Interview with Dan Vandevoorde van X-Treme Creations. Dan answers some questions about the inflatable world and beyond.
1) What advantages do inflatables offer over other forms of promoting events or brands?
Our device: air your views and also 1 image says more than 1000 words (our societies become also more and more visual so that is perfect for our business). Once inflated massive presence and impact + very efficient on the transport, installation and storage front so sponsors know exactly the expenditure...
2) Who (corporations, festival or sports events, etc.) are your customers? Where are they demographically?
In 22 years of inflatables for sponsors/organisations you can almost name any brand or any event globally (worldcup, tour de france, olympic games for global sport events, on the festival side we work for the live nation, best festival in the world named tomorrowland for 12 years and plenty of other festivals (flying dutch, werchter,etc.) and artists who increasingly need to propose a total concept, also the top stand builders for shows are including. More and more inflatable elements/bits and pieces again gaining efficiency for certain complex/amorf shapes and man power during installation and transport... . Finally last but not least retail and point of sales are capital for FMCG’s and other suppliers/providers that need brand exposure. We also have (semi-) permanent inflatables on roof of shopping malls or factories located along important highway axes... . Less visible and shouting are industrial applications but they are very important as in this case the technical capacities of the fabrics and new developments are the future (also space, combined 3D printing, solar cells etc.). From our side we have loads of experience in design and production and outdoor or complex situations combining pressure and wind resistance.
3) What fabrics do you use?
(un) coated polyester fabrics are most common, but any fabric that can be printed, cut stitched or welded is fine basically.
4) What fabric do you use most often, and how do you determine the type of material you use for specific types of inflatables and their applications?
It will be the application and the budget that will determine the choice of fabric.
5) I see a reference on your website to polystyrene. For what applications is this appropriate, and for what benefit?
We sometimes combine inflatable with polystyrene for very detailled and small shaped which are difficult to realize with inflatable or foam.
6) Are zeppelins your sole helium product?
Standard zeppelins became 100% China and Korea standars production... We can only compete for complex and single helium inflatables or when the application is very specific but this kind of inflatable in my opinion will disappaer as helium is becoming more exclusive and so also expensive... The only way out is to find a way to recuperate the massive volume of helium used in inflatables... Who find a solution could save that kind of business globally.
7) What types of customers want helium inflatables and for what applications? Why do they want helium rather than a cold-air inflatable?
When we started the company in 1994 after few time there was a big news rush about a zeppelin that got lost in space and was blown by the wind towards the Brussels national airport. So in no time the militairy sent a fighter jet and the zeppelin was taken down, as a young entrepeneur i will never ever forget this happening so i will always push the customer for cold air... You have to know that in Belgium and Holland we have modest sea climate which means a lot of windy and wet unpredicted conditions... Wind is in our DNA.
8) I see that you also rent inflatables. Are these ever used for business promotion?
We work for a lot of the more classic rental companies (bouncies etc) so our X-Treme selection is purely to complete their standard portfolio. Of course we produce for specific designers like f.e. Michael Gill who invented the first inflatable church (wedding diaries broadcasted nationally in the US), or Jacky Delgueldre who invented the beautiful inflatable arcadome tents and it that case we need to have a specific stock for urgent VIP deliveries.
9) Can they be “personalized” with temporary appliqués, lighting projects, etc.?
All rental products are to be personalised and illuminated in a professional way.
10) What is your most requested product and for what type(s) of event?
The at first sight simpliest but at the same moment most complex product we produce all the time are arches: we made the flamme rouge of tour de france for the first time in 1999, re-ordered in 2003 or so and it was still used last year, we made during 7 years all red bull arches when red bull was still a great small family business and for the US we provide clif bar with their well know arches for 5 years now... you can put an inflatable arch in the middle of the bush as an arrival icon and you as a sponsor/partner you claim the event in a very powerful way... It’s simplicity is also it’s beauty. Arcadome tents are also doing very well and for the rest everything is tailor made.
11) What is the most distinctive (craziest, biggest, or most complex) project you’ve done?
The list after 22 years and more than 20 000 inflatables is rather long and every year we break records with our teams combining perfection in shape, size, short timings and impossible applications.
12) Has the type of fabric or equipment you use changed since you started in business? If so, in what way?
We are only a small niche market so we have to use most of the time the classic fabrics, there is not a specific inflatable fabric.
13) Do inflatables pose liability/insurance challenges for customers?
Luckily enough an inflatable is composed of only light textile so most of the time there is no damage at all when something happens... and we are all the time obsessed by wind which is the biggest unknown factor... apart from complying to basic legal construction regulations for bouncies etc...
14) At the end of their lifespan, can your inflatables be recycled?
Yes we make ballast bags of them (more budget, more volume than concrete blocs and sandbags but some customers insist).
15) Are your inflatables flame retardant, or can customers request a flame retardant coating be applied?
Off course they are when necessary.
16) What types of internal lighting can be used?
Inflatables with inside illuminations are just magic, most of the time we use LED now.
17) Can customers ask for cold-air inflatables seams to be welded to make them waterproof?
Yes of course!! or to increase inner pressure.
18) Have any recent developments in fabrics or equipment technology changed your
products of markets? If so, in what way?
I think there is a lot of innovations to come as overall it remains very... classic we are praying for innovative textile developments etc...
19) What do you anticipate will be the “next big thing” in inflatables?
Honestly every day we work at the next big thing, not in volume unluckily enough but in creativity and
experience volume markets are in China basically. I do hope that art meets inflatable more often, we need the creative concepts of artists (check the inflatable refugee concept of two artists which combined art design and social dramas in our neck of the woods).
20) And where do you foresee growth in the marketplace within the next five years?
As long as you do inflatables with passion...growth will be all over.
21) What would you consider the “perfect” inflatable product, and what would it take to achieve it?
Shapewise we want exactly that people cannot see it is an inflatable, so we use for example double skin
inflatables. Inflatables cities on mars or another planet could be a great project, space is really attractive to me, life saving inflatables like inflater for flood protection,... I think makeing a product that goes beyons promotional is really exiting.
22) Based on the experience you have gained over the years, what do you wish you had known about inflatables and/or the inflatables market when you started in business?
I wish it would not be so addictive.
23) If anything could go wrong with an inflatable, what is it most likely to be and how do you avoid it?
Always, always keep wind in mind, the strongest winds might occur in 2 minutes of time.
24) How long have you been in business?
25) Was your company or principals within the company at one time partnered with Bigger Than Life in the United States?
Before i became the company owner a director in the Dutch branch worked together with Bigger than life. But i aknowledge the fact that BTL is THE Americain inflatable reference and an truly ancestor in inflatable
production compared to X-Treme Creations with a 22 years birthday. I guess we respect each other as
“collegue” companies and we help each other when ever necessary in this stressy business. It is an honour to be part of this club of excellence..