Jumping for joy

Inflatable bounce houses are delighting moms and kids alike

MIGHT AS WELL JUMP <br>Kaya Miller, 6, in the foreground, catches air at a Bounces of Fun house at the Thursday Night Market. To his left is Judy Brister-Knabe, 4, and in the back is Eve Carriel, 4. Bounce house owner Sandy Urrutia says it’s safest to have children of the same age bouncing at one time.

Kaya Miller, 6, in the foreground, catches air at a Bounces of Fun house at the Thursday Night Market. To his left is Judy Brister-Knabe, 4, and in the back is Eve Carriel, 4. Bounce house owner Sandy Urrutia says it’s safest to have children of the same age bouncing at one time.

Photo by Tom Angel

They’re bouncy, jouncy, fun, fun, fun, fun, fun. Tigger himself couldn’t complain.

Bounce houses, large inflatable rooms designed for children to jump and bump around in, are seemingly the latest craze in birthday parties. Why are they so appealing? “I think they’re fun,” says 4-year-old Maddy Barker, whose mother Marci takes the young girl and her brother, 2-year-old Raddon, to bounce house events on a regular basis.

Marci Barker believes it’s the bright colors that initially draw the kids in. “Right when they see the bounce house they just go running,” she says. “They love to just get in those things and jump up and down.” Part of it, she suspects, is because the kids are not allowed to jump on their beds or furniture at home.

Whether as an energetic outlet or a good wholesome afternoon activity, kids are loving the bounce houses. And for some parents, that appreciation has been impetus for them to purchase their own bounce houses and start rental businesses.

What could be easier, they figure. Little effort, big payoff, right?

Not exactly. As with any other business, there is more involved than meets the eye.

Sandy and Pierre Urrutia, parents of four children ages 5 to 12, operate one of Chico’s bigest bounce house rental businesses, Bounces of Fun. Sandy Urrutia had dabbled in part-time work in the past, but, like many mothers, she has opted to stay home to take care of her kids. Three summers ago, as the previous owner of Bounces of Fun was ready to sell the business, the opportunity to run the operation fell into the couple’s hands.

The Urrutias are not the only people who have been tempted by the proposition of renting the kiddie party items to other eager parents. In fact, what appeals most to the average stay-at-home parent is the idea that these jump houses are a virtually hassle-free business: You buy the oversized toy, rent it out, set it up, take it down, and voilà!, nothing but pure profit.

But, as Sandy Urrutia explains, this is far from the truth of the matter. “It’s hard. People don’t realize how much work it entails. All they see is the quick setup and the quick takedown and [customers] give them the money and they’re gone and they’re happy and life’s grand. There’s so much more than that,” she says.

Included in the “much more” are the initial startup costs, maintenance fees, transportation, salaries, and, perhaps most costly, liability insurance.

Jump houses can be purchased from various warehouses around the country, with the units ranging from as low as $2,000 to upward of $6,000 for some of the more impressive features. Urrutia, who owns four jump houses purchased from a Southern California retailer, has invested thousands in her family’s small business.

Bounce-a-lot.com advertises that those interested in starting a rental company can expect to make $1,600 to $2,500 per month, but the work is seasonal since most of the houses can’t be set up during rainy months, and even then people want to rent them almost entirely on weekends, for children’s parties. This estimate is also the gross amount, meaning the figure is much less after pricey deductions.

Sandy and Pierre, who works full-time managing a Chico-area business and helps with Bounces of Fun on the side, don’t have employees to pay, which helps bring the overhead down and profit margin up.

“Right now I’m at a place where I don’t have employees. If you have employees you have workmen’s comp, you have your taxes and all that, and it just brings your overhead way up. So you have to decide if that’s worth it or not, and for me it’s not,” she says. “You’d have to work harder for less money for a while.” Their oldest son is now capable of watching the youngsters while Mom’s setting up a house and even tags along to help on some of the expeditions.

Their business also uses the family’s van and trailer to transport the bounce houses, which weigh approximately 200 pounds deflated and reach 15-by-15 feet when inflated.

While these tips can help keep their extra costs to a minimum, insurance is a costly necessity. Liability insurance helps in case of lawsuit against the rental company, although Sandy’s never seen any of that. Still, it is not uncommon to pay hundreds for the preventative measure, and Urrutia says insurance costs have nearly doubled for the coming year.

Despite the minor downfalls that come with owning your own business, Sandy Urrutia enjoys what she does. She has become so involved with it that she has managed to get her friends, Charlene and Herb Bladorn, to start their own bounce house rentals.

Charlene Bladorn, a stay-at-home mother in much the same position as Urrutia, appreciates the business because it lets the former teacher spend time at home with the kids.

She notes that it works for only some families but is definitely enjoyable in the end. “I would say 90 percent of the people are just happy and excited and the kids just love it, and that just makes it worth it,” Bladorn says, adding that there are those days when it is 105 degrees outside that make the job a little more strenuous.

But the fact that these two households can do competitive business and remain close friends shows what a strange little community these rental places comprise. With two more companies recently adding to the already impressive list for a town of Chico’s size, it is remarkable that they all seem to work together.

Sandy Urrutia, in fact, says she refers customers to other companies when she is booked. “It’s nice right now because there’s enough business to keep everyone happy, but … if we get too many more companies coming in doing this it won’t be worth doing it.” That’s because more companies drive prices down in a market that is already fighting the costs of increasing insurance and fees, and bounce house owners need to dedicate some of their profits to keeping the products in great condition.

As for the kids, they’ll keep celebrating parties as usual. To keep the bouncing safe, though, Urrutia and Bladorn both warn them to always follow the rules and use common sense, which means keeping age groups separate to avoid accidents.

Marci Barker agrees, adding that when she takes little Maddy and Raddon to play in Urrutia’s bounce house at the Thursday Night Market, she feels safe knowing that, when the kids are kept with the right age group, “nobody really gets tossed around.”

And remember: No fighting, kids!