By Sara G. Hodon
With outdoor event season quickly approaching, party rental and amusement retailers are stocking their inventory with a brand new selection of inflatables to appeal to a wide range of customers. Inflatables are crowd pleasers for nearly every type of event, and at the same time, their continued popularity and customer demand creates a need for manufacturers and retailers to raise the bar when it comes to product features.
For 2014, inflatables are showing a lot of versatility and new features that up their “wow” factor. “I’m seeing a lot of new ones, a lot of wet/dry combos and new waterslides,” said Mike Swartz of Extreme Party Rental in Live Oak, Fla. “I’ve also been seeing some 3D bouncers, so you’ll have something like soccer or football players, and it looks like they’re coming out of the unit.”
And, like many other areas of society, inflatables are going digital, taking the whole market to a new level. “The best inflatables on the market are the ones digitally printed and made in the USA,” said Marc Nicastro of Primetime Party Zone in Gloucester, Mass. “The detail in the digitally printed graphics far surpasses the older versions that had bland vinyl characters and graphics stitched on with minimal artwork.” The “Made in the USA” label assures quality, he said.
“The inflatables that are made in the USA are more expensive but they last longer when maintained properly. These digitally printed inflatables do so well because they are aesthetically incredible. The kids see these digitally printed inflatables and are awe struck by the size and, of course, the look.”
The new advances in digital printing open up many new opportunities for personalization, which is another big selling point for retailers. “There are a lot of new characters, designs and animals, so it’s easier to personalize them,” said Jeff Kelly of Triangle Moonwalks and Party Rental in Apex, N.C.
There are more options for children’s parties, perhaps offering a bouncer featuring the child’s favorite animal, for example. But trends aren’t the only driving factor for party rental retailers. Of course it’s important to stock the hotter new items that customers are looking for, but there’s something to be said for stocking some evergreen inflatables that are requested over and over again. For some retailers, “hot new inflatables” could simply be newer, more updated versions of some of their most popular rentals.
Retailers use a variety of methods for promoting their new offerings, and agree that cross-promotion in both traditional and digital marketing is the most effective way to get the word out. And, they agree, strong visuals are key.
“Our top tip for marketing new inflatables to customers is to get pictures of them floating around, via email, social media and of course making sure that your website is current,” said Nicastro, whose business primarily services the North Shore area of Boston.
While a photo of the product itself gives customers an idea of what to expect, post “action shots” of the product at an event, with guests in the new bouncer or trying out the new waterslide, as much as possible. “We try to use real-time pictures on our website and stay away from stock photos,” said Swartz, whose business services north Florida, specifically the counties of Columbia, Suwannee, Hamilton, Lafayette, Alachua and Madison. This gives customers a much better sense of the inflatable’s features and how it might fit with their own event needs.
Kelly relies on old-fashioned target marketing for his newer products. “We do postcard blasts when I order something new, which we’ll send to our older, bigger customers,” he said. “In March we send out a tri-fold mailer to churches, schools, homeowners’ associations, and we rely heavily on SEO to keep our website at the top in the Google ratings.”
Triangle Moonwalk averages approximately 900 events per year. Their primary service market is the Raleigh-Durham-Chapel Hill area, though Kelly said he’s traveled throughout the state working at events of all kinds. “We’ve been in business for 12 years, and I’d say 60 to 65 percent of our business is backyard parties,” he said. “Our biggest markets are kids from 3 to about 15, but we get a fair amount of college kids.”
Inflatables are already a huge hit at events, primarily with kids, so retailers already have that advantage, the next step is stocking the hot trend or inflatable with the coolest new features to promote with customers or respond to requests for certain items.
“The biggest market for us is kids, anywhere from 4 to 11 years old,” said Nicastro. “Inflatables are so popular, and continue to get more popular, because: a, they keep the kids occupied and having a great time all in one area where they are easily watched by the adults; b, parents want to get the kids outside, away from the TVs and video games; and c, it’s great fun and exercise for all ages. If you want to add that ‘something extra’ to your party then think about renting a popcorn, sno cone or cotton candy machine with the inflatable. It adds a great touch to an already amazing experience for the kids.”
There’s a reason most people choose a particular inflatable, and usually it is because there is a major tie-in to the theme. “Inflatables are important because they are usually the focal point of the party,” Kelly said. “If I ever have to cancel due to weather or another issue, the parents usually aren’t too happy.”
Swartz said inflatables add that special “something” to an event, but one of the things his customers like best is the time frame. “They’re affordable to rent, and the customer has all day,” he said. “There’s no rush, so the kids can use it as much as they want. As far as cost, sometimes we’ll offer special packages to help the customer stretch their dollar.” Swartz said the appeal of a bouncer or inflatable water slide won’t be fading anytime soon. “I don’t know why, but kids flock to them,” he said. “They seem to get bored on playgrounds, but for some reason, they can spend all day in a bounce house.” –