Indoor skydiving company iFly opened their first wind tunnel in 1998, and have gradually expanded since then, with more than 80 locations worldwide. In April of 2019, they began operating in Brisbane, 10 kilometres north of the CBD at Westfield Chermside, with a vertical wind tunnel that gives roughly 30,000 visitors a year the sensation of floating on a smooth cushion of air.
“Being part of a bigger corporation is great for us, because there’s already been a lot of trying and testing, so we understand what works and what doesn’t,” Matt says. “But we also have the freedom to operate in our local market. That’s really important for us – we service the Brisbane community.”
In full flight
“I fly because it releases my mind from the tyranny of petty things,” French poet and aviator Antoine De Saint-Exupéry once said. While he might not phrase it in those terms, exactly, it’s clearly a sentiment Matt shares.
“I love skydiving,” he says. “It’s just such a freeing sensation. It tests your boundaries. It tests your limits. And here, we have an opportunity to do it indoors, in a way that’s safe and accessible for everybody. We fly people of all abilities from the age of three to 103, whether they’re a first-timer or a pro flyer who comes in here every week to hone their skills.”
An experienced outdoor skydiver before he began his career with iFly in Manchester in 2015, Matt has quickly moved up the ranks, from instructor to shift supervisor, assistant general manager, and ultimately the general manager of iFly Brisbane.
“Moving into management was an eye-opening experience for me,” he admits. “But I guess because I truly believe in what we’re doing here, and I feel personally invested in it, it actually makes my job a lot easier.”
“The thing I love about what they’re doing at the Brisbane Business Hub is that they’re so supportive of the local business community,” he says. “And they’re providing people like me, who are still feeling their way in the business world, with the tools that we need to grow.”
Safety has always been the top priority for iFly, which is governed by the rigorous standards of the International Bodyflight Association (IBA). But the coronavirus pandemic, which hit Australia less than a year after iFly Brisbane opened, brought with it a whole new set of challenges and restrictions.
“COVID’s definitely been the biggest challenge we’ve faced,” Matt says. “It’s been challenging for everybody, of course. No one’s been immune to it. But as a non-essential indoor entertainment venue, we’re the first to close when restrictions come into effect. Then there are capacity restrictions to consider, and consumer confidence, which takes a long time to come back.
“I think there are a lot of expectations that have changed, due to COVID, from a consumer perspective, and to get through this period, we’ve had to adapt to the needs of the customer. We’ve had to have an understanding of the position that everybody’s in, because we’re all in the same boat.
“We’ve become a lot more flexible with our refund policy and voucher extensions, for instance, because if people are in lockdown, they obviously can’t redeem their vouchers. And we want people to be able to do that – we want people to fly here, and we want to help them experience indoor skydiving, so it’s important that we make that accessible to them.”
Despite the upheaval of the last two years, iFly Brisbane has continued to grow. The team has expanded from 14 to 20 staff members, and their corporate offering – which includes conference room hire – has proven popular with teams looking to reconnect with each other.
Ultimately, Matt says it’s his own team that has been the secret sauce for iFly Brisbane’s success.
“The advice I’d give to someone opening an experience-based business in Brisbane is to pick the right location, because you need exposure,” he says. “But even more important than that is the team you have around you. The team has to believe in the product. We have a fantastic experience here, but you can’t lean on that experience on its own.
“People leave here with a smile on their face because the team enhances the experience with their customer service. They enjoy what they do, they love their jobs, and they feel supported, and that makes all the difference.”