Eric Verstappen and Henk Joosten: "We go the extra mile for every customer".
ELI Play is a boys' book with an exciting start, 23 adventurous years and an open end. Eric Verstappen, founder, and Henk Joosten, who jointly shortly after, brought the company to where it stands.
Eric Verstappen, salesman of industrial extract systems, meets a man who invented a ball pool cleaner. Although the machine is not yet working properly, Eric is enthusiastic. He asks the man to improve the machine and drives it to Ikea in Amsterdam. After a convincing pitch, he is welcome to clean the ball pool once after closing time.
It's a bit after midnight when Eric gives up. After six hours of struggling, not a single ball has been washed. Two weeks later he has repaired the faltering machine and he gets a new chance. If the mission succeeds, the other IKEAs and McDonald's branches will quickly be on the customer list.
Later it turns out there are not that many ball pools to wash. "If there is no market, you have to create a market," Eric thinks, and the same week he builds his first ball pool. "The first pools we sold were cages, but soon people wanted a slide or an extra floor. Suddenly, it started to sell.”
ELI Play production process trampoline sheet
Two years later Henk, who at the time still sold vegetable seeds, visited farmer De Jong in Kaatsheuvel. The farmer plays with the idea of starting an indoor playground in one of his barns. On impulse Henk links him to Eric, whom he knows from his brother-in-law's birthday parties. Eric also talked about an indoor playground at those parties.
After Eric’s visit to farmer De Jong, his enthusiasm cannot be tempered. Although he has never done it before, he makes a sketch and presents it with conviction. “That will cost 150 thousand guilders”, he concludes. Boer De Jong does not shy away from it and agrees. "He had confidence in it.”
Eric still has nothing at that moment. No shed, no bus, no workshop, no suppliers. He orders a bundle of pipes from a steel company and has them delivered to Kaatsheuvel. On the spot, together with a group of working students, he cuts the pipes to size and builds his very first indoor playground. It is the harbinger of what will come: ELI Play, Europe's largest supplier and producer of versatile playing structures, trampoline parks and sports courses.
At the turn of the century, VCS Play - Verstappen Creative Solutions – consisted of approximately ten people. Everyone does everything. Eric launches innovative ideas and leads sales. Henk is responsible for the design, procurement, production and installation. Eric and Henk are complementary in all respects. Eric is fast and impulsive, Henk decisive and thoughtful, but for both the best is not good enough.
The company continues to grow and in 2007 Eric seeks partnerships with FPS from Germany and HPS from Austria. Offices are rising in Dubai and France and meanwhile it is as if the projects are selling themselves. They work very hard. Team meetings usually take place in the car on the way to a job. They invest everything they earn in the company, which performs better year after year and is interesting for foreign parties to work with.
Eric and Henk repeat the idea of creating their own market with homemade ball pools. Meanwhile, a new phenomenon is emerging in the United States: trampoline parks. The gentlemen calculate that the number of trampolines that ELI Play produces may increase tenfold if parks appear in the Netherlands and in the surrounding area. They are prepared to take the chance and Eric, together with several business partners, sets up Jump XL, a network of thirty challenging and versatile trampoline parks. Jump XL will be a European hit that will be followed by many others.
ELI Play production trampoline padding
It is time for a new step and more clarity. Eric and Henk place the daily management in the hands of René van de Ven, a friend of Eric. "We felt that we were more concerned with employees and putting out fires than with products and customers.
René introduces strict procedures, manages the staff, automates the processes and closes the deals. All participating companies and partners will continue to operate under the name ELI Play, European Leisure Industries. With the same website, the same corporate identity and the same vision and mission. The rapid growth and the broadening of playing structures to trampoline parks and Ninja courses demand an international reputation, with a pay-off that clarifies what drives ELI Play worldwide at a glance: “Every day a happy day”.
The gentlemen continue to write their boys' book, which has no ending for the time being and is full of memories. Like the time they arrived in Germany with a truck full of stuff. Only the roof of the building in which the installation was to be erected was still standing. "The walls were missing and it was the middle of winter. We looked at each other, laughed and just started. The building was later built around the playground.”
In 2018, 130 people work at ELI Play in a variety of functions and disciplines in a brand new building of 11,000 m2 in Boxtel. The company has undergone professionalisation in all respects. In 1995 there was almost nothing in the field of leisure, now the competition is fierce and customers want to be challenged all the time. Not even Eric could have imagined that his company would enter into a partnership with Endemol Shine to facilitate the Big Bounce game show on German television. All this dynamism requires a different approach.
"We have increasingly become a logistics production company. Everything is automated. In the past, we were the two of us in the system. Every appointment was in our head. We did our best and then it came together. Now a computer programme controls the process. The volumes are so large that you have to organise yourself differently. It is less romantic, but absolutely necessary.”
Big Bounce trampoline parcours
"We want to focus even more on the development of sports courses, which is a big market. We have Ninja Warrior, but there are variants". They do not want to look ahead much further. Things are going the way they are. ELI Play is built on passion, intuition and the willingness of two men to go the extra mile for every customer. When a customer suggested something, they invented the structures around it. They made what they thought up, as long as there was no plug on it. "Children should be able to enjoy themselves on our equipment. We do look at products that fit our programme and then we buy them. For example, now you can jump on a trampoline, while you see yourself jumping from level to level on a big screen. That's a lot of fun. If you see that, you want to jump too. We may have grown up as a company, but we remain free spirits.”