How To Start Inflatable Rental Business

How To Start An Inflatable Rental Business

Starting your own inflatable business can be a fun and rewarding experience. After all, who doesn’t like being their own boss? Not to mention, it doesn't require much work... sort of.  Get the bouncer to the customer's house and let it do the work for you.

The beauty with this business model is that it's really easy to scale up.  You can start with 4-5 inflatables and as you make more money, diversify your inventory.  ​That's how we started out in college: one bouncer allowed us to buy four more.  By the time we finished our studies, we had an entire fleet!

A bouncing inflatable playground

In this article, we'll go over the steps required to start your own rental inflatable company.  The process is reasonably straightforward and if you already own a car, there's little risk of failure.

Steps To Starting Your Own Rental Inflatable Business

Almost every kid loves bouncing around on an inflatable structure, and that’s what makes bounce houses popular at birthday parties, fundraisers and events.  Here are the basic steps you need to follow to get it all started:

Step 1: Locating A Supplier

People enjoying sunny day on bouncing house playground

You'll have to get in touch with a manufacturer or vendor that sells commercial bounce houses.  Nowadays, the internet is the easiest resource to find this kind of information.  But how do you know which company is worth its salt and which isn't?  Commercial bouncers are expensive and if you're new, you can't afford a mistake.

That's where veterans like us come in.  Here's our best no-nonsense advice: only buy from North American manufacturers.  Although they may be a bit more expensive than Chinese competitors, North American manufacturers offer the following advantages:

  • They don't use toxic materials.
  • Quality is better, your investment will last longer.
  • The bouncers are designed with safety in mind.
  • Customer service is available and you're usually talking to a native English speaker.

We bought commercial bouncers from the following companies and never looked back:

In operating an inflatable rental business for over 15 years, not a single bouncer we bought from them failed prematurely.  We've had to retire a few because they were getting tired, but that's after making our money back 10x or more. 

​We've tried buying a commercial bouncer from China on Alibaba.com and it was a difficult, costly, and negative experience.  First off, you need to negotiate with the manufacturer on the price.  Second, shipping is slow and unreliable (we had to wait 3 months to get ours).  Third, the build quality isn't up to par.  Our bouncer lasted about 3/4 of our US-built ones.  

Step 2: Equipment Needed To Start A Business

Once you have located a supplier and are committed to buying one or more bounce houses, you'll need to consider some of the other equipment required to run your business:

Transportation: You'll need to buy or rent a trailer or truck to transport inflatables to events.  If you're tight for cash, an SUV or van will do for the short term.  Just keep in mind that, depending on the size, commercial inflatables can weigh 100 lbs and sometimes more!  A beat up Ford Siesta hatchback might struggle for this type of task.

Carrying equipment: You should consider buying a large dolly to move and transport equipment.  Cover sharp edges of the dolly with old rags and duct tape.  It looks terrible but it prevents cuts and holes in your inflatables.  If you're a duo (like we were), you can skip buying a dolly and carry the inflatables by hand.  It doesn't look professional from a customer's point of view but when you're new, a dollar saved is a dollar earned.

You should also buy back support belts.  This will prevent injuries from the heavy lifting.  Another great tool that works really well are moving straps.  Place them under the package and it gives great handles to pull from.

customized dollies are great for moving large inflatable bounce houses

Custom tools: If you get to the point where you rent out large play structures or mazes, you'll find that no commercial tools adequately do the job of moving the bouncers around.  At this point, go to a local trades school and ​put up an ad.  Offer to pay a welding student to build you a rig with wheels to your specifications.  Unfortunately, we're not allowed to share our old designs (part of the sales agreement), but something like this worked well for us (see picture to the right).  Notice the large tires that make dragging across the grass easier.

​Cleaning supplies: You'll need to clean the inflatables after every rental.  This not only keeps the kids from getting sick, it's also a good opportunity to visually inspect the inflatables for damage. You'll need a soft broom, a shop vac with a long hose, a soft brush and some buckets, sponges and rags.  To speed up the drying process, you should also get a heavy-duty fan.

Electrical Cords : Inflatables require electric blowers to provide air pressure to the structure.  ​You'll need to buy several electrical cords to provide the units power.  Make sure you buy cords rated for outdoors use.  We recommend buying 100ft of cord per bouncy castle with an extra 100ft in your car or truck in case of particularly odd shaped backyards. 

Storage facility: You will also have to secure a storage facility for the bouncy houses when they're not in use. Depending on the number of supplies and bouncy houses you own, the space required can vary. The storage facility should keep your fleet of rentals away from constant UV light.

If you're just starting out, you may not need to rent a specific building just to store your bouncers.  When we started out, we stored our equipment in my parent's garage.  It worked for a few summers until our fleet grew to the point my parents couldn't store their cars anymore!

All this to say, at one point you'll need to rent a large flat area.  You'll need a spot big enough to inflate your bounce houses for cleaning, inspections and repairs.  Whatever you rent, make sure there is 24h surveillance and security.

Computer and smartphone: For bookkeeping, responding to emails, marketing, and staying in touch with customers.  Being finance students, we created spreadsheets for every bouncer we owned that tracked the date the bouncer was rented, the income it made that day, and the distance traveled to deliver the rental.  With this information, we were able to track exactly how much each bounce house earned and at what point it started to pay for itself.

Step 3: Deciding The Legal Framework

Once you have sorted out all these details, you will have to decide on a legal structure and name the rental business. Depending on your preference, you can opt for partnership, proprietorship, Limited Liability Company (LLC) or corporation.

Boy and girl playing in a bouncing house

Which legal framework is best for you depends entirely on where you are in North America.  However, it's best you opt for a company entity that will offer protection from claims in case of lawsuits.  LLCs are great as, as the name suggests, liability is limited.

Step 4: Getting A License And Permit

The next step involves getting a license and permit. Again, the requirements vary depending on the local and state jurisdiction. You will most likely require an occupational license.  Some states regard inflatable bounce houses as a type of an amusement park. If so, you may have to provide additional inspections and filings to the state.

Before you buy commercial bounce houses, read up on the requirements and make sure you can afford the licenses.  Disclaimer: the following is not legal advice, but an account of our own experience.  The best way to ensure this homework is done thoroughly but cheaply is to hire a law student.  For a few hundred dollars, a student will be more than happy to crawl through the obscure laws of your state.  You can also pay a visit to your local city hall and ask questions there.  Often, they have answers to these types of questions.

Step 5: Sorting Out Liability Issues

The next step is quite important: you need to obtain a liability insurance to cover accidents on your equipment. Usually, general business insurance will cover the damage for the equipment. It is a good idea to determine the extent of coverage you need by consulting an insurance agent.

If your business is categorized as renting amusement parks, you will have to comply with the state’s limit for insurance coverage.

People enjoying sunny day on bouncing house playground

Next, you will have to design a rental agreement. Make sure a legal expert reviews the agreement.  For example, the person renting the equipment must understand its proper use and must agree to hold the company harmless in case there is an accident.  Sites like LegalZoom can help you with this at a great price.

Step 6: Advertising Your Services

Once you have planned the basic aspects of your business, you need to advertise your services. You can start by sending out a news release to local newspapers and place ads there.

Also, do not hesitate to pass out fliers and business cards to your friends and family members. You can also provide business cards to people who will be stopping by at your party. These referrals will become a valuable way to gain more customers.

You'll want to register a domain and build a website as quickly as possible.  If you're starting out, a custom website might be out of your budget. If you don't want to spend much but want a visually stunning website, services like

WixSquareSpace

Once you have a bit of money to throw around, you should consider hiring a marketing firm to help rank your site on the local Google market. In the late years of our business, over 75% of our income came from Internet marketing (the rest being word of mouth).​

Pricing

Bouncy houses rent anywhere between $85 to $250 a day.  It really depends on your local market and the size of the inflatable. You can select a suitable price according to your area and according to what your competitor is offering.  To get a good grasp on prices, you can make phone calls to the competition pretending to be an interested parent.

At first, it's tempting to undercut the competition to get your name out.  While that's fine for a month or two, eventually expenses will creep up on you.  Don't forget your price needs to cover both recurring expenses (insurance) but also replacement (replacing old bouncers over the years) and expansion (increasing your fleet).

A couple of kids playing in a bouncing house

Most rental company owners make their mark by delivering and booking themselves. This ensures they do not have to worry about additional labor costs.  This is perhaps the biggest cost-saver.  Just be sure you can physically handle the bouncers.  Some weigh over 100lbs and aren't always easy to move around.

Growing Your Business

Some people assume their rental business will only be restricted to inflatable bounce houses. However, that is far from the truth. A great way to boost your revenue stream is to include other types of interactive games.

​Here are a few ideas of extra services you can offer: 

  • Inflatable sumo suits (we made a fortune off these)
  • Outdoor laser tag
  • Gladiator jousting
  • Cotton candy machines

Conclusion

Starting your inflatable rental business is a great option for people who want a good side hustle from their 9-5 jobs.  Most rentals will take place over weekends and require only a few hours of work.  Hopefully, this article has provided all the information you need regarding starting your own inflatable rental business.

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