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Just bouncin' around . . . An inflatable bounce house attracts kids like a magnet
during the Picnic in the Park held July 16th, sponsored by the Kenmare
Association of Commerce. The bounce house was on loan for the evening,
free of charge, from designer and manufacturer Alex Duvall of Kenmare.
By Caroline Downs
Children ran toward the bright primary colors of the “Crayon” bounce house set up in the southeast corner of Kenmare’s downtown park on the evening of July 16th. Many ignored the free burgers and hot dogs grilled by members of the Kenmare Association of Commerce, choosing instead to kick off their shoes and dive through the door of the inflatable attraction, where they could jump and shout to their hearts’ content.
Bounce house designer Alex Duvall of Kenmare, who hopes to develop a business from his colorful structures, watched the activity. At times, he reminded the kids to take care as they leaped and flopped across the puffy floor, but mostly he stood and monitored the children’s reactions.
“I got into this for the kids,” he said. “Who are my clients? The little people.”
And if Duvall has his way, the “little people” in Kenmare and surrounding communities will have many more opportunities for bouncing fun.
The bouncer business
comes to Kenmare
Duvall grew up in Los Angeles, CA, one of five boys and five girls in his household. “We were poor,” he said, laughing as he described patching the soles of the shoes he shared with his brothers and looking up at the open sky through a hole in the roof of his family’s home then.
His father was a native of Argentina with a degree in mechanical engineering who moved to the United States to make a better life for himself. “My dad told us, ‘Fight for what you want,’” Duvall said. “‘Before someone’s going to bet on you, bet on yourself.’”
Duvall, who was born in the United States and describes himself as an Argentine-American, absorbed his father’s advice and made his way in the world through education, earning a degree in chemical engineering from the University of California. He started employment in the oil industry over 15 years ago and arrived in Kenmare with his wife Tatyana and their children Kersten, 6, and Brian, 3, last year when he accepted a position with Great Northern Trucking.
“Working for GNT, for me, has been a blessing,” he said. “I’m choosing to work for a small company, where I feel welcome and where I feel like a member of the family.”
He enjoys the quality and pace of life in Kenmare, which has allowed him to revisit his keen interest in fun and games.
“The bouncer business, that’s my passion,” he said.
Duvall has 17 years
and building bouncers
He first started to operate, design, manufacture and market inflatable bouncers in 1996 when his father launched the Jumbo Jumpers company in southern California. Duvall worked in the business with his father and a brother-in-law and studied the competition along the way.
The senior Duvall sold the Jumbo Jumpers business in 2008, but his son continued dreaming of bounce house designs.
“I told my wife in 2012 that I wanted to start the business again,” Duvall said. “It has been a slow process because I don’t have the machines for large-scale manufacturing or the financial backing yet.”
Instead, he sketches a design for an inflatable, then collaborates with another engineering friend to establish the proper dimensions and determine all the safety considerations for the actual bounce house.
Blueprints in hand, Alex starts cutting and sewing, working with colored PVC 18 fabric and stitching together sections of his latest creation.
“There’s been a lot of trial and error,” he said. “I’ve thrown so much material away, but I want to get it right.”
He dreams of owning a warehouse to set up a major manufacturing operation and to store his supplies and materials. He has managed to complete some of the smaller 12’x12’ units at his home. He has also rented larger facilities in other cities to create the final product, like the 20’x40’ bouncer-double slide combination unit, complete with a pool of water and inflated palm trees, now installed at Bananas Fun Park in Grand Junction, CO.
The process takes time, but Duvall is particular about his choice of fabric, which is lead-free, and the quality of his construction. “These are made in the USA,” he said. “I could sell these all over the country. The closest manufacturer now is in California, and the rest you have to find on the Internet.”
He described the Crayon jumper as a standard size, requiring a 1- or 2-horsepower blower to inflate the unit, which can be ready for action in about three minutes. “We call this unit a ‘romper room,’” he said. “This is a basic design.”
When finished with an event, the operator merely deflates the bouncer and prepares it for storage. “You roll it up like a big fat burrito,” Duvall said, with a smile.
The Crayon bounce house and others of a similar size retail for $1400-$1600, according to Duvall.
The larger bounce houses, such as the 30-foot high unit he is currently designing with a zip line, generally require blowers in the 4- to 6-hp range, certified attendants and a large open space to operate. Insurance for the bigger units increases accordingly, and safety becomes an even greater consideration.
Duvall has built and
sold 24 bouncers so far
Still, Duvall is only limited by his imagination. “We have everything you can think of,” he said. “The big monkeys you see on top of car dealerships? I can do those! I have an idea for a bouncer with a dragon’s mouth and lights and water. We have jumpers with water in them, and bouncers that slide into a pool. I dream up these things.”
Duvall’s enthusiasm appears to override any apparent obstacles. To date, he has sold 24 of his inflatable bounce houses through eBay and word-of-mouth, the majority in use at the Bump-N-Jump Playland attraction at Bananas Fun Park.
He also provides inflatables for use at public and private events. He is preparing to start his own business in 2014 as Bounce E Bounce in order to rent out bounce houses, although he admitted to harboring a soft spot for community organizations such as Boy Scouts, Girl Scouts, fire and police departments, and groups that work with youth, saying he wouldn’t charge for the use of his inflatables for events sponsored by those entities.
Beyond bounce houses
to the full party
Duvall is thinking beyond the walls of his bounce houses, however. He wants to supply every need for parties, weddings, company events, community festivals and other activities held throughout the area.
“We’ll have tents, dance floors, sound systems, lights, dunking machines, pinatas, everything you can think of,” he said. “I want to be a one-stop party company!”
His plans include rental rates and delivery to communities in the Kenmare region, and hiring a part-time staff to handle the deliveries and assist with set-up. He would also like to find a storage facility and, eventually, space to manufacture the inflatables in Kenmare.
“I’m creating a website for the business that will be ready to go January 1, 2014,” he said. “Bookings will go fast! To schedule us, the earlier you call, the better. I’m committed to the city of Mohall already during fair time next summer.”
Duvall can be reached by phone at 970-589-6357 or email at firstname.lastname@example.org for further information about his inflatable bounce houses or his party supply business.
“My goal is to make sure every child has a smile,” he said. “We’ll make that possible.”
Bounce E Bounce in Kenmare . . . Designer and manufacturer
Alex Duvall, at right, is developing his inflatable bounce house
and one-stop party supply business in Kenmare with
assistance from his wife Tatyana. The couple's children,
Kersten, 6, and Brian, 3, inspire their father's work.