March 1, 2015

Construction in Florida

Pay to play: Adults operating heavy equipment - for fun

People at Play is based in Bradenton.

Art Levy | 6/20/2012

People at Play allows grown-ups to operate heavy equipment.

When Jason and Alisa Bennett founded Bennett Contracting in Bradenton in 2000, there was plenty of business for the site development and underground utilities contractor — marketing was barely necessary. “People would just call us and say, ‘When can you get started?’ ” says Alisa Bennett, the company’s vice president.

Then came the downturn. The company’s billings fell by 63% from 2007 to 2008. With revenue decimated, the Bennetts ramped up their marketing efforts, hosting a barbecue for a group of civil engineers in hopes that the engineers might steer business their way. As part of the event, the Bennetts let the engineers drive some of their heavy equipment — just for fun. The engineers “went crazy,” she says.

“We watched how happy and excited they were,” says Jason Bennett, the company’s president. “We knew there was a business idea in there.”

Alisa & Jason Bennett
Alisa and Jason Bennett
In December 2010, the Bennetts founded a side company called People at Play, which, for a fee, allows people 18 and older to drive construction equipment around a giant “sandbox” near Interstate 75 in Manatee County. Packages start at $155 to operate a 7,997-pound skid-steer loader for an hour. The top-of-the-line “superintendent” package includes six hours on a variety of vehicles, including a 28,970-pound excavator and a 17,000-pound steel-track bulldozer. So far, more than 200 people — seven out of eight have been men — have paid to play.

“It’s totally a bucket list thing,” Alisa Bennett says. “They say they always wanted to do this.”

For now, People at Play is a weekend enterprise. Bennett Contracting, which is seeing its business pick up and had $4 million in revenue last year, uses the equipment during the week. But the Bennetts think People at Play can grow. They say the nearest business like it is located in Las Vegas.

“We’re looking at bringing it to a larger market,” Alisa Bennett says. “We’re looking at some locations in Orlando right now.”

Tags: Southwest, Housing/Construction

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