Taylor Swift declared herself a member of the “swan squad” last summer in an Instagram post, climbing aboard an inflatable pool float shaped like the bird, as her friends piled on floaty pegasuses and flamingos around her. Supermodel Alessandra Ambrosio likes to float on a winged horse, too, while Justin Bieber is a fan of lounging in a five-foot sprinkled doughnut.
After emerging as a trend on social media last summer, the luxury pool-toy industry is booming, with floats as expensive as $399 going into production for the upcoming warm season.
Founded in 2001, Big Mouth Inc. produced a variety of novelty items before entering the pool toy market in 2012. “When you look at pool floats that are on the market, it always seemed small to me,” company President Steve Wampold explained to Bloomberg. “We wanted to make a statement of ‘Big!’”
Wampold’s company started with the Bieber-endorsed doughnut, experimenting with sizes from 42 inches to 54 inches before settling on a 48-inch model. “I didn’t want it to look normal,” he said. “It’s all about that wow factor, it’s all about having a big, super-size version.”
Big Mouth takes super-sizing seriously: Last year, an 8-foot inflatable yellow duck went on the market, as well as a 10-foot beach ball; they were priced at $299 and $199, respectively. At the New York Toy Fair in mid-February, the company introduced a 12-foot neon pink flamingo that will retail for $399.
These prices are tenfold what the company charges for more modest-sized floats: The doughnut costs $21.99, a five-foot slice of pizza will cost $29.99, and a six-foot ice cream sandwich is $39.99. The company has sold “hundreds of thousands” of doughnut floats, but it sells only about 1,000 oversized floats a year. “Those are going to festivals, to the really extravagant homeowner,” Wampold said. “These are more about the completely off-the-wall person.”
No matter the size of a given float, Big Mouth’s sales are way up: Since launching pool toys in 2012, revenue has increased by 350 percent. “The sales are off the charts,” Wampold said.
Funboy, a luxury pool-float company that launched less than a year ago, has limited trend data to report, but describes its growth as “moving and shaking” since its June 2015 launch. Exact sales figures were unavailable, but a company spokesperson noted that the brand has been able to donate a year’s worth of clean drinking water to “thousands” of citizens in developing countries. For every float Funboy sells, the company makes a donation to one person in need through the charity, RainCatcher.Instagram: FUNBOY on Instagram
Ranging in price from $79 to $99, the items in Funboy’s debut collection included three swans, a flamingo, a cherry, and the particularly popular white-and-gold pegasus. While there aren’t any extremely oversized floats just yet, the summer 2016 line has been in development for well over a year and promises big things. “Funboy’s philosophy is size matters,” said a company spokesperson when asked about the brand’s expansion plans. Currently, Funboy maxes out at about 9-feet wide, the wingspan of its pegasus float.
The competing pool toy companies use different sales tactics: Big Mouth sells to such big box retailers as Target Corp. and Wal-Mart Stores Inc., while Funboy takes a direct-to-consumer approach. Both companies, however, spend many valuable marketing hours on Instagram, on which Funboy has more than 17,000 followers and its hashtag has been used 10,000-plus times. Big Mouth has more than 3,700 Instagram followers.
Social media posts by celebrities arguably drive floatie sales: According to Google Trends, searches for “swan pool toy” spiked in the weeks following Swift’s Instagram post with the inflatable. Such posts have also helped bring retail buyers on board: Big Mouth said Target approached the company about its pool floats after an employee spotted the toys on personal Instagram and Facebook feeds.
“It’s an Instagam and Facebook world,” Wampold told Bloomberg. “Everyone wants that share and that like. Posing with a big giant Tootsie Roll noodle is a great way to make that happen.”