; Escape Hunt is already in the other six continents. He says he has letters of intent with other escape room companies, where customers solve a series of puzzles to get out of a room alive (figuratively) and in time. “The escape room industry is a great candidate for a roll-up,” he said. “There are 2,500 to 3,000” independent companies but no national brand.

Ditto for the ax-throwing segment, whose franchise brands include FlannelJax’s, Stumpy’s and Blue Ox.  Go Xperia is in the letter of intent stage of identifying companies to buy.

“Our goal is to have four different brands that will be franchising within the next 12 months,” Ruhland said, and the idea will be to offer corporate clients, a growing part of those entertainment businesses, a chance to try another type of business if they liked the first. “We have outbound sales capability,” salespeople who could call up clients and say: “You did Pedal Pub. Have you tried escape rooms? Then try ax-throwing.”

Go Xperia also plans a category called affiliates, which will “aggregate all the great experiences in the country” and promote them on one digital platform.

Bob Ruhland

CEO Bob Ruhland aims to build “a one-stop shop for experiences.”

Ruhland, a former executive with Buffalo Wild Wings who plans to bring food and beverage components to some of the brands they acquire, said the plan is on trend with millennials. “In 2014 was the beginning of a seismic shift that we’ve all experienced, and it’s the growth of the experience economy,” he said.  “Seventy-eight percent of millennials prefer experiences over goods, so it’s a huge opportunity.”

At BWW, he was involved with launching the loyalty program, which went from “zero to 4 million members in 18 months,” he said.

He also formerly ran the Supercuts hair salon brand for Regis Corp. “That’s the experience I’m bringing to Go Xperia. I’m very well-versed in the language of franchising.”

Of course, everyone knows “fun” brands are not all fun and games. Just check out the grumbles from neighbors as two-ton wooden vehicles stacked with beer-fueled customers pedal merrily through the ‘hood. Or think about all those nooks and crannies in an escape room, touched by dozens and dozens of people in small spaces, amid coronavirus fears.

Shane Dunn, who heads franchise development for Go Xperia, so far focusing on the Pedal Pub brand, said in March he lost two prospective franchisees in Pensacola, Florida, who put their plans on hold when their city got its first COVID-19 case.

Cost of a Pedal Pub franchise in one market is $76,959 to $266,999, and the “simplicity of the model” is one main attraction, according to brothers Mike and Andy Knapick, who brought the franchise to Miami last fall.

Pedal Pub sold 24 franchises in its first full year, by the end of 2019, and Dunn expects to sell 30-plus in 2020. In February, Dunn signed a master area development deal for all of Canada. “It’s huge for us,” he said, “the biggest deal we’ve done to date.”

As for a third potential threat—boredom, when everyone’s tried hurling an ax and moves on to the next fad—Ruhland has a response for that, too. “Really, what we’re building here, we’re in the real estate business,” he said.

When something goes out of favor, “you swap it out” for something else—perhaps one of those “emerging” brands nobody’s heard of yet. And if Ruhland has his way, Go Xperia will already own it.

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