In most areas, if you are going to charge per balloon you must have a vendors license or permit.
Some of the following comments include amounts of money in the
imaginary unit called "C-shells." These units are used to avoid
any hint of illegal price fixing in the balloon industry.
In addition to the Guide, the following books provide information
about selling balloons for money:
You'll find reviews in the
Books, Magazines, Videos, and Other Resources chapter.
- Balloon Biz, by Norm Barnhart
- Balloon Busking, by Bob Brown and John Morrissy
- Inflation Information, by Frank Thurston
- Making Inflation Work For You, by T. Myers
- Professional Portfolio for Balloon Artists by Bruce Kalver
- Insider's Secrets to Working Restaurants by Mark Nilsen
- Out Of The Part Time Frying Pan And Into The Full-time Fire by Marvin Hardy
- Welcome to the world of balloon vending. First of all, are you
looking to earn extra income or to market your business? Although,
not impossible, combining the two can be difficult. You never know
what your sales will be, but we have sold as much as 6000 C-shells
worth in one day to as little as 60 C-shells worth, this of course
varies with the size of the fair/festival.
- In most areas, if you are going to charge per balloon you
must have a vendors license or permit. If you are being paid
by the folks in charge of the area to make the balloons with
the agreement that you are going to charge for them, I think
this would probably cover this problem.
- To technically 'charge' for a balloon, you need a seller's permit.
This type of paperwork is not worth it in the long run, in my
opinion. Whatever you decide to do, remember your target market.
- Some city ordinances say that ballooning for tips is the same
as vending. They require the vendor to move every hour, and
stipulate that you cannot make balloons in a parking lot,
civic area, plus many other restrictions. Some counties
require you to have a permit for vending. Selling balloons
may require a business license and paying sales tax. A
vendor may be required to have vendor's insurance which costs
more than entertainers insurance.
- I sell balloons in restaurants and bars on a regular basis to
help with the bills. It's not uncommon for me to make 40 to 60
C-shells in two hours in a Frishes or Perkins. Sometimes as much as
300 a night going around like a rose seller to the bars. I don't
think that this is something very many of you do as I have traveled
extensively throughout the US (using this method alone to pay for
the trip) and have rarely ever been in a place where someone said:
Hey, So-and-so does balloons like that.
- If you charge for the balloons, 4 out of 5 people whose balloon
pops WILL come back for repairs. They think,"I paid $$$ for
this thing!! I'm getting it fixed!!!" On the other hand, if
you're working for tips, 4 out of 5 people won't come back. They
think, "Hey, it was fun. I got enjoyment out of it."
- I don't charge per balloon (vending) because I still prefer to be
entertainment and not a vendor. Vendors usually have to pay
for the spot, so even though you may collect more money, you
can still walk away with less. Also, if I work for tips,
I can pack up and leave with little loss if an event isn't going
- Pricing is hard to figure. It seems to be different in
different parts of the country. A sign that says $1 can scare
people off even when they would be happy to give you that and more
as a tip.
- Vending 260's at Sporting Events: You can imprint 260's and
they look great!! Call any vendor that sells the imprinting
from Pioneer. They are reasonable and we pre-blow and sell them.
Give a few away to a few kids early on. Once others see them, you
can't move fast enough to supply the people standing there with
money in their hands! I hire a few teens to wear my logo shirts and
aprons. They are armed with balloons and change and business cards!
Remember to wear sneakers!
- Want to twist in the park? Go to the City Permits Department
(usually associated with the Parks Department) and request a permit.
It probably won't cost more than 20.00 bucks per day, and they are
the ones that know where you're allowed to do balloons for tips or
to sell. I have done balloons and other types of entertaining at the
Houston City Zoo in Hermann Park (a city park) and that's how they
go about letting people do this there.
Vending Balloons at Fairs
- To increase your sales, be prepared:
- Precut all your string (a cotton, waxed string works best,
ribbon tangles and is generally not biodegradable).
- Pre-inflate all 5" latex duplets tied into Geo Blossoms,
(our best seller). Just fill with helium on site. We always
use a tank stand.
- Wrap your tent/booth with a net, leave a draped opening
for yourself to keep balloons corralled.
- Keep your booth simple, uncrowded. You never know what your
actual fair site will look like. If you are going to decorate,
add something high to catch peple attention like an arch,
jumbo balloons, a floating heart etc.
- We've found we sell a lot more balloons by vending (an employee
with a money apron or pouch, carrying 30-50 balloons, either in
front of our booth or throughout fairgrounds).
- Learn to tie a slip knot, this keeps the child from losing the
- We always guarantee our balloons and offer an exchange for lost
or popped balloons. People are more willing to buy and we've found
that we rarely have to replace balloons.
- Geo Blossoms, Geo Blossoms, Geo Blossoms with 5" duplets
through the middle.
- Other successful sellers include a 16" or 18" print around
(spray decorated, stars, etc.) stuffed with a standard or jewel tone
11" (spray decorated, mickey patterns, agates) This is simpler and
just as effective as gumball balloons.
- Any Winnie the Pooh product. We can't keep these in stock,
from the 14" foils to the big 32", these have consistently outsold
any other character balloon we have tried.
These are some highlights. I believe there was also article in
Images in 1995 regarding this subject. As far as marketing your
company, bring lots of business cards to hand out and a clipboard
for people to sign up for your "mailing list" and don't forget the
other vendors at the fair... you never know. Happy vending.
- We have done fairs and farmer's markets, and the item that seems to sell
the best are the 16" clears with the 260Qs and 5" assorted colors inside.
People like to watch us make them as well. To attract kids to our booth
we tie air walker characters to the table and let them fly out to the
walk way and dangle around. The hottest selling ones for us are the dog,
the tweety bird and the taz. Many people will want to just buy a single
balloon for their kids - we try to sell the 16" in bright colors. Is the
kids show near any kind of holiday - if it is near "back to school" you
could decorate your booth accordingly (big crayons made out of balloons),
if it is near halloween, pass out imprinted orange and black balloons.
- When I work festivals where there are going to be lots of kids, I do
mostly single balloon figures or hats. I've found that I can keep the folks
interested, and I don't lose business while a group waits on a complex figure
to be completed. I generally charge one C-shell per balloon and wear a pin that
states the fee. I also try to alter
the figures so that the kids can were them on their wrists... this way, Mom
and Dad don't have to schlep the balloon around and the parents are almost
always very grateful.
- There are twisters that do well out of a booth with fancy
figures on display and cheap plastic stuff or inflatibles or rockets
or yoyo balloons or craft type items like an angel stick with balloon wings.
- Having a bunch of stuff to sell means you have to sell it, and it is hard
to work a line (twisting) and sell other stuff. Get a non-twister to help.
There are also people who get 4 twisters in a booth and crank balloons at a
price but it takes a sea-of-heads type crowd to work.
- When we first got into balloons we did craft shows, parades and
festivals. We sold a lot of foils and a lot of 16" latex with stars
around or spray decorated. Basically anything with characters or
designs on them went well. Some days were great and others not so
great. We were told that Sunday is the best day, but we always
did better on Saturday. It is always a chance on what
to buy and how much. I would say make sure anything you buy for
this one function you can sell other times of the year as well.
- Most of the multi balloon stuff that I do is
at craft shows and such, where you can set a price and/or haggle over a
price with a customer -- but I usually don't have a huge line waiting for
- At a street fair type of situation I'd charge for the balloons.
At least a C-shell for the first balloon and 0.5 C-shells for each
additional balloon. If you can do something creative that is very
nice & takes a while to make I'd usually charge more for it.
- I don't want to seem cold and calculating but if a flea market,
carnival, picnic, auto show or whatever is selling hot dogs, drinks
etc. I charge for balloons.
- In my case, it depends on the venue. Some street fairs as such
will provide quite an amount from tips alone, while others (doing
catered affairs for example) call for a paid salary.
- I've also done, price per piece to individuals, and charged the
same way -- based on my average tip per piece--and that was fine
too. Some folks gave more and some folks were turned off by the
price. My creations were only one or two balloons each.
- My question - does anybody charge by the piece?
You bet! We do several events that we charge by the balloon.
Depending on the event it might vary from 0.5 to 1 C-shell per
balloon. We do a local art fair every year, the proceeds from
ballooning are split 50/50 with the art group. They also hire us
for a show at regular fees, so it works well for us.
- Are there I.R.S. concerns?
There are always IRS concerns in a business where cash is the only
medium. Whether working for tips, charging by the hour or by the
balloon. I am a firm believer in being honest even with the IRS.
However, I also keep very good records of my income and expenses to
support the losses I take on my taxes.
- What are the other pros and cons?
You have to make sure that the fee is known. When doing this type
of event, you want to make sure there are signs with the charges in
prominent places. We usually put ourselves by a tent that we can
put signs up on. We also, like anyone working for tips, salt the
audience. Right after setting up, if there are not people around
us, we will make some larger balloon creations, a hat or other multi
and give it away. That way people (well they are little people, I
think) will see them and come looking for us. We do bigger things
so people will not think everything should be a one balloon
sculpture. The little person will say to the big person "I want
that thing with the three or four balloons in it! If his big person
can afford it, my big person should be able to also." OK, they
don't say that word for word, but you get the idea.
- On the con side, you need to make sure you have enough change
on you and have to keep making change. Murphy's law says that the
first 10 people will hand you a 20 C-shell bill for a 3 C-shell
sculpture and don't expect the rest for a tip. Last event at the art
show, we had to go looking twice for change. Its amazing how many
vendors don't like giving their singles away. We have asked the
organizers to have extra in case we need it. It also helps them
since they get half. This is a big drawback though. Working on an
hourly basis or even tips, you really do not have to stop. Not to
many tippers expect change, but for some reason when charging by the
balloon they do. It would be nice to have someone to collect the
money for you, but we never have.
- I have made arrangements to set up my cart at several farmer's
markets. I charge the customers and then pay a percentage (usually
10 percent) of what I collect as a space rental fee. At one market,
I am the only kid-oriented vendor and families pick up their
children from school and go right to the farmers market. I have
regular customers who are allowed to 'buy' from me weekly. I also
give away coloring pages and word-find games (with my name and
phone number) to anyone who is interested. At $.02 each or less,
the give away pages are great advertising. I don't give away
balloons, they have a value.
- We did a booth at a carnival a few years ago selling balloons
and novelties and have regretted it ever since! We too were told we
could make lots of money selling balloons in the midway! Our
experience was that our costs were quite high, so we knew we would
have to charge more for balloons at the carnival than we do in our
shop. People who go to these fair type events seem to think that
the balloons should be FREE! They don't understand that they have
to pay for balloons and then when the balloons cost more than usual,
they really don't get it. We found that we could not sell foil
balloons because they were way too expensive. We did best with just
plain old 11" latex and some marble or imprinted balloons.
Basically we didn't do well with it at all! Maybe in your area, it
will be different. Just be careful how many balloons you blow up in
advance in anticipation of sales. You have to have a big bunch
inflated to attract attention, but don't over do it. Good luck to
- Make sure no helium balloon goes unweighted (I see so many
festival vendors selling unweighted mylars and latex balloons... see
The California Law section)
- Vending latex balloons outdoors has been very profitable for us.
Obviously if you have poor weather, your sales will be off (as will most
other vendors in the festival), you can do nothing but try again at the next festival.
As far as people releasing balloons, are vendors are taught to tie a slip knot
(with one hand while holding 30-50 16" latex) and place the balloons on the
child's wrist. If they are vending foils, every balloon sold has a plastic
weight tied to the attached ribbon before handing to customer. (We are
looking forward to trying the new speed clip weights this summer).
If the customer chooses to release the balloon at this point, then we have
done all we can. Most don't want to waste 5 "dubloonies" just to let go of
their balloon. If the customer loses the balloon by accident (due to a poorly
tied knot, or an overactive child), we replace it for free, no questions
asked. We replace approximately one balloon for every 1000 sold, so we don't
take a loss, and it creates tremendous good will for our customers.
- I have these great plastic rings (as in jewelry) that I want to use
to tie each balloon individually so the kids can put the ring on their
fingers and the balloon goes with them.
- If it were me doing this (tying 300 balloons in groups of ten) I would tie
the ring onto the string at the desired length, leaving a tail of 12" -
15". I would then tie the tail onto the sand weight. When they want the
balloons loose, they grab all the strings and cut the ribbons just below
the rings. Simple and quick!
- When a customer wants a single balloon weighted - we found that a
1/2" Zinc Cut washer securely holds an 11" latex. We buy these in 5 lb
boxes and they cost us about .06 a piece. Generally we dump the
box - spread them out and give a quick spray with some Design
Master in an assortment of Primary & Pastel colors. A lot of our
customers are daycare centers that order large quantities for the
kids at holidays. They love them because they fit perfectly on a
child's finger and no one is crying because their balloon got away.
- Mylar balloons are printed with a water-soluable/non-toxic ink.
If you are not COMPLETELY enclosed, or if someone spills a soda near
your display, you're in trouble! We have an easy-up tent and I felt
reasonably protected, but, the wind was blowing rain into our tent
and the mylars bled and almost all were ruined. We only offer balloon
twisting and face painting at festivals now.
- Also, if things are slow and you are not getting enough attention,
write something catchy on a three foot round balloon in big bright
letters and float it as high as you can safely tether it. You can
use vinyl lettering if you like (I do signage, so I hand lettered
mine: just make sure it looks professional). The big balloon saved
the fair for us, everyone wanted to to find out what was so special
that it merited a giant balloon.
- I am most happy to provide decor so we don't need to hang
around all day... just make, set-up, strike.
- The yo-yo balloons are one of the best sellers at outdoor fairs
- everyone just loves them and I always run out of them! I have
averaged about 300 pieces a day and figured about 30-50% of the
children were purchasing them. Not bad since they have a high
profit margin. I have had some success selling 16" decorated laytex
balloons or 16" balloons with an 11" balloon inside. You can
charge more for them because they are large and impressive. By far
the best sellers are the "Glasshouse balloons" that Treb Heining
helped develop. You stuff them with a 16" decorated balloon and
people can't get enough! Especially when you tell them that they
float for a week! Also they don't oxidize in the hot sun - they
remain crystal clear forever. They have been selling the
"Glasshouse" balloon at Disneyland for a few years with great
- I know a festival here that I would KILL to be able to sell my
balloons at. There is a long waiting list. I know of a festival here
in Gilroy, CA where one balloon lady was paying $500 for a booth
for 3 days. She was selling mainly mylar balloons, and in only 3
days she would sell $12,000 worth. That was where the money was.