Sep 18, 2020
Charleston Balloon Company
A South Carolina retailer dedicated to everything related to balloons
Charleston Balloon Company is a niche retailer that specializes in balloons and everything related to balloons. Located in Charleston, South Carolina, the store is just minutes from the downtown area and pulls shoppers from a tri-county area; it is not uncommon for customers to drive an hour or so to visit the brick-and-mortar retailer.
Jill Shortreed, owner, CBA and senior designer, originally opened a small party and rental shop in 1998 in New Jersey. “We primarily rented character costumes, concession machines and jump castles. We sold a few select paper goods and offered some plain basic balloon options,” Shortreed shared. “In 2004, my husband was offered a job in South Carolina; we decided to liquidate the business and move to Charleston.”
The Charleston location offers great street visibility and its delivery vans are all over town, visually letting people know about its business. Shortreed utilizes Instagram and Facebook on a daily basis as another way to reach customers, and uses LinkedIn to reach her commercial/corporate clients. Shortreed even writes blogs two to three times a month to increase her visibility.
The business is a member of the local and state Chamber of Commerce and works with a marketing firm to handle SEO and Google accounts for its business. “My biggest form of marketing and most successful, is email marketing. Our point-of-sale and website capture email addresses that we then use for marketing campaigns,” she said.
All the merchandise offered is related to balloons. “We carry an assortment of plush used as bouquet anchors or in our Gift Stuffed Balloons. Confetti packs are offered to complement our Confetti Filled Balloons and show the range of colors that are available (we carry confetti by the bulk bags for filling balloons). Mugs and wine glasses are also used for bouquet anchors and fun impulse items. We carry packaged latex, balloons pumps, disposable helium tanks and Hi-Float for customers who want a more DIY experience,” she explained.
Charleston Balloon Co. is the only balloon shop in the area and is dedicated to helping customers. “It all begins in the shop with a friendly and sincere welcome, engaging with customers to find out what they are here for – which technically is NOT a balloon – they are there to celebrate or make someone feel special and that is what makes us different,” Shortreed said. “We bag every single order that leaves the shop, and carry it out and load it in the car. We also offer same day delivery if we have availability.”
After opening in Charleston, Shortreed was approached by Liz, a Qualatex representative, who introduced her to the Qualatex Balloon Network program. “One day she asked me if she could bring someone to our shop and do a training with our staff. I gladly accepted, little did I know that would change my view of balloons and what we could create with them,” she recalled.
“I find inspiration everywhere, the challenge with that is if I create something new it becomes very time consuming and must be documented so the staff can recreate it,” she shared. “We tend to offer the same 10-15 designs with color and embellishment changes. This way we are always consistent with our prices and designs. Once the staff is used to making these designs we can produce at a higher production rate, which means we can make a higher profit.”
Shortreed enjoys working with a mix of foil and latex balloons for her designs. “It adds a different feel and texture to designs especially with the organic designs,” she explained. The store carries over 3500 SKU’s of balloons. Most of the foils are Anagram and a majority of the latex balloons are from Qualatex.
“I do love the magic of the clear balloons. We carry an extensive stock of Deco Bubbles, Crystal Clearz and Aqua Balloons,” she said. For events, top sellers in balloon décor are the traditional column and arch designs, sometimes with an organic twist to the design. Also popular with customers are the giant latex with tassels and confetti options as well as the grab-and-go garlands, Shortreed noted.
The store’s best-sellers are its whimsical garlands, offered in six- and nine-foot length grab-and-go options. “We tested these and found that they work well for consumer transportation and ease of hanging. We have also found that the price points are attractive if a customer wants the look but does not have the budget for us to install it for them,” Shortreed emphasized.
During COVID-19, corporate events and weddings were canceled and Shortreed did refund customers who placed those celebrations on hold. As a result the business experienced a loss of revenue from events and even from helium tank rentals. She also opened an online shop for the business, has implemented curbside pickup and kept offering deliveries, which are up 30%.
Inside the store, she has implemented a few new safety measures to protect staff and customers: sneeze guards, no-contact payments, mask requirement and strict cleaning guidelines. Shortreed continues to offer curbside pickup and even installed a wireless doorbell for customers to use when they drive up to pick up the merchandise. Other notable differences include: customers are no longer able to bring in outside balloons for inflation, shoppers are not allowed to handle samples and hand sanitizer stations have been installed or customers and staff to utilize.
Milestones, such as baby showers, gender reveals, bachelorette parties and of course “big” birthdays — 1st, 16th, 21st and 100th birthdays — are the most celebrated at Charleston Balloon Co.
Tips from Charleston Balloon Co.
- Show what you want to sell. If you only show low/basic ideas that is all you will sell — 90% of our displays are all high end. Customers are in awe when they walk into our shop and see the large displays because they are not used to seeing what can be done with balloons. By showing a display that has added upsell items to it that is what the customer is drawn to and they have nothing else to compare it to except what they see at the grocery store or on a wall at a party store.
- When customers ask for the price of an item and it is higher than they anticipated, we offer the suggestions of the smaller version, or start removing some of the elaborate piece. Most of the time they end up adding them back in — it is not unusual for a customer to actually end up spending more than what they thought was “expensive” because we explain and educate on how long items will float, how they can reuse a balloon, etc.