AP photo by Julie Jacobson|
Jennifer Kroll, center, with her children Akiva, 4, left, Leora, 8, second from right, and Avi, 6, on their custom-made swing set in their backyard in Yonkers, N.Y. Kroll is one of a growing number of parents who are sidestepping big-name toy retailers and buying custom-made swing sets directly from people who build them.
Swing high, swing low — swing high-end
Playtime gets a costly makeover
By Cynthia Schreiber
The Associated Press
With elaborate backyard amenities such as outdoor kitchens and garden rooms on the rise, it was only a matter of time before kids got in on the act.
Beautiful custom wooden swing sets and jungle gyms, sometimes handmade, now sit in many a backyard, where the metal two-swings-and-a-slide combination has been deemed too much of an eyesore or not sturdy enough to be part of family play time.
“You can have anyone on any part of the swing at any time,” said Miriam Adler, a mother of four, of the 1,500-pound wooden swing set that stands in her Passaic, N.J., backyard. “It’s not going to fall.”
Last year, Adler ordered the swing set-which came with an A-frame two-level playhouse-from John Lapp, an Amish carpenter from Lancaster, Pa. The second floor of the playhouse has become a favorite of her kids, along with the “twisty slide,” she said.
Lapp says he sold about 700 custom-made swing sets last year, many by word of mouth. His prices range from about $375 for a simple gym with two swings, a trapeze and a rope ladder to about $3,000 for a three-level set with two canvas-covered playhouses, a five-foot-long above-ground tunnel and a tube slide, along with accessories like a play telescope and steering wheel.
Built to order
Wooden swing sets that are built to order — with trapezes, rock walls and playhouses — can cost more than $3,000. Parents say durability, service and loads of custom features are the main reasons they are willing to pay more for a wooden set made by a small, often family-owned company.
“You order it from the person who makes it,” Adler said. “So there’s a feeling of security.”
Exact numbers on swing sets and play gyms are hard to come by. Market-research firm NPD Group includes them in the $2.9 billion a year outdoor and sports gear category, whose sales have held steady over the past year.
Donald Hoffman, chief executive officer of specialty swing-set maker Creative Playthings, said his sales are slightly down this year as the housing market stalls, but those who are buying are getting ever-bigger playsets.
Like other specialty retailers, the Framingham, Mass., company sells its swing sets only through catalogues, its Web site and its own stores, not through mass retailers.
Toy retailer Toys “R” Us also reports greater demand for its readymade swing sets, especially those made of wood, as opposed to metal, said Juan Arrizabalaga, who directs the store’s team of buyers of swing sets and other outdoor items. He said parents want sets that look good in the backyard when friends and family come to visit.
While Toys “R” Us’ readymade sets are generally cheaper — running from around $119 to $1,119 — installation is do-it-yourself and can take hours. The toy retailer doesn’t sell customized sets, although it sells accessories, like sandboxes, separately.
The U.S. government doesn’t regulate how residential swing sets are made, but many manufacturers follow voluntary guidelines set by the industry. About 50,000 children go to the emergency room every year because of injuries that occur while playing on backyard swing sets, and 80 percent of those injuries are caused by falls, according to the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission.
The commission recommends that people choose a level ground for the equipment and put shock-absorbing material, like wood chips, under the set and at least six feet beyond its perimeter.
For parents who have already made big investments in home and backyard improvements, wooden swing sets are a natural addition.
‘Like another room’
“It’s like another room in the house,” said Jennifer Kroll of Yonkers, N.Y., who had Lapp build an $1,800 swing set for her new home last fall. “You’ll spend that much on a piece of furniture.”
Kroll’s set came with two swings, a slide and a wooden playhouse with green shingles on the roof.
Her children love climbing up the rock wall and swinging on the trapeze.
“My son is like a monkey on it,” she said. “He flips.”
Kroll researched more-established swing-set makers, including Creative Playthings, Rainbow Play Systems and CedarWorks, but chose Lapp’s company, Green Tree Woodworks, mainly because of its prices.
Online design system
At CedarWorks, where buyers and designers work together to create three-dimensional models online, prices for a custom swing set start at $1,500 and “can go literally anywhere,” said CedarWorks President Barrett Brown.
The Rockport, Maine, company uses only northern white cedar, a species of tree whose wood requires no annual maintenance, like staining, because it doesn’t splinter.
Brown said his company sold a swing set in May for $40,000 to a family in Fairmount, Ga. The playset, featured on the company’s Web site, has a total of eight castles, gazebos and towers, including a make-believe crow’s nest, connected by a system of bridges and monkey bars that lead to an above-ground “sky” tunnel, several sling swings and picnic tables.
Keep your backyard safe
Some guidelines from the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission for making your backyard safe.
Always supervise children on swing equipment.
Most injuries are caused by falls. Install a protective surface under and around play equipment to reduce the likelihood of serious head injuries. Use wood chips for equipment that stands 8 feet high, or sand for equipment up to 5 feet high.
Children need room to run and play. Make sure each piece of equipment has at least six feet of play area around it.
Strangulation is a danger. Do not allow children to wear helmets, especially ones with chin straps, and never attach ropes or cords of any kind to the equipment.
Hooks can catch clothing. Close “S” hooks and other types of hooks so that the gaps are less than the thickness of a dime.
Source: Outdoor Home Playground Safety Handbook, U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission
The Associated Press
Copyright 2005 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.
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