By Air and By Sea
Air Swimmers are rising to the top
If you see a 4-foot long shark or clown fish flying through the air, have no fear: Air Swimmers are here.
Since 1992, the William Mark Corporation (WMC) - a family business started by Mark Forti and his father, Bill, who retired from the aerospace industry - has been dedicated to developing unique, high-quality products for extraordinary flight performance. Their latest innovative, remote control flying balloons called Air Swimmers, have quickly risen to the top of the retail ranks.
"The first prototype was developed by Stanford University engineering student Blake English as a class project," said Dana Forti, CFO of the WMC. "We had never seen anything as amazing as Air Swimmers, so we hired Blake and brought his wonderful creation to market."
Party & Paper Retailer caught up with Forti to talk about Air Swimmers, the appeal of these fish that literally swim through the air and how retailers can sink their hooks into the profits.
PPR: What exactly is an Air Swimmer?
DF: An Air Swimmer is a 4-foot-long remote control fish-shaped balloon that "swims" through the air. Once assembled and filled with helium, the shark or clownfish floats in mid-air. Using a remote controller to move the fins, you can make the fish go up or down, forward, left or right. It's easy to control - my 7-year-old is an expert - and so lightweight that it won't damage anything it bumps into. This is an indoor toy only because of its tendency to fly away in the wind.
PPR: What's the difference between an Air Swimmer and a balloon?
DF: The most important difference is that an Air Swimmer is a fully maneuverable remote control toy and is made from a nylon material that is more durable than Mylar. By moving the tail fin back and forth, you can turn either direction. By moving a pod on the underside of the fish, you can direct it to go up or down.
PPR: How high will the Air Swimmer fly?
DF: Because the Air Swimmer is a remote-controlled product designed to be used indoors, it will be controllable to the limit of its control range of about 40 feet. If you try to fly it higher than 40 feet, you will lose control over it. We recommend that you balance the Air Swimmer so that has a slight negative buoyancy. That way, if you do fly it too high, it will drift back down to the ground instead of flying all the way to the ceiling.
PPR: How much helium does it take to fill one Air Swimmer?
DF: An Air Swimmer needs 4.1 cubic feet of helium (slightly more at higher altitudes). It will stay filled for about two weeks, and it can be refilled over and over. We tell consumers that they can fill the balloon two ways: either buy a small helium tank at a party store or take the balloon to any store that sells helium balloons and ask them to fill it. We have found that most stores are willing to fill an Air Swimmer for about $3. Stores that have helium available often include a free fill with purchase of an Air Swimmer.
PPR: Why did you start with a clownfish and shark as opposed to other animals or shapes?
DF: We chose the shark and clownfish because we love the idea of fish "swimming" through the air. The product maneuvers with a tail fin that moves from side to side, so fish are a natural fit since they have vertical tail fins. Many customers have asked why we didn't make a dolphin or whale. The answer is simple: marine mammals like dolphins and whales have a horizontal tail fin, so we would have had to completely redesign the propulsion system.
In January 2012, we will be adding a sea bass to the Air Swimmers line. This is a really fun-looking fish that we think will especially appeal to grown men.
PPR: How can retailers best display Air Swimmers to increase exposure and sales?
DF: Demonstrate! An actual Air Swimmer flying around the store will attract the attention of every customer who walks through the door. If you can't or don't wish to demonstrate the product, the next best tool is our two-minute promotional video. This fun video has been viewed well over 5 million times on YouTube. We are happy to provide the video to our retailers on a looping DVD that can play on a video monitor in the store.
PPR: How and where can retailers find your product?
DF: The William Mark Corp. sells directly to retailers in the United States and Canada, although we do have a few non-exclusive distributors. Demonstration videos and an extensive FAQ on ordering and operating Air Swimmers can be found at www.airswimmers.com.
By Abby Heugel