Taylorsville resident Craig Bradley looks to expand his 'bubble soccer' empire in northwest Georgia

BUBBLE BUSINESS Bartow entrepreneur brings KnockerBall to the masses

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About two years ago, Craig Bradley found himself in a tough situation. The company he was working for had just went under and he was without full-time employment.

Then something on television caught his eye. 

"We saw a commercial on TV showing the KnockerBall," the now 59-year-old Taylorsville resident said. "I thought, 'boy, it'd be great to go out and do that.'"

For those not in the know, KnockerBall is the trade name for a type of inflatable "bubble soccer" sphere. 

"It's kind of like a doughnut," Bradley said. "It's got a hole through the center that you get up into. It has a safety strap where it rests on your shoulders and, basically, you run around and knock each other down." 

He and his brother started discussing how cool it would be to go into the business. Eventually, their chatter became a bit more serious. Upon learning that the northwestern quadrant of the state was a largely open market, it wasn't long before Bradley decided to go all-in on his own KnockerBall fantasies (after receiving the blessing of his wife of 38 years, Dianna, of course.)

He officially joined the KnockerBall network as an affiliate in Oct. 2016.

"We called them up, bought the package and started about three weeks later," Bradley said. 

He previously worked in operations at Mount Paran Christian School and North Cobb Christian School and served a 10-year stint as a loan officer. It's Bradley's first time owning and operating his own business. 

"We love the freedom," he said. "We can do what we want, when we want."

Not that Bradley's decision to enter the KnockerBall game was a rash one. Indeed, it cost him a fairly hefty upfront investment just a little shy of $5,000. "It's the most we've spent for something of that nature," he said.

Bradley branded his business as KnockerBall Northwest Georgia (NWGA.) With an initial 12-ball inventory, his gig began as a part-time operation.

He started off with a few events at LakePoint Sporting Community. From there, he started doing business with Roswell Street Baptist Church and Oakland Heights Baptist Church. To date, Bradley said he's serviced about 40 different events — plus a few free demonstrations — running the gamut from children's parties to corporate team-building exercises.

While the brand name KnockerBall might not be a part of the American vernacular just yet, Bradley said both paying and prospective customers know exactly what he's talking about as soon as he starts painting them a mental picture. 

"The name recognition isn't there yet, but once we describe what the KnockerBalls are, they all say 'oh yeah, we've seen the commercials and it looks like a lot of fun,'" Bradley said.

With an expanded fleet of 28 PVC bubbles, Bradley has decided to ramp up his efforts and go full-time with KnockerBall NWGA. He said he's now catered events as far south as Carrollton, as far east as Peachtree Corners and as far north as Dalton.

Bradley's KnockerBall assortment comes in three sizes, catering to every demographic from kindergartners to full-grown adults. While bubble soccer remains the most popular utilization of the product, he said customers have used his KnockerBalls for all sorts of activities, ranging from sumo wrestling to football to a capture-the-flag variation.

And while Bradley does have a $2 million liability insurance policy covering his products, he said no one has been hurt rolling around in his KnockerBalls. "The worst injury we've had was a turned ankle," he said.

As a KnockerBall affiliate, Bradley gets his fair share of perks from the Illinois-based equipment supplier. Among other benefits, they help him with his website and offer him tips on marketing and operational strategies.

The website assistance, he said, is especially appreciated. Instead of hitting the streets in pursuit of customers, that easily accessible online portal allows clients to find him first. 

"A customer can go on there and actually book their own event," he said. "They can reserve the day and time immediately and that way they're assured that they'll have it on the date of their little girl's birthday or their family reunion."

Having an investment that is 100 percent tax-deductible, he added, isn't too shabby, either. "Our CPA handles that," Bradley said, "so I'm not exactly sure how he writes that off."

The Garden City, Michigan, transplant has had to tweak his advertising strategy a few times. Originally reliant upon social media referrals, Bradley said he was underwhelmed by the return-on-investment of Facebook marketing.

"To this point, our best [source], like most businesses, is word of mouth," he said. "The majority of events have come from me going to working luncheons and meetings and meeting other business owners and then being referred to events through that or being referred by somebody who's been to one of our events."

Bradley doesn't hide the fact that his business has experienced just as many lows as it has highs. 

"There's a steep learning curve to try to go full-time as opposed to just a little additional income here and there," he said. "You have to get up and running as soon as possible, and unfortunately, we've made more mistakes than good decisions. But that's how you learn."

Ever the visionary, though, Bradley has grand plans for KnockerBall NWGA. He's already laying out the groundwork to upgrade his inventory to a set of lighter, yet more durable, thermoplastic polyurethane balls, and he said he'd love to host some nonprofit fundraisers in the area. One proposal? A charity KnockerBall duel between local police and firefighters.

With a palpable penchant for sports of all sorts, Bradley said the Bartow market is a great one for such a nontraditional recreational enterprise to set up shop.

And as to what makes KnockerBall shenanigans such a blast, Bradley said it's practically self-evident: who could turn down an opportunity to safely knock the stuffing out of their best friends?

"It gets out the aggression — you know going in that you're not going to hurt anybody and you're not going to get hurt," Bradley said. "So it's just a matter of being able to run into them as hard as you can, and everybody gets up laughing."

KnockerBall NWGA offers discounts to military, schools and churches. More information on the business is online at www.knockerballnwga.com.