For the past four years, Jim Graham of Tiffin had admired the inflatable bounce house his brother rented for birthday parties at his home in Holland, Ohio. Graham was amazed at how the bounce house kept the kids active and occupied for hours. Last year, he did some research to see whether it would be feasible for him and his partner, Jennifer Bogner, to rent out inflatable jumpers in the Tiffin area as a side business.
"We both work at Whirlpool full time. I've been there for 25 years," Graham said.
To get an idea of what was in demand, Graham checked with rental companies to see the kinds of equipment they carried.
An air dancer is shown in the foreground. A slide, obstacle course and castle bounce house also are seen.
He and Bogner looked for the most popular units and bought 16 items last year. They started the company in April 2012.
"We actually hired four (college) kids to work for us. The business took off a lot better than we thought it would," Graham said.
In addition to buying the jumpers, the couple had to invest in a box truck, pick-up truck and trailer, which are all full. Graham said he drives the larger truck himself.
Other expenses included hiring a lawyer to get paperwork in order, setting up a website, getting insurance and receiving training to be certified in setting up and operating the inflatables.
"These are governed by the Department of Agriculture (Amusement Ride Safety Division of Ohio)," Graham said.
Operators are required to obtain basic inflatable safety operations certification from the Safe Inflatable Operators Training Organization. Graham said the instruction takes about four hours to complete, followed by a test for certification.
"It's pretty extensive. It's on how to set the units up, how to secure them, how to maintain them, how to keep the kids safe. A lot of it is common sense," Graham said.
Some of the precautions are: making sure users do not have gum or candy in their mouths; removing jewelry and sharp objects from the user and his pockets; making sure the users remove their shoes; and knowing that children do best when grouped with others of similar size and weight.
The customer can arrange for an attendant to supervise the attractions at a cost of $20 per hour.
The jumpers must be set up away from trees, buildings and power lines and not attached to vehicles that could drive away with the inflatables.
When bad weather occurs, the units must be vacated and deflated until conditions are safe. Grass is the best base for the jumpers because they can be anchored with stakes.
Graham said he puts down a tarp when setting up on concrete or pavement and uses sandbags to secure the units.
"If we have to, we'll stake them in, but we prefer to sandbag. That way, we don't have to make holes in the asphalt," he said.
After use, the vinyl must be vacuumed and cleaned before tearing down each jumper.
Graham said he and his crew use the same disinfectant hospitals use to kill bacteria and mold. They also can check for torn seams or other damage. Holes can cause the unit to deflate on top of the people inside. The operator must know what to do in that situation, including staying calm.
Jumpers Wild has taken its jumpers to two Tiffin elementary schools, the July 4 festivities at Hedges-Boyer Park, corporate picnics and parties, graduation and birthday parties, reunions and wedding receptions.
"We're doing Bettsville School in August and Hopewell-Loudon School in August. They're having a tailgate party before their first football game, so we're setting up for that," Graham said.
If an item is in stock, it can be reserved with a minimum of two days' notice. Costs range from $125 to $300. The prices are posted on the website, www.jumperswild.com, next to the photo of each apparatus.
"People can go onto the website and check it out. It's pretty self-explanatory, and it's a lot easier on us when people call," Graham said.
The couple has two children, ages 4 and 5, who enjoy going along for set-ups and "testing" the equipment. On special occasions, Graham sets up a jumper in his backyard.
To learn more about Jumpers Wild, call (419) 618-2488 or visit www.jumperswild.com.