Commercial Indoor Playground Equipment | Top 5 Questions to Ask

indoor playground equipment installed at family fun centerHaving been around the indoor party center and playground business for 20 plus years now, we have seen a lot of changes, a lot of innovation, and a recently lot of confusion when it comes purchasing the best commercial indoor playground equipment while trying to compare apples to apples.

With a horde of new playground equipment manufacturers and suppliers spawning off-shore and flooding the North American market with brightly colored plastic crawls, tube slides and vinyl padded activities of all kinds, at 30% - 60% discount pricing - it's hard not to be impressed by the pretty drawings and designs.

As we have discussed in a previous article, Indoor Playground Equipment - Buying From China the choices to purchase off-shore need careful consideration. If you can’t get out to visit every manufacturer and see their construction materials and process, how can you ensure your new fun center business has the best playground for your business goals? How do you know which commercial playground equipment is the right choice for you?  In this artilce, I thought I would share some of my earned wisdow by creating a short list of the top 5 questions to ask each playground equipment supplier and manufacturer you may end up speaking with.

Indoor Playground Suppliers - The Good Old Days

Having worked in the indoor playground business for many years, with as many different manufacturers and suppliers, we have a unique perspective of both the operators side of the indoor play business, as well as the manufacturers side of the business. This means knowing how the playground equipment performs 6 months after the installation crew has gone home and the sales reps are no longer calling everyday. Your commercial playground equipment needs to stand up to the running, jumping and thumping of hundereds (hopefully thousands) of ambitious little sliders and crawlers every week. There are major differences in construction materials, plastics, foam, vinyl, pipe, clamps, collars and netting, that will determine the longevity of your playgrounds investment.

When I first started in the business it was the early 2000's and the hey-day of indoor playground centers and these fancy new tubes, climbs, and jumbo indoor slides made of brightly colored plastic... oh what fun it was.  Times were good - commission checks were high, competition was low, innovative design was happening around us everyday, and we were having a blast doing good creative work. As with any rich pool of opportunity, other predators coming calling, and over the last decade or so a lot of newcomers have come and gone, and in some cases, left a wake of bad builds behind them.

Where does the new company or off-shore exporter cut back to under-cut the established vendors? In the indoor playground business it is the quality of construction, the quality of materials, safety compliance or lack of registered support, ie; proper insurance coverage that can provide corner cutting and 'factory direct pricing we pass on to you'.

Indoor Playground Equipment For Sale - Questions to Ask

If you are new to the business and trying to find indoor playground equipment for sale, you may be feeling overwhelmed by the choices and difference in pricing. To put some comparison together, here is a list of our top 5 questions to ask playground equipment suppliers:

  1. Where is the product made?
  2. What kind of foam is used, and what thickness?
  3. What kind of vinyl is used and what is it's thickness? (ask if you can get swatches of their vinyl - also good for color choices).
  4. What kind of safety netting is used? Is there no-climb netting used on the lower level?
  5. Does your company do the install, or is it hired out to contractors?

Some things you are looking for...

  1. If the product is made off-shore, is there a north american management team to ensure ASTM standards. Read more about ASTM Standards and playground safety here.
  2. There are several different kinds of foam and each with their own density and durability. You want a close-cell foam for all decks. This is a dense marine foam that stands up to years of traffic. Other foam like that inside your sofa will be flattened and ultimately cause rips in the vinyl after limited wear.
  3. For a softplayground, vinyl is the skin for everything. Vinyl used should be a minimum of 16 mil
  4. All safe playground should have the first full level (typically 7 or 8 feet tall) covered in 'no-climb' netting. This is a very tough and fine netting that junior and his friends can't get their fingers into and climb up the outside of your playground. On subsequent levels, having a 2"x2" box netting is sufficient.
  5. This is the final piece and in some cases there can be a difference between your expectations of final build, complketion date and clean-up. Make sure to understand who will be onsite doing the work.

On that note - here's 10 more questions that may be helpful...

  1. Regardless of who does the install, can you supply some of your own labor? (cuts down on install time and money).
  2. Where do they get their steel from? (frame, pipe, supports)
  3. Where do they get their clamps from? What kind are they? (there are several manufacturers both here and overseas and quality and type DOES matter)
  4. What type of post-padding is used, and where do you get it from?
  5. If they miss your shipment/install date, how would they handle that? (that missed date may delay your opening, and cost you money - READ the contract)
  6. If you miss the shipment date (your site is not ready, for example) how would they handle that?  (in some cases you may be paying a $500 - $1,000/day penalty - READ the contract)
  7. What kind of warranty is offered on what parts and labor?
  8. In a very rare case you may need a local service-man, but do they have or can offer that kind of follow-up?
  9. Can they provide you with simple replacement items like pull-ties, extra vinyl, post-padding for on-site repairs?
  10. How’s the list of activities? will it engage your guests? do they innovate new activities every few years?

There are other


indoor playground party center business plan

Almost 20 years later and the party center business is still growing, just at a different pace, budget and with a lot of new equipment choice. However, in order to do good business the same principles apply as they did then;

  1. Innovate to keep ahead of the pack.
  2. Be safety conscious and value-based.
  3. Provide strong play-a-bility with a diverse set of activities

All in all, there is a great group of manufacturers out there, that do good business. Having some one local can be a benefit, but in our experience really not necessary. Once the project is built and you get a few hundred kids over a few months in there bashing about any initial construction issues will show up and a quality commercial playground manufacturer will take of it under warranty.  Once that 90-120 day period has passed, seldomly outside of the odd local repair do you require further support, and you are off and running your new and profitable indoor party center business.

The one thing I would add to that - make certain you employ a regular and diligent care / maintenance program for your new indoor playground equipment. At the end of every day, have one of your crew crawl through the entire playground looking for any left items that could puncture or ripe your vinyl decks. Once a tear starts, you have a maintenance issue and it is very hard to contain with a barrage of traffic everyday, and soon you will be needing to replace the vinyl on that deck. Once a week, go through the playground with a soapy damp cloth and wipe down all the dust. Once a month, have an early or late work day and clean all the gathering dust bunnies from under and on top of your playground equipment. These things are dust magnets, and nothing spoils mom's appetite to return to your facility, than sitting for two hours watching her 5 year old play, while admiring the dust collecting on and under your indoor playground.

As a side note... having been in the indoor play industry for a number of years - if you are looking at purchasing an indoor play design and would like an unbiased, experienced second opinion. please feel free to call my office, I can always be reached at (604) 755-7942 or hit the contact page and drop us an email. Happy to help!

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