Making the Bounce the Main Attraction
May 20, 2013
Fun Center Inflatables Profit Strategies
You can create magical castles, houses, animals and almost anything else you can imagine with air and vinyl. Inflatables enable attractions to build or enhance a theme without major construction or expense. Here’s how some savvy operators are using them to target certain groups and add to their bottom lines.
Some of the newer entertainment centers have built their entire attraction around inflatables. Others have used them to enhance their offerings to the public. “We sell food and beverages and have arcade games, but the majority of our revenue comes from admissions to get on the inflatables,” said Cassandra Franklin who, along with her husband, owns Kangaroo Palace in Norton Shore, Mich. She added, “We have only been operating since November, but have been successful so far.” Located next to the shore of Lake Michigan, the area is a draw to people who want to enjoy the many activities associated with the water.
“We are an exclusive play and party inflatable center so most of our revenue comes from them,” said owner Greg Fefferman at Jump A Roos, an indoor facility in Cutler Bay, Fla. Located in the Miami/Dade County area, he noted, “I have two operations. One has seven inflatables and one has eight.”
But they can also be used to complement an attraction. “The big attraction here is our four-level climbing structure with a bounce house right in the middle of it,” said Alan Powelson, who owns Jump Stop Safari in Lebanon, Ohio. The small city boasts a historic downtown and is known for its quaint shops and antique stores, great dining, picturesque streets, and many special events throughout the year.
Elsewhere owners have had to factor in local or regional considerations. “We have inflatables, but have cut down on the number because the inspectors require one person to monitor each inflatable and this has dramatically increased labor costs,” said Lucille Martin, who, along with her husband, owns Valley Worlds of Fun in Fairmont, W.V. Located on the Monongahela river and nicknamed “the friendly city,” the area features a lot of natural beauty and attractions.
Martin advised operators to change with the times. She said, “We started this location in 1972 with just bowling. Then in the late 80s and early 90s we added to the building and put in electric go carts. That did not turn out very well because everybody thought they were bumper cars. So we got rid of those and started to do things to appeal to the younger crowd—like a small roller coaster, tea cups, bumper cars and inflatables. So we basically reinvented ourselves.”
Adding inflatables or maximizing their use can be a big change, but does not have to be difficult. Some manufacturers have software, for example, that enables you to easily build and customize a three-dimensional space complete with models of inflatables, other elements and people before you invest. With it you can move, zoom around, rotate and change perspective to fully study what you are contemplating.
All of the experts we talked to said that they started out by defining their desired demographics, which for inflatables is primarily age 12 and under. As Khush Agrawal, owner of Zonkers FEC in Olathe, Kan., a suburb of Kansas City, Mo., said, “Our primary age group for inflatables is 2 to 12.”
She further noted that only 10 percent of her revenue come from inflatables. For others, installing inflatables could also be a great way to boost the bottom line. After all, who wouldn’t want an extra 10-plus percent in revenues? If you have a center with more adult-oriented attractions, it could be a great way to draw in younger customers. Part of the marketing and profit strategies could be using the inflatables to attract your share of birthday celebrations. Parents of kids in that demographic are always looking for venues for group birthday parties. You could even make a total package with food and beverage and boost that segment of your business too.
Getting started is straightforward. “Talk to the top vendors and make sure you are buying quality products,” advised Fefferman. “I would rather pay a little more, or in some cases a lot more, and get something that is going to be up to the right standards and last a long time.”
He cautioned, “Make sure they don’t have lead in the vinyl and that it is fire retardant. There is some vinyl that does have lead and that is not necessarily a bad thing, but if you are dealing with kids it is not good if they go from playing to eating pizza and cake without washing their hands. So, it has to be certified lead free.”
Fefferman continued, “You have to determine the right mix for your space and your target customer base. Our vendor is Inflatable Depot. We worked with them to find the right mix to cover the age groups we wanted. Also, given some of the ceiling height restrictions we have, they helped us find the right ones and advised how to arrange them.”
“Although our inflatables are primarily for kids, we wanted inflatables that would withstand the use by adults too,” said Franklin. “We chose them for all ages because we didn’t want to prohibit older kids or parents from playing with their children. We just ask that they are mindful of the smaller ones. We have set up other equipment on the play floor between the inflatables, such as a tree fort, tweeter totters, and rocking horses for some of the smaller kids. So the atmosphere when the older kids walk in is obvious that it is geared towards younger children.”
She added, “That means you should look for thickness and durability. We went with the best vinyl we could get. We searched many different manufacturers and ended up going with American made even though a lot of inflatables can be made cheaper overseas. Our choice was Magic Jump in California. They really helped guide us based on what we were looking for.”
Appearance can also be an important factor when purchasing inflatables. “We wanted to stick with our safari theme so we bought an alligator where the kids enter through the mouth,” Powelson said.
Whether indoor or outdoor, inflatables can definitely impact your demographics in a positive way. Carefully thinking through what you want and defining those requirements can make working with a quality manufacturer a smooth partnership. –