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Inflatable wonderland
Party Harbor puts it all together for festival
Party Harbor - Owner  sonWeb
Party Harbor CEO Brian Reiss and son Ridge, 2, explore the "Frozen" movie-themed inflatable that is the company's latest addition. - photo by Special

         Seldom do all of Party Harbor's more than 50 inflatable attractions - including pirate- and princess-themed bounce houses, waterslides and the latest combo unit based on a Disney movie - appear in one location. But they'll all be set up Saturday and Sunday at Party Harbor's Inflatable Festival.
        The second annual festival put on by Party Harbor owner Brian Reiss will open 10 a.m.-7 p.m. both days at the Kiwanis Ogeechee. Wristbands are $15 at the gate or $10 in advance at sponsor banks. Reiss has given the Boys & Girls Club of Bulloch County free wristbands to distribute to many of its members.
        For business reasons, Reiss also invites representatives of corporations that host family fun days for their employees.
        "That's another reason why I have the festival, too," Reiss said. "I try to get as many corporations to come out and see what I have to offer."
        Party Harbor has supplied inflatable amusements for events put on by Briggs & Stratton, Wal-Mart, Great Dane, the roofing manufacturer GAF and - least surprisingly when you know Party Harbor's history - Viracon.
        Reiss, originally from Corning, NY, earned a four-year business degree from State University New York- Brockport and worked as a construction foreman before moving to Statesboro in 1999 for a job in Viracon's then-new architectural glass factory. He remained with Viracon until 2009, becoming the plant's project manager.
        Meanwhile, his former boss at Viracon, Ken Johns, launched Party Harbor around 2002. Reiss began helping Johns in this side business, and when Johns left for Gulfstream Aerospace, Reiss bought Party Harbor in April 2007.
        It then had an inventory of nine inflatables, including basics such as a big slide, bouncy houses and an obstacle course, so Johns has obviously expanded the business.
        "Every year I'm always adding between five and 10 inflatables, just to keep things fresh and new, you know, for the schools and churches and backyard parties," he said.
        Since leaving Viracon, he has made Party Harbor his full-time business, and it supports a growing family. His wife Tawnya left teaching a few years ago to take care of their kids, ages 5, 4 and 2, and sometimes takes phone calls for Party Harbor. They have another child on the way.
        Reiss was answering calls himself, receiving two on his mobile in less than half an hour while interviewed for this story at a coffee shop. With his iPad, he takes the office with him throughout the week, answering questions and booking parties, but most of the events are on the weekend.
        For delivery and setup, Reiss employs about 15 part-timers, often college students. When the teams are sufficiently trained, he lets them make deliveries on their own, but appears in person for "face time" with customers at big events.
        "Sometimes I don't go anywhere," he said. "Sometimes I'm just armchair quarterbacking it."
        Most weekends, those teams of part-timers set up and take down inflatables at 20 to 30 small parties. One of Reiss' calls during the interview involved turning down a party request that conflicted with this weekend's festival.
        Party Harbor outgrew the Reiss family's backyard and a shed there a couple of years ago, when Reiss moved the equipment into a warehouse in a commercial part of town. For hauling the equipment, he has a 16-foot box truck, as well as several trailers that are pulled behind a pickup truck and SUV. The distances traveled are not limited to Bulloch County, or even the neighboring counties, since Reiss reaches out in advertising an via its website.
        "I do about a two-hour radius out of Statesboro. So I do a lot in Savannah, Hilton Head and Tybee, Claxton, Glennville, Metter," Reiss said. "I mean, we just go anywhere and everywhere if they're willing to pay."
        For greater distances, he adds a transport charge.
        Party Harbor Inc. is a Statesboro-based, Georgia corporation, registered since 2002, and its corporate status is up-to-date. The company pays sales taxes and local occupational taxes, often referred to as business license fees.
Reiss maintains liability insurance.
        "I'm a 100 percent legit business, which you'll find in my business there's a lot of people who'll just buy a truck and trailer and buy a couple of inflatables and that's it," Reiss said. "They have no insurance, they're not licensed, they're not paying taxes. ... It's very frustrating, and it's not only in this market, I mean, it's everywhere across the United States."
        The festival is a potentially profitable event for Party Harbor. But the Boys & Girls Club of Bulloch County benefits by receiving free admissions, enough for most of its boys and girls, said Boys & Girls Club Executive Director Mike Jones. The club uses the free passes as incentives for good homework grades and positive behavior.
        "From our perspective it gives a positive environment for kids to go and have fun with their families, and especially for children that we serve and see on a daily basis, having additional opportunities for family fun is always a good thing for the families," Jones said.
        Al Hackle may be reached at (912) 489-9454.

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