By Pamela Mills-Senn
It’s all about “Instagrammable” moments. Event producers are under increasing pressure to design photo-worthy experiences that get clicks and shares. Within that environment, inflatable structures offer a way for tent and event rental companies to provide their clients with unique inventory that attracts a crowd, while standing out from the competition.
Sean McCarthy, owner of McCarthy Tents & Events, Rochester, N.Y., notes robust growth in the indoor expo market for the company’s U.K.-manufactured inflatable Evolution Domes, which McCarthy offers for rent in addition to traditional tent and rental inventory, and for sale as Evolution Dome’s U.S. distributor.
Evolution Dome—which offers inflatables ranging from 22-square-meter domes and cubes to the 780-square-meter Fluid Scarab—was established in the U.K. more than a decade ago and has since realized 60 percent growth there annually, McCarthy says. He attributes this success to the structure’s visual appeal, insulation properties and ease of branding. Rapid installation and takedown also prove attractive to agencies and event planners, he adds.
“When they’re booking a venue for an event, the speed of a build can reduce room rental costs and provide another savings for the organizer,” McCarthy explains. “All of this has combined with a huge push in the industry to innovate and produce engaging events that create experiences—all things an innovative and different structure helps to create.”
The next best thing
Miriam Couturié, marketing manager for Huntington Beach, Calif.-based Ins’TenT Industries, says the company’s air-sealed inflatable tents like those in the Air Dome and Mega Air Dome lines generate excitement at festivals, parties and branding activations. With their ability to attract a crowd and branding options, they offer attractive benefits to both the rental industry and the promotional industry.
“Rental companies are always looking for the next best thing in the market that can set them apart from their competition and allow them to offer more than the typical frame or pop-up tents,” she says. “They want innovative and modern products they can easily add to their inventory.”
Today’s inflatables serve as large-scale structures for road tours, exhibitions inside convention centers, tunnels providing temporary cover or passageways, and even for disaster relief, says Stuart Johnstone, owner/operator of Stretch Marquees and Fabric Structures. Headquartered in Australia, the company has satellite offices in the U.S., the U.K. and New Zealand, providing a variety of custom fabric structure solutions, including inflatable structures such as the AXION range of products.
Johnstone says the rise of experiential marketing is propelling demand for inflatable structures. The objective of this type of marketing is to forge a connection with customers through pop-up events. Inflatables are ideally suited for this, thanks to their light weight, easy installation, and the fact that they can be transported from one venue to the next while maintaining a strong visual brand impression. End users see them as delivering more bang for the buck.
“They want their money to work harder for them by being able to multipurpose the structure by using accessories like sidewalls, built-in lighting, flooring, even reskinning an inflatable with new branding and signage,” Johnstone says.
The AXION air-sealed line of inflatable structures offers a lot of upsides for tent and event rental companies. For example, a rental business could purchase the basic structure to rent out and then offer the option of hanging branded logos and/or signage using the inside or outside tabs.
“Or, they could sell a branded skin or branded walls to the rental customers, giving the appearance of brand ownership of the rental structure at a fraction of the price,” Johnstone says. “There are really not any downsides. The only one I could possibly think of would be that rental companies hire a lot of temporary staff who may not pay enough care or attention to the setup and pack-down and could damage the zippers used to connect walls by putting too much tension on the zippers or doing it too quickly.”
Ins’TenT’s Air Dome and Mega Air Dome are air sealed, which means they don’t require a continuous air supply or blowers—a big plus for end users. They also don’t require a large crew for installation; for example, a two-person team can set up a Mega Air Dome. Training requirements are minimal, as are space requirements, because once deflated, the structures fit into storage bags and can be stacked on top of one another.
McCarthy says three people can install an Evolution Dome cube in less than an hour. Training is simple because there are just three components to the structures—the canvas dome, the inflation fans and the ballasting equipment. Training is offered by the company along with a detailed installation manual.
There are some caveats. In the case of the Evolution Dome, a constant power source is necessary. Depending on local codes, a backup generator may be mandated. Larger units with heavier fabric may require more hands to unroll and reroll the structure, as well as space to accomplish the task.
“But the structure unroll takes only minutes, and four staff members could move on to the next jobsite while two inflate and handle securing the structure,” McCarthy says. “The same is true on takedown. You only need six people for rolling and palletizing; the rest can be handled by two.”
Limited training is necessary for AXION structures as well, says Johnstone, adding that crews can set them up after reading the instructions and watching the installation videos the company provides. Stretch Marquees also offers maintenance and troubleshooting videos, and specialists are available by phone.
Johnstone says that Stretch Marquees is focusing efforts on the company’s rescue inflatables, another market that is strong and growing. For Evolution Domes, McCarthy says work is progressing on a double-decker inflatable, and he anticipates the U.S. market “growing hugely” over the next two years, particularly as these structures gain more exposure.
Couturié expects the market for inflatables to grow in the next year, not just because of technological advancements, but also because of the structures’ presentation and ability to attract a crowd. As manufacturers continue to innovate, and event producers strive to create photo-worthy experiences, tent and event rental companies that offer these inflatable solutions stand to realize memorable profits.
Pamela Mills-Senn is a Long Beach, Calif.-based freelance writer.
SIDEBAR: Calculating risk
Inflatable structures don’t typically place onerous demands on the resources of a tent rental company, but adding them to inventory still requires a full exploration of the market. Rental companies must consider their customer base—not just for untapped opportunities, but also for pricing and competition, as some of these structures carry higher rental costs. Although inflatable structures can open up new markets, the infrastructure to successfully build on that business must be present to support the investment.