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Cashing in on children's entertainment

By Peter Ndoria | May 3rd 2012

By Peter Ndoria

It is common to see bouncing castles at their events where children are in attendance. But at one time, both children and their parents had to be convinced to trust the object ¡ª which they called inflated ¡®balloon¡¯ in the early 1990¡¯s.

"At times we had to carry along children, to sample the castle and boost confidence among the young ones," Jesse Gathua, the Director of Bubujika puppet Show, says.

Having been in the industry for more than two decades, he says a lot has changed, with people having accepted children entertainment as part and parcel of the greater entertainment at all events. He attributes this change to more exposure that came about as people traveled abroad and saw how others do it out there.

He also credits the media for playing a role, noting for example, that he used to air his shows on Club Kiboko with KTN in the 90s, to spur that acceptance for bouncing castles and similar fun activities among the children, and their parents.

Bubujika Puppet Show begun when Jesse and his sister joined forces. His sister, has been attending theology school where she was taught how to communicate to different people using different media. She also picked up an interest in puppetry.

After forming their company in 1990, they quickly realised the importance of diversifying their variety of games. This was because children would get bored if they only had a 20- 30 minutes puppet show to look forward to. It is then that they invested in bouncing castles.

Many designs

Today, Bubujika Puppet Show has different varieties of the bouncing castle, from those with slides to those with balls for young children aged four years and below to play with. Interestingly, with time they found adults demanding bouncing castles for themselves. This forced them to invest in bouncing castles for adults, as well.

For Francis Kihuha, who runs children entertainment business as well, the passion for children developed as early. It begun back when he had to baby-sit his younger siblings at family get-togethers. Upon clearing his education, he got employed in Pre- Paradise, a company that provides bouncing castles and similar entertainment. After working for six years, he left the firm and he set up his own company ¡ª Royal Kids ¡ª in 2009.

To run such a business, he had to register the company, since people are more comfortable dealing with a formal entity, than they are with unregistered entities.

The local councils also charge an annual fee that is subject to taxation since the business is a form of entertainment. Failure to get this license exposes an operator to the risk of arrest.

Jesse, however, laments that some new entrants have infiltrated the industry and compromised the service provision. These ¡®mobile phone operators¡¯ have no offices, no trained workers, incur no expenses, and don¡¯t usually get the relevant licensing from the local councils.

But he insists that the kind of work involved is sensitive, since clients invite you to their residential houses and entrust you with their children.

It is therefore important to ensure that the persons you work with not only have the talent and patience and talent to handle children, but have good hygiene and good moral conduct.

For this reason, Jesse ensures that Bubujika employs only after doing a thorough search showing your background, current residence, your parents or guardians and for those who have been out of school for a while, they must get a certificate of good conduct. Failure to do this may expose one to dangers where even terrorists can pose as children entertainers to infiltrate VIP targets.

Since the material for bouncing castles has to be imported from the USA or UK, the start-up costs are steep. Moreover, the industry the lack of skilled manufacturers and repairers¡¯, which means that maintenance costs are also high.

But the biggest challenge is however that of undercutting. Being an industry that is unregulated, the players fix their own prices. Francis has had to deal with cases where a client shops for more than two bouncing castles providers, and when a friend outsources, he finds himself delivering the castles to a client who had consulted him.

Compromised standards

With so much competition, some firms have compromised standards. But Bubujika has made is a policy never under-quote their prices, since this means that they will be forced to deliver less.

Another challenge is that they have had to deal with is fraud, with people using their name, especially former employees, to get business. The firm only learns about it when a dissatisfied client calls. This forced them to trademark the name.

Alhtough the sector appears dangerous, mishaps and injuries are rare. For example, since registering their company in 1990, Jesse says that they have had to only deal with two cases of injuries to the minors. In one case, a child was pushed out of the castle by another one, and in another instance, a child who had a prior accident had his shoulder dislocated as he was getting into the castle.

In any case, Both Jesse and Francis insist that it is important to have a minder watching the children to ensure that several guidelines are followed. The minder ensures that children do not get into the castle with sharp objects, sweets, or with shoes. It is also very important to avoid overcrowding the bouncing castle since that invariably leads to accidents.

The ages of the children is also important, and the provider has to deliver the right size bouncing castle.

It is also vital to have all the equipment in working order and safe for children to play with.

For example, some equipment like the go-karts and merry-go-rounds have to be insured before they are used by children. In some instances, generators come in handy during power outages.

Since one will be dealing with children, the need for hygiene is paramount. The props must be cleaned as they are usually ferried to different grounds and therefore can collect a lot of dirt and germs. Good maintenance and repairs must also be done regularly, with Jesse confiding that he usually sees it done every Monday and Tuesday. This is usually the time to check out the extension cables and blowers to ensure they are in working order.

Even with good service providers, there are also challenges that come with the clientele. Instances where a customer orders for services ¡ª usually in a wedding or birthday party ¡ª then refuses to pay the balance are common. In the case of weddings, it is impossible to follow up the couple, as they usually don¡¯t have an address. To curb this, Jesse ensures that the client pays the deposit on order and the balance upon delivery, not after the service.


Cases of cancellation are also common, sometimes occasioned by genuine reasons like bereavement within the family, or when the child gets sick. In such cases, depending on the provider, some refund some of the money, although there is the non-refundable amount.

Others like Jesse provide the option of postponing the event to a later date at no extra cost. Rain can also cause a disappointment, especially when it pours unexpectedly.

And although the sector is a children-centered business, meaning most of the work is done on weekends and during holidays, the business can be sustained through contracts with entertainment spots, invitations to private events, promotions and invitations to product launches. Bubujika, for example, has expanded into Uganda and Rwanda, offering the same services.

It is from these events that word goes out to the next potential client. Active marketing is also crucial, especially through the use of Internet and social media. Jesse gives out flyers after his events and occasionally markets in the media, both print and electronic.

They also offer free services to NGOs, which are used as fundraising activities, as they act as the firms Corporate Social Responsibility.



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