Long before buying into an Urban Air Adventure Park franchise, Amer Batal and Wassem Ayar came with their families to the U.S. from the Middle East in search of opportunity.
Batal’s father, an English professor, moved the family from Syria after a stint at the University of Florida. Ayar’s story is similar; he comes from a well-educated family living in relative financial comfort. The impetus for his parents to leave Iraq was the start of the Gulf War in 1991.
“My parents thought it wasn’t the right environment for my brother and (me) to grow up in,” Ayar says. “So they packed up whatever they could in a suitcase and (my father) fled the country with myself, my brother, and my mother, who was one month pregnant at the time.”
The journey for his family wasn’t easy, as they had to rely on smugglers to get them into the United States. Eventually, though, both families found their footing.
Fast-forward a number of years, and Batal and Ayar owned wireless franchise stores, while Batal also operated an over-the-road trucking business. During a trip to Indiana with his family, Batal came across an Urban Air location. “My kids had a blast. They were there for more than a couple of hours and weren’t bored. I thought, ‘You know what, this would be a good business to have in Michigan,’ ” he recalls.
After visiting the corporate headquarters in Texas, he came back to Michigan in need of a partner. He pitched the idea to his longtime friend, Ayar, who said he needed to see it for himself. The two decided to attend the grand opening of an Urban Air in Pennsylvania. “When we got there, it was insane. The amount of people that were inside, the attractions. My kids absolutely loved it,” Ayar says.
Batal’s focus had already shifted from wireless, and the trampoline and attraction park finally pulled Ayar away, too. Their company was incorporated in December 2017, and the friends opened their Urban Air location on Oct. 5, 2019. The launch was a success. When Urban Air Adventure Park Sterling Heights had to shut down after just six months of operation due to the coronavirus pandemic, it was already a top-five performing franchise in the nation.
When the park reopened after the pandemic restrictions were lifted, Batal and Ayar were in for a surprise. Instead of the anticipated slow start, the business grew. Now, the partners are working on opening a second park in Commerce Township.
“We saw a lot more people during the week than we did before COVID-19. It took 30 to 60 days, and we ramped up to pre-COVID-19 levels of revenue at 50 percent capacity,” Batal says. “It’s not only what we’ve done as franchisees, but what corporate has done for brand recognition and (taking) the right steps in coaching us through what we need to do to get out of COVID-19 and prevail.”