The Decorating Business
All of us old hands at the balloon biz were once in the same predicament as you find yourself now. Where do I start? How much money will I need? Who are the Suppliers? Where can I get trade information? Who can be trusted? ……. What a mine field!
*STARTING/RUNNING A BALLOON BUSINESS QUOTE TO START SECTION BUSINESS DECISIONS STARTING OUT PARTNERSHIPS HOME BASED BUSINESSES / STOREFRONT? "FTD" STYLE NETWORK FOR BALLOON DELIVERIES BUSINESS NAMES CONVEY A PROFESSIONAL IMAGE TAXES SALES TAX INSURANCE BALLOON VEHICLES PHONE ISSUES FOR HOME-BASED BIZ PAYING HIRED HELP TRAINING HELP THEFT CONTINGENCY PLANNING TAKING CHARGE (CARDS)
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.
*STARTING/RUNNING A BALLOON BUSINESS QUOTE TO START SECTION: It is VERY easy to get into the Balloon Biz, but the trick is STAYING in business! That takes dedication, talent, committment to constant education and professionalism. BUSINESS DECISIONS You talk about the desire to get into the balloon business as a "retailer" .... a "distributor" ..... and finally, as a balloon "decorator". All 3 are quite different. Not often do all 3 operate successfully under the one roof. It is quite common to see an individual or partnership operate as retailers AND decorators. Again, I must say, that these 2 fields in the balloon business demand separate and special attention to each disipline. One can be a talented balloon artist and decorator, yet fall way short of cutting it as a clever retailer. Retailing demands much more than just puting stock on shelves and standing behind a cash register! Likewise, being a success at balloon decorating is much, much more than creating terrific garland designs and gorgeous centrepieces. Business savy is gold! To be a "distributor" usually infers that you supply a specific product line to retailers and decorators on behalf of the manufacturer. eg; my company distributes balloons, helium, and many balloon accessory items in Australia. As a "distributor", my company does not also retail and/or offer a balloon decorating service. As a distributor, my first obligation is to increase and broaden market share for the manufacturers of the products. Not to service my local town with balloons. Retailers and decorators do that with the products I supply to them. So ..... I suggest you research each thoroughly, and choose according to the following; Decorating (homebased) .... minimum capital outlay. Regular education classes are a must. Retailing (depending on location) ..... large capital outlay. Also, trade education a must. Distributor (depending on product) .... usually demands that you have large stock storage facility and reasonable levels of liquidity. Do not attempt this without years of industry experience and solid financial support. Most manufacturers refrain from appointing distributors who also retail. You could start by research at the following; QBN education program. Your local Chamber of Commerce. Your government agency to assist small business. Attend balloon conventions STARTING OUT All of us old hands at the balloon biz were once in the same predicament as you find yourself now. Where do I start? How much money will I need? Who are the Suppliers? Where can I get trade information? Who can be trusted? ....... What a mine field! The question of how much money ...... boy? Don't want to send you around in circles or sound like a wise guy but ..... that's up to you! At the end of the day, what you pay .... is what you get! Start by asking yourself." How much can I afford to invest?" Remember, you are not spending .... you are INVESTING in a business. You "spend" on hobbies. You "invest" in a business.Make no mistake, the balloon industry and the people in it, traet this issue very seriously nowadays. Balloon decor has gone way beyond something you can do "part time". Customers demand service to suit their time schedule, not yours. Obviously, you will need a minimum level of stock and equipment. Elect inflator, Helium, regulators, glue, board, latex, foils, heat sealers ........ I could fill pages. Are you planning on being home based? In retail / commercial premises? You will need a fax machine, accounting software, dedicated business phone line/s .... work benches, shelving, ladder, framing rod, hand truck, credit card facilities, filing .... on it goes. Please don't be put off by this. The point I'm trying to make is that regardless of your "entry level" to the balloon industry, you need to do a LOT of homework first. You don't want to jump in too soon, only to find it will cost you a considerable amount more ..... simply to stay in and survive. I want you to stay with us if you decide to jump in because failed newbies tarnish the percieved longevity and image of this fabulous business in the eyes of the business world. There are publications such as WWS, B"P, PPR Images and BNFT. I'm sure the editors of each of them will email you in private, as they all read the BHQ. Please, go to your nearest Qualatex distributor and ask about the QBN education program. Buy video tape #1 and go from there. Conwin carbonics now have a selection of video tapes available. Also, watch this list and register for every beginner level class or seminar you can attend. Money well spent. Believe me! Finally ..... Balloon Heaven! The annual pilgrimage of the world's most dedicated and talented balloon professionals is known as IBAC. (International Balloon Artist's Convention) From March 1st 2000 in Las Vegas. Four days of teaching, learning, watching, building, creating, partying, networking, and most importantly .... SHARING! Start saving to be there. I hope to see you in a class I have been invited to present called, "Starting a Balloon Business". You will learn more at IBAC in 4 days, than you will learn outside IBAC in 4 years. It's easy to get excited about a business opportunity, but as with any business, research your market carefully. Drive around your town and notice how many stores/shops offer balloons. It's like buying a car. You never realized how many of that brand were on the road until you had a specific interest, ya' know? Suddenly they're everywhere. Strange things (both good and bad) can happen to anyone at anytime. There are quite a number of responsibilities one inherits when going into business. One of the biggest responsibilities (besides acting like a professional) is having good BUSINESS sense and practices. Like any other business (in this day and age) you need a good lawyer, a good accountant, advertising rep and good insurance coverage. All of the above relates directly to the old adage " you gotta' spend money to make money." Yes, all of these business needs cost money, but if good people and programs are selected wisely for your business, it is almost always money well spent.
How To Become A Balloon Decorator
- Subscribe to the balloon decorators mailing list on Balloon HQ.
- Subscribe to Images Magazine.
- Find balloon wholesalers in your area. (look in the yellow pages or the business to business yellow pages). Many balloon distributors (not the party stores) will have more information on any local chapters of the Qualatex Balloon Network which are starting to pop up all over the place. Also they may have information on any seminars that may be held in your area.
- Read anything and everything you can get your hands on regarding balloon decorating.
Festivities publications puts out some good (although slightly dated) books on the subject.
Festivities is the publisher of Balloons and Parties Today, a party magazine, and other balloon related books and video’s. Their address is: Festivities Publications, 1205 W Forsyth St., Jacksonville, FL 32204-9912.
You might want to get the book "Building a Better Balloon Business" by Debra Paulk. It's a classic. FESTIVITIES PUBLICATIONS industry mags, books, videos, Jubilee promoters 1205 W. FORSYTH ST. JACKSONVILLE, FL 32204 PH 904 634 1902 http://www.festivities-pub.com/ PARTNERSHIPS Certainly you need a "pre-nup" before you form a partnership, including - What happens if: * one of you dies * one of you becomes permanently disabled * one of you becomes temporarily disabled * one of you wants to leave the business * one of you wants the other one to leave the business and every other situation that you can possibly think of. Also, consider incorporating. Each partner can be held totally responsible for the debts of a company. That would mean that you would be responsible for anything she does or commits to and she would have the same responsibility for your actions. A partnership should be handled by a lawyer, who may be able to suggest alternatives. Regarding partnerships, my experiences have taught me to "just say NO". There are of course exceptions to every rule. The most important ingredient in a successful partnership, beyond the obvious sharing of responsibility and work, is that you must both be better off together than apart. This has to be true for the long term too. Since many partnerships seem to go bad at some point it is critical to draw up a partnership agreement with a good lawyer that provides an out for each of you. One useful clause would allow partner A to offer an amount to buy out partner B, but A would have to be prepared to sell if A counter offers to buy at the same price. Also, I believe many partnerships don't reach their full potential because the individuals didn't identify the strengths of each party and delegate work roles accordingly. So often, I hear business partners say to each other, "I thought you were going to order that stuff?" Reply..... "I thought you ordered it!" Too much valuable time is wasted by duplicating (or completely overlooking) tasks. In partnerships, it must be very clear to BOTH parties, who does what! Responsibilities to each other - and to the business. The trick here is to "balance" the workload / responsibilities between the two partners. There is always the risk that one partner feels that the other partner does less work for equal financial reward. Then, you gotta have trust and faith in the ability of your partner to deliver their share of those responsibilities. Again, it's a waste of time if you need to regularly "check" that your partner ordered the helium and organised for the casual staff to swap shifts. Likewise, it is counterproductive for each of you to "take turns" visiting your regular corporate clients. This has to be the responsibility of the partner who does it best.... not necessarily the one who likes it most! Might sound corny but..... I'd have nothing - without the talents, skills and devotion of my business partner. She feels the same about her business partner. I guess that's why it works! Trust, Talent, Devotion, Comfort, Communication and Understanding. It is just like getting "married" all over again. And ain't that a frightening thought????? I would NEVER go into a partnership again! The work load is never equal, disagreements when you want a new piece of equipment and she doesn't, who wins and the list goes on and on. Consider all the things you have built up by yourself and then ask yourself if you really are willing to share all of that with someone else? My suggestion would be to reward good employees, pay them well so they're not tempted to leave and go somewhere else, give them titles, praise them alot and keep it at that - no partners. RE: Your idea to enter into a partnership with your florist friend: I describe myself as a "cautious optimist" in business. I always look for positive things in opportunity, my competitors, my clients, students, my suppliers .... everything. But I like to think that I am also not a blind fool when it comes to business decisions. In being "cautious" I now spend a great deal of time analyzing important commercial decisions before I act. So, how does this relate to your situation? Ask yourself the following questions; When balloon artists and florists share the same target market, (weddings, mother's day etc) wouldn't they compete for the same dollar from time to time? What if the balloon decorator wins the client's order at the expense of the florist (partner)? eg; ... she came into shop for floral arrangements ..... saw balloons, and changed her mind. If the balloon decorator generates 65% of the total business turnover .... is the florist likely to exile her partner and begin balloon decor in her own right - with the established premises - and the skills she has learned from the balloon decor partnership? Vis Versa? If I'm bringing in 65% of the turnover, why should I settle for only 50% of the profits? The decorator will spend much more time away from the retail premises than the florist. (Site measure, on site decorating, site inspections, retrieving framework ....) Will the florist begin to feel that she is STUCK in the shop? A phone answering service for the balloon decorator? "How come I have to field all your phone calls?" "You're never here .... it isn't fair!" And if it IS a great working partnership .... How old are each of you? Is it possible that one will wish to retire from the work force 5 or 10 years before the other? What happens then? What if the florist wants to "bail out" and sell their share of the partnership ... and the decorator can't afford to pay the amount the florist is asking? As an outsider looking in - with around 20 years experience in small business, having suffered a partnership bust-up, and for the past 8 years working in a "dream" partnership - I would say, "Do your homework!" Around 80% of partnerships are disolved because one party believes they are carrying the majority of the burdens for only 50% of the profits. Of course, there are a number of ways to overcome / address each of these obstacles and both go in with your eyes wide open. I strongly recommend that you spend as much time on drafting the details of how to disolve the partnership agreement, as you do on how to work within the life of the agreement. Neither of you have a desire to finish with financial problems as "baggage". Just as bad .... neither of you would want to finish without a continuing friendship. In most sucessful partnerships, the partners actually play quite separate roles within the business. Analyze the real skills and talents of each. If you BOTH have great customer skills, artistic flair, and accounts skills ...... who will learn how to do the marketing? Who will oversee training of casual staff? Who will negotiate the supply deals? Who will attend business education seminars? Which partner needs to brush up on telephone sales skills? It's a waste of resourses (time) for both partners to be involved in ALL responsibilities. I'm just playing the devil's advocate. OK? I'm not trying to discourage you. Teaming with a florist does make a lot of sense .... on paper. But I think it would need to be a very "special" kind of understanding between the two parties. Hope you have already considered all of my notations ..... discounted all of them .... and you go on to make a small fortune. HOME BASED BUSINESSES / STOREFRONT? > My husband and I are strongly debating > the issues of opening up a retail store. We want some expert advice > on how any of you got started with financing, realtors, vendors, shop > fixtures and placement of product, etc. We have had our business in our > home for 2 years now and the market up here is growing economically. We > are still in the infant stages of doing research but would appreciate > any info from folks who are already in a retail shop. Thanks and please > feel free to e-mail me privately at: email@example.com. You might like to visit the Party & Paper Retailer website at http://www.partypaper.com and go to the "Global Connections" page. They have an article there on Dolly and me, http://www.partypaper.com/trade/GlobalConnections/shoptalk.htm how we got started in balloons & party, our background, marketing policies etc etc. What we found out (often the hard way) and how we adapted. for those who aren't getting at least 3 or more balloon deliveries PER DAY , even though they live in a reasonably large town/city. You are definately disadvantaged by being home based. Reason; "potential" customers never see a sample of your delivery balloons when they are buying decor balloons. No showroom.... No impulse buying - No memory of seeing gorgeous balloons recently at "(your name)". So.... how do you work from home, and still get those balloon delivery orders? Three critically important factors; 1. Get a professional to help you design THE BEST yellow pages ad. The investment is worth it! 2. Brush up on your telephone manner and sales skills. The yellow pages investment is wasted if you can't convert that telephone enquiry into a SALE. Make sure every call is answered by a human being.... 16 hours of the day. Sound Professional- Sound Interested - Sound Polite - Let them "hear" you smiling! Answering machines can't do these things... and NEVER get orders. 3. The delivery must be memorable in presentation AND appearance. What makes your delivery bouquet different from the rest of the balloons around town? Home based business has it's advantages. But, it also comes with some disadvantages. If you have applied all of the above, and still aren't getting the orders.... Don't spend another cent on chasing delivery business. Specialise in another facet of the balloon business. Wedding Decor? Corporate? Auto dealers? Imprinting? Have your advertising dollars targeted on the business you KNOW you can get..... rather than the business you WISH you had. Do your homework..... and when you are convinced you KNOW how to get into new lines of business, invest some of the profit you earned from what you do best. Stop for a hour every day and think about how you will work "on your business", and not be bogged down constantly by being the slave forever working "in the business." To anyone who wishes to open a store front: You need to carefully consider the circumstances. While it does give you many advantages to own your own business and have a store front it does have some serious disadvantages. For example, I do enjoy the luxury of makining my own hours on a daily basis, however, I know too that it is my name on everything that goes out of my shop, be it balloons or flowers. So I have to plan ahead for the luxury. Also when you let staff run things for you when you execute the luxury, keep in mind they need time off too. I try to see to it the staff has Sun. off. That means any Sun. work has to be dealt with by me or my wife. You have to do this to keep the staff happy to work for you. The other side of the coin means if you are cosiderate of staffers, they will give you full support if you do something like go to IBAC. They will repay you in that way. If you are trying to have a store front without any help, do yourself a favor and hire someone to assist in deliveries, at least. If you open a store you can't be in two places at the same time, and that circumstance will happen more often than you would think. Lastly, be prepared to include you overhead costs in your pricing. ZMany home based turned retail businesses forget about that, and it will eat all profits away. capitalization - When you have a business, are you prepared with enough money to keep marketing going? Do you have enough stashed away, or borrowed (friends, loans, etc.) to keep the business floating until it's paying for itself? What about money for insurances, vehicles, payroll, TAXES (payroll, property, Business Improvement Districts, etc.)? It's nice to want a store-front, but having enough money to keep it going is an issue that should be considered BEFORE getting the store. My biggest mistake has been scrambling for marketing money. If time were rolled back, I would write the business plan with lots of dollars in the marketing and advertising pot. Instead, I focused on paying the monthly fixed bills: rent, payroll, insurances, other overhead. A consultant we worked with for a couple years put it this way: marketing & selling should be 5 times production. For every person working in the store, it's ideal to have 5 working as telemarketers or salesmen (not order takers), networkers, promoters, etc. etc. Most of us don't have this many bodies, but strive for a higher ratio of marketing to production than you're used to. I want to see our balloon artist industry survive. We need to think like large businesses. I have found much resistance to this idea from tiny businesses. But having been a tiny business, and now a bigger small business, I can't say it enough. Don't forget the marketing and advertising. Keep working on it all the time, even when sales are high. Find this money ahead of time. Or, one day there won't be a business. We started our decorating business 9 years ago while working out of our home. We, too, had a fire in our hearts to open a storefront as that is what we thought one had to do in order to be "successful". We also had all the problems that have been discussed here about our business taking over our house, our kids, our lives, etc. For this reason, we made the big step of opening a storefront about 2 years after we started our business. I won't be redundant and repeat all the headaches we had....because we had them ALL. Everything negative you've read about storefronts happened to us, with the addition that we DIDN'T enjoy all the people coming and going from our shop, dealing with the displays, etc. Because of this, we decided (after we had gone deeply in debt to open the storefront and keep it running), we would close our storefront and concentrate only on the decorating end of things. We then rented a small, but very nice, commercial space with a nice showroom and office area in the front and an air- conditioned finished warehouse in the back. Not only did we have tons more space to work in, but our rent was cut virtually in half of what the same space cost us for our storefront, including having a fully air-conditioned showroom AND warehouse. We have never once regretted our decision. However, many people love doing the retail, others love the decorating. I think you need to decide for yourself what you want to do. A nice, well-decorated showroom/office area, gives you as much credibility with clients as a retail storefront. We found that our decor customers were coming to us because of our product, our service and our reputation. We didn't need a retail storefront any more! But, we would compromise our professional image if we invited corporate clients to our house. One thing commercial premises say to a client is; STABILITY. Many company executives assume you are working from home because you can't afford to pay rent. Could we afford to risk that? How much of our time would be consumed every day in driving to the client's workplace or venue for impromptu meetings? The analysis of our business identified that what it needed to grow was NEITHER a retail storefront, nor a homebased business. SOLUTION - Commercial premises that presented a professional image, a showroom, big workroom/warehouse area, customer parking at the door AND office space. The BONUS - lower rental per sq foot of space as well. Let me tell you, a lot of people in the balloon industry in Australia thought we were crazy when we moved out of retail premises 3 years ago. They're either crazy, or need to pay a lower rent! We heard all the rumours about our unauthodox decission and pending doom. Well, Dolly is still around and growing strong..... many retail balloon businesses have disappeared in that time. Fact is, Dolly's lease is up, so I am looking to buy our own, larger building this time. I am not saying that Storefronts are not the way to go! I am not tossing a big negative at homebase! What I am saying is; THINK LATERALLY ....... there may be a third or forth alternative. (as Lindy Bell and Dolly discovered) Just because your competitor or your associates in your QBN Chapter swear by their methods or commercial decissions, it shouldn't limit you to following the two alternatives. The #1 criteria in choosing your premises must be to ensure that the premises will allow you to work in a manner that will best serve your type of customers, with the products and services you offer. The last sentence is the key. ...Read it again! If homebase will deliver that result, then work from home! If you want to offer balloons, novelties and partyware, then (maybe) you need a storefront? If your target is tizzy brides with lots of money, or IBM, Coca Cola and Warner Bros Studios..... then possibly something else is ideal? Customise your business to serve your target market.... INCLUDING the choice of your business premises. It isn't always easy. It demands a lot of patience and hard work. But, it will pay off - for those that do their homework - FIRST. Incidently, I am currently working from a homebase. Have done so for the past 5 months. It is a temporary solution whilst we search for a suitable building, that will house both of our quite separate operations. I do enjoy the home comforts and flexibilities it offers. I can honestly say that I have worked in the balloon business from all 3 types of business premises mentioned above. At the end of the day, I personally think that home should be where you can "retreat" to your family and hobbies and relaxation. If your business can't afford the overhead of paying rent, maybe you should write it into your new business plan. Although I never owned my own storefront, I worked for a chain of party supply stores as an assistant manger before starting my own business. From that experience, I learned I did not want the hassles of a retail store. I started my business out of a very small apartment, (I've seen walk in closets that were bigger than my office). I found that I was able to meet most clients at the event site, the rest I met at restaurants. Fortunately I live in a retail/commercial area, so my address at least sounded like a business location. The point being, we overcame obstacles as they arose. Most jobs I prepped in my family room and built on site. As we grew and produced larger jobs, I was able to borrow, beg, and rent temporary locations for a day, week whatever we needed. We also rented a storage unit to hold frames, props, etc. For three years we did whatever it took to work our business. It was a hassle having to setup new work space everytime, but it was good exercise for my husband hauling tanks, base plates, etc in and out, from the storage unit, to the van, to the production site, to the job, you get the picture. (He was "thrilled" every time I a booked a new "workout" routine for him.) By taking on larger jobs and being creative with production space, we eventually were able to afford to move into an office/warehouse and now have everything in one location. (YEAH!!!) We don't have to keep regular office hours (thank goodness, as a lot of our jobs are setup or torn down overnight). We work some long days, but the hours are flexible, AND we have our bedroom back, free from balloons, ribbon and everthing else. To sum up, be creative, bootstrap your business if you have to. Most towns now have small business incubators where you can rent small offices, conference rooms, etc. very reasonably, even for a few hours. Look for vacant commercial property, you might find an agent who would like to make a little money renting it to you for the weekend of your big job. Invest in a van with your logo to transport your wonderful designs. Then when you have a steady cash flow, consider a non-home based site, if that is what you want for your buinsess. I think the a decision of homebased vs storefront should be made after doing a business plan (you won't get much financing without one anyway). Look at who is out there selling balloons, decor or party supplies etc...How many are there? where are they? Who do they sell to and who do you want to sell to? If you are just starting out(ie have been in business for 2 years or less) and want to open a store to get credibility, it can be a high price to pay. I started working out of the home 1.5 years ago doing decor. So far I have been able to get job where I created dragons, palm trees, giant rabbits etc.. Credibility comes from your jobs and then your portfolio. When I first started, I was afraid of lack of credibility myself, so I went after store display decor because I had to meet the owners on site. A phone call (free) led to a meeting and then that led to a job. For example, If you contact one chain store and get a job, soon you will be doing them all (if they like your art). I contacted event organisers (that's free too) who have ties with the corporate world and got jobs by showing them my work. There is a balloon store near me and they don't really seem to get the creative jobs I get to do.A storefront doesn't guarantee you'll be called for the fun jobs. So, I've found that you can get some credibility without a storefront but often you must go to them (the clients). The best of both worlds s eems to be the office\warehouse concept mentionned by others (for people who do decor anyway). There is space to work in, the price is right (rent) and you have a place to receive clients. That's what I will be aiming at. no one has mentioned the 3 things that everyone knows are vital to a successful storefront business.They are location, location and LOCATION. I think a valid point when considering homebased or storefront is what is right for you at this point in your business and your life (they do overlap). When my husband and I had our store front we had no children and not many constraints on our time. We also survived on very little cash income and it was very stressful to our marriage as well. I now remind him that he was like a "caged animal" at the mercy of opening and closing times and getting frustrated when business was slow. We looked at where the majority of our business was coming from and that was in decorating. We did have the odd impulse buyer, but not often enough to constitute keeping a store front. Decorating meant to us that we had all of our work in one day of the week. We have 2 children now (one is only 9 weeks old) and we have built a decorating reputation so most of work is word of mouth. We work from home. If anyone needs to see examples of work, I print off photos of my work from the computer and send a formatted letter. This method has worked out great for now! the idea of an office site with workshop/warehouse sounds like the perfect solution...(not so much for people to come look at your work, but for storage and assembly of decoration)...I think a van is probably the 1st investment to make though. a store front adds more credibility to your business and has more customer 'impact' than a home-based operation. Have you thought about the possibility of sharing a store with an existing business? If you could find one willing to split their premises with you, in return for perhaps half the rent or whatever (depending on what proportion of the space you needed), this would be a cheaper and less risky way of starting off in the store business. I'm sure there must be a few existing store owners out there who might have more space than they really need and would consider sub-letting part of their floor space to you. Obviously it would be better to find one in a related business such as a florist or party store, as you would then have a ready-made supply of potential customers too! Of course the main problem would be finding one in the first place! Maybe you could place an ad in the local newspaper(s) asking if any suitable store owners would be interested in such a proposal. At the same time you could actually go round and visit some of these people on foot and ask them directly. Be careful as there are risks in shared space. Many leases do not allow subleasing. Make sure the property owner or manager is aware of what is happening. Often there is an agreement for right of first refusal so that you can buy (or sell out to) the hosting business. Allow for termination. If they want you out, you want to make sure that they won't compete against you. Best to get the agreement in writing. It helps if the business is related but not direct competition. An example is where you sell balloons in a florist shop. I know of a deli that opened in a corner of a liquor store. When the liquor store went bankrupt he was given 20 days to move out or sell to the new operator of the liquor store. (he sold out cheaply and lost his investment). The landlord claimed that the subletting was a breach of the lease and the operator of the liquor store was bankrupt - no money. His agreement was written on one piece of paper. In another case where one business was related to the other -- if you outgrow or decide to move, customers will still go to the old location. For example if you sell balloons in a flower shop and then move on. The flower shop can expand to sell balloons and compete with you since customers are already used to going there. And the operator will have picked up a lot of the knowledge of running the business from watching you. Also, you don't want the main store occupant to decide that they can operate your business and don't need you. The landlord may not even know who you are. These can be sticky sometimes but can also be lucrative. Just be careful and allow for contingencies. There are other ways to move your homebased business out of your home for credibility. When I found out that I couldn't have my business out of my home because of a homeowners association, I was devastated. Then after a couple of months I decided that a storefront wasn't what I wanted and I rented a small office in an office building. It was very small and I never intended on staying there all day for regular hours. So I got call forwarding and a cell phone. After a couple of years I needed more space so rented the adjoining room. After a couple more years I needed more space so in October I moved to a space that is 3x as large. I still don't have store hours. I take my cell phone everywhere and it works for me. Most of my orders are repeat customers, referrals or out of the phone book. This way I have the freedom to do what I want when I want and still have a credible place to meet with clients. Also the rent in an office building is much less that the rent for a storefront. I not sure about other store fronts, but I feel the American dream of owning your own store is a nightmare. Sure, when things are going well it's a joy. But get sick or have legal problems and you can lose everything. My store front used to be my pride. Then I got sick (it can happen to you) and had to depend on others. I was ripped off and stabbed in the back. I lost my cars, my house, my health insurance. I still have my store front and I am just now getting back on my feet. If you decide to open a store front, don't do it alone. Make sure you have someone to take over if something happens to you. Be prepared to give up everything for it. Finally, be sure you pray a lot; the pressures can be unreal. Sorry to be so negative. I just don't want others to go into this store front stuff without all the details. The money is the least of your worries. I feel if you're making enough out of your home then count your blessings. Bigger is not always better. I started out homebased and opened a store about a year later. It took 12 hours a day, 6 days a week. I had to have an employee (even though I had a working partner) so that all of the deliveries got out on time and so someone was there to watch the shop while we were out doing all of the decorating work. My kids were most often underfoot in my workroom just so I got to see them. We did well in sales compared to most new businesses but when all was said and done, by the time we paid the employee, the rent, the insurance, the utilities, and a multitude of other expenses that go into a storefront, we really did not make any more profit than we did working half the hours at home. I sold out to my partner when my husband got transferred to another state, and swore I would find a find an office to operate out of and never have a storefront again. I am very happy like this now. But with all of that having been said :-) if I had the money to invest and the good health to take it I would probably open a balloon/floral/gift shop again. Have I lost my mind? Maybe. But I love the pace; the people who walk through the door, the constantly changing displays, the calculating, predicting, planning and guessing that is required to just keep your head above water. What it comes down to is what you want from your life and career. Don't expect to get rich. Actually you stand a better chance of showing a profit from a home based business quicker since you won't have as much overhead. And if time with your family is a top priority then be careful going into a storefront. But it can also be a blast! As a distributor of Qualatex and party goods, I've heard lots of pros and cons about storefronts. Personally, I would think that a store in a mall (usually expensive rent) with such a narrow product line wouldn't be my first choice. Most people we do business with who sell balloons from a store front get into other party supplies as well. Many have later gone into a home based setup for their balloon sales. They may have lost the walk-in traffic but their outside advertising still gets them most of the delivery and deco jobs and they've realized that the business that they lost never would have paid those high rent payments anyway. I hope that I don't sound too negative - different locations can produce different results. - Thinking of moving into a mall? One word ..... demographics. Go to your local library or govt department that records demographics for the area where this mall is situated. The mall managers usually have this info up to date. Then, just make sure that the product Mum offers is what will attract the typical shopper in that mall. Maybe it's juvenile foils? Maybe it's African American designs? Maybe the people that shop in that mall can't afford balloon decor and need to be offered helium rentals? Maybe they are familiar with 3 other local balloonies and need to be attracted with a unique visual display ? Maybe 65% are student shoppers that need to hear music and see various party themes? Bottom line .... you gotta know everthing about your potential customer (victim) and her buying habits before you can draw her into your web. Her average age, number of kids, income, heritage, customs, paid monthly or weekly, did she arrive by public transport (you need to deliver) or .... drove her car. (balloons to go) Does she spend on a social life, or is she a full time career workaholic? If the latter .... you display corpt logos, photos of company Xmas parties and show imprinting samples. Get the idea? Notice I refered to "her" as your typical customer. With balloons this is usually the case. Maybe in your Mum's part of the mall 75% of the shoppers are men because of the nearby liquor store and tobaconist next door? She won't know till she does some research. Don't make the mistake of saying her customers are, "all of the above". You can cater to all of the above if you wish. But, in order to attract most of the shoppers in the mall into your premises at some time, you need to "merchandise" properly to the profile of your most typical customer. Merchandising basically means strategically placing or showing appealing product. Naturally.... "appealing" product means product that will make a customer STOP and look closely. Catering to ALL potential balloon customers is a costly exercise in overstocking product range. Might I suggest, that if your Mum is specialising in balloon decor, then statistics from the US, UK and Australia show that a large retail mall is probably not the best place to be set up. There are some exceptions. Strip shops with lots of parking for her and the kids - IDEAL for balloon retailers. Other than vending (an impulse purchase), balloons tend to be a "destination purchase". Customer decides she needs to buy balloons, so she picks up the yellow pages to find where she has to go to buy them.... or she recalls driving past a balloon shop somewhere..... or she asks her sister .... many do their balloon shopping over the phone. The customer who wants to buy a shirt, goes to a mall to window shop and try it on for size. She knows that there will be lots of shirt shops to choose from. Balloon decorating is more akin to being a "service indusrty" rather than an "off the shelf" retail business. You don't need to pay big retail rent. Just like the plumber doesn't need to be alongside J C Penny. See the difference? We started with a retail store. If you are interested in the research and decissions that brought about our changes over the years, you can read an article about our business in the upcoming August issue of "Party & Paper Retailer" magazine. - I've never openend a store front myself, but common sense suggests that certain factors will have an influence upon how successful any particular business might be. So here are just a few thoughts (in no particular order; and I'm ready and willing to be shot down in flames by those 'old-timers' if necessary!) - Firstly, yes, one week is not very long in the life of a store business. It will probably take months or even years for the shop to become ESTABLISHED as a 'known' outlet for balloons/decor. LOCATION is possibly the most important factor in the success of any retail shop outlet. With balloons in particular, I would say a shop on a busy high street with plenty of passing traffic, preferably with some customer parking spaces, is the ideal. The balloon business thrives on 'customer impact', so a corner plot is better still. The less immediate and far reaching your store's impact, the slower will be the expansion of the business. When you open a new shop, it's important to have some form of ancillary advertising for PUBLICITY purposes. Has your mom done anything in that respect? (Eg. local newspaper, radio, leaflet drop). Combined with a 'special opening offer', the right advertising can give a new shop a helpful kickstart. And of course once people are *in* the store, PRODUCT choice and MERCHANDISING play a vital role in securing people's money. Not to mention the general perceived image of the store itself! The list goes on. Overall, a very daunting task, and certainly not one for the faint-hearted, lazy, or shoe-string budgeted! However, I would say there is nothing more exciting or more rewarding in business than building from scratch a successful and well known shop business, where people will eventually be beating a path to your door! - Your evaluation of mall rent vs sales/profits was right on target for us - and then there's the loss of time with your family because of all those horrendous hours that have to be staffed with 2 employees if you even want to dent the bouquet delivery market. A definite consideration (if you want to deal with those "hour requirements") would be to trade decor for a center court space at Valentine's Day and Mother's Day. We would profit more in those two weekends than for two months of regular sales. Save your time, energy and talent for what you enjoy and for profitable activities that don't take 14 hours a day. We've found that two decorating jobs on a weekend can clear us more than 7 days of running a storefront. The only complication is that one is run ragged doing 4-5 large jobs in a single day, but now there's enough time to prep everything beforehand. - I had a kiosk in a major mall in my area. Thought it was the perfect location. Did balloonwrap, vended balloons, bouquets and small gifts. For me it was a disaster financially, but some good things did come about from being there. I'm in NY, don't know about rents in other areas of the country. I was paying $600.00 a week, had to be open during all mall hours (consequently had to pay employees). During holidays, Valentine's, Easter, etc. had business like you wouldn't believe, but everything I made in those periods was eaten up in overhead the rest of the time. You have to sell an awful lot of balloons to make a profit in a situation like that, there was competition from card stores (2 in the mall), discount store (99 cent balloons), and three gift stores selling balloons. There were strict rules and regulations about what I could sell, couldn't add let's say T-shirts to my line. What I did gain that was invaluble was exposure and recognition, but I paid a high price for it. I had my portfolio displayed, my bouquets and balloonwrap were unique, other places sold balloons, but not like mine. I gained decor customers and repeat customers for my balloonwrap and bouquets. I work from home now, my customers have no problem coming to me or I go to them. Now, it's been about 3 years since I left the mall, I still get calls from people who say they remember me from when I was there. I concentrate on decor, even though I do deliveries, it's not my main business. Recently placed an add in the yellow pages (expensive) but it's paying off, people call! Had a bold listing at first, not much response, the display ad works. One week is not long to tell how your business will do, if your mom is doing well with her T-shirts, she should give the balloon portion of the business some time to catch on. I guess it's just a decision of whether you prefer retail selling or balloon decorating. If your major focus is decorating, with the proper advertising and networking you probably can do better working fron home. I have found that living in the country, I have had to become more resourceful to survive, and I'm sure you have discovered this too. Have you considered doing a "store-share"? In exchange for a moderate amount of space in, let's say a card or gift shop, you will pay them back 10% (or so) and since your business is complimentary to theirs, you would actually be good for them, and not a competitor. Let them know, that you are professional & insured, reliable...etc. Offer them a 30 day no obligation "trial", to see if this is something that will work for both of you, and go from there. Remember, not everyone will "warm" to the idea, so expect "no's", but be ready to jump on it, when you do get their interest, cuz, if they like the idea, they really like the idea! Use that 30 days to show your stuff & to proove to them....that you ARE good for their business, they have just increased inventory & service without costing themselves a dime! & making 10-15% to boot! one needs to quantify and analyse all aspects when making any commercial decision. Big or small. Do your homework. DON'T RUSH IT! Apply an honest and open S.W.O.T. analysis to the proposal. No padding, optimism, guesses, hopes and ignoring what you don't want to see. Be honest with yourself. List all of the; STRENGTHS:- WEAKNESSES:- OPPORTUNITIES:- THREATS:- When you finish this exercise, simply apply the following rule; "If you still have doubts - DON'T." "FTD" STYLE NETWORK FOR BALLOON DELIVERIES Balloon Dispatch is like FTD or Teleflora that flower shops have. You can offer a service of being able to fill orders outside your immediate area. Another shop does the balloon arrangement and delivers it and you get the invoice amount! I am working on an a standardized internet balloon balloon delivery system for any decorators that do balloon deliveries. visit http://www.btlinc.com we will be using the qualatexx countertop display book as the medium to join companies around the world. If you have this book or need info on how to get it and have a genuine interest in balloon deliveries email me at firstname.lastname@example.org "BALLOON BOUQUETS" For direct contact with "The Original Balloon Delivery and Decorating Service", New York City Office, call Balloon Bouquets of New York at 212-265-5252. You can visit the parent website at: http://www.balloonbouquets.com/ Joseph A. DelVecchio Vice President Balloon Bouquets, Inc BALLOON BOUQUETS BALLOON BOUQUETS, INC. "The Original Balloon Delivery And Decorating Service" http://www.balloonbouquets.com 202-785-1290 * 800-424-2323 * 202-835-0232 FAX 500 23rd Street, NW Washington, DC 20037 US This service is one of the first and foremost type of balloon services of it's kind. We have been a part of their network for several years. We have had steady work from it but not huge amounts of orders. However, I don't believe you can just sign up to be on their network. As it works for us, you have to "buy" towns to serve. You can only "buy" into these towns if they are available, as only one company can be recommended through the network for each town to own. The rate for each town is based on it's population. You are billed quarterly for the towns you "own" or serve. Balloon Bouquets does do a lot of yellow pages advertising for the network. They receive the 800 calls and tell the caller who services the town they wish to have balloons sent to. The customer then has to call the recommended business who "owns" that particular town. Sounds odd but it does work. Joe has always been available, very reasonable and friendly to deal with. He runs a well respected company and I believe they own the only legal rights to use the phrase "balloon bouquets". Be careful! This same company contacted us a few years ago--sent us 3 or 4 applications for us to "join". Finally, we sent one in. Next letter we received from them states we must remove all "balloon bouquet" wording from our advertising or we'll be sued! They have legally registered "balloon bouquets" and can sue you for using it. The Company known as Balloon Bouquets does own the trademark, unless someone fights them and wins which is unlikely. They have been in business for more than 20 years and were one of the first balloon businesses and one of the ones that actually helped us all by being featured on some TV morning shows way back when. We can argue about the term Balloon B..... being generic, but they did do the legal work 20+ years ago to trademark it. I am NOT defending them, but it is kind of like us all getting into the gelatin dessert business and advertising it as Jello, which is a trademark. We have never used the term "Balloon Bo....ts" in our advertising, business cards or any materials, but we did receive a letter back in the early 80's from them threatening action for use of that term. They properly sent them to any balloon company. What we have done in advertising is to use the term "Helium Bouquets" in conjunction with terms balloon delivery and balloon decorating. Others have used the term "Balloon Bokay." Back in 1995 I received a letter via certified mail from Balloon Bouquets, Inc. which stated: "revise your advertising so as not to include the words BALLOON BOUQUETS which is our registered trademark. We filed for federal trademark registration on Nov. 7, 1979 and certificate of reg. was issued June 2, 1981. We have spent substantial sums advertising our trademark, and creating visibility and good will. It is essential to the integrity of our trademark that unauthorized use be discontinued... An independent businessperson such as yourself can operate very effectively using various terms to convey to your customers information about the services you provide, without reference to BALLOON BOUQUETS, such as BALLOONS, BALLOONS DELIVERED, BALLOON ARRANGEMENTS, BALLOON DELIVERIES, BALLOONS AND _____ DELIVERED... As a result of our litigation, firms willfully using our trademark have had judgments entered against them providing for the payment of damages to us and court costs, and are enjoined from using our trademark....." Then they go on to say that they hold the Maryland trademark registration as well (they threw that in there since I am located in Maryland). I then had to sign and return an acknowledgement stating that I will not willingly use BALLOON BOUQUETS in any form of advertising. My understanding of patent, trademark, copyright laws is that the holder must "protect" their trademark, etc. or risk losing it. They do not have a choice of who to sue. In fact, if it can be proven that they intentionally overlooked someone misusing/misrepresenting their trademark, then I believe that this again can be construed as not properly protecting it. We've all heard the stories of Disney, Pioneer/SDS, etc. but think about, if you took the time and money to create a trademark or copyright, wouldn't you do everything you could to maintain and protect it? Otherwise, why bother at all? Apparently this company made a conscious business move many years ago to be be in the balloon bouquet delivery service and it sounds as if they invested quite a bit of money and risk to make it take off. Yes, it sounds silly to sue someone over the use of a particular phrase, but if you don't want to be a part of their delivery service, create your own. Be different, compete against them. It doesn't mean that you can't be in the "balloon arrangement delivery service" or the "balloon bokay delivery service" or the "bunches of balloons tied to a really cool weight delivery service". The Qualatex Balloon Network (SM) Resource Manual (Exam #1), Glossary of Terms (page 14) says: "Balloon Bouquet (TM) - A trademarked name which cannot be used without permission from Balloon Bouquets Inc. of Washington, D.C." and "Bouquet of Balloons - A term which can be used to describe a group of balloons tied together to form a single bouquet." BUSINESS NAMES Over eight years ago we were writing down name after name , waking up in the middle of the night after dreaming about names, yellow pages search, balloon magazine browsing.... you name it! (pun) Finally, I decided that the best name was one that customers are willing to buy. Sort of like they pay more for a designer label. So we decided to use a VERB as our name, so that it could be used in our promotional throw-away lines. eg; "Celebrating" on your wedding day. Your party shop is "Celebrating" and so on. Employees could answer the phone, "Celebrating with Suzie.... how can I help you today?" or... "Hello, we're Celebrating.... are you?" The BEST thing about our name is that we get big runs of our own custom printed balloons with our logo on them and SELL them at the same price as other printed balloons. eg; "Celebrating ........(blank)......Birthday" The customer fills in the name and age on a blank white patch. We also have a "Celebrating Christmas" design, a "Celebrating Your 21st" design, 40th, 50th,etc. (21st is a major event b'day Downunder) These special balloon prints not only remind the customer of our unique name and logo design...... it also gives us a point of difference from our competitors. They only stock manufacturers print designs! They have to give away their balloons with "Ajax Balloon Shop", because customers see it as a promotional balloon, rather than a message balloon. Our name will also allow us to diversify (if we wish) into anything that is related to the hospitality, gift, floral and balloon industries. The down side is that we get a lot of calls for party hire equipment. A couple of years ago, when I decided to persue the education, publications and wholesale side of the industry, we simply chose a name that reflected the type of work we did. It was more the "business" side of the industry... hence "Business of Balloons". NOT - "Balloon Business" because we wanted to emphasize that we were "trade" and not a retail operation. It seems to work, I don't get retail enquiries. Do you like "Balloons@Work"? That is the registered name of the national trade newsletter which we publish in Australia. I figured the play on words and the internet connection with"@" was really cool. So many readers have called me just to say how they liked the new name. Might work for a balloon business that specialised in office parties and deliveries to office buildings? aka "Balloons At Work" ??? The best business names make it crystal clear to a potential customer, what line of biz you are in. The not so good choice is to intentionally copy someone elses name. Search for inspiration.... not something to copy. Here is a sample of some names that I believe are well chosen. What do you think? "Balloons To Go"........ obviously they deliver balloons to you. "The Balloon Shop"...... simple, memorable, retail. "Balloon Decor" ........ what else, but a decorator! "Wubber Bubbles" ....... cute and obviously balloons. Probably specialise in kids parties? "I Do - Balloons" ....... Great, memorable, obviously a specialist in wedding decor. "Let's Party" .............. must be a party shop? By Australian law for registration of business names, others are not permitted to use your registered name without your written permission. Even with permission, the Dept. of Fair Trade can refuse someone to use a previously registered name. If someone copies your name (or similar), you gotta be able to prove you have actively traded by that name since..... Sept 199? Then you can take legal action to stop them trading.... and sue for compensation. I assume it's similar elsewhere???? Good Luck in your search for the name that will generate a few extra dollars for you. Because a good business name is one that also becomes a real commercial assett in itself. There's nothing to stop you naming your business whatever you like, providing you don't use the name of a company who have already officially registered that name in your country, or try to somehow 'confuse' your company with theirs. If you do, then you risk civil proceedings from that company (although that's still unlikely, unless they saw you as being a serious threat to their business). So basically, there's not too much to worry about. Just try to be original if you can, and if you later find that someone else is using the same name, that's too bad! So many businesses I hear about try to get cute with names, like Balloons and More, Plus. Huh? Or ABC Designs. Now that doesn't tell your customer anything. And the word "creative" is just so over used. My business used to be called "Balloon Express" until I decided that I wanted to go back into flowers. We couldn't justify the bride telling all her friends that Balloon Express did her floral bokays so we changed it to It's YOUR Party? Just a note about that name: first, it wasn't my idea but Doug's, and it is gratifying for me to be out in my yard as traffic goes by and I hear them singing "It's My Party!" when they see my sign. The only trouble with that name I have found is that people think I am a caterer. However, they do know that I am in the party business. We felt it was important to have a name that meant something to us and was easy to remember. We also did some seaching at the county recorders office, yellow pages, and BN directory to try and get something original. One of the things that we considered was that if someone had heard of us but wasn't sure about the name, it would be helpful to them in trying to find us if the first word was Balloon. Since our address is on Paradise Drive, we put all the the above things together and came up with Balloon Paradise. This seems to have worked for us. Concerning your new business name: once you have picked your name you then register your name at your county building. Tell them your need your D.B.A. ( Doing Business As). You will need this for business accounts, wholesale tax number and that reserves that name for you. CONVEY A PROFESSIONAL IMAGE be certain that your letterhead, business cards, envelopes, brochures, order blanks, quote forms, vehicles, etc. all follow the same printing style and logo format. Following that, uniforms of some sort, comfortable and in continuity with your stationery, business cards, van, etc. Make certain your business name is very large across the back of the shirt and that your personal name is on the front or sleeve so that people know who you are on site. Shirts, hats, jackets, and van lettering are great for building brand awareness and making impressions. These will help make you the first choice people think of for balloons ( but it takes time and networking) TAXES take the free IRS class on starting your own business. It only takes an afternoon and it is extremely(!!!!!!!) helpful for doing your taxes. Usually, if you are your only employee and you don't intend to get others, you'll be able to leave at the lunch break. The copious notes I took are really helpful when I do tax work. They answer questions as they go along and share information about groups in your community available to give with tax advice. What records should I keep? Whether you are using computer or manual methods, try this: find the appropriate IRS tax form that you will be using to determine profit/loss and go to the Business Expenses section. As an example look at Form 1040 Schedule C: http://ftp.fedworld.gov/pub/irs-pdf/f1040sc.pdf Now make your accounting categories the same as the Business Expenses categories on the tax form that applies to you. It sure saves a lot of work come tax time... If you are not sure which categories apply to you and which ones don't, or you want to know the tax rules for each category, ask your accountant or download the applicable publications from http://www.irs.ustreas.gov/ and start reading. I'm no accountant but I hope this helps, SALES TAX In our state sales tax is paid each month or for smaller companies (with permission of the State Tax Commission) it goes in quarterly. In Idaho you pay a late fee (min. $10) if you are late. Late fees can really add up. We kept an income log (now you can do it all by computer!) that was easy for us and made tax time easy and accurate! Five or more columns are created - each sale is divided out at the time the order is sold: Balloons Gifts/Base Delivery Tax Total If you have other profit centers - like costumes, flowers, party supply, etc - each can be added as a separate column. One good advantage is that after your first year you will be able to look back and see exactly where you made your money - where you lost money and what you need to order in your second year and every year after that for future growth. It also serves as an early warning system if a profit center of your business is about to take a nose-dive. Good luck - you are dealing with one of the most important thing concerning you and your business. You might want to talk to a good tax man or you could talk with a volunteer from SCORE - they are a great resource for new businesses. I really think the public expects to settle on a price and then pay the price plus tax. Whether you quote a flat fee including tax or however, you MUST keep accurate records or that "nightmare" will be very real very soon! Our price varies depending on how hard and how far the job is, but the price of the balloons is always the same and (if I understand you it's the same in your area) the tax is only on the goods and not on the service, so there's no hard figuring to do. I think you see that whichever way you do it, you need to price it according to what you need to cover costs and an appropriate profit. "Shop" your competitors (they're shopping you, I guarantee it!) and price yourself accordingly - don't sell yourself too cheaply! INSURANCE Liability Insurance. You are risking everything you have and own and everything you could potentially earn by not having it. I honestly believe it's foolish to be without it - you are almost planning for your business to fail. And why? It's just $ 260.00 for $1,000,000.00 per incident and $ 2,000,000.00 aggregate (per year) Call Ken Bomba here in Southern California; he handles most of the So. Calif. QBN's insurance policies. he was very helpful. I have called many about INS. quotes and so far none have been able to beat him... This covers you for just about everything. If a tank dropped and broke and acted like a missile jetting through your garage or on a job site. If your equipment is stolen out of your home or vehicle. Even if you broke someone's precious thing-a-ma-bobbie at their home. And on and on . . . the things we prefer to think never happen. Liability insurance: most homeowner's insurance does not cover businesses within the home, or if it does, it is on a very limited basis. I would highly recommend getting liability insurance to cover you and your equipment. I don't know where you are in California, but I would recommend Ken Bomba Insurance. He worked with RLI insurance company and produced a policy especially for homebased balloon decorators. He has been a member of our SoCAL QBN chapter for several years and is one of the nicest men you will deal with. If you don't get insurance through him, please get insurance somewhere!! One job accident or loss of equipment and "they" can go after your home, etc.
Home Owners/ Renters Insurance
When I looked for insurance, I checked with some independent agents that work with several different insurance companies. They check around and try to get you the best price and policy. One agent told me that I would be better off checking with my home owners policy insurance, since I worked out of my home. They were right. State Farm Insurance gave me the best policy for the price. around $250 a year for a million dollar policy. Not only do they cover me as a home-based business, but if I would someday move to a shop. The policy is a great policy and covers all of my equipment (owned or leased), products, products during transportation, inventory, signs, money at the site of the business, liability, and more. The best place is to check with your homeowners/renters insurance agent or with the insurance agent that covers your car (if they offer homeowners/rental insurance.
BALLOON VEHICLES We use a 15 passenger Ford e350 van. When we purchased it as a 1 year old vehicle, we had the dealer remove the brackets for the last 2 seats. When then removed an additional seat, but can put it in and out as needed for 8 passengers. The fourth seat directly behind the driver hold 3 people. So we can bring a crew of 5 plus a van full of inflated balloons and supplies. Being it is a passenger van it is finished inside and you don't have to worry about the balloons hitting metal as you would in a cargo van. We also use a GMC Suburban as an additional vehicle. Put a sign on it - not a magnetic sign (which may give the impression you're not seriously committed) - excellent, recognizable, noticeable lettering or graphics. If you do it right, people will remember your name and will come up to you while you're loading, unloading, etc. Drive it everywhere to give your business maximum exposure. ( If you put a magnetic sign advertising your balloon business on your car or van that you have now become a "commercial" vehicle and your car/van must be appropriately insured as "commercial". If you just have private car insurance and you get into an accident with the signs on your car your insurance may likely NOT PAY! ) I have been considering replacing my old minivan with an enclosed trailer. The advantages I can think of are, less insurance (right now I am insuring 3 vehicles for 2 drivers); I could transport tanks upright; no one could see my tools when it is parked. The disadvantages I can think of are parking and backing. BTW, I don't do deliveries, just decorating for weddings and corp events, so transporting inflated balloons is not a consideration. Reasons for a mini van (we've had both types): 1. Comfort; better ride, easier handling, easier to get in and out of. 2. Flexibility. We have the seats out almost all of the time, but there are those events done on site where one needs more staff and I'd rather have them with me. 3. Better visibility, fewer blindspots than a cargo van. Some suggestions: 1. Get power windows because when you're on a tollway and the van is jammed with balloons, it can be a crunch to get to the handle; 2. Get the largest vehicle you can (when we have a really huge job with time constraints, we simply rent a truck -our Dodge Caravan holds 150 11" balloons in bags comfortably for the balloons and us) 3. Get tinted windows (cooler, ettering works well on them) 4. Get a clock 5. Get a telephone installed 6. Get doors that all lock at once or all open 7. Get a center console (from manufacturer or at Sam's Club $70 ish - great place for forms, brochures, weights, pens, drinks, etc.) 7. Take the opportunity to upgrade your entire look by making the van color and lettering similar to your shirts, stationery, etc. 8. Buy the warranty package if you're certain you'll be keeping the van a long time. Normally, we wouldn't have considered it in a zillion years BUT because we knew we'd be keeping it a long time, we paid an extra $700 and have had more than $3,000 of work done at no cost to us; this could be because so many other people drive it. 9. And last, I'd suggest a white van because it stays cleaner looking longer, is easier to dab over the little dings and scratches that eventually occur, and it's easier to see on the road. PHONE ISSUES FOR HOME-BASED BIZ The phone company offers a service called "distinctive ring" or "RINGMATE." It requires only one line, but gives you two numbers. Each number rings your phone differently so you know if it is a business or personal call. In the beginning it was designed so parents could avoid having to take messages for their kids. It only costs about $5 more than just one number. My regular phone rings like this: ring.........ring.........ring......... The ringmate number sounds like this: ring-ring......... ring-ring.......... ring-ring...... Another advantage is that if you have small children that can not take messages, just tell them not to pick up the phone when it rings 2 times. This gives you a really professional image. It ALSO works with call waiting! If you tie it to an answering machine you can cover your calls even when on deliveries or decorating job! I have a separate line so I can get in the yellow pages as well. Some friends with home businesses have a home business phone plan where for a few dollars a month more you get a second number (but only one line) with a business listing, including one yellow page listing in the phone book. If you have a strictly a residential phone plan, you can usually have the name of your choice in the phone book. Maybe if your name is John Smith and your clown name is Bozo you could be listed as John "Bozo" Smith in the white pages. My home telephone is hooked up to my computer. I don't use it to talk on a regular basis. My "other" telephone line is considered my business phone so that I can get a line in the telephone book. Everyone calls me on this line. They ask for "Bizzy" or "The Clown" if they want to talk business. My children and husband are trained to be polite. But, just in case, I log the calls that come in through a caller I.D. If I don't recognize the phone number, I return the call as soon as I check the caller I.D.. I also have a pager hooked to my telephone. When I am away from the phone or the phone is busy, It transfers all calls to my pager. This makes it very easy to return calls quickly. If you work from home full time and stay very busy, what do you do about phone calls when you must be out for long periods of time, longer than makes sense to use an anwering machine? I checked into an answering service (so that, at least, a "live" person could answer.) But they can not take action on a phone call. Does anyone have any ideas? When ever I was away from my home based business I had my phone calls diverted to my cellphone. I paid for each call. This meant that I was always in touch with my clients. When ever I needed something done immediately like a delivery, I called a trusted 'competitor' and had them do the delivery. I billed the client, so the client remained mine. Sure the recipient had the competitiors card" on the delivery, but I found it was a win-win situation for me. When Royal and I are out of town whether on a large job or teaching or attending a convention, we change the tape on our machine. The tape says that we are out of town for whatever reason and that we will return on xyz date. We say that we will be checking our machine daily and if they would like to leave a message, will would be happy to call them back. Otherwise they can call back after we return. Those people who need an immediate reply will leave a message, but most will call back once you have returned. All of them will appreciate the notice. Many times when we have said that we were at a convention, that spurs more interest from them... "Balloon Artists have conventions? And you say you won a competition? Sure I'd love to see photos!!" This only makes you look better in the eyes of your client. PAYING HIRED HELP What is a fair way to pay employees that are on the job decorating? My business has grown to the point that I will be hiring additional employees for special event decorating. I have paid both by the job and by the hour and both work ok, although I get a lot more work out of people by the job than by the hour as they work faster!! Also, when quoting canopies...do you also figure in the extra labor? I have worked alone for too many years,I guess and now with just 2 helpers, but will have to add on now. I am home based, so there aren't any shop hours and I also do most of the balloon inflation (airfilled) ahead of time so they help with the actual construction and table decorations. I would appreciate any ideas that anyone has for this so I can "get it together" before I start hiring!! TRAINING HELP Two weeks ago, one of our key staff members left us to go work for one of the wholesalers. Recently some peers lost their "right hand man." Others in the industry were calling us to say how shocked they were, and that we would surely miss his skills. How would we cope without him? Stop and think for a minute! What would happen to your business if you got run over by a bus tomorrow? Sure, you may have life and / or accident insurance........ But, what would be the effect on the business itself? Would your family be able to sell it? Can your business run smoothly and effectively without YOU? All of this raises the question of "succession planning". Far too few of us in small business realise the importance of it. One of the best reasons to start a small business, is to sell that small business. All of us consider our business an asset. But it's not worth any more than your stock, until someone else sees VALUE in your business. Obviously, if you are a home based balloon decorator, YOU are the business. It just doesn't function without YOU! (or your partner) So..... even though you could have a solid customer base, without you and your personal touch, your "business" is just a name. It has no "physical presence" or image without - you! That makes it less appealing to a potential buyer of your business, should you decide to sell it one day. Don't climb all over me with objections yet! I haven't said that this is a bad thing! I simply wish to point it out to those who are (or may be soon) contemplating setting up a home based business. Homebased biz does have some advantages! Those of you out there who have retail premises and employ two or more staff must find it terribly difficult to take an annual vacation if you don't train your staff to also manage the business. There is a large balloon business here in Australia that closes it's doors for 3 weeks of the year so that the owners and staff can take annual leave. ??? That's 3 weeks of no turnover.... but they still have to pay rent! I suspect that part of the problem is that they do not train their staff to follow easy "systems" of management. Not the "secrets" of management.... the systems of management. How the filing is done, how the helium is ordered, how to pay the bills, how to prioritise the work flow, what to do in the event of a robbery. They may be of the school where you keep the employees well and truly in the dark about how a business functions. That way the staff won't set up shop against you! You see, if the "business" can run without you, then you have a more attractive asset to sell to a potential buyer, because they realise that they are less likely to lose the turnover and customer base you have built.... even after you are gone. The business and the "systems" that you designed within it, to make it a respected name, are what they are actually buying. They are buying your business "secrets" - which is how to design and run efficient small business systems that are tailored to the balloon industry. So... how did losing one of our senior employees affect our business? Because other members of the team have been trained in the same skills that he had, the other staff members were anxious to fill his shoes. We simply bring in a "newbie" at the lower level and gradually train them in a wide range of skills. (Not just how to sell balloons and operate the cash register. Remember... in business, no one is irreplaceable... not even the boss. Don Dixon is soooo right! I am a home based business,I have read the E Myth, and other business books. I believe I am a 'technician' that had an entrepreneurial moment! I am really good at the balloon side of the business, however I am still learning what it means to be the manager/planner/director. My goal is to be able to sell my business,however I am 'the business'. I find managing everything very difficult, yes I need systems, yes I need permanent staff, I really try hard, yet I don't have the capital and the time. I do feel like a mouse on a tread mill. I'd really like to do it all better/effectivly/efficiently. If anyone can offer any advise I would greatly appreciate it. Has anyone else out there been through the stages I describing, and moved through them? Perhaps some of you have started at home and then been able to move to retail? I'd love to hear how you did it! I am currently a home based business and I have been a store front. They both have their pros and cons but the thing that I could not have survived without is my support staff. Currently my husband helps me on the weekends, but I also have two helpers that work with me, and fortunately (or unfortunately however you look at it,) if I was hit by a bus tomorrow my "girls" are so well trained that they could take over without a hitch. I feel that a well trained staff is THE single most important part of a business. Because of them my family can take vacations without me stressing, if I have to go to a PTA workshop or a QBN meeting they are right there picking up the slack. They truly make the difference from doing balloons for a living and letting it take over my life. But at the same time I HAVE to point out, the reason (I feel) that my staff works so hard for me is because I try to treat them with respect. We have been together as a team for awhile now, so they have become extended family..... They know that on jobs they have the right to express their opinions, but I have the LAST say. Yes they get frustrated with me and I them and yes we have been known to "take it outside" (away from prying eyes not to fist fight) but I listen to their complaints and am ready to admit when I am wrong.....(like that ever happens lol). and they let me be free with my opinions. I respect them and in return they respect me. Over the years I have seen other balloon companies treat their support staff less than respectful and have seen that those same companies have had huge turnovers. I have had one girl with me for 6 years (almost since the begining,)and the other for 3 and I would put their skills agains any other company around.... We incorporated a "Noncompete Clause Contract" with our present employees approximately three years ago, as well as incorporating the contract as standard practice with any new employees. In a nutshell -- it confirms that an employee cannot work for another company or for themselves for a period of three years after their employment ceases with us. We have specified any special event/balloon or gift basket oriented companies. If you are interested in me faxing a copy to you, please e-mail me (Dyane Hedrick, DyHed@aol.com) privately. Be sure and check with your local attorney or CPA as to the length of time allowed in your state and the terminology. It is very rare that anything beyond 6 months will stand up in most of the US. Many contracts are written for longer periods but usually will be ruled excessive and limited to 6 months. And in some industries and the balloon business could well be determined to be one of them the non competes are ruled unenforceable and no waiting period is needed. The main purpose of the non compete may be to have the employee think it is enforceable. In addition to the balloon business that we have I also own a Computer Consulting company and have been legally advised and use a 6 month non compete contract in Massachusetts. In the balloon business we do not use a non compete contract. THEFT We were in a regional mall, in line, with an additional kiosk at center court for each holiday. Theft problems were kept to a minimum by greeting customers within 60 seconds of entry into our space, making eye contact (so they'd know you'd remember them), and pointing out some new or interesting item. Remember to secure your kiosk (pull in all merchandise and cover) and to leave your cash register drawer open (if it's closed, it might be interpreted as holding cash or a cash bank); it's also more expensive to replace a damaged register than a small cash bank. The people inside the mall after hours (employees of other stores, mall security) and before mall hours (walkers, delivery personnel, construction personnel) are usually the more likely shoplifters. However, in our experience, it was our young employees who traded a mylar balloon for a cookie where their friend was employed or rang up a no sale and pocketed the money. You really need to closely monitor your stock, your cash, and your register tapes. Make every "No sale", "Void", or "X reading" accountable and insist that every customer be given a register receipt. Make certain you have a duplicate tape of each day's transactions. Make each employee count the drawer before they begin using the cash register. Having been a district manager for 10+ years, supervising up to 28 retail specialty stores, I know that I can answer this question. . . . .. You can expect anywhere from 1 - 12% of your retail sales in shrinkage. Inventory shrinkage comes from shoplifting, employee theft, and operational issues (damaged merchandise, mistakes in paperwork, etc). Shoplifting happens in every store, regardless of location. There is no sterotypical shoplifter. I have caught and prosecuted all ages, socio-economic backgrounds, etc. Shoplifting happens whenever you give a thief an opportunity to steal from you. An attentive sales staff is the very best deterrent to shoplifting. Mirrors, signs, cameras, sensormatic tags, etc. help but they really only deter the amateur shoplifter. Employee theft almost always happens because the employee is disgruntled (for whatever reason) and they feel that you, the owner, owes them something. Unfortunately, I have had to deal with these issues, too. And, it is most unpleasant. CONTINGENCY PLANNING What do we do when the van breaks down? What can we do if our premises get robbed and trashed in the early hours of Friday morning? What would we do if there was a family emergency on Saturday morning? It's called "Contingency Planning". Sort of like a first aid kit for business. Just a few things you can do to build a contingency plan / file. 1) Join a roadside help auto club. 2) Build friendly working relationships with your local competitor/s. 3) Join a QBN Chapter - great for extra, experienced assistance in a crisis. 4) Give your business neighbour your home phone number. 5) ALWAYS have a cellular phone in every delivery van and on the site. 6) Train staff to be able to step into your shoes and LEAD .... rather than always follow. 7) Keep a list of "potential emergencies" and the appropriate name and number to contact. Keep this list nearby the phone ALWAYS. Let all staff know what it is for. 8) Back up your computer records at least weekly and store the disks in a fireproof safe. 9) Ask your key suppliers for their "emergency after hours number". (and don't abuse it) If you do use it, remember to send them something special for their helping you out of a jam. TAKING CHARGE (CARDS) Q) how do you collect money due on deliveries before they go out? Visa/MasterCard payment either prior to the delivery or at the time of the delivery. (somebody else beside the person accepting the gift is there to pay for the order.) It this day and age, if you have not collected the money beforehand, you'll regrettably find that principles like integrity and honesty seem to be forgotten words. In the past and in our infancy in order the help the client, we were sent to vacate lots, warehouses that were closed, and so on. Our policies soon changed. If is not paid for it does not go out no matter who it is. I have also found that big corporate clients are the slowest payers. We now have efpo's and that has saved and earned us money. The question ..... how to get money in for delivery balloons, BEFORE you send the balloons ....... when you don't have credit card facilities????? Options: 1. Go collect it from the customer. (too time consuming - expensive) 2. You ask the customer to post it to you right away ...... and trust them. (quite a risk) 3. You apply for home based credit card facilities. The problem with option 3 is that the banks are becoming more and more reluctant to provide this facility to home base businesses without a "financial track record" and the HB business operating for more than one year...... and/or capital security. Why? Because the banks know that most home based businesses are home based because they don't have the capital to open retail premises. They aren't silly! Remember; if the bank gives you credit card facilities .... THEY are taking the risk that the card holder will pay them for the balloons that were delivered. You've got your payment. So, it's a question of; who should take the risk? To put it bluntly, if one wants the advantages of home based - low overhead - flexible hours - no binding lease term contract - minimum capital outlay - then one of the small "prices" you pay is having to take the risk of not getting paid for phone orders. If you opt for the commercial premises - higher overhead - fixed hours - capital outlay - then you minimize your risk by having credit card facilities readily available. You get paid for every single phone order BEFORE it goes out. At the end of the day, it's the old ..... "you get what you pay for!" Please do not think for a moment that I am sympathetic to banks. I believe they are little more than licensed thieves! But I am a realist. All businesses should either eliminate risk, or ...... charge for the fact that you have to bear that financial risk. Someone will argue the case for, " but home based money is just as good as retail operator's money. Banks should see that!" Well, many banks disagree. Banks would rather service one "average" retail account than 3 home based business accounts, for the same total dollars transacted. Just like I prefer to make one $2000 sale, rather than 3 x $666 sales. We all know why - Right? The stats clearly show that commercial premises operators will generate a much, much, much higher average turnover than HB operators. So I hope this allows you to appreciate my opinion as to why you might find it difficult to get HB credit card facilities. It's commercial reality! A vicious cycle! I do believe that there are some banking institutions in the USA who do continue to provide such a service for HB. Good luck in finding one. Otherwise, you gotta take the risk! For homebased businesses looking for ways to collect the money visa vie, Credit cards, or checks, try USA Bankcard, 1-800-865-9014 or 1708-709-0175, they can accept both home based or retail operations. They also offer the check guarantee and verification service. and they can process any where in the United States. I deal with E Commerce Exchange 1-800-639-6644 Ask for Karen Buonpane She is very helpful and informative. You should look into other companies and see which one is best for you. I do not know if there are different prices depending on the location. Our storefront offers MC and Visa. The cards are good to have for taking delivery orders over the phone. We have a company that offers a low percentage of commission and there is a 5.00 charge per month which is minimal if there is no usage. The application and set up fee was 95.00 for us (a one time fee). You have to shop around for card companies in your area and take the best deal. Some send out a rep to help set you up. Get the one with the lowest monthly charge and commision. We also got a terminal real cheap by watching your newspapers for stores closing. You can save alot of money buying one that way. We got a great deal; printer and all at a fraction of the original cost. Alot of businesses dont realize that they can sell these things to someone else and they will be reprogramed by the bancard company at no extra charge. Try to find your equipment used. Don't think you need to lease all that new fancy stuff. All you really need is a terminal ( or if your really on a budget a good old fashion knuckle buster and a phone) Printers cost extra and of course the paper to put in them. They are nice to have and save time if your in a store front but not something you really need. Standard receipt are usually supplied at no charge from your clearing house. So if you have your heart set on taking charge. ( which I believe helps with creditability of your company ) Just watch out for the leasing offers on equipment. $25 a month don't seem like much until your still paying 4 years later. If you are a member of the Qualatex Balloon Network, they have a bank that is offering a good deal to the members. It is through this bank that we carry our credit cards. Be careful of the company you sign up with. My costs are more than I have in charge sales. My business is mostly decorating, I expected some of the weddings to be done via plastic - WRONG. Look very closely at the minimum monthly charge and the cost of renting a card machine. The cost can be outrageous and you can get tied to a long term non-cancellable contract. Check with your bank, move your account if necessary to find a bank that is more fiendly. my best advice is not to get set up until you are losing sales because you don't take credit cards, especially if you don't don't do a lot of telephone based deliveries. As far as payment collections, I require payment in advance for a balloon delivery. The client can do this either by sending me a check in advance, or I accept the 4 major credit cards (MC/Visa/AmEx/Discover.) We, too, have an entertainment business (clowns for special events, birthday parties, etc.) If I book myself, the customer has the option to pay in advance or to pay me personally at the event. If I book one of my clowns, the customer must pay in advance. They usually end up mailing a check for this. I've not had any problems. For the balloon deliveries, 99% of those are purchased by credit card over the phone. I've not had any problems there either. Although it took a small act of God to be able to accept credit cards with a home-based business, it has surely been worth it. Banks wouldn't touch me because I was home based. I went thru Alliance Financial Services -- I've found them to be very reasonable, reliable, and easy to work with. If you want to try this--call their customer service number at 1-800-928-2583 and ask them to refer you to a local rep in your area. They are based out of Louisville, KY. There is no obligation here on your part, either -- you just want to talk to a rep. It took me a year of research and denials before I found Alliance. My local rep was very nice, took me thru the whole process... step by step... explained all the things I would need to do to qualify, etc. Very simple. I must recommend though, that purchasing the credit card equipment saved me about $2,000. This is a much better option that "leasing" the equipment. Just wondering if anyone who takes credit cards has ever had a "chargeback" from their bank due to a credit card problem. I did a $75.00 credit card phone sale in March. I received an approval number through my credit card system, valid #, date and name. Did the delivery and 2 months later I received a phone call from a business asking me about some charges to their company credit card. I pulled my records and reviewed them with the caller. Evidently, the credit card was stolen and the thief went on a buying spree for a month. Now, my bank sent me info saying that they charged back the $75.00 sale and I am out that money. Has anyone else ever had this happen to them? I understand that I did not get an imprint of the card, but I did get a valid card #, exp date, name and an approval #. 99.9% of my business is over the phone credit card sales so I don't get an imprint of the card. The bank also asked if I received a signature at the time that I delivered the bouquet. Does anyone out there know of any other ways to protect the small in home business owner from these types of losses? Do you get a signature at the time of delivery? I realize that it is only $75.00, but it could very well have been $1,000.00 that I could have lost. All in all, it appears that you're out $75.00. You won't get that back unless you contact the person who purchased the bouquet and if "he's not in jail" by now, then try to get the money from him, but it's highly unlikely you're going to get anything unless you take it to court...and it really won't be worth your time or money. The charge card he "stole" could have been a company credit card which he was not authorized to use at that time..perhaps an ex-employee...or perhaps he was just a clever thief!! The company was probably not even aware that it was stolen..so it's not really their fault for not reporting it in time. Anyways, you've got to be very careful when accepting charge cards without signatures. Even if you deliver the bouquet or provide the service, the customer can always call their charge card company and tell them that they never ordered or signed for this sale, or were not happy with the service and have it charged back.....unless you have solid proof of delivery by way of a signature of receipt or a charge card signature..then it's very hard to fight the chargeback. So be very careful and always try to get a signature. When dealing with orders such as this by phone or internet, my rule of thumb is this...if it's over $100.00, we always get them to sign a receipt somehow..either by fax or they must come in to sign it. If it's under $100.00..we take the chance and let it go. Have you tried to track the customer down? Did you request his particulars when you took the order..including phone number, name and address. It's a great idea to do just that and tell them its for your mailing list. If they do not want to give you the particulars, then you should question the order and tell him you will not accept charge over the phone unless they fax you a copy of their credit card with their authorized signature for the sale. or ask them to come in and pay for it in cash instead. If they do give you particulars, call them back to confirm the order in order to make sure they gave you the correct phone number and information. Keep good records yourself - make certain all charge receipts are easy to access (either by date or client name). If you didn't get the particulars for that delivery, you must at least have the address of the recipient on file (I'm assuming the recipient is not the customer)... contact this person and ask them if they liked the delivery...and see if you can get the info out of them on who sent the delivery. Don't lead them to believe there is anything wrong. Then try to track the "thief" down. Why assume that what the bank has done is correct? Check your agreement with them. Banks are the biggest bluff and con artists on earth. Anyone who thinks that their banks is "in their corner", is very niave. No offence meant to ex bank employees ...... I refer to banks in general terms. I suggest you write to this financial institution with a request that they reply within 14 days to explain where your agreement with them indicates that they can back charge their bad debts to you, AFTER you being issued with an approval number from them. Demand they specify and send a copy from the agreement, (with your signature) the page #, paragraph and clause. Ask for written evidence that their claim of the card being stolen is legitimate. What time on what date was it REPORTED stolen? Ask for bank records. Ask which police station has the theft on file. Get info from them also. (saves paying your attorney to do it later) This bank has taken money from your account. Legally, they have to justify doing that against your will. Ask for a written explanation as to why the card holder is not liable? (the bank may have stung both of you for the $75 .... who would know?) Make it quite clear that should you not receive a satisfactory reply within the 14 days, that you will have your attourney acting for you, from that date forward, to recover the $75 PLUS interest and all legal expenses from that bank or financial institution. You must put it in writing! This is business, not a mutual problem to be "discussed" over coffee or on the phone. Let them "feel" that you do not trust them to be telling the whole truth. They know that an unhappy customer tells an average 29 people of a bad experience. Worse still, their "bluff" could backfire and end up costing them more than the $75 bad debt. (don't remind them of this. You won't need to) Do not threaten to take your business elsewhere at this stage. They are not obliged to listen to complaints from non customers. The key, first of all, convince yourself that you are right. (check the agreement) Then word the letter in a very professional manner. Get help if you need it. It has to read as if you know what you are talking about - be pointed and sincere. No unnecessary verbage or details. The layout and phrasing in the letter needs to send a clear message that you are not some "pushover self employed" person who will fear the cost of persuing the matter to it's correct and legal conclusion. Not hand written. Do not threaten anything more than refering it to an attourney. If the letter is not well written, they will probably continue the bluff tactic. There is a good chance that you will get a simple letter of apology - with a cheque/credit. Try it..... you have nothing to lose now! If you get no reply ..... THEN you decide if you can afford to engage legal advise. Take control of your business. Why allow others to think they can determine whether you can afford to call their bluff. (even if you can't afford it ..... don't roll over too easily) And if you "fold" at the end of the day, you will have at least earned their respect as a business person who is careful and doesn't just throw money away because someone said you were liable. I speak from past experience having had to go "the full monty" with a bank a few years ago. (not a credit card problem) In the end, they cough up (plus compensation) rather than go to court over small sums. They can afford to try and bluff you .... because most often - they get away with it. I wish I could find it within myself to trust banks but, I see them as nothing more than licensed thieves. I have had a store-front since 1991 and have had chargebacks every year. They were especially bad one July when we lost $500 in credit card charges. The bank will not take the risk if you take a phone charge. YOU take the risk. However, lately, I have seen American Express and Visa both say that I could send in a delivery signature with my other documentation for their chargeback inquiries. So, they may be taking more of the risk, OR they may be looking at a delivery signature as a proof of the product being delivered to the card holder. I have also saved a charge back by having a signature on a contract. You can have your customers fax a signature to you, for safety, if you want to go to the extreme. We have learned to listen carefully when we take an order: 1) Does this person SOUND like someone who should be placing the order? Is the voice too young? Is it someone with lots of jargon, yet is placing a sophisticated order? 2) Get the customer's name, as it appears on the credit card, and the complete BILLING address for the credit card. Make sure to get both the home and work phone numbers too. If there is suspicion about this order, call the issuing bank and ask them to check the address and phone numbers with their files. If these items do not match what the bank has, DO NOT deliver the order. Call the customer back and tell them that you cannot deliver it. You will find that they usually have given you a disconnected or wrong phone number. 3) Was the greeting card for the order signed with real names or with knicknames, like "Bobo," or "Cutie?" Was there a signature at all? Thieves often do not sign a card, or use a cute name. They do not want to be identified. 4) Was this a large dollar amount? If the customer doesn't seem to care about the money, we become suspicious. Thieves often go for the upsell and spend a lot. 5) Is the order going to an apartment or mobile home address? Often times, the order is being placed just to see if the card has been reported as stolen or not. The thief is testing the card. If the flowers/balloons arrive at the test address, usually an apartment or mobile home, then they use the card for high ticket purchases. Not all of these indicators alone will spot a thief, however, several of them together are warning you that the order may be fraudulent. Call the bank, call the customer back, but do not deliver an order you are suspicious of. The bank will even call their customer to see if they really placed an order with your shop. They want to prevent fraud too. Another type of chargeback we receive frequently is for the customer who can't remember ordering anything. That's easy to take care of: call the customer and ask them why they made the credit card inquiry. Then, when they have remembered the order, they can call the bank and reverse the inquiry before the money is zapped from your account. Good luck! We have reduced our chargebacks by diligently checking each order ahead of time. I give my credit card lecture before every major holiday, so new or temporary employees will learn, and so the rest of us can be reminded. The world is not completely friendly. I've been with three different merchant card service companies now, so last time I read everything very carefully, because of the credit card theft we've experienced. It was all there in writing! They have the right to do the chargebacks if there's a problem and the merchant doesn't have a signature. I've fought chargebacks and won, when the contract was signed, but not the credit card receipt. Just make sure to get a signature somewhere! I wish the banks/merchant card service companies WERE bluffing, but it just isn't so, at least not on my contract. As a large company, we constantly deal with the same problem. When you take the credit card name and number, also get the mailing address where there credit card statment is sent. You can call the issuing bank on the card and verify all the information. If any of it doesn't match, don't send the order! Also, they can tell you if there has been a lot of activity in a short period of time, suggesting a stolen card and somebody on a spending spree. Unfortunately there is not a 100% way of protecting yourself with credit cards and phone orders. The approval code only says that there is credit available on the card and that the number and expiration date match. Nothing else! write a letter along with an invoice to the person that made the order and charged it. Then let them know if they don't pay it in X days, you are sending it to collections. Getting half or a little over than half is better than nothing. And if they don't pay it after collections, well at least you tried. Unfortunately collections is often a waste of time if a customer gave you a stolen credit card. I would like to start accepting credit cards in my business. But, it seems everyone wants to basically scalp small businesses on the start-up rates & monthly fees & monthly minimums & per transaction fee & on & on......ugh! If you are or have working with a credit card processing company that you are happy with....Oh! Please! Do tell! I thought I had placed the info about the credit card company I located for my homebased business. But I am still receiving mail regarding the same. I researched three companies that offer terminals for homebase business and found that the one below was the best for me. The charges are the least expensive and you can take credit card orders at your business or if you go out in the field. Considering that I have the need for both I took this one. There may be others out there, but considering Valentines is around the corner I did not want to waste time. I just received my terminal last week and I am happy to say that I had 2 transactions on credit cards. I feel that only is it a better service for my customer to give them options how to pay but also for my business. It feels odd to say, oh yes, we do accept credit cards, oppose to no I'm sorry but at this moment we only accept cash. E-Commerce Exchange 1-800-639-6644 Karen Buonpane She will explain everything to you, step by step and let you know what system is better for you. I have just changed how I do Credit Cards to The Novus Network. So far I love it! The percentage is better than the bank was. And they allow you to lease to own the terminal and printer. Please feel free to contact my rep. Betty Ann Manganello at 1-800-274-7831 for voice mail or email her at: email@example.com She was a real help to me and answers any questions you may have. Give her a call or email her, it doesn't cost anything to shop around for comparison to those you have already inquired from. I've responded to several posts regarding the low rate we pay for our credit card service through Key Bank (and they give a discount for QBN members) but I keep forgetting to bring the name and phone number home to post here. If you would like to call me at work at 650-343-5852 PST I'll give you the info (unfortunately they don't give referral kickbacks but I'm working on them!). I think that the swiped qualified card rate is about 1.7%. I just got myself a good deal from the company below: http://credit-cards-online.com/15194/ E-Commerce Exchange 1800-639-6644 also gives a pretty good deal Our business has credit card capabilities. After shopping the market we went with our local bank. There are some companies that offer credit card services, these can be found in the yellow pages. Some companies look down on home based business, so watch out. While other may charge you a lower % fee, but a higher montly fee. Yet others don't seemed to mind if you pay the higher rates. Basically here is how ours works. We have a monthly fee from our bank $X We pay so much for the equipment per month $X (note you can get software for your PC) On all transaction you pay a certain % (keep this in mind, because you may lose 2 to 5% of the transaction for the fee)