Robin Whincup, Founder and Owner of Galaxy Multi Rides, has an entrepreneurial journey that stretches two continents, two states, two industries and is full of all the twists and turns you'd expect from a story about an Englishman selling mechanical bulls in Florida.
"Going back to the early to mid 80s, I worked in the flooring industry," Whincup said. "We installed carpet and other types of flooring throughout England for hotels, airports and other commercial clients. It was a tough job with long hours. Several times my wife encouraged me to get a 'proper job', but I wasn't interested in working for someone else. I knew it then and I know it now."
Whincup continued with his story, "My wife and I wanted to get away one weekend so we took the kids to a theme park. They had this giant ball pit that the kids were going crazy over. A friend of mine, that was also in the flooring business, rented out bounce houses on the side. Seeing the kids having so much fun in the ball pit gave me the idea of renting out ball pits. I found a business to business magazine and identified two to three companies that could give me what I needed. A few weeks later, a truck delivered 10,000 plastic balls along with everything else needed to set up a proper ball pit. Before long, I had about 100 units available to rent."
Business would steadily increase through the mid to late 80s as they added additional rentals. A true light bulb moment came when Whincup was able to rent a large bounce house to an army base for an overnight party at a rate three times higher than what he normally charged. That inspired him to do other things like the mechanical bull. "That same client wanted a bull," he said. "I said yes without even checking to see if it was feasible. Coincidentally I happened to meet a guy on a fishing pier that weekend that had one, so I bought it from him. The bull was a success, but it was huge and it took a team of six guys to move it. I was chatting with a friend of mine, a hydraulics engineer, one night over a beer and together we formed a plan to design and manufacture a lighter mechanical bull using a 'multi ride' approach. With that, Galaxy Multi Rides was born and I made the decision to sell the rental business and focus exclusively on manufacturing."
By the early 90s, Galaxy Multi Ride sold their mechanical bulls and other rides, such as their hydraulic surf machine, throughout the United Kingdom and eventually the United States. By 1999, Whincup and his wife made the decision to move to the United States and settled on Philadelphia as a good place to open their first American sales office. Manufacturing continued in the UK, but plans were in place to move their operations to the United States. Whincup explained, "Because we weren't American citizens, we needed to partner with an American to formally relocate and establish our headquarters in the United States. I had a friend in the industry and he was sick of traveling the world, so we struck a deal and became partners." Operations were moved to the United States while manufacturing still took place in the UK.
In September 2008, Whincup and his crew headed south to Port Charlotte where all facets of the company would be consolidated into one location. "We previously vacationed in Port Charlotte and just fell in love with the area and the climate," he said. The original plan was to subcontract out the manufacturing of certain components like fiber-glass and inflatable safety cushions, but the recession hit and they decided to do everything themselves. That strategy continues today as they buy the raw material and do everything in-house with a team of 20 full-time employees.
Whincup credits the success of his company to a variety of things. "We focus heavily on innovation and quality," he said. Quality is definitely a cornerstone of Galaxy Multi Rides. In fact, the first two bulls they ever sold in the US are still in operation in New Hampshire and Milwaukee. "Having been on the rental side of things, I've also experienced the whole process that our customers go through. I can relate to their needs. We also utilize much of the same mechanical components for various games. This helps to reduce our production costs."
Whincup offers up some great advice for aspiring entrepreneurs. "You have to be self-assured," he said. "You need conviction and you need to do your research. Don't think because you have a great idea that it's going to happen. Also, know where every penny goes. Consider your taxes, overhead and everything else that goes into making your product." Whincup also believes that not everyone is destined to become an entrepreneur and that some people are just better suited to work for others. "It's certainly not for everyone," he said. Thanks to his humble beginnings, Whincup is personally driven and inspired by putting food on the table and by getting the deal. He knows the money will follow, and it has. Galaxy Multi Rides has doubled its year to year income on several occasions and expects similar future results as they continue to develop and manufacture some of the more sought after and innovative games in the industry.