This special section on inflatables is focused on how to ensure safety and minimize risk while renting these popular items. Inspired by a recent flux of publicized accidents with inflatables, we took the approach of asking what rental stores should know and do with their inventory, and what they should consider when getting into inflatable rentals. ARA Insurance has provided a wealth of information and points out that inflatables are a unique rental inventory item as the renter is, in most cases, not the user. The main users of inflatables are children, which puts rental stores and manufacturers at an extreme disadvantage if an accident occurs. That’s why safety precautions are so important. Many if not all of the publicized accidents might have been avoided with proper installation and supervision, or if the rental company refused the rental because of dangerous weather conditions. Read on for tips on the rental process and educating customers on how to use inflatables safely.
— Editors of Rental Management
To see the inflatable accident caught on video in Oceanside, N.Y., go to:
To see the video demonstrating the proper anchoring of an inflatable, go to:
Videos also can be viewed via RM’s Digital Edition, ARArental.org/go/rmdigital.
How to properly manage the risk of renting inflatables
Bounce houses, slides and castles — these types of inflatables attract kids like a moth to a flame. Inflatables also can be a great rental revenue item, but rental stores often have to work for that revenue, not only in the preparing the inflatable to rent, but in the paperwork process and education of the customer. Since the inflatable is not rented to the kids using the inflatable, but instead to an adult who may or may not observe the ride, taking every safety precaution is essential.
Vona Adams, owner, A-Team, Amarillo, Texas
“We have a Point-Of-Rental contract and it lists everything that is being rented and what goes with it. We have safety and instruction handouts from Ninja Jump and Spacewalk. These also include troubleshooting tips,” Adams says.
“When people call or come in, we explain the available sizes, and we allow them to pick up and install it themselves, if it can be loaded in the back of the pickup. We have a new slide from Ninja Jump and a new inflatable from Spacewalk, both of which take two people to install, so we make sure the customer will have assistance,” Adams says.
“We go through the installation process with them. Everything in Amarillo has to be staked. We preach it. Amarillo always has a wind. We tell them how to lay it out, and after it’s laid out and the stakes are in the ground, you run the strap and as it starts going up, then you attach the straps. We tell them to make sure to readjust the straps and also to make sure the blower has a straight shot as it is being used. Also they must have an adult present. Spacewalk and Ninja Jump, Los Angeles, both have the same safety instructions printed on the equipment and that’s really nice. They are a heavier gauge vinyl and very dependable,” she says.
“We maintain our inflatables. When they come back, we have a big vacuum cleaner and hook it up. Each one gets swept out and wiped down every time. It’s not just renting it, it’s maintaining it,” Adams says.
A-Team Rentals also has a statement on the rental contract for liability, which customers are required to initial and sign. “We also have an emergency cell phone line they can call 24/7. If something is not right, we tell them to call. We’ve been very lucky. We’ve had no problems and people tend to listen,” she says.
Over the past year, there have been several well-publicized accidents involving inflatables in the United States. Many stem from anchoring issues and injuries have resulted from airborne inflatables at schools, events and home parties. One such accident in Oceanside, N.Y., was captured on YouTube, causing a nationwide sensation when people across the U.S. viewed the inflatable bouncing around unhinged, children in its wake. To see the video, use the link at left.
As a result, local news media sought advice and information from local rental stores doing it the right way. Vona Adams, owner, A-Team Rentals, Amarillo, Texas, an American Rental Association (ARA) member business since 1984, was one such person quoted. Her son also demonstrated the proper anchoring of an inflatable for the media. To see the video, use the link at left.
“We tell customers, if the weather gets bad, don’t put it up and we’ll give you your money back,” Adams says. “I’d rather they were safe and that our equipment was safe.”
Adams worries about the public’s awareness of inflatable quality, maintenance and staking. “I have insurance through ARA Insurance. Some of the fly-by-night people — they don’t have insurance and they have a cheaper product. That’s what scares me about the public — they go by the buck. That’s where the rental industry has to educate people on this.”
However, she says carrying inflatables has been worth the risk for A-Team. “I think renting inflatables is worth it, if you take care of it like we do. It’s worth the revenue.”
April Sanders, owner, Inflatable Fun Party Rental, Austin, Texas, says she also is blown away by the number of accidents caused by a lack of anchoring.
“When I hear these stories about inflatables flying away, it baffles me,” Sanders says. “That’s the first priority. The inflatable has to be securely staked into the ground to make sure it’s not going anywhere.”
She adds that it’s up to both the business and the renter to be smart about installation. “We had one event in the spring, it was just too windy. So we did not set up. It just wasn’t safe, so we didn’t. Down the street, the wind ended up knocking over an 18-wheeler, so the client was pleased that we made that decision. Fortunately, that’s only had to happen one time. You just have to be smart. It’s tough to lose that money, but it’s better to be smart in the end,” Sanders says.
Tim Beck, owner of Inflatable Office, Akron, Ohio, has experience as a rental operator and agrees that customers are unaware of the risks of improper installation. “Current trends in the industry are toward training operators and users to be safe with inflatables. Safety is a big issue in the industry. It is not that inflatables are unsafe, it’s just that operators and the public are often unaware of the safety practices they need to follow to have a safe and enjoyable time,” Beck says.
He says safety starts with the equipment. “When purchasing inflatables, make sure that the manufacturer is following ASTM standards and the units or documentation are labeled as such. Make sure that the manufacturer supplies you with setup and operating instructions and that those instructions are descriptive and reasonable. If there is an accident with your equipment and you have not followed the manufacturer’s instructions, you have just increased your liability,” he says.
Frank Scurlock, president, Spacewalk Interactive, Kenner, La., agrees. “One thing rental companies should look for is commercial quality products,” he says. “These days, there are many low-end inflatable products in the marketplace that do not stand up to the demands and needs of the rental industry. Choosing a manufacturer not only on price, but also on quality products and commitment to safety should be considered. Also, it’s good to check their reputation in the industry with fellow ARA members.”
He says it’s also important to the accessories made for specific inflatables to prevent electrical and inflating issues.
“You should always use the blower that the manufacturer supplies with the product,” he says. “Blowers range in various horsepower and you can damage an inflatable if you put on a blower with too much air pressure. Also you could have a problem if there is not enough air volume on large inflatables. Further, all water inflatables should have a GFCI protector. If the product requires more than one blower, additional blowers should be plugged in on separate electric circuits should one fail.”
Also, Beck says, make sure you have your permit. “Permits are often geographically specific. So, check with the state and locality that you will be operating in to make sure you are meeting their requirements. Often regular state inspections are required as well as a variety of documentation of your events and processes,” he says.
Scurlock points out that inflatables need to be regulated as such, but that no matter what the permit requirements are, safety and education should come first. “Two of the most important rules to follow are the proper anchoring of the product and preventing overcrowding, which is controlled by the operator of the product. On slides it is particularly important for the riders to line up on the ground while waiting to use the product and not on the top of the product to prevent it from having too much weight on one side,” he says.
While some accidents occur no matter how many precautions are taken, erring on the side of safety seems to help. After more than six months in business, the inflatable inventory at Inflatable Fun Party Rental is renting at a good pace, says owner April Sanders. The key to her success comes from her attention to detail and safety. So far, they haven’t had any accidents and they aim to keep it that way.
“For me, it’s about doing it the right way. We are insured and when it comes to the units, we go over the rules. I know that the customers aren’t going to read it, so let’s go over it and make it as safe as possible,” Sanders says.