Gymnastics business going strong after 30 years, with a few twists

12/26/2013 5:39 PM

12/26/2013 5:40 PM

Next year will mark 30 years in business for twin brothers Rick Mast and Russ Mast, who started their concern as a gymnastics facility but later changed it to become a healthy entertainment venue they now call Funtastics.

The 12,500-square-foot indoor facility still has a few balance beams and other equipment for the serious gymnast, but most of the bright, multi-colored facility features trampolines, bouncy floors, floor pits filled with foam blocks, a zip line and other play equipment for children.

When the brothers started the business in 1984 it was called Rick and Russ’ Gymnastics Academy. It grew over five years until it was located in a series of leased spaces in Derby. That’s when the Masts decided to build their own facility at 404 N. River Road on the western outskirts of Derby.

Rick Mast said for a number of years they rode the wave of gymnastics’ popularity.

“It was a booming business at the time,” Rick Mast said.

Both brothers started gymnastics when they were 10, and they continued practicing gymnastics through high school and college, eventually becoming coaches for other gymnastics facilities.

But as the popularity of gymnastics began to wane – at one time the Masts said they had more than 600 students – the Masts could see that the business needed to change.

They began offering an after-school program to Derby children and their parents as a place to “free-play.” And they added day-long programs for children during the summer. The facility also includes an outdoor pool, which was originally used to train gymnasts.

Also during that mid-1990s period, they learned through listening to their customers that there was a market for weekend rentals – letting people rent the space for a day for birthday parties and other private events. That now represents the biggest part of Funtastics’ business, the brothers said.

So the brothers turned what was a weight-training room for gymnasts into a dining area for kids to eat birthday cake (that second-floor room also serves as the lunchroom for Funtastics summer day camp).

The Masts said they think that listening and responding to their customers is a big reason why Funtastics exists today.

“I think being in a small town has helped us understand people more ... and be in tune with changes and the needs of the customer,” Rick Mast said.

Another element to keeping the business going is a fairly constant refresh of the facility. In May, the Masts replaced all the foam blocks in the floor pits (they said that alone cost $15,000), added new equipment, installed new carpet and applied new paint.

Parents today “understand, they know the difference between quality and something not of quality,” Rick Mast said of the constant refreshing of the facility.

But there is one area where they said they need to do a better job of: making people outside of Derby aware of their business.

“We’ve been doing this for so many years, and people still say, ‘I didn’t know you existed,” Rick Mast said. “When you have something of value you don’t hide it.”

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