Starting a Bouncy Castle Business

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Are you thinking about starting a bouncy castle business or have you ever wondered what it might be like in reality? Joshua Boast, owner of Bounce Back Castles Ltd has been kind enough to share his story.

Back in 2013 I was working as an accounts assistant for a public sector organisation and the boring day to day tasks were really starting to have a negative impact on my social life, mindset and my general happiness.

I’m sure many can relate to this, but one of the major negative factors that was really weighing me down was the lack of clarity on career development, and how long it would take to ‘work my way up’ through the company. Looking around in the office I remember feeling that the people who held the higher paid jobs had often been at the company for a long time, or had completed over seven years of accountancy related degrees and courses. I guess in hindsight it just seemed a lot of work for a reward which I didn’t personally feel was necessarily worthwhile, after considering the amount of work involved in becoming a chartered accountant.

Of course that’s not to say it isn’t for anyone, it just wasn’t the path I wanted for myself. But I was stuck, I wasn’t just unsure of the career I wanted, but unsure of what I wanted for my life overall. It was at this point I knew that I would need to set up a business, and I say need because running a business is always something I had wanted to do, I was just either undecided on the business I would like to run or if I found a business I would most certainly like to operate it usually had too many barriers to entry, or at the least barriers that prevented me from entering right there and then!

So I looked at what funds I had available to start a business, how much more I could contribute to the business funds if I was able to maintain my job as an accounts assistant (about £400.00 a month), and finally what businesses I could start whilst still having a full time job. Now the last point was the tricky one. There wasn’t much point in opening a shop if I couldn’t open the shop on a daily basis due to my full-time job – obviously! The wish to maintain my job naturally reduced the number of business opportunities that I deemed viable and many could argue that by not wanting to completely commit 100% to the business that I wasn’t fully committed to the business, but I didn’t see this as the case, I was more interested in being able to sustain the business in the early days without the need for the immediate huge growth the business would need to provide me with an income from day one.

After becoming increasingly frustrated with my perception that there were not any opportunities that would tick all the boxes one of my close friends suggested a bouncy castle business. I was instantly intrigued as I had fond memories of bouncy castles as a child, memories of attending numerous birthday parties where bouncy castles were present took me back to the instant joy I had as a child when I saw one at a party or wedding. In fact I specifically remember seeing one at a wedding and being over the moon – wedding’s as a child are usually a pretty boring experience (at least they were for me) and I can remember my displeasure at having to attend a particular wedding but then my day lit up as soon as I saw the huge inflatable in the garden of the wedding venue!

But I didn’t want to get carried away, I wasn’t even sure if they were still popular and couldn’t recall seeing one for years, or maybe I just didn’t take much notice as I grew older. But I instantly thought that if bouncy castles were still popular that it was most likely they would be hired out at weekends, for children’s birthday parties and the like. So I got to researching and found out that there were indeed many bouncy castle hire companies operating in my local area, but that almost made me turn to instant disappointment as I worried the market may be saturated. Many of the hire companies had a handful of children’s bouncy castles and not much else, so it didn’t look as though it could necessarily ever become a full-time venture. Undeterred, I came to the conclusion that this was the only opportunity that ticked all the boxes I had set out and even if it didn’t ever provide a full time income, it could still supplement the wages of my full time job at worst, and also if it didn’t work out I wouldn’t be stuck with loads of costs that I would be committed to, such as rent, staff etc. I could keep the bouncy castles in my garage, buy a small van and insure it, get a website, and pay an accountant to do my yearly accounts, get public liability insurance and that was basically it (or so I thought) and so it began!

Originally, I brought three brand new bouncy castles from a manufacturer based in the U.K. and I had a friend create a website to list my products on which was up and running by February (just in time for the beginning of the season). I also purchased a rather expensive advertising package from Yell, but luckily for me it did bring some rewards. By April I had taken over 20 bookings for the coming summer, which was ok, but would only really cover my variable costs for a few months. I needed more bookings but was completely unsure of how to gain more customers. Luckily, a combination of providing insanely cheap prices (something I somewhat regret with the benefit of hindsight), a very pleasant and polite service combined with punctuality and a very clean and shiny bouncy castle, I had repeat customers in no time. I reinvested my takings into larger and better bouncy castles, such as adult sized bouncy castles, disco domes and bouncy slides, and repeated this process for the next two years whilst also continuing with my full time job although winters were significantly quieter than the summer so it wasn’t like I was doing seven days a week for two years, although combined with the admin side, and the cleaning of the bouncy castles after they had gotten soaked whilst being subjected to the ever temperamental British climate! Anyway, after continually reinvesting the profits and some of my wages from my job for two years I had grown the selection of bouncy castles to over twenty. I was now confident I could take a full time wage (albeit small) from the business whilst also keeping some aside for continuing to grow the business and the items available for hire.

One thing I learnt with bouncy castle insurance is to always read the small print, as is the case with any insurance policy, but unfortunately by overlooking one condition, I ended up losing what was a lot of money to me. The condition was that bouncy castles made in China were excluded and could not be insured by this insurance company, and this was due to them not meeting the UK regulations.

Of course, some of the versions manufactured in China would pass UK regulations, but such a vast amount were being imported that did not meet the regulations that this insurance company decided that the simplest way was to exclude this type of bouncy castle. Unfortunately, I hadn’t picked up on this and purchased three bouncy castles from China. Upon having a PIPA inspector do the required initial safety inspection to ensure the bouncy castle was safe for public use I’m afraid to say that none of them passed and the repairs required to get them in line with BS EN 14960:2013 were just too costly, in fact it would have been cheaper to get new bouncy castles made in the U.K. than to get the ones I had purchased in line with UK standards! This was a mistake that I completely blamed myself for, I hadn’t read all the small print and due to that error, it had cost me.

On the subject of bouncy castle insurance it should be noted that if you do not have your bouncy castles and inflatables annually safety checked then the insurance will be void, so before purchasing any bounce houses please make sure that they have a current safety test, and that there will not be anything that prevents it from passing again when the test is next due. For further details on this you can purchase the BS EN 14960:2013 standard which is a must have for anyone thinking about starting a bouncy castle or inflatable hire business.

I have now been hiring bouncy castles out for over six years, and although it does have it’s down days like most businesses and jobs, overall it is a nice industry to be in. It isn’t for everyone – bear in mind you’ll be working every weekend and in winter there is a lot less work than during the summer but you will still have costs to bear especially if you grow and take on a premises and multiple vans.

The weather can be your best friend or your worst enemy – bouncy castles are not able to be legally operated in winds that exceed 24mph and therefore some weekends you have to cancel 90% of the bookings due to high winds. Finally – don’t overbook yourself! There is nothing worse than having to race about between various village halls on a Summer’s afternoon to ensure you get the bouncy castle packed away before the village halls next booking comes in purely down to not paying attention to the cross over of times when taking bookings. It really can turn a nice day into a nightmare!

Joshua Boast
Bounce Back Castles Ltd