In another installment of our ongoing series, we’re taking a look at Modern Gravity in Edmonton, Alberta. Matt and J.P., the owners of the center, share what success means to them.
Back in 2013, there wasn’t a single float center near Edmonton, so these guys decided to start one. In the beginning, they were just putting people in a single tank in their basement, showing them sensory isolation for the first time (including none other than Jason MacDonald, the Alberta health regulator who has spoken at the Float Conference the last three years in a row). They operated a commercial tank in their basement for exactly one year, between July 2014 and July 2015, and in that time floated 1200 customers. Which, for them, was a great way to establish a client base.
The build out for their six tank center in downtown Edmonton took six months, and they opened their doors in January of 2016. Throughout the next two years, at least six other centers opened in Edmonton. Some have closed since, but despite everything they’ve had to overcome, Modern Gravity is still going strong. It was far from an easy ride, though, and lots of things didn’t go according to plan. Or, JP puts it, “If Twister was a plan, then yes, we’re doing things according to plan.”
Between disagreeable contractors, difficult building inspectors, overpromising time, deadlines, and everything else, they’ve had a lot of learning experiences. They thought that running a business would be “like a straight shot to get to the point you’re at.” The reality, however, has been much more curvy than straight. Matt doesn’t see that as a bad thing though, “we just realized the small little concussions from ricocheting off shit to eventually land you where you are. So at the end of the day, we ended up at the point where we wanted to be, you know?”
Now, Modern Gravity has reached a level of local celebrity that the guys weren’t expecting. Running the largest center in town has fundamentally changed how they interact with their community, “whether we go to the movies or go somewhere to eat, it’s really rare to not see one or two people that we know from floating or that has floated with us before,” recalls Matt. Even when calling a technician to get maintenance done, when asked the name of his company, “I told him Modern Gravity and he’s like ‘oh, I was there last week!’ and I was like ‘this is really cool!’”
How they maintain this level of interest isn’t a secret. Matt and JP are born performers who dedicate themselves to bringing whimsy to their work. It’s all towards a greater purpose though, “we wanted to make some interesting fun content just because it’s fun right? We also both know that we kind of have the personalities for it,” Matt explains, “and even when we’ve gone out like in our early 20s and you’d go out partying all the time, it was it was the same kind of thing. But now we’re just doing it with less alcohol and dancing. Well… it’s the same amount of dancing.”
This mentality has allowed them to succeed in areas that are unusual for a float center. For example, despite the fact that according to the Industry Survey, television advertising is consistently reported as one of the worst performing marketing strategies for float centers, Matt and JP have started making commercials featuring their astronaut mascot. Their first one is a Christmas commercial with the tagline “Are You on Santa’s Astronaughty List?”
The commercial itself doesn’t feature floating at all. It provides no education or makes any attempt at a pitch for the service. Which may seem like a counterintuitive approach for an opportunity to reach a demographic they regularly don’t have access to. After all, most people in the industry spend a great deal of time just explaining what floating is to others. Matt explains that they resisted those urges to over-explain or “justify” floating to people unfamiliar with it, “how can we make content that’s not just based around floating? Because I mean as much as educating people and float into a float related stuff is fun. It’s also about what floating can do for your life and how does that cater towards being happy and having fun”.
In that sense, their brand is much more about how fulfilling floating is. And they demonstrate that through a sense of playfulness that other local business may not have. JP says it even more succinctly, “basing the whole channel on positivity, showing life in a happy way, was one of the biggest things we wanted to display.” Whatever it is, it’s clearly working. That commercial filled their tanks and inspired a massive float giveaway for their members that generated even more interest and goodwill.
Aside from just being passionate about their own center, the Modern Gravity duo is deeply interested in the rest of the float community and wants to see every center thrive. Many center owners want to shoot for the moon, but Matt wants to remind everyone to focus on the basics of running a center, “If people aren’t enjoying their floats, then there’s not a lot you can work with.” Once you get that down, play to the strengths that work for you to excel in this industry, “some people are better for videos or some people are better for audio and podcasts. Some people are better writers than they are speakers, so find what those strengths are and build on them.”
It’s also a reality that the industry has become more saturated than even just a few years ago when they were starting out, “for people just opening up now, you can’t get away with just being the first to market. You have to be a lot more organized.” In their view, though, this isn’t all bad news. This can work to elevate the entire industry, not simply push others down so a few can rise to the top.
There’s no end to the amount of advice you can take in from other centers/business owners/gurus, but, as JP puts it, “one of the biggest things is humor. Have a ridiculous sense of humor.”