Best Practices, Feature, Operations, V8I2

A Time for Play

(Photo courtesy of Hershberger Lawn Structures/PlayMor Swing Sets)

As a shed builder or dealer, you’re likely looking for ways to increase your business.

One way to do so would be to offer playsets. 

The product makes sense. Sheds are backyard structures. Playsets are backyard structures. 

Sheds provide storage for mom and dad’s equipment for recreational activities. Playsets are recreational for the kids. 

But what does it take for a builder/dealer to start offering swing sets, slides, and other play equipment? What do they need to know before adding this new product line?


For shed builders and dealers, it’s important to know how the playset supply side works. 

For example, Hershberger Lawn Structures, creator of PlayMor Swing Sets in Millersburg, Ohio, started 30 years ago, so they know and understand the playset market.

“One of the things that we focused on a lot is being compact for shipping, and it’s been a model that we’ve had over the years,” says David Hershberger, general manager. 

“Now we do offer assembly services, so you can get it assembled, but we can ship a lot of them on a semi load to the store. There is more assembly then that way, but that is working well.” 

Hershberger Lawn Structures/PlayMor Swing Sets maintains an inventory of all of its products, so at any time, a customer can drive in the front, order a swing set, and get loaded and leave within an hour or so. 

“They would have everything ready to roll and picked,” Hershberger says. “So, those things are very advantageous for our dealers.”

He says that the company’s poly playsets are most popular. 

“On accessories, we have a lot of different stuff, and there’s a lot of different things that people like,” shares Hershberger. “Our gangplank is one, our rock wall, the 14-foot slides customers like, the turbo slides.”

But it takes more than a good supplier for builders and dealers to succeed with playsets—they have to be dedicated to the product as well. 

“There are oodles of shed manufacturers out there, and there’s lots of barn lots out there that have just barns,” Hershberger says. “One of the things that we go after is people who are looking to provide a backyard experience versus a barn lot.

“If all you care about is storage, then we’re not going to be talking to you. If you want to create a backyard experience for your customers and be a backyard living store, that’s who we’re looking for.

“A lot of your big shed lots are that. They’re going to have cabins, sheds, playsets, poly lawn furniture, wood lawn furniture, mulch, and different stuff like that, carports, hunting blinds. The list can go on and on that’s who we’re looking for. 

“And what we go after is to set yourself apart. There’s 101 of those guys out there with 25 sheds on the lot that all look about the same. But there’s not that many of those guys out there that have the swing sets, catching the eye in front of the barns, in and around them. 

“It’s really, it’s eye candy is what it is, and they’ll bring a lot more traffic onto your lot.”

The process, according to Hershberger, is the builder/dealer sells the unit to their customers and then they place the order with PlayMor. 

“As I said earlier, we inventory everything, so at most times we’re able to just at the flip of a switch have a swing set ready for them,” he says. “24 hours right now is what we endeavor to do. So, when an order comes in, 24 hours later, it’s ready for pickup for that customer.” 

Hershberger’s current dealers that do their own deliveries and installation will come and pick up the playsets. 

“Most of them are coming every two weeks or once a month, picking their load up, taking it home, and then they install it for their customers,” he says. “We also have an install crew that does installs, so when those customers are dealers order, it would get put into our install list, which runs at a two-to-four-week lead time, and then our install crew would go out and set up the playset.” 

The biggest mistake Hershberger sees builders/dealers making when they take on playsets? Having the perception that they’re going to sell as many playsets as sheds. 

“A good shed lot is selling hundreds and hundreds of mini barns,” he points out. “Our best dealers are selling 100 swing sets a year. We have some that are doing more, but on average a good, solid dealer for us is selling 20 to 30 of these swing sets a year. 

“The other thing that I see barn guys doing is they go, ‘Okay playsets are this much square footage on my lot and it’s got to turn this many times,’ and so on. I get all that, but I would argue that footage and product is actually selling your mini barn behind you because it drew Mom and Dad off the road onto your lot. 

“Whereas, if you didn’t have the swing set, they might have driven down and bought from the other guy that did.” 

Finally, Hershberger stresses that builders/dealers have to have enough playsets on display to make the product worth it. He recommends three to five units. 

“You need to have a well-trained staff, and when I say that, that needs to be somebody that enjoys the swing sets,” he says. “If you don’t enjoy something, you’re not going to sell it.

“Make sure that you have a well-oiled process from the sale through the end to where your customer doesn’t have to be doubting whether you know what you’re doing or not.” 

Swing Kingdom in Leola, Pennsylvania, was a pioneer in vinyl playset manufacturing in the United States, according to Andy Wildman, the company’s “commander of fun.” 

“We provide Amish-built, customizable vinyl play systems,” he says. “Each set is built to order by our elite Central Pennsylvania craftsmen.”  

Dave Kmiecik, Swing Kingdom’s dealer sales manager, says the company signs dealers to an agreement.  

“We manufacture the orders and coordinate delivery and installation with the dealers,” he shares.

The reason Wildman sees shed dealers taking on playground equipment is that the demand for swing sets is “huge”—especially maintenance-free sets. 

“Their customers demand it, so they reach out to us to help keep their customers coming back,” he says. “There are some families that specifically look for wood playsets. So, sometimes our dealers need to be educators as well. But after very little research, it becomes clear how our equipment outperforms the competition.” 

“We provide a great product,” adds Kmiecik. “It’s a great sales opportunity for the dealers to expand or improve their product line.”

Swing Kingdom’s process for dealers to order is fairly simple. Wildman says with the company’s state-of-the-art 3D design center, the dealer simply sends in a build code and they build it. 

“From there we will reach out to the customer to schedule delivery and installation,” he says.

“The dealer will pick up or we deliver and install the order,” adds Kmiecik. “We have interaction with the customer to schedule delivery and installation.”

Wildman cautions shed builders and dealers that they shouldn’t treat playsets as an “afterthought” or a complementary product.      

“It stands alone with its own customer base and requires full attention to make huge profits,” he says.

“If they have little or no knowledge of playground products, they might think it is easy to sell or install,” shares Kmiecik. “We do provide extensive training to help dealers with all levels of prior knowledge on our products.

“If you are interested in selling our playground products and strive to be successful, you need to go all in! The more you invest in time, sales training, and marketing, the more rewards you will receive from your dedicated efforts.  

“Our products need attention in the marketing arena, both brick-and-mortar stores and online.”


USA Portable Buildings/America’s Buildings/Amish Made Cabins in Shepherdsville, Kentucky, is a retailer that provides playsets to its customers. President Jim White says swing sets lend themselves to the shed business because they are in the backyard.

“Every kid wants a playset, and they do sell,” he says. “Having worked with Amish and Mennonite builders for the past 23 years, I found a lot of folks building playsets all over the USA.”

Marvin Raber, owner of Raber Portable Storage Barns, Montgomery, Indiana, says playsets fit with the company’s business model. 

“We rent or own our sales locations and have our own salespeople versus commission salespeople,” he says. “(Playsets) create more opportunities to create revenue and provide solutions to our customers.”

Raber says playsets are a very popular seller in the springtime, and the company sells around $200,000 worth of them per year.

“Probably we would be hard pressed to say that playsets were more than 10-12 percent of our business,” shares White, “but that is more than you would get if you didn’t carry them.”

He says that there’s no real leader in style or size with playsets for his company. 

“Most customers buy what they see on your lot,” White says. “We actually have every size and style that is made available in our brochure.”

Raber Portable Storage Barns’ most popular option is a 4 by 5 fort with several swings included. 

“We normally don’t do a lot of customization with swing sets,” Raber points out.

Both companies work with outside builders to supply the playsets. USA Portable Buildings/America’s Buildings/Amish Made Cabins delivers the sets to their customers and sets them up. 

“It is handled just like sheds on our schedule,” White shares.

“We work with a swing set builder and sell them on a commission basis. He does the delivery and scheduling, so we get the sale and send the info to him and he does the rest,” Raber says. “He communicates with us weekly to let us know lead times and so on.”

White says there is no difference in swing sets and sheds as far as delivery or the relationship the company enjoys with its shed builders. 

“Playsets are just like our dog houses, carports, and garages,” he says. “They are just another facet of our business.”

For White the most challenging part of the playset business is twofold. 

“First, having fresh merchandise—making sure your displays do not get weathered,” he says. “Two, making sure you have liability insurance because I have seen folks come by our lots to drop off their kids to play on the sets. Don’t have the swings accessible to swing on and block your slides.”

Raber says it’s a fairly simple process, just make sure your communication is top notch so you can resolve issues before they become a huge problem.

Both men say that it’s important for a dealer to figure out the best display options when setting up playsets on a lot.

“I wish that I had known to give the displays as much room as I can afford,” says White.

And offering playsets does bring rewards for both businesses. 

“The most rewarding part is the fact that we are a one-stop sales lot, and we take care of our customers for outdoor needs,” says White. “Plus, there is profit.”

“A lot of times parents want to buy a swing set for a birthday or Christmas gift, and if we can meet the time frame it makes for satisfied customers,” shares Raber.


Hershberger agrees that there are big rewards for builders and dealers who offer playsets.

“You’re going to attract way more people onto your lot,” he says. “The other thing is there’s lots of customers that buy two sheds, but there’s more customers that buy a playset and a shed so you get a repeat customer quicker. 

“You can sell two products to the same person faster with a multi-product line than you can with just a single product line.” 

Wildman reiterates that there is a high demand for elite, maintenance-free play systems. 

“The margins for dealers are great,” he points out. “The opportunity is bringing in the parents to buy a playset, followed by sheds, gazebos, etc., down the road. 

“This is your introduction to a new generation of customers.”

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *


Current Issue

June/July 2024