Danny Savage has a wide and diverse background in venue management, bookings and as a DJ. His Leeds-based company, Igloo Disco, is reputed for supplying high-quality temporary structures for parties, events and festivals nationwide. This January, Danny appeared on BBC’s Dragons’ Den in a bid to secure investment for his business. Here, he shares his knowledge of the industry and explains how he has brought inflatable structures into the limelight.
My journey into the world of inflatable igloos is an interesting one. It really started out as a progression from my other love, DJing, when I was looking for an attention-grabbing venue that would allow me to cart in my ice cream van-come-DJ booth through the backdoor. It opened my eyes to a whole new world in events and I’ve never looked back. There is something about inflatables that brings out the big kid in people, and wherever there is some sort of blow-up structure, it makes people stop, point and go, “look at that!”, which is what I love about them.
A couple of months back, I was mountain bike racing at the Tweed Valley Enduro Festival up in Scotland and one of the things I remember most about that weekend (apart from fracturing by elbow!) was the giant inflated arch at the start and finish that all the cyclists got to ride through. Why do I remember that? Well, because I could hardly miss the arch itself, but the sponsors, Shimano, had plastered their branding on the structure, which meant that they stuck in my mind through association long afterwards. That is one of the great things that inflatable structures allow – the freedom to play around with what is creatively possible. I’m sure that brand would be very happy to have stuck in mine and countless others’ heads.
That association you have once you attach yourself to a blow-up structure is priceless and it can pay dividends. The type of structures we work with generally function as an event venue but that doesn’t stop us working with big businesses to get their branding on the outside to help draw people in and give them that memorable experience.
From our experience of taking our igloos to festivals, from small-scale events in gardens, to annual summer music festivals attended by over 12,000 fun-seekers, we’ve found that people gravitate towards inflatable structures. Essentially, they provide a fun focal point. Not only that, they offer an attractive alternative to the common circus tent or marquee, and add something memorable for both the audience and the DJ looking out to all those people brought together in that intimate space. It adds a whole new dimension to a festival.
The organisers of Beat-Herder Festival asked us to organise a pop-up house, garage and techno arena at their festival last year so we took along one of our 12m igloos, and it was an awesome experience. On the door, it was one in, one out, it got so popular. In terms of location, ours probably wasn’t one of the best on site, it was miles away from the main arena, but we stood out so much that people made the effort to walk through the mud to come party with us.
The scale of the event doesn’t make a huge difference if you manage to do the best with the space you do have. At the end of 2016, we took one of our igloos to an event run by DJ Patrick Topping as promo for the Mint Festival. We erected the dome with a stage, sound & lighting in less than five hours. The party lasted for an hour, we took it all down and disappeared before night fall. Although the event was held in a garden at the back of a pub, some of the attendees including Patrick said it felt like they were at a festival which was amazing for us to hear. I don’t think you can create that feel in a standard marquee, and that’s why inflatable structures are so up-and-coming.
So why do inflatable structures work so well for festivals and events? They’re like the younger, better looking brother of the bog standard marquee in the sense that they’re more economical, they have the wow factor and they’re practically better to work with. Taking less time to install and take down is one of the huge advantages of working with inflatable structures because they don’t require days of preparation and the man power that other venues need. Typically, a team could build the structure on the day or the evening beforehand which is ideal for a festival because it means no hanging around for staff while everything gets sorted.
Inflatable domes such as our own also offer some level of sound-proofing, as we all know volume levels can sometimes be a bug bear for residents living nearby. The insulated wall of air helps to dampens the sound emitted from the dome considerably, keeping noise pollution down.
I mentioned before how structures can be used for branding purposes – dome exteriors and interiors also provide a surface area for projection mapping so that you can create all sorts of cool effects with lighting to draw in crowds, or just allow you to place a second skin with your own name over the top.
There’s a lot for anyone thinking of foraying into the world of inflatable structures to know. Those looking to hire one from a company should make sure the business is an approved MUTA member as it means they must follow the association’s Best Practice Guide and be legal, decent, honest and truthful.
The most crucial thing for those wanting to set up their own firm is to seek out the most reputable and best quality suppliers. From past experience, I know that it’s not worth scrimping to save a few pennies because a sub-standard structure will come back to bite your behind. You can hire someone who knows how to put up a marquee but in this field, there’s no course to go on as such. Over the years, I’ve built up my knowledge of the reputable and reliable companies, and now work with a firm I know I can trust to provide me with the structures that conform to all the health and safety laws and are technically sound.
There’s a lot going for inflatable structures in the events world, and I love being part of it. Seeing people have a good time in your venue, and knowing that you are part of the reason why, is a great feeling. I think inflatables have yet to reach their peak so here’s to these features of the festival world getting even bigger.