For CEO Scott Schellhase, there’s no fear of inflation at Chandler’s Bestway USA, one of the nation’s top suppliers of pumped-up playthings.
Bounce castles, ball pits, water slides and inflatable pools may seem like kids’ stuff.
But if you come to Bestway USA’s headquarters in Chandler, and wade through all the big bouncy things scattered around its playful, polymer-scented showroom, don’t expect to meet a CEO who’s a mix between Pee-wee Herman and Willy Wonka. Scott Schellhase is a button-down boss in a blow-up world.
“This showroom is meant to present the various things we make to any type of buyer,” he says. “We can have meetings here, and we’ve got all the products set up so we can just do a much better job of presentation.”
Do any clients ever just wanna jump on that Dreamsicle pool float, grab that giant Homer Simpson doughnut and barrel down a water slide before talking shop? “Well, a lot of our products are meant for outside, so you can’t really use them how they’re intended here,” he says dryly.
Perhaps it’s fitting that the head of the Valley’s biggest fun factory is unshakably all-business. There’s big money in inflatable toys, and Bestway is one of the key players in a market projected to reach $2.5 billion by 2028, according to Insight Partners.
Last November, the company celebrated its first birthday in this expanded 129,000-square-foot facility. Previously, the North American subsidiary of the global Bestway Inflatables and Material Corp. occupied sales centers in Tempe and Phoenix. The $14.7 million building reflects the outpost’s expanded role: more offices, R&D department, an 11,000-square-foot showroom.
“Our office here is responsible for sales in the United States,” Schellhase says. “But we also do product development from our facility, and we stock product that we sell to retailers all around the country.”
Growing up in a small farming community in Iowa, Schellhase says he had little experience with pool toys and water slides. The closest he got to playing in water was fly fishing, a sport he still enjoys in Arizona. “In the Grand Canyon at Lees Ferry, there’s a famous spot about 15 miles below the Lake Powell Dam that is a perfect trout habitat.”
Schellhase, who has two sons, ages 17 and 20, got into the toy business right out of college, working for the Funrise Toy Corporation in Van Nuys, California, a company that used to manufacture Tonka trucks for Hasbro and now makes Gazillion Bubbles products and Fart Ninjas. In 2007, he started with Bestway – “an easy transition.”
It’s not just inflatable toys that are blowing up. Fifty-six percent of the global group’s revenue comes from sales of above-ground pools and portable spas, or inflatable hot tubs. At the close of 2020, Bestway was the largest maker of inflatable hot tubs in the world, with sales growing by 22.6 percent following the COVID-19 pandemic, as more people began working from home and seeking recreational activities in their own yards.
“That definitely had a positive effect,” Schellhase says. “There was a big increase in purchases… because consumers were stuck at home.” Even as life returns to normal, the inflatable hot tub market is expected to continue growing at an annual rate of 5.4 percent for the rest of the decade, according to Market.Biz. A big reason is price: Inflatable hot tubs can run around one-tenth of the cost of traditional hot tubs, making what was once a space-sucking luxury something anybody can pump up in an unused corner. Bestway’s SaluSpa Hawaii model, judged Best Value Hot Tub in Forbes’ list comparing inflatables to the old-school acrylics, can be had for around $480. A top-of-the-line acrylic can run as much as $7,000.
Schellhase can’t reveal much about new developments. Suffice it to say, he’s pumped. “We’re working on some products that have never been done before,” he says. “Our kids are all like our internal focus group. It’s pretty exciting when you can actually see kids playing on something you developed and enjoying it. That’s the best.”