Today I would like to share my conversation with Balloon Boss Mastermind member Bill Allen of Balloon Man New Braunfels, Texas on gaining new balloon clients and how he has made his business thrive!
What did you do before balloons?
Our family owned multiple construction type businesses. We did everything from home remodel and repairs, to modular office and mobile home setup, teardowns, service, and transport.
I have always been interested in music and played in many bands across the country. In 2004 I decided to go to college and study commercial music. I took classes for everything from music business/law, to performance and promotion, audio/video production and live sound. I also took classes in drums, vocals, and guitar. I did not finish my degree but I did end up doing a little bit of touring in the Texas Country music scene.
When did you start in Balloons?
It was while I was touring with a regional country band throughout Texas, Oklahoma, New Mexico, and Louisiana in 2009. I was working with our bass player part-time in his balloon business. I had no idea at the time you could earn a living building balloon decor.
How did you get started in balloons?
Our sound engineer had been working in our bass player’s business part-time. One day, our sound engineer disappeared, taking one of the bass player’s vehicles with him. It turns out, he left the vehicle at an airport in Austin and flew back to Alaska, where he was originally from.
Well, our bassist needed some help as he had three territories, Houston, Austin & San Antonio, and Dallas/Ft Wort, that he could not handle on his own. I needed some extra work. I had a baby coming in October of that year so it was mutually beneficial for both of us. With the flexible schedule, I was able to work in the balloon business and play music at the same time.
How did Social Distancing affect your Dealership accounts?
One by one our dealerships began calling in late March and early April. “We need to cancel our service with you. Sales have dropped drastically”, was the general message I received. I began dreading answering my phone if it was from an area we had a client in. Overall, we lost about 75% of our dealerships.
When did you start doing Social Deliveries?
We didn’t begin social deliveries until Covid hit. We had an order for a large Organic to decorate a fence for a driveby birthday party. I had, up until this point, built just about everything on site. I couldn’t do that very easily outdoors so I prebuilt it and borrowed our church’s utility trailer for the delivery. After that delivery, I knew I needed to purchase one for our business if we were going to stay alive. It has paid for itself multiple times over since March!
What changes have happened to your business in 2020?
It was in March that our pastor’s wife had given us an idea. She makes designer cookies and created a DIY Cookie Decorating Kit to help fight boredom and have a nice snack when stuck at home during the shutdown. My wife, Emily, said, “why can’t we do something like that?” We began doing a search for balloon projects to see what we could come up with that would stay on brand. It was then the “Balloon Boredom Buster Kit” was born.
My assistant created a website for us while I went on to develop the kit and my wife and kids helped to create videos and pictures for marketing. We sold quite a few of them at first, but once things began opening back up most of our marketing went back to the larger displays and dealerships to try to get them back. I learned about yard art from Balloon Boss Mastermind, so I began focusing on learning more about what I could do with balloons instead of just focusing on standard columns, clusters (topiaries), and arches for dealerships.
For the past 10 years, that is really all I have known and haven’t grown much beyond that until Covid hit the world. Covid took me outside of my comfort zone and forced me to do things differently. I’ve had more fun creating balloon displays in the last nine months than I think I’ve had in the last 9 years.
My current website, at the time, was not set up for online sales. Because my assistant created a great website for the BBB’s I set her on the task to begin transforming our main website and combining all of our offerings on one site. Now, we have a new website at www.BalloonManLLC.com where our different services and store items can be ordered or requested. Once things started opening up, we realized we needed more work for my Dallas/Ft. Worth team member. I decided to hire a part-time sales person to help with cold calling dealerships and event centers to see about building that area back up. I lost my Houston decorator in March, so my DFW decorator began making the trip once a week to Houston, as well as taking care of his DFW territory. I was also able to hire a part-time decorator in my Austin/San Antonio territory. We now have four part-time employees, (my wife included who does payroll and some minor bookkeeping) and two full-time employees, (including myself).
What is a top Take Away from Balloon Boss Mastermind Membership?
BBM got my brain rolling. Seeing all of the beautiful displays the other members do helped me to stay in business through the Covid shutdowns. Not only did I get ideas, but BBM helped me to promote my business and new displays with the shared marketing materials in the albums. I love the community of the BBM group.
In my world, it’s always been very cutthroat. There are some larger national companies that service dealerships across the country that have taken clients from me by undercutting prices. I’ve even had a company offer my clients free balloons for a year because one of their clients decided to switch to my services when they weren’t being taken care of. I’m very grateful for the kindness and generosity of the other decorators in the group. I’ve been a part of a business coaching group for over 5 years now, and it’s great to see there is an industry-specific coaching group that can help me build my business in a very direct way.
How did it feel when you got the call from Amazon?
I was ecstatic! I had just learned through BBM that having a $10k + balloon decor client is a feasible thing. Then, out of nowhere, I got a call from Amazon asking me to do a large display for them. It wasn’t $10k, but it was still the biggest client I had ever bid a single display for. Dealerships can easily be a $2k client over the course of a year. This was right around there with only one install! I couldn’t believe it! I called “all hands on deck!”.
My DFW decorator came down to help build for the day. My assistant and salesperson came up as well. We spent hours working together to create the biggest garland (coming in at about 40′ long and 7′ tall) I had ever done, plus a couple of arches and five “PRIME” columns. This was a celebration for Balloon Man for sure! In speaking to my contact there, she said they typically do one display about every quarter.
Well, we are two months in and we have already done four displays with another on the horizon before New Year’s Eve. Now that I’ve done a few of the larger displays, it’s no longer “all hands on deck!”, but instead I might have one helper and give myself a little more time to prepare. It’s all a process and we’re learning as we go.
What are you most hopeful for in 2021 with your balloon biz?
This last quarter of 2020 we spent a lot of time working on processes and procedures. We’ve accomplished a lot, but we’re not quite where I want to be yet in that. Our goal is to be prepared for the explosive growth we believe we’re going to achieve in 2021.
My BHAG (Big Hairy Audacious Goal) for 2021 is to grow by at least 50% in 2021 while having all the processes in place to handle the extra work. It’s going to be a lot of work, but I believe I have the team in place to handle it. Once I get the DFW territory built up the way I would like, so that my decorator in that area has enough work to stop going to my Houston territory, I would like to hire in Houston and begin building that area up as well.
THANK YOU Bill for sharing your balloon business journey. I’m delighted that you have jumped into the training in Balloon Boss Mastermind and attracted new clients in the process. I can’t wait to see what this next year has in store for you and your team.