Exploring the Winning Combination of Inflatables, Mini-Golf and Go-Karts
To be a true Family Entertainment Center, many FECs look for attractions that will bring in guests from all age groups. Some of the most popular attractions for toddlers and young children are inflatables. When FECs combine their go-karts and mini-golf and other attractions with bounces, they create an FEC that is fun for all guests no matter how old or young they are.
At Knuckleheads Bowling & Indoor Amusement Park in Wisconsin Dells, Wis., guests have a variety of amusements to enjoy in the 80,000-square-foot facility that boasts both indoor and outdoor attractions in the summer months. The inside FEC includes a 24-lane state-of–the-art bowling center as well as dual-level go-kart track, a roller coaster and a ropes course. Airheads, Knuckleheads outdoor inflatables area, contains two jumpy pillows, a small pirate ship and a 27-foot dinosaur jumbo slide that also serves as a beacon and marketing tool for those who pass Knuckleheads on the road.
“We are fortunate in that we can move some of our inflatables inside during the winter,” said Kelly Dallman, general manager at Knuckleheads. “The dinosaur obviously needs to be deflated in the colder months, but the flexibility to bring in the pillow jump helps us cater to all our guests no matter what weather.”
Founded in 2007, Knuckleheads added inflatables two years ago. The FEC wanted to “complete” their amusement park by having both indoor and outdoor attractions, and the inflatables allowed them to do that. Dallman noted that the incentive for the inflatables was not about having more for the youngest guests, but about having more attractions for everyone.
“The inflatables area is set off and we do have camps and birthday parties with toddlers who love the inflatables, but it’s funny how the adults love to bounce on them. They are so much fun,” she said.
Although a part of Knuckleheads, the inflatables area is known as Airheads and Knuckleheads markets the inflatable area separately and in conjunction with the rest of the FEC.
“When guests come, they can get a wristband for the entire park or they can pay for just Airheads,” Dallman explained. “Obviously the inflatables are most in demand with the birthday party guests or the camp guests, but we don’t want to say it’s one or the other. We have added the inflatables for everyone’s enjoyment.”
Knuckleheads promotes the bowling, go-karts and other attractions through print ads, social media, roadside billboards and through partnerships with local hotels and resorts.
“We tend to promote everything in the FEC, but it’s nice that the dinosaur standing over the road lets people know we have inflatables too. He is a great marketing tool for us for most of the year.”
As owner and CFO of Boomers Family Fun Center in Avondale, Pa., Michelle Bitzberger oversees a 24,000-square-foot facility. Boomers offers its customers a 3,200-square-foot laser tag arena, two mini-golf courses, a 6,000-square-foot play structure, 80 arcade games, a 32-covered-stall driving range, a pizzeria and a multi-purpose sports court.
“Two years after we opened, we wanted to add inflatables so that those who were too small to enjoy the other attractions had a place to have fun too,” said Bitzberger. “We had an idea of what we wanted in inflatables because before we opened Boomers, we owned multiple indoor inflatables-only facilities.”
Added to the Boomers’ attractions were a giant slide combo bounce, a standard bounce and an obstacle course.
“We had experience with bounces, but we did our homework,” Bitzberger explained. “We wanted quality, quality, quality and we would only work with manufacturers who had been approved by the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture. Anything we add to our facility must insure our guests’ safety and enjoyment and our reputation.”
Boomers limits the age for the bounces to 8 and under since older children can participate in all the other attractions. Marketing for the FEC and inflatables is done mostly through grassroots efforts throughout the community.
“We have been so fortunate that we have such a supportive community,” Bitzberger noted. “We just celebrated our fifth anniversary and our customers are the best. We could not have survived in this difficult economy without adding new attractions such as the Bounce Zone and without the help of our local families.”
The 40,000-square-foot, seven-acre Central Park Funland in Fredericksburg, Va., is home to two go-kart tracks, laser tag, bumper cars, a tilt-a-whirl and a mini-golf course. The FEC also boasts a softplay area with a moonbounce inside.
“We always had the moonbounce because it is a great attraction for the smaller children. We have not had to go and search for new inflatables yet, but we do keep an eye out for attractions we might add down the road,” said Tony Tallarico. “We look at different manufacturers and what kind of products they put out there, and when we are ready to expand, we will have done our homework and know what we want and what we always want is an FEC where guests of all ages can relax and have a great time.”
Tallarico promotes the FEC and softplay and bounce together but the FEC offers a special birthday package just for smaller children and the softplay area.
“We have put a lot of work into promotion. We use social media, and website discounts and promotions plus we do print and radio ads, and nothing works better than satisfied customers and word-of-mouth referrals. We will do anything to make sure our guests have a wonderful and safe time with us. Our goal is fun for the entire family.”
As General Manager for Funway Foxboro in Foxboro, Mass., Russ Antonelli oversees a two-acre complex that offers batting gages, bumper boats, and an 18-hole mini-golf course among its many attractions. While these attractions can be enjoyed by older children and adults, they leave out smaller children, which might make it difficult for families to want to spend the day.
“We now have a bungee run inflatable, a joust and two bungee trampolines, which mostly anyone can enjoy,” said Antonelli. “We have changed up the inflatables a bit, but when we do change attractions, we don’t just jump to see what the newest thing is. We do research and go to shows like IAPPA. We like to see how the market responds to attractions and if the popularity for these attractions remains strong. Inflatables are an expensive investment, and we want to make sure we have the attractions our customers will enjoy.”
Antonelli includes the inflatables and other attractions in all promotion. Funway Foxboro participates in a great deal of print marketing and occasionally does radio ads as well. Their biggest draw comes from camps, church and town organizations and schools who look for different and fun outings for children of all ages. –