Selling the Perfect Party:
Trends and Tips from the Amusement Rental Business

People of all ages like to join in the fun at parties, and companies in the amusement and inflatable rental business are able to meet the demand through an ever-expanding selection of products on the market.

Inflatable bounce houses, which started the industry with moonwalks and other space-age themed attractions, remain a popular choice, said Robert Duvall, owner of Duvall’s Amusement Rentals, based in Shreveport, La.

“However, combo bouncers (bouncer plus slide), interactive inflatables and water slides have become very popular because they provide more entertainment value,” Duvall said.

Duvall, who launched his business 28 years ago when the industry itself was just getting rolling, said he has expanded his inventory in recent years with items such as a rock climbing wall and a mechanical bull as well as tents, tables, chairs and a dance floor.

“I would imagine we buy 10, 15 or 20 new things every year,” said Duvall, adding he usually waits for the International Association of Amusement Parks and Attractions (IAAPA) Attractions Expo in the fall to make his purchases. “Sometimes we buy things for the purpose of replacing things that are getting old. Other times we buy to expand inventory or because something’s new and different.”

“You have to keep letting your inventory evolve to keep the excitement and the entertainment value so (customers) don’t drift away and go somewhere else,” he said. “I’m not competing just against other people that have similar things to me. I’m competing against a movie theater, a bowling alley, roller skating, anything else anybody wants to do for that party we’re in competition with because it’s all entertainment.”

Variety is indeed the spice of the party life at A-1 Amusement and Party Rental in Cincinnati, Ohio.

Donald Maslyn, company president, said he stocks more than 350 items because his customers want variety.  Moonwalks are a favorite for backyard parties while dunk tanks are popular for church fairs and fundraisers, he said.

“Economics plays a huge part of it,” said Masyln.  “Kids would rather bounce than anything else.  For a homeowner, it’s a great way to keep the kids busy and entertained. You never see kids frowning around a bounce house.”

Obstacle courses, which are larger and more expensive to rent, appeal to older kids, including college-age partygoers.

“I’m one of the old-timers as far as inflatables go,” said Masyln, who has been in business for 18 years.  “It’s still a growing industry, so many people don’t even know what we have available. People don’t know you can rent big inflatable movie screens.”

Maslyn said his strategy for renting more items to a customer for a given event is simply to find out that customer’s needs and make sure he or she is aware of his company’s selection.

“The number one way is to get them onto our Web site and we’ll let their eyes do our selling for us,” he said. “The best way is to develop that relationship with the customer.”

Party planners are not only out to please children, they also want to get adults into the act, said Beth Lazar, owner of Daisy Twist Co. in Castle Rock, Colo.

At a company picnic, for example, adults might be reluctant to play a traditional lawn game such as volleyball but might be inclined, or encouraged by a party coordinator, to try an inflatable obstacle course or interactive game, Lazar said.

“Adults like jousts, sumo suits, obstacle courses, all those things are very competitive and they tend to attract adults,” she said.

“I’m always looking for new, interactive inflatables,” Lazar said. “I have a large number of repeat clients and they like to see new interactives every year, and obviously as things get worn, they get replaced.”

Lazar, who has owned Daisy Twist for five years, said she has been able to increase the amount of equipment rented for a given event by finding out about the customer’s event and developing packages.

“We have prepackaged pricing and that definitely helps a lot,” she said.  “The more equipment you have the better packages you can put together.”

“It’s also having somebody good answering the phone and listening to the client, finding out more about their party and their budgets,” Lazar added.

The audience, the season and the price are the central factors in what equipment a customer chooses to rent, said Sandi Witkoski, who owns All 4 Fun CT along with her husband, Bill, in Oxford, Conn.

“I see two spectrums, there are more elaborate slides and then there are simpler slides,” Witkoski said. “It depends how elaborate you want to get or how much money you want to spend.”

During hot summer months, amusements with a water slide feature are particularly in demand, Witkoski said, adding that she has expanded her inventory to accommodate the need.

“The most popular are the combination bounce houses and water slides. I’ve been noticing a lot of teenagers wanting to rent for graduations or teenage parties,” Witkoski said. “The combination bounce houses have more to do and they’re larger. There are slides and obstacles inside.”

When the weather gets colder, the parties move indoors with casino and sports-themed events, said Tim Abbott, who owns Fun Productions Inc. with his wife, Dawn, in Aurora, Colo.

Choices have expanded, here, too, and include giant screens for group video game-playing sessions and the “old-fashioned photo booth,” he said.

“We’re always looking to see if there are new products or new twists on a product,” Abbott said.

In the Denver area where his business is based, Abbott said party-related companies have started working together “instead of trying to fight against each other to try to low ball” a bid.

“We all ended up at the same party we were all bidding on,” he said. “It’s easier for the client to get one bill from one company. We’ve created packages we can all put together to make it easier to have a customer make one phone call.”

A customer-focused philosophy also is what drives business at Aardvark Amusements, based in Brooklyn, N.Y., said Owner Dennis Schifter.

“If they want to go to the moon, I’ll send them to the moon,” Schifter said.  “It’s whatever they want. No matter what you want, I don’t care what it is, I will get it for you at a price.”

At the same time, Schifter said he does not push customers to rent more equipment.

“If a customer overspends, my feeling is you’re only going to have a problem down the road because then they’re going to nitpick,” he said. “Everybody has a budget.” –

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