After 30 some years, that standard indoor play structure is still the number one activity when it comes to driving traffic and party guests at the local children's entertainment center, or indoor party center business. Indoor playgrounds, soft play, climbing structure, jungle gym, soft modular play or simple playground equipment - whatever you call it, soft indoor playgrounds have really stood the test of time as a successful amusement attraction.
If you target young families with kids aged 2 to 12 years old, there are only a couple of activity options for 'active-gross-play' that have good through-put, low staffing requirements and minimal ongoing maintenance; soft indoor playgrounds and inflatable jumpers. There are other activities that have capacity for good through-put, like miniature golf, bowling, some carnival type rides and high ropes course. But all of these require either more build-out expense, some additional staffing and/or regular maintenance.
Indoor Playground vs. Inflatable Bounce Houses
We all know inflatable bounce houses and jumpers are by far the cheapest way to get into and call yourself an "indoor party center" business. However, these inflatable bounce houses are a dime a dozen, often very noisy and are really a one-trick pony that mostly offers jumps and slides. In this writers opinion, your typical bounce house business could be a good business to start, in terms of capital required. However at the sign of your success others who are counting cars in your parking lot on a Saturday afternoon may be eager to get in on your action, and can do so by creating a better experience with the addition of a soft indoor playground structure.
Creating a successful, long term children's entertainment center business for ages 10-12 years and younger, is not just about how cheap can we do it, or how many inflatables we can stuff into an old warehouse. Nor is it about building the largest indoor soft contained playground you can afford and just watching the cash roll in. I would suggest, that the best formula for creating a successful indoor party center is to look at creating a purposeful design indoor playground climbing structure as the anchor attraction with an assortment of complimentary activities and a superior guest experience.
For the rest of this article, lets focus on the indoor play equipment.
Indoor playgrounds simply offer more play ability through a diversity of activities. Climbing, sliding, crawling, jumping, swinging, plus the added stimulation of a multi-level playground structure that encourages kids to think creatively as they explore a multi-dimension environment. I have nothing against inflatables jumpers or bounce houses, but I do see a lot of new amusement entrepreneurs who build their long term financial expectations on putting 5 or 6 blow-ups into a warehouse and waiting for the customers to pour in. There is a place for inflatables as part of well designed attraction mix for a children's party center, but I think (and the market has validated) the long term profitability of an inflatable only type business, is a difficult, low margin business to be in.