Nova Scotia

Inflatable holiday decorations are everywhere. Thank car dealerships for that

Long before inflatable holiday decorations became a top seller for Texas-based Gemmy Industries, the company was better known for producing an animatronic fish called Billy Big Mouth Bass.

Idea came to Texas inventor in 2001 and business is ballooning

On a front lawn in Dartmouth, Santa towers over festive onlookers. (Blair Sanderson/CBC)

Long before inflatable holiday decorations were a top seller for Texas-based Gemmy Industries, the company was better known for producing an animatronic fish called Big Mouth Billy Bass.

But then, one magical day, the company's owner drove past a parking lot full of vehicles and had an idea. 

"Dan Flaherty saw all these big inflatables at car dealerships and thought that could be a great decoration," said Steven Harris, vice-president of product development for the company. 

Harris estimates up 95 per cent of all inflatable holiday decorations sold in North America are produced by Gemmy Industries.

Inflatables at car dealerships have been around for decades. (RCMP)

Danarra Spears, who lives in Dartmouth, said it was her young children who talked her into getting one.

"I promised myself we would never have a blow-up on our front lawn, but with COVID and everything, we just want to make people smile."

These days, it's not uncommon to find multiple inflatable displays on a single residential block. 

Denarra Spears says children often stop in front her house to marvel at her inflatable displays, which makes up for the way they clash with the rest of her decor. (CBC/Blair Sanderson)

Not everyone is a fan

"I think it's definitely a lack of creativity," said Hadley Keller, a senior editor of House Beautiful magazine.

"There's a certain convenience behind it which is maybe why they're becoming more popular. You know, we're in this era of, 'Order it on Amazon prime, have it there the next day, put it up and you're done.'"

Keller also dislikes the way inflatable decorations look when people leave them deflated on their lawn. 

But Harris said home decor experts with a mature esthetic aren't the target audience.

"It makes you feel like a kid again," he said. "You're looking at something so big and it kind of puts you in the perspective of a child and sort of gives you that excitement for Christmas."

Gemmy Industries now partners with other companies that hold the copyright to popular intellectual properties, resulting in everything from inflatable Star Wars figures to giant Paw Patrol characters wearing Santa hats.  (Gemmy Industries)

Gemmy Industries now partners with other companies that hold the copyright to popular intellectual properties, resulting in everything from inflatable Star Wars figures to giant Paw Patrol characters wearing Santa hats. 

There are regional differences when it comes to what's popular. 

"In Canada, for example, we sell beavers, raccoons, moose, those kind of animals." said Harris. "Nativity does not do well in Canada, for example, whereas in the U.S., nativity is very popular."

Harris said he and his team are always looking for the next big thing, while also refining their current product line. Inflatable items that move with more lifelike fabrics are already on the market.

But he said they are still guided by the company's more humble and whimsical beginnings.

Big Mouth Billy Bass first launched in 1999 was one of Gemmy Industries first big sellers before inflatables became popular. These days you can even get a Christmas bass. (Fandom.com)

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