Many of us have had the fun of tossing off our shoes and climbing onto an inflatable game to kick, climb, box, slide or jump all over it. After all, they're not just for kids any more. Once enjoyed only at fairs and festivals, people now pump air into these games and use them for corporate events, team building retreats, high school proms, water sports and backyard parties.
With more options for fun combined with the economic boom in the late '90's, the popularity of these games skyrocketed. Fabricators became more and more creative with their designs. The simpler concept of the inflatable bounce or slide unit expanded to include interactive play units such as competitive basketball games, climbing pyramids, joust games and obstacle courses. Not only has the style of these games changed, but also the demands on the fabric that is used to make them.
About twenty years ago the Seaman Corporation started selling rolls of a multi-purpose, coated fabric into this market for use in some of the first inflatable games. As we watched the market boom over the past several years, we decided to take a closer look at fabric performance issues. The combination of increased traffic and complicated fabric configurations has caused safety to pop to the forefront of our minds. With that in mind, we set out on a mission to tailor a fabric to meet the specific needs of this market.
By studying the market and talking with a variety of end users and fabricators, we pinpointed key problems unique to the inflatable games industry: Fabric wears thin in high traffic areas of the inflatable units, such as at the tops of slides. The bottoms of units suffer abrasion damage from being set up and taken down on rough outdoor surfaces. There is high risk of puncture wounds in the units after long-term use and product inconsistencies lead to air retention problems. Bright vibrant colors fade too quickly after prolonged exposure to sunlight. In addition, some states now require suppliers to make fabric that meets the National Fire Protection Agency's 701 Large Scale Test requirement.
Along with several leading major game manufacturers is a growing segment of the market that includes small "mom and pop shops" that makes a few units to rent to the public. Also emerging are the entrepreneurs --college students and individuals working from home that buy one or two units to rent out for parties and events for extra cash. Fabric durability and longevity is important to these people who don't always have easy access to equipment and materials for making repairs.
We found the market flooded with non-specialty products and struggling with safety, liability and aesthetic issues. What, then, does the market demand in a specialized product? Fabric that has high abrasion and puncture resistance, tough tear strength, consistent quality, meets fire code standards and is durable and vibrant in color, with adequate ultra-violet ray protection to maintain this vibrancy as long as possible. Most importantly, the market wants all this for a competitive price. Competition is fierce and players come from all around the world.
A market that once sprung from the availability of a variety of fabric products is now demanding more attention from the suppliers. As some game manufacturers report double-digit sales growth in the past two years and predict their sales will keep rising, the trend for fabrics is toward specialty products. After all, if you want to play in a market where fun is the name of the game, why horse around with products that aren't designed for the industry?
For information, contact Seaman Corporation at 330-262-1111 or toll-free 800-927-8578. Seaman Corporation, 1000 Venture Blvd., Wooster, OH 44691. [email protected]