In this start an online business series I'm going to go through some of the more popular choices for a business startup, highlight the pros and cons of each and show you how you can apply the latest website technology to it so that you stand head and shoulders above the competition.
To begin with, I'm going to cover a business that you can quickly snowball by applying three facets of website promotion that very few other people in this field utilise: Email Mailing lists, mobile credit card reader technology and Google My Business.
I keep hearing about how businesses should be “scaleable” and “investable”. Think of the type of companies you see pitching for cash on Dragons Den. But making hundreds of thousands a year isn't the goal for everyone, and a lifestyle business can offer a lot more reward than simple monetary return.
A bouncy castle hire business is an excellent example of this. It is a brilliant “lifestyle” business that you can build around existing commitments. It's a business that you can involve the whole family in once you get going and you will have an endless stream of new and repeat customers once you become established because more children are born every year!
Basic Equipment Required
The beauty of starting a bouncy castle hire business is that you can start with one bouncy castle and grow from there. If you get more bookings than you can handle, then you can sell them to a competitor or arrange for a competitor to do the setup for you. Introduce yourself to several other companies in the business so that you can help each other out and cover for holidays or unexpected illness.
Here's what you'll need:
- Mobile Phone to accept enquiries.
- Computer to build your website.
- Bouncy Castle, rain-cover, electric blower, and anchor stakes.
- Groundsheet to protect the underside of the bouncy castle.
- Outdoor electrical extension cable.
- RCD circuit breaker. (safety cut-out device).
- Safety mat to put at the front of the castle.
- Safety instruction sheet to leave with the customer and a customer disclaimer form.
- A vehicle to transport everything.
- A trolley to carry all the kit to and from the car.
- A jetwash to clean everything down once you get it back home.
Most 12 foot by 12 foot bouncy castles will fit in an estate car. At a stretch, you'll get them into a hatchback like an Astra, but an estate is ideal for this type of work. You'll have all the other equipment to go with it as well plus any hired or press-ganged assistance!
If you have the cash, then a used pickup like a Mitsubishi L200 would do the job admirably for £3,000 - £4,000, and that has the advantage that you can have it sign written. A crew cab doesn't carry VAT so you can pick them up a lot cheaper.
What Bouncy Castle Do I Choose?
When you drive around in the high summer and see bouncy castles pitched in gardens what do you notice? Yes, that's right, most of them are set up in relatively small spaces. Hiring a bouncy castle is an excellent way of providing entertainment for a day for a lot of families on lower incomes.
Consider that it costs £9.99 per child for an hours play at a Wacky Warehouse (minimum ten children) and you can see what good value hiring a bouncy castle for the day is. Plus at the end of the day, all the kids will be exhausted, and the adults get to have some grown-up time in the evening!
An optimum size for your first bouncy castle is 3m or 3.5m square. That's 10 or 12 foot square in old money, and they will fit in most gardens. Plus they are easily transported and can be stored comfortably in a shed or a garage.
The bigger bouncy castles are more suited to being hired out “In Situ” for example in a town park or at a car boot where they can be seen from a distance and have a lot of children ready to play on them.
A 12' generically patterned (suitable for girls and boys) bouncy castle will cost around £500, and you can find complete starter kits for £700-£800. Beware of buying second-hand bouncy castles because the cost of repairing them can be high.
How To Get Bookings
The best way to get bookings, to begin with, is through word of mouth. Offer friends and family a reduced rate while you get established. Don't make the mistake of hiring out free because then you are losing your time and also suffering wear and tear on your most valuable asset – your bouncy castle.
If you hire out free just because your bouncy castle is sitting there doing nothing in the beginning, then you will have to pay the maintenance bill further down the line. The money is coming out of your pocket eventually. At least try to cover your costs by charging £40 instead of your usual £70 or £80 hire fee.
We all know that advertising is expensive and in the beginning, it can seem like a lot of money is being wasted. Keep your advertising channels down to one or two streams in the beginning until you find out what works for you.
An advert in the free local weekly paper is usually a good bet as well as the local evening paper. But of course, the real juice is in getting your business to the top of the regional search engine rankings.
Apart from bookings via traditional channels, you can also set up at the beach or car boot sales. Some pitches will be protected, and others usually require an upfront fee. With enough demand charging 50p per 5 minutes play should net you £150 by the end of a day so you can work out what you are prepared to pay for a pitch from there.
Make sure you use a heavy duty or commercial bouncy castle for this type of work, or your hire will quickly wear out!
The first question to ask a potential booking is what date they are looking to book on. Then you can check your calendar and make arrangements from there. The typical questions are what size is the bouncy castle, how many children will it accommodate and the cost of the hire so be prepared with your answers.
It is a good idea to call the customer the day or evening before to firm up the booking and tell them what time you will be there to set up and dismantle.
Cancellations can be disappointing, and it is tempting to charge a fee for those that do cancel but offering a no cancellation fee shows goodwill. Besides, if you were a parent and you had promised a bouncy castle for your child's birthday, you'd have to have a pretty good reason for cancelling and spoiling their day?
Dealing With Customers
Once you have the gig then, of course, you arrive on time and set up quickly and efficiently. Chatting with customers is the way to build friendships and repeat business so always make time for that.
Business cards and A5 fliers are good to hand out to other parents while they are there so make sure you have a ready supply. This is a captive audience! How about looking at other forms of promotional items to give away as well as T-shirts or Caps?
Building a website is where you can make a difference and generate a lot of new business. Traditional means of advertising are no longer optimal as more and more people use their computers and mobile phones to find a supplier for all types of goods and services.
In my research, I found a lot of poorly designed websites in this industry most of which are made to a template utilising a universal booking system. A booking system is good, but as the number of bookings for your fledgeling company is going to be quite low, to begin with, you don't need the expense of custom software, you can use a simple year to date diary or Google calendar for this purpose.
There is also a hidden drawback in using an online booking system. It is this:
If you don't have the stock or availability for the day the customer is requesting, then they will move on to one of your competitors. However, if you ask them to fill in an enquiry form instead, then you get their email and contact details and the chance to ask them some questions. At the very least you should be able to find out when the birthday or event is planned so that you can add the details to your mailing list and follow up again in a years time.
So what you need is a website design that has a great way of handling contact requests and at the same time looks neat without overdoing the graphics.
Wix would be a good choice, but any successful bouncy castle hire business would quickly outgrow it after a year or so. It's worth checking out my Wix Website Builder Review
My suggestion would be to use EKM and initially disable the shopping cart features directing everyone to the contact form in the beginning. As you grow, you can add more products quickly and easily.
The inbuilt email marketing system means you won't have the extra monthly expense of a separate email marketing platform and it might also be worth experimenting with the Facebook messenger add-on (also included free) if you think you may be able to gain customers that way.
Live chat is another potential enquiry generator, and the social media plugins will make linking your Twitter and Instagram accounts a breeze.
Don't forget to include testimonials on your website as these are a powerful persuader. Offer a discount for every testimony, to begin with, and ask people to vote for you on Trustpilot. Make serious attempts to grow your online citations because this is something your competition is not doing.
Use as much social proof as you can gather to prove that you are a serious business. Join online organisations in your business field and display their badges on your website.
Build A Mailing List
This is the key to running a great business, and in particular, a bouncy castle hire business! Everyone has a birthday once a year so those children that you served last year could well be potential customers next year! Younger brothers and sisters and cousins! Do not neglect your email marketing; it is the petrol to pour on the dancing flames of your business. Building a mailing list is another reason to choose a website builder platform that will capture those vital details for you.
Credit Card Readers
Use a mobile credit card reader like the Sumup Credit Card Reader to take payments on the go. Fewer and fewer people carry cash these days so make it easy for your customers to pay.
Google My Business
Make sure you sign up for Google My Business. It is the quickest and easiest way to get to the top of the local search engine listings.
Advertising In Local Online Directories
Here is my list of online directories you can submit your website to (coming shortly)
Don't forget to keep accounts and use accounting software to manage your day to day expenses.
Last but not least. Make sure you take out the correct public liability and relevant insurances. Consult a specialist if you are unsure.
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