Even though Amy Veltman, managing partner of It’s My Party in Dyer, Ind., is jokingly referred to as a “balloon dork” or “latex loony,” she doesn’t mind. In fact, she thinks fun is the key to success, so it’s not uncommon to see employees wearing balloon hats and laughing with customers or actively involved with the community.
“I came into the store with a background in social work, education and marketing – no retail experience – so the first six months were brutal and I felt like I was spinning my wheels and always one step behind,” Veltman said. “But staying organized, learning from our first year and living by a calendar has really helped. My marketing background has helped create a visible presence of the store in the community.”
Whether it’s through social media, affiliations with local organizations or the “Twist Table” in the store for children to use and create balloon hats or animals of their own, Veltman makes sure to get It’s My Party noticed.
It’s My Party was opened in November 2008 as a 3,000-square-foot store with a tiny four-foot balloon counter. But after about six months the direction of the store went more toward balloons, and they have since expanded to 4,500 square feet of party supplies with one-third of the store used primarily for balloons.
“Our balloon area has two eight-foot counters and one four-foot counter,” Veltman said. “For every theme in the store, we have pictures of matching balloon decor. We keep balloon floor displays fresh, always have a column on display, a tower, a tabletop column and several other designs.”
Window displays are also kept fresh and new. They recently put two eight foot clown sculptures in the window along with some items from the new Creative Converting pattern “Under the Big Top,” and the very next day they sold four clown sculptures to a school that was having a circus-themed carnival. Veltman offered to twist balloons at their event, and they let her set up a table and distribute flyers to everyone there. This gave her the opportunity to speak to dozens of families and give out coupons to come visit the store.
“Each week I write a weekly column in our local newspaper about a different theme or party planning idea,” she added. “This drives a lot of traffic into our store and gives people ideas on how to use our products, which leads to increased sales.”
They have a school/church fundraising program and give a percentage back to the school or church. In return, the school or church does the advertising for them through their newsletters, bulletins and announcements. They also donate a gift in a balloon to local schools for events and raffles and hold weekly classes for children and large groups such as Girl Scouts or church groups.
“We’re actively involved in two different chambers of commerce and whenever we go to a chamber event, we bring the party,” Veltman added. “We bring a balloon column or a gift in a balloon to raffle off and decorate for their events, charging only for our cost of materials and labor. We use the chambers to get out our e-mail blasts to notify members of specials, classes and upcoming holidays.”
They also have strong relationships with local bars, restaurants and halls that hold bridal or baby showers and other events that call for balloons, visiting them weekly and bringing a bouquet, thanking them and dropping off more flyers.
Veltman said their Facebook page has been a huge help as well. They’ve had numerous situations in which people who have never set foot in the store have placed a balloon order and paid for it over the phone based on the pictures that they have seen on Facebook.
“We have over 400 fans who receive our updates, so it’s a quick way to let them know about new products, contests, events, specials and class schedules,” Veltman said. “Our fans tell their friends and they post their photos, so our customers are our No. 1 referral source.
Therefore, we always strive to provide the best customer service, the very best balloons and the largest assortment of party supplies possible.”
Veltman has one full time employee doing 10 hours a week of marketing, coordinating all large events, creating end cap displays and merchandising the store, while three other part time people share the duties of store clerk, balloon counter, stocking, cleaning, inventory and deliveries.
A member of the Qualatex Balloon Network, Veltman is currently working on taking the Certified Balloon Artist exam and makes sure that staff education is ongoing.
“When I came back from Balloon Camp and Twist and Shout, I taught everyone everything I learned and gave employees time to ‘play’ with balloons – a chance to be creative,” Veltman said. “We have about 10 arrangements that I require be ‘fresh’ and on display every day of the week and everyone knows how to do these designs.”
She recommends you train staff to do balloon columns or balloon towers with link-o-loons quickly (they have goals on how much time it should take to do these items) so you can “mass produce” big quantities of these items for your orders and make a profit. Plus, if it separates you from your competition, your customers will be amazingly loyal.
“Balloon sales are one-third of our sales because we’re different!” Veltman said. “Nobody else around us sells Qualatex Bubble Balloons, so we typically sell 10-15 a day. By putting a cute little bow on them made out of 160Q’s, we can charge a premium and it’s our best mark-up in the store.
“And buy imprinted latex balloons that your customers can’t find anywhere else and you’ll be surprised at the result,” she added. “Animal prints, tie-dyed and baby shower imprinted latex balloons are great sellers.”
She also suggests making the investment in the right equipment, as it saves time and makes the finished product look so much more professional. For example, before they purchased their Conwin Precision Air Inflator, it took them 10 minutes to do a column that now takes just five.
But even though the right equipment makes things a bit easier, it doesn’t mean they don’t still face a variety of challenges – most notably, customers looking for bargain prices and competition from the big-box stores.
“We’ve overcome customers with a ‘dollar store mentality’ by bringing in a nice assortment of colored and patterned plates, cups and napkins that we can sell for only $1 and have two fixtures in the front of our store with $1 clearance items as well,” Veltman said.
Big-box stores that are able to sell licensed products for less than Veltman can buy them for present another challenge, but they’ve overcome this by being different and using balloons.
“If we lose the sale on the plates or napkins, we’ll still get a $15 sale because customers love our coordinating balloon designs,” Veltman said. “We know we can’t compete with their prices, so we just do our best to be different and develop loyalty and a pleasant shopping experience so that it’s worth it for our customers to spend an extra dollar with us.”
In other words, it’s their party and they’ll sell what they want to.