A report saying children's injuries from bounce houses rose 1,500 percent from 1995 to 2010 grabbed headlines on Monday, but the majority of full-line rental companies responding to an informal poll from Special Events say the story will have little impact on their business.
The doctor who oversaw the study, released by Nationwide Children's Hospital in Columbus, Ohio, made several recommendations: Children under age 6 should not play in bounce houses; horseplay, somersaults and flips should be prohibited; and adults should supervise—but not play inside—the bounce house.
The neutral reaction to the story reflects a big shift in the inflatables market itself. Fully half of respondents tell Special Events that while they once carried bounce houses and similar inflatables in their inventory, they do not do so today.
"We used to rent bounce houses but no longer do," explains Becky Klein of Stuart, Fla.-based Eventmakers. "Insurance was so high, it no longer made it a profitable item to carry."
"We stopped renting them 20 years ago," says Damon Holditch, CSEP, CERP, of Austin-based Marquee Event Group. "There are people renting bounce houses out of their garages for $85 for four hours. Killed the market."
"We used to rent bounce houses after we bought a company that already had them in inventory," says Dan Hooks, CERP, of Charlotte, N.C.-based Party Reflections. "It did not take us long to realize the profit margin relative to the liability that existed with renting them did not make sense for us. We have several companies that just do that exclusively in our area, and we have built relationships with them so that they can take on these risks for us and we can assume their tenting risks."
KEEPING UP WITH COMPETITION
While fewer full-line event rental companies offer inflatables today, some do just to keep up with local competition.
JZ's Party Charm of San Bernardino, Calif., does rent "limited" bounce houses, primarily the smaller units, but JZ's Rick Foster says, "I don't like it. "
"There's so many home businesses--legit and not so legit--who got in to this business and offer packages on their rentals to include tables, chairs and some even small-size canopies, we've lost a significant portion of this business," he explains. To stay in the game, JZ's offers "only enough bounce houses to remain competitive."
Indeed, several respondents tell Special Events that the explosion of low-end inflatables operators might be behind some of the hike in injuries.
Rusty Parr of AV Party Rentals of Newhall, Calif., points to the "dirt cheap" availability of moon bounce rentals in the greater L.A. area.
"If the [Children's Hospital] article were to note how many of those injuries happened in uninsured equipment, or how many could have been avoided with a paid, trained attendant on-site, that may provide the necessary awareness to the public needed to avoid the $100 rental," he says.
PLAYING IT SAFE
However, operators who do rent inflatables stand by their products.
Dave Reedy of Party Palace Rentals of Forest Hill, Md., does rent moon bounces and the like, and is a member of the Amusement Rental Business Association, a business group dedicated to raise safety awareness in and boost the image of the amusement rentals industry.
"Last year we changed our practices in the rental of moon bouncers," he explains. "In the state of Maryland, all moon bouncers are required to be registered as an amusement ride. Each year they must be inspected and if set up and used in a public area, they must be certified by the state."
He adds, "Here at Party Palace, we have adopted new procedures with inspections, safety devices that need to be used, proper securing devices, cleaning inspection reports, and documentation."