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Beyond backyards

Inflatables: Rental operator overcomes licensing challenge for bouncers.


May 12, 2008
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When Mathieu Blanchard spotted an opportunity to get into a niche rental market, the young entrepreneur pursued it, investing $30,000 in seven inflatable bouncers. But Blanchard says he jumped in before realizing that he needed to be licensed by the Technical Standards and Safety Authority (TSSA) which put a halt to his new venture.

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After investing $30,000 in seven inflatable bouncers and acquiring liability insurance, Blanchard discovered that he needed to be licensed by the Technical Standards and Safety Authority (TSSA). Après avoir investi 30,000 $ pour sept jeux gonflables et acquis une assurance responsabilité, monsieur Blanchard découvre qu’il doit obtenir un permis de TSSA (Technical Standards and Safety Authority). Photos By Studio Dugal./Photos Par Studio Dugal.

Blanchard is the son of Daniel and Line Blanchard who operate Chez Lili Party Rentals in St. Albert, Ontario. The company is well established in the special event market in northeastern Ontario and Blanchard wanted to branch out on his own by launching Bubble Bounce in 2005, an inflatable bouncer rental company. “I didn’t really know if there would be a market for them. I would see them occasionally being used at the schools and I knew these bouncers were coming from Montreal so I called some of the schools to see if somebody from this region was  offering them at a reasonable price,” he says, adding that the feedback he received indicated they would rent from him.

When he first bought them he knew he needed to carry a minimum of $2 million in liability insurance but he did not know about the Technical Standards and Safety Authority Act that was proclaimed in the Ontario Legislature in 2001. Inflatable bouncers are lumped in with the statute under the Amusement Devices Act which states that “all operators of amusement devices in Ontario must hold a current Ontario License to Carry on the Business of Operating Amusement Devices.”

“The TSSA said that I couldn’t rent them at public events without a license, which is everything other than a private backyard party at somebody’s home,” he says. “I could have focussed on
backyard events so I wouldn’t have to get a license, but that’s not what I wanted to do. My intention was to go beyond the backyard market and specifically target schools and large festivals. The bouncers I bought, like the ‘Sumo Wrestlers’ and the ‘bungee-run’, are not for kids’ parties, they are for adults.” In addition to these two units, his initial purchase also included a 15 foot inflatable slide and an XP360 obstacle course.

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Inflatable bouncer games such as the Sumo wrestlers, the bungee-run and combat platforms are popular at outdoor festivals fetching a rental rate between $300 and $900 per day. Les jeux gonflables comme les lutteurs Sumo, le Bungee-run et les plateformes de combat sont populaires aux festivals extérieurs et les coûts de location varient entre 300 $ et 900 $ dollars par jour.

With a bundle of money invested in bouncers and no way to generate revenue from them, Blanchard faced a dilemma. “If I had known about the TSSA requirements I never would have got into this business, but I had no choice but to go forward or I would lose my investment,” he says. Blanchard contacted the TSSA to see what would be required to obtain a license before the busy festival season started. He was told that he would need to have 400 hours of training with somebody who already has a license. Not a viable option for his immediate situation. Blanchard says he was offered a ‘fast-track’ route which required him to take a ‘competency test’, assembling bouncers in front of a qualified engineer to prove that he knew how to do this properly and then pass a written test to obtain a license more quickly. He contacted six different engineers in the Ottawa area but none could help him. Finally, he met an engineer, Richard Sawyer, in southern Ontario who offered to help. Blanchard hauled his bouncers from Ottawa to Mississauga just to set them up in front of the engineer who inspected them and gave him a passing grade along with a letter addressed to the TSSA stating his competency. The very next day, while Blanchard was still in the area, he went to the TSSA head office in Toronto to write his test and passed that too.

The ordeal took six months and Blanchard had missed his first season for renting these products as most outdoor festivals and school events book their requirements well in advance, so he spent the winter visiting potential customers to market Bubble Bounce the following season.

His work paid off landing orders from 60 schools, most of which were taking multiple rentals. With a price rate $300 to $900 per day, the bouncers he rented were profitable prompting him to buy seven more the next year and 10 more the year after that. He recently purchased 17 more bouncers to bring his total inventory to 27 different inflatable products.

Blanchard says these products are easy to transport and work with and safety is not a concern if the proper precautions are taken. “There are two main dangers you have to look out for: wind and what people do on them. If you have two kids play fighting or getting out of hand on top of a 22 foot slide, somebody can fall off and get hurt,” he says, adding that he solicits the aid of adult volunteers to supervise bouncers at schools in addition to paid staff also supervising the site.

A good portion of this market is with outdoor festivals and the company’s bouncers are rented for large scale events such as the annual air show in Ottawa and the Casino du Lac Leamy Sound of Light, an international fireworks festival in Gatineau, Quebec. “The bouncers are set up to give the kids something to do before the fireworks start,” he says.

While Blanchard’s initial struggle to get Bubble Bounce up and running is over, he is not done dealing with the TSSA. He has to re-new his license for $300 every year and every time he buys a new bouncer he has to prepare a dossier for the TSSA and have it inspected, paying a $150 per hour fee for the review process. In addition, every May he has to have a TSSA inspector review his bouncers for $230 per hour. “In my opinion, I think it’s better for them to show up at events where the bouncers are set up to inspect them to see if they are installed properly,” he says.

Despite the challenges and obstacles he has faced, Blanchard says he is glad that he went forward instead of abandoning his Bubble Bounce venture, and he has big plans to expand his company in the near future. “I still have to deal with the TSSA every year but the worst of it is over. The company is growing. I’m glad I’m here doing this now.” -end-