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Parents paying thousands for tots to romp on high-end jungle gyms

Little Ava, age 2, is part of a generation of children who are swinging large.

When their parents were kids, they were happy with a couple of swings and maybe a glider, hanging from a metal crossbeam. Now that those Generation Xers are doing the shopping, they are finding that the sky's the limit for play sets - in size and in price.

Today's play sets come with rock walls, rope ladders, sandboxes and tunnel slides. Some have towers with roofs and rotating plastic guns mounted on their walls.

"I sold one in Michigan for $12,000," said Henry Ruff, general manager of SugarIsland Play Systems in Sun Prairie. It was the most expensive one he's seen go out the door since he started there in 1989. "I never thought I'd sell anything like that."

Even so, it's far from the top of what affluent parents are shelling out for high-end play sets.

Rainbow Play Systems' King Kong Carl McKee Custom, the ultimate in luxury from the Brookings, S.D., company, has a footprint as big as a house: 46 feet by 58 feet, with towers that top out at 16 feet. The Carl McKee includes a 37.5-square-foot castle fort; two 73-square-foot multilevel clubhouse forts; and a 25-square-foot King Kong penthouse.

The set uses 4,828 board feet of lumber, weighs over 5 tons and costs $39,768. Installation is another $6,156.

Buyers of the bigger sets can recoup some of their investment by reselling them when their children outgrow them. Retailers who sold the original will move and set them up, for a fee.

Steffens, the Rainbow salesman, says price is the biggest stumbling block, despite Rainbow's status as the big gorilla of the play set industry.

"We fight price competition," he said. Rainbow's weapons in that battle are quality and service, including a home visit by a salesperson who will assess the site and make recommendations.

And so, as the selling season for play sets heads toward its last big month, the war goes on.

Even in an industry based on child's play, it's a jungle out there.

Source: JS Online
Image: Flickr/Srsphoto
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