Bringing on the Fun With Food:
October 30, 2010
How Inflatable Party Companies Are Enhancing the Equipment Rental Mix
For many companies, renting concession machines as an adjunct to inflatables can definitely “blow up” the bottom line. However, maximizing the potential for profits entails more than bringing in equipment and adding it to the menu of services.
Just ask Robert Grafton, owner of Jolly Jumpers in Williamstown, N.J. When Grafton first started offering concession equipment for rental to party-givers, he let customers pick up the machines themselves if they wanted to do so. This was a mistake.
“We didn’t have any problems with the transportation part, but in a few cases people had trouble with the machines on-site and didn’t know what to do,” Grafton said. “These were all minor things, like a cotton candy machine whose spinner wouldn’t spin and just needed a tiny adjustment, but they caused headaches.”
Grafton has since changed Jolly Jumpers’ concession machine rental policy to stipulate that all equipment must be delivered to party sites. Staff members test the machines to ensure proper operation before leaving customers alone with them. They also share some tips to supplement written operating and safety instructions provided to each renter, notably, to keep children away from the machines.
Experience has also taught Grafton to carefully evaluate concession equipment before purchasing it, as well as to spend a bit more money on durable, higher-quality, user-friendly machines that are easy to operate, and to stick with well-known brands. At one time, he acquired a popcorn machine from a different manufacturer than the one with which he usually dealt. Operating the unit was a less-than-simple process, it lasted just one year before it fell apart, and its many crevices made it very difficult to clean.
Jolly Jumpers’ current concession rental roster includes cotton candy machines, which rank number one in popularity among customers, as well as popcorn, snow cone, Margarita, and Pucker Powder® machines. Grafton is “always looking” to add new units in each category to keep up with customer demand.
At Inflatable Adventures in Antelope, Calif., and Jumpin’ Jacks in Sonoma, Calif., cotton candy, snow cone, and popcorn machines enjoy equal demand. Inflatable Adventures will add new models of equipment in these categories as circumstances dictate, noted Jeff Hooper, marketing director. However, the company, which along with inflatables supplies concession equipment for parties held throughout Northern and Southern California, has no plans to expand beyond these core categories. “There’s just too much liability with hot dog machines” and other equipment for preparing hot foods, Hooper said. “It’s better to keep it simple.”
The latter is advice Inflatable Adventures personnel pass on to customers during the booking process. “We tell them it just gets to be too much if they offer a lot of foods made using different machines,” Hooper explained. “If they really insist on a machine we don’t carry, we will get it for them, but we don’t exactly encourage it.”
Additionally, while renters can buy such ingredients as snow cone flavoring from Inflatable Adventures, they are encouraged to shop around and purchase these items on their own to save money. Employees also remind customers to actually utilize the machines to prepare fresh popcorn, rather than to buy pre-made product and put it inside for show. “You’d be surprised how many people get the pre-popped popcorn and rent the equipment to look good,” Hooper observed. “We don’t have a rule against it, but we tell them it’s not the best idea. Fresh is so much better. Plus, of course we don’t want party guests who don’t know they’re eating pre-popped popcorn to blame our machines and not call us when they’re looking for concession and inflatables rental.”
Inflatable Adventures does not rent concession machines to customers who do not want inflatables; “the money they generate” does not warrant it, Hooper reported. However, Jumpin’ Jacks’ clientele can opt for concession equipment alone, as this allows the company to serve a wider breadth of renters, said JJ Stenerson, CEO. When delivering concession machines to their destination, staff tells renters to not only prevent children from touching the components, but to forbid children from operating the units themselves. “It’s common sense, but some people do need reminding,” Stenerson stated, adding that durability and ease of operation have always been his chief criteria for selecting concession machines of any kind.
Like Hooper and Stenerson, John Robinson, manager of Houston, Tex.-based Houston Party Rental, cited “equal call” for popcorn, cotton candy, and snow cone machines and noted that one of his company’s tops tip for renters is to follow the “keep it simple” philosophy. For instance, Robinson and his colleagues urge customers who book snow cone machines for their parties to limit guests’ choice of flavors because “keeping a lot of flavors straight” can prove challenging for the person charged with dishing up the treats during a busy party, and because “the more choices kids have, the longer it takes them to decide what they want, and that’s a headache, too.” Problems with inventory maintenance led the operator to decrease its snow cone flavoring roster from 10 options to four.
Robinson has also found that it helps to provide party-givers with a bit of additional information regarding snow cone machines and snow cone preparation. “We remind them that for some reason, kids just love to try to put their hands inside the ice hopper and should be watched so that it doesn’t happen,” he stated. “We also pass along the recommendation that for the best snow cones, just two squirts of syrup does the trick for each cup.”
While keeping things simple is probably a good bet when it comes to choosing concession machines for a party, some operators have found that they can garner more business with a larger selection of machines, and then guide individual customers to narrowing down their own choices. That’s what trial and error has taught the management of Acme Partyworks in Farmington, Mich. The company now touts a line of concession machines that includes caramel corn as well as regular popcorn, plus Pucker Powder®, two sizes of frozen drink machines (single and double) and equipment for preparing snow cones and hot dogs.
Handled properly, concession machines are certain to serve up a feast of financial rewards for players in the inflatables market. –