How Outdoor Leisure and Party Businesses Can Make More Money in the Winter and Other Off-Peak Times

This article although written primarily for the inflatable hire industry will show any outdoor leisure and party/play providers (e.g. party tent hire companies, outdoor attractions including theme parks, ice-cream vendors, farm attraction owners, etc.) how they can get more bookings during the winter, because traditionally this is the time when revenue and profits are at their lowest, compared to the summer. Also, with some careful planning the Christmas season can be very lucrative.

This article is split into two parts. Part 1 will mention ideas to increase bookings from new and existing clients, whereas Part 2 will look at extra income streams in the winter.

PART 1: Some ideas to increase bookings are as follows

It is a very good idea to have some form of email capture form on your website, and other forms of communication (offline and online) so that throughout the year you can collect customers’ email addresses. (You may have to offer them an incentive e.g. a small discount on a hire or ticket price, sounds a lot, but remember the “lifetime value” of a customer!). Once you have their email address, you can them send them a monthly or quarterly newsletter, so that your business is always in their mind.

When bookings are quieter – such as in the winter, you can offer special incentives e.g. two hires for the price of one, or buy one ticket and get one free. If you have access to halls, where your inflatable or outdoor attraction business can temporarily be located in, then you can tell all your customers that cold, wet weather needn’t stop play!

It is very important when collecting customers’ email addresses that you always tell them that you will never spam them, and you will never pass their email address to a third party – I use Aweber for my email capture software.

For inflatable hire companies, contact all the caretakers of your local community halls. Explain what you do and ask them if they can recommend your services to users of their hall. Perhaps tell them that you will make a donation towards the hall. Also, ask them if they will allow you to put up a small advert on the hall notice-board – more later on this idea.

Write a letter to all your local nurseries asking them to recommend you to their clients. As an added sweetener, you can offer to provide a free bouncy castle for the day, if they can place your advert on the nursery notice-board.

Whatever outdoor leisure or party activity you are involved in try to work closely with your competitors. Some leisure companies close down during the winter.(or do not do any outside work). If this happens in your area, ask them if they can pass work to you in return for a commission.

In all your advertising (including your van’s sign writing and websites), make it very clear that you can provide inflatables or whatever you provide for indoor use during the winter.

Tip for bouncy castle hire companies: Hire a hall for a few hours. Put your best inflatable in there and invite people to bring their children for free. Give each parent a leaflet advertising your services. You can perhaps mention that you will be accepting donations towards the cost of hiring the hall. You may even make a tidy profit.

Recruit an “army” of commission hungry sales people who will go out and get bookings for you in return for a share of the hire fee. Examples are students in need of extra money for Christmas. Women who meet up for their regular “coffee morning”. Small local charities, who may have large local support. Some people may be willing to deliver leaflets if they know they will get paid for every booking that it generates.

Contact all of your customers by phone who used you during the summer and see if you can book them in for this Winter (e.g. as a special Christmas treat). Look at hiring out equipment which has high demand in the winter (e.g. specialist heaters or inflatable marquees for the construction industry). Write a letter to all your local schools telling them that they can get a 10% discount or more if they hire from 1st October to end of March.

The five main festivities during winter are Halloween, Guy Fawkes Night, Thanksgiving (for US citizens), Christmas and New Year’s day celebrations. Try and find out if there are many indoor events – Contact the organizer and promote your services.

Here’s a tip we really like. Mailshot all indoor venues (e.g schools, village halls, leisure and shopping centres etc.) to promote the indoor hire ability of your inflatables or other party / play products. Approach large carpet warehouses,/garden centres /DIY stores to advertise a free kids play area to generate extra trade. Shopping malls, pay as you go and sell teas and coffees. Local car dealerships for inflatables and party games, (additional supervision and risk assessments would be needed)

Buy two cheap large marquees and put the Bouncy castles under them in the winter. Keeps the children dry as well!

Visit your local Garden Centre, ask them if you can put your inflatable indoors and then agree to split the proceeds. (e.g 50/50).

PART 2: Extra income streams in the winter

Here is a list of additional business ideas including hire and leisure/party/play products which can generate a good income in the winter season, or indeed, all year round if preferred.

1) Hiring out chocolate fountains, cock-tail drinks fountains etc. to weddings, Bar Mitzvahs and other lavish indoor events.

2) Inflatable activities and soft play etc. for very young children who are too young to use a bouncy castle.

3) Hiring out novelty party items and accessories such as giant inflatable birthday cake, giant inflatable birthday arch, or even a Giant birthday card to go on the front lawn, or outside a venue saying “The Party’s here”, or “Happy Birthday to _______”.

4) Supply candy floss and donut machines to indoor events.

5) Run a Party Catering business.

6) Most bouncy castle / party tent hire companies use vans. For a small increase in your insurance, you can use it for parcel courier / odd job deliveries.

7) Team up with other businesses and offer inflatable equipment alongside promotions they are running over Christmas / January Sales. Charities are always looking for ways to raise funds – get in touch with some local ones and see how you can work together to raise funds for a percentage of the takings.

8) Advertise your van or trailer for removals in off peak seasons.

9) Supply bubble machines, helium balloons, party bags for an extra fee, pop up gazebos for wet weather for an extra charge.

10) Purchase a Santa’s Grotto for Christmas. Run a fancy dress business. Sell small inflatable childrens toys. Run a party planner business and incorporate your indoor inflatables and/or games, also negotiate commission or business with fellow hirers who have entertainment service products which could be used in party packages.

11) Offer race nights in pubs. This can be very lucrative, as it will attract customers into the pubs in their droves. Many pubs have a large TV to screen the horse or dog races.

12) Hire a large hall and put up lots of inflatables and charge an admission fee. Buy soft drinks and sweets from a wholesaler and sell them. Depending on response you could do this once a fortnight. (Also keeps the inflatables well aired and dry during the winter months)

13) Get some small bouncy castles and hire them out indoors to local playschools and toddler groups. Give them a reduced rate through the winter months.

14) Target pre-school / nurseries (especially at Christmas) with a leaflet drop explaining that inflatables are suitable for indoor use! Encourage them to put your leaflet up on their notice board.

15) Following on from an idea in Part 1 of this article, you can recommend local halls (at a discounted price) to your bouncy castle customers. This is good for the hall, and great for your customers as they get a discount – put a leaflet together stating ‘we do indoor parties’.

16) Send letters to all schools and playgroups etc. in your local area offering 50% off, with the idea of FUNDRAISING and also promoting the exercise angle, i.e kids cannot go outdoors so much in winter!! Get the school to put your company name and details on any letters they send out. Also, you can offer caretakers a small fee for every booking they get for you.

17) In the winter you approach schools to do a sponsored bounce and the castle is free. Clean the castle and give each child a publicity leaflet saying ‘ we have bounced with……
Result: more bookings, and the school books you for the summer fete.
(We suggest charging the school 10% of takings).

18) Coin-operated kids rides like the ones at supermarkets are easy money and you just return once a month to collect the takings and an annual test.

19) Hire out hot-tubs. Potentially a massive market.

20) Fancy dress parties, office events, (adults and children). Very low cost to set-up and very good return.

21) Look at other popular hire items. E.g. Marquees and mini-marquees, robust childrens’ toys. Heavy duty tools. Light garden machinery, cleaning equipment etc.

I hope this article has given you some food for thought and some creative ideas as to how your leisure / party business can make more money in the winter. There are a lot of opportunities out there, despite the cold and often wet weather. Don’t forget to keep in contact with your competitors, as some of them “shut up shop” during this time and even go on long vacations to warmer lands. This may provide more business and opportunities for you during the winter and spring months.