A soaring success!
As the season begins to taper off, it’s tempting to look back at summer holidays gone by – family trips, amusement parks, sweets – everything seemed so big and bright as a child! Nostalgia, however, can be tricky, and now the long sunny days can miss the magical mark (and anyone in the UK over a certain age will bemoan the state of Freddos).
Big Bounce Presents is one company looking to capture that feeling – but rejuvenated with a modern twist and a fresh, rotating concept. And it’s one that’s already taking America by storm. Hannah Hart reports.
“People love to have fun and act like kids, even when they’re a bit older.’ says Cameron Craig, one half of the team, alongside Grahame Ferguson, that created Big Bounce Presents and The Big Bounce American Tour – a powerhouse of inflatable amusement experiences. “It’s all the simple things you loved when you were a kid, but we make it larger than life.”
Originally, Cameron and Grahame had no blueprint to work from besides one of leisure’s core tenets: who doesn’t love to bounce? So, the pair, each utilising more than 20 years’ experience in the event industry, started with a dream to tour America with an inflatable attraction. After 18 months of research, design and manufacturing, that tour launched in 2017.
Since then, the core principals of having fun on a bouncer haven’t changed, but Big Bounce Presents has been busy revamping them for the 2019 crowd.
Cameron Craig explains: “Take a ball pit; everyone’s seen a ball pit before at their local amusement park or soft play area. We make a larger than life ball pit, and instead of having 1,000 balls in it, ours has 50,000.”
When asked where the initial idea for Big Bounce Presents sprung from, Cameron and Grahame both highlight their experience at music festivals.
“It’s an answer that Grahame and I can probably repeat in our sleep!” Cameron says. “We were at a family festival and we saw a little kiddy bounce house. One thing led to another, we looked at it, we watched it, and we thought: wouldn’t it be cool to have one that’s big enough for the whole family to take part in?”
From there, the pair was on to something – something that became the biggest bounce house in the world. One that can host mum, dad and the whole family, the whole neighbourhood, even. Big Bounce Presents has become a community event.
“It was a simple idea that was made slightly bigger. We got carried away with ourselves and built one that has a capacity of 200 people.” Cameron explains, and perhaps slightly is an understatement; now, Big Bounce Presents is a Guinness World Record holder.
Attendance on the record-shattering bouncer is capped at a comfortable 180 persons, with event sessions organised into age groups; toddlers, juniors, teens and adult-only activities. Regardless of age or skill level, however, making sure that everyone has an opportunity to bounce has been a point of priority.
“Accessibility is something we take quite seriously,” Grahame Ferguson stresses, citing a particularly popular example. “We do sensory sessions at our events in the US one hour before we open to the public.”
Grahame continues: “We get requests for it all the time. It’s important to us, and it’s been driven by customer demand. It’s something we’ve been asked for by every single market since we started in 2017. It’s great to do it.”
On the bounce
In the space of only two years, Big Bounce Presents has seen staggering growth. thirty-thousand visitors attended the 2017 US tour, which visited 15 cities, a feat that was eclipsed in 2018, with 60 stops along the way, and a total of 140,000 bounce-happy attendees. Currently, 2019 is predicted to meet and exceed this curve. The tour will reach 40 markets, and is on course to attract an audience of over thirty-thousand.
Grahame cites the colossal bouncer itself as the main impetus for this year on year increase. “When we started out in 2017, all we had was the world’s biggest bouncer. Now, that’s a great thing to have in its own right, but we made a conscious decision to expand the offering and event footprint, and that’s taken us from the small event in 2017 up to this year’s event which is about a 200% increase in size from 2017, and almost a 100% increase from 2018.”
“When we go back to cities we’ve visited in the past,” Cameron goes on, adding that the bouncers themselves are as much of a catalyst. “we can see that we’ve built up a strong fanbase there. As soon as we announce that we’ve put an event on in a city we visited last year, the tickets fly out.”
For Big Bounce Presents, this loyal following has proven the importance of word-of-mouth marketing, with plenty of stateside families not wanting to miss out on the tour as it passes through.
“Our marketing manager actually mentioned this recently, that word-of-mouth is something we underestimated,” Grahame explains. “People will come down on the first weekend of ticket sales, and they’re the best promoters in the world because they’ve been down, they’ve seen it, they’ve enjoyed it and told all their friends. They really are the catalyst.”
Of course, even this guerrilla marketing is backed up with a hefty online presence – as is the marketing norm for 2019. Consumers and operators alike understand that social media is the most comprehensive method of sharing information, and as such, Big Bounce Presents was keen to make the most of extending that reach – all without losing the personal, playful touch that makes the event worth shouting about in the first place.
“At the end of every session we make an announcement and ask people to tag us in all their pictures on Facebook and Instagram,” says Cameron, and despite the response being nothing short of phenomenal, one reply in particular stands out.
“There was a kid last year who won a t-shirt in 2018 at the Detroit event and his Mum brought him along last weekend to the Detroit event, and he was wearing the 2018 t-shirt. I made sure we got a snap of that!”
Straight to the top
Feedback and response is the lifeblood of any living amusement – particularly a travelling one – and Big Bounce Presents explains that its Net Promoter score is of particular value.
“We send out that survey to our customers straight after the event, then have a meeting every Wednesday to read every single comment that’s been made,” Grahame says, outlining a process that can take up to two or three hours, but the pair insists that the grift is worth it.
“There are comments that we don’t agree with, comments that we completely agree with and comments that don’t make much sense! We read them all and react to them all.”
When questioned about the importance of a direct line from customer to CEO, Grahame was quick to underscore its necessity. “It’s essential in a company where it’s viable to be able to read every comment. I think any company that isn’t reading them is doing its customers a disservice.”
The information gathered from these weekly sessions is shared throughout the Big Bounce Presents team, and more often than not, the bouncers themselves are able to see for themselves the steps taken to correct a complaint or act on a suggestion the next time they visit the tour. It’s a blending of viewpoints and priorities, a wider-cast net, which allows Cameron and Grahame to tackle issues from the ground-up.
“For a real-world example, when we started out, we didn’t consider shade for non-participants. Parents would come down, and maybe hadn’t bought a ticket to enter the attraction themselves, but sent their kids in. We hadn’t considered how important shade for them would be.” Grahame explains.
Now, Big Bounce Presents boasts three shaded areas at each event – and these were erected within two weeks of the issue being brought to light. Grahame went on: “We read from it, we learn from it, we act on it every time.”
On distant shores
Earlier this year, Big Bounce Presents made its first strides into the Middle East, with a six-week stay in Saudi Arabia from February to March.
“We’re hoping to go back again next year with the same client. We were booked to build and install some attractions, and it went really well.” Grahame explains with no small amount of pride. “We’re in negotiations to do that again, and on the back of that, somebody that attended our event is thinking about a completely different event out there.”
As fortuitous as the Saudi Arabian trip has been for the Big Bounce team, it was a cosmic stroke of luck – the opportunity, the pair explain, practically landed at their feet. Once Grahame and Cameron were in the country, they quickly understood that they’d stepped into a golden market for their particular niche of the leisure industry.
“Being there really brought home how universal our event is, how it crosses cultures, how it doesn’t need to be localised. When you’re going to a country which is so different, culturally, to the countries that we currently operate in, and you’re seeing exactly the same reaction, you realise this could work anywhere. It really is universal, and it’s something that’s really inspired us for this global push.”
Where exactly the next pin on the map might fall is still a permanent discussion for Cameron and Grahame, who explained that even so, the tour will certainly be landing in other countries within the next 12 to 18 months.
The complete picture
This impending tour will be the next stage of metamorphosis for Big Bounce Presents, with the structure and content potentially shifting as per the company’s policy on innovation. Not entirely, however. The core attractions will remain the same, but as the tour grows its footprint, the events and amusements do, too. Deciding which offerings to include, which to add and which to leave behind is another revolving conversation – and again, there’s a simple philosophy behind the answer.
Cameron explains: “Ever since we first came up with the idea of making the world’s biggest bouncer, everything we’ve done at Big Bounce has to be bigger than anything that’s been done before.”
Fortunately, most of the principals of what people like to do on bouncers and inflatables also keep to a key philosophy – people like to run and jump, complete obstacle courses, tumbledown slides and, generally, act like big kids.
“We know these things work,” Cammy goes on. “everyone enjoys them, so we try to incorporate them into a bigger design than has ever been seen before.” However, there’s far more that goes into charting the next phase of activities than simply scaling up what’s been done before.
“There’s an infinite amount of things you can do with inflatables – it’s about what we can place around them, too. We’ve built the world’s biggest bouncer, but someone could build one even bigger; that’s not what makes our event.” Grahame explains.
Instead, the very fact that Big Bounce Presents presents itself as an event at all, rather than a singular amusement, is very much part of its charm and cohesive experience. And the Big Bounce team works hard to cultivate it, from the design of the inflatables, certainly, but also down to the choice of food trucks and the cleanliness of the bathrooms. The tour becomes a fully realised memory ready to unfurl in the present, matching a shift in public demand as people begin to value experiences over possessions.
Cameron and Grahame are also proud to confirm that all Big Bounce Presents inflatables are created by a closely coordinating in-house team.
“There’s nothing off the shelf; it’s all designed by our team. It starts with ideas, very often what Cammy and I come up with, but we’ve got a really good team, and we try and get everyone in the company involved,” says Grahame.
Safety first, and foremost
The issue of safety on inflatables and bouncers was brought into sharp relief at the beginning of 2019 as a result of an unfortunate spate of accidents across the UK. This, in turn, prompted an ongoing discussion of which amusements are safe for the family. It’s a conversation that Big Bounce Presents takes seriously.
The company, despite being headquartered in the UK, is able to use its international experience to set a sparkling standard of safety for its customers, as Grahame explains. “Each US state has its own rules and regulations that relate to inflatables.” Currently, there aren’t any uniform rules in the UK – only guidelines and no laws. “So, every state we go to, we have to become completely familiar with all their rules and how these things operate. That in itself just makes you, by default, much safer.”
Cameron agrees: “In a nutshell, safety is the most important thing for us. You can’t jeopardise anybody, especially families. We decided to get our inflatables signed off by an engineering firm before we actually go into production, so everything is triple checked.”
The engineering firm in question is based in New Jersey, a state with traditionally stricter rules regarding inflatables than elsewhere in the US. “If it’s built to New Jersey standards,” Cameron adds. “you know you’re going to be good anywhere.”
All in all, there’s plenty in the pipeline for Big Bounce Presents – both in the not so distant future and the larger picture. A new tour, new plans, new parts and an expanded global footprint. It’s a daunting prospect, but totally in keeping with the blistering pace Big Bounce has set for itself, and one you can’t help but believe in. The solid philosophy of fun championed by Cameron and Grahame, sense of togetherness and a genuine interest and involvement at all levels of the company is a potent mix, and it’s going to be exciting to watch.
“We finally got it to exactly where we wanted the experience to be,” says Grahame, speaking on Big Bounce Present’s path. “We solved the riddle.”
What’s been your proudest moment to date?
As much as seeing the Guinness World Record certificate come through the door is something to be really proud of, my personal highlight is when we design something brand new, from scratch.
We put so much time and so much extra money on making sure the airSPACE! designs were the way we wanted them. There are unique colours that have never been used before in inflatables, and we could’ve cut a lot of corners and saved a lot of money by not using these colours. To some people, it might have looked cool, but to us we wanted to use a green that’s never been used in an inflatable before and put it beside a pink that’s never been used before.
With airSPACE!, we spent so much effort on it, going back and forward with the design team. To actually receive it, to get it delivered, to get it set-up at our first event – it really was an achievement,
I’d say that was my proudest moment. When we come up with a brand new concept and see it from start to finish, press a button on the blowers and see it inflate in front of our eyes and think wow, we got it right. Fortunately, we’ve not been able to say to each other “You know what? We never got it right this time.” That might come eventually, but so far we’ve done really well by sticking by our guns.
I think mine comes from a business perspective. I can think back to 2017, when on our inaugural tour, I think the second or third day, we were in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, and we’d sold out a month in advance.
I was standing at the event looking at all these people having the time of their lives and thought: “I’ve never been to Milwaukee, Wisconsin. I’m from Glasgow; I live in Glasgow. I couldn’t point to it on a map three months ago, and we come out here with no background in this area, no background in this city, and we sold out this event. And not only have we sold it out, but everybody that’s coming down has fallen in love with the event!”