LOCATION, location, location, we’re often told, is half the battle towards securing a successful business.And Dan Kirkham and Keith Perryman’s Active Adventures outdoor activity centre has pretty much got it nailed when it comes to
Situated on Otterspool Drive, the centre has risen from what was once an old dock, then a dump for earthworks from the Wallasey Tunnel, and more recently a landfill site.
But today it is a 2.5-acre riverside oasis comprising a high-ropes course, one of the largest military-style obstacle courses in Europe, bootcamp sessions and zipwires.
It caters for school parties, youth groups, corporate team building sessions and even stag and hen parties.
It is also the culmination of an eight-year mission by former Royal Marines physical training instructor Keith Perryman, 38, who saw potential on the council-owned land.
Having met business partner Dan Kirkham, 31, a former restaurant manager and personal trainer, through family friends, they succeeded in clinching the site just over a year ago.
Mr Perryman said: “Because of our backgrounds, we thought it would work really well.”
Mr Kirkham had been involved in social enterprises and was experienced in bidding for funding and setting up ventures.
But it eventually took the investment of a silent partner to help them secure the all-important £750,000 loan from NatWest Bank, one of its biggest investments since the credit crunch, said Mr Kirkham.
Otters Café opened first in September, 2011, and the activity centre got under way this April, providing a total of 30 jobs.
Mr Perryman said: “When we were building the activity centre we left the café open plan so people could see what was going on. The site is still not complete and we will be adding a children’s play fort with seven towers all linked by bridges towards the end of next year.”
However, the centre is already popular with a wide range of groups, from Duke of Edinburgh courses to schools and even the police.
Mr Perryman explained: “Schools use us as incentive days for pupils and we have a police referral group each week with young offenders and vulnerable children.”
The duo is constantly looking for new angles. Mr Perryman said: “We want to do weddings. We had a bride and groom going down zip wires.”
And Mr Kirkham added: “We had an ’Ottersghoul fright night’ at Hallowe’en and we’ve got a Santa’s Maze.
In the summer, we want to work with children’s charities and also want to do events like a doctors v nurses assault course to raise funds for Alder Hey, and a police v firefighters obstacle course for the Help for Heroes charity.”
The pair admitted that the first year has not been plain sailing. Mr Perryman said: “We opened in one of the wettest years on record, so it was difficult to start with.”
Mr Kirkham added: “For any business in its first year, it is going to be tough. We learned lots of lessons.”
Mr Perryman said the venture was still a “work in progress”, adding: “We ran at a loss this year because of the build.
“We have spent £1.5m so far and it will be a work in progress for the next three to five years. But without the bank we would not be here.”
Mr Kirkham said: “They have been really good.”
They are currently in talks with NatWest to expand the cafe even further.
But their ambitions already extend beyond Otterspool, with plans for a franchise model.
Mr Kirkham said: “There is so much specialist knowledge that has gone into this, and so much we have learned from this, that it is a perfect model to franchise.”