Dealing With Customers
Isn’t it nice to be “spoiled” with good old fashioned service?
*CUSTOMERS SERVICE WITH A SMILE MEETING CLIENTS QUOTES AND PROPOSALS SELLING SALES TERMINOLOGY PACKAGE DEALS REFERENCES CUSTOMERS WHO BRING THEIR OWN BALLOONS PROBLEM CUSTOMERS LAST MINUTE JOBS REFUSING SERVICE WORKING WITH EVENT PLANNERS PROMS CAR DEALERSHIPS RENTALS GETTING YOUR STUFF BACK LINEN RENTALS
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.
CUSTOMERS SERVICE WITH A SMILE
Isn’t it nice to be “spoiled” with good old fashioned service? You’d swear guys like Steve Metsker and Duane Smith wrote the text book. Even though we have a local office in Sydney, people in the Pioneer head office keep in touch with us as a result of our meetings at IBAC over the years. Makes you realise that you aren’t “just another customer” to them.The Pioneer office in Sydney has the same approach. When there is an occasional shortage on a particular line ….. their sales people have been known to telephone all over the country to find the particular balloon you need and get it to you. I’m sure there are hundreds of other balloonies around the world who have similar stories to tell oif their experiences with their Premier Balloons, BSA, Belbal, Anagram, M”D or CTI supplier. That kind of “service” is what makes the real difference. Not just a delivery on time. No sir. The delivery on time WITH A SMILE.
With a follow up call to find out how the job went. With an invitation to visit the supplier’s showroom to see their full range. With some free samples of the latest release print designs – and asking your opinion. The sales guy who speaks your language. The guy (or gal) who loves balloons just as much as you do. Something that sets them appart from the sales rep who goes to work – just to get a regular pay cheque. Stop and think about that! Don’t you think your customers would like to feel “cuddled” too? And now is the time to do it! It’s Christmas. You just might find that going that extra mile becomes addictive. Hard to stop doing it – because people do it back to you! Yep, it gets contagious too! So what is this drug? It is simply business “relationships”. It’s more than “service”. It’s creating a comfortable, pleasant working atmosphere. It’s an UNDERSTANDING.
Getting to know your customer on a first name basis. Knowing when a customer would prefer a coffee, rather than a sales pitch. And when to say, “You look busy Susan, I’ll call back on Tuesday.” Shouldn’t work be a pleasure (for you and everyone around you) rather than a chore? The most successful small business owners, sales reps, and staff recognise that building business “relationships” with the people in and around your business is what gives your business a certain STABILITY.
Like family stability. You grow a “work surroundings family”. Don’t shut them out of your life! Invite them in. Face it – your work life IS part of who and what you are. Some of you will think, “I won’t stoop to kissing my suppliers or customer’s butt! For what I do for them every day, they should be kissing mine!” Well ……. someone neglected to tell you. “You are in the business of making people happy.” The fact is, that making our customers have a joyfull experience – is what they are paying us to do. It’s your obligation! It’s also your obligation to teach your staff how to do it . It’s your obligation to show your suppliers that you know that their balloons are designed for that specific purpose. The money you bank as a result of their product “working” for you – should earn them the right to a business “relationship” with you. All of a sudden you will find that employees, suppliers and customers will begin to work WITH you – rather than around you. And that is a wonderful feeling.
When you meet a client and you’re a home based operation where do you meet with them? I prefer to meet them at the venue where the event is to be held. Even if I have done work at that site a dozen times, it is probably the first time they are using the facility. It is easier to create a visual image for the client by discussing it at the site. We meet our customers on site, if possible. The only negative is that they may not be on time, or may not show up at all. We call and confirm the appointment the day before the meeting to prevent that problem. If the client has small children or prefers to meet at their home, or ours, we go along with their request (preferring to meet at our home where photos, samples, and materials are more readily available); however, it can be a little disconcerting to have certain clients be within one’s home, see the security system, etc. — sometimes I have the nagging fear that they’re checking it all out. I never get this feeling with referrals or people who we’ve done work for in the past — just the new people. When we set up a job we check with the catering staff to find out when they want us to come back and where everything will be (they very often move everything to a corner). We always bring a crate, a broom, dustpan, utility knives, and plastic bags. Anything made of balloons is swiped with utility knives if we know we can’t use any of the components during the coming week. Small, uniform 4″-5″ balloons make great covers for the weights on balloon groupings. We sweep up everything and take all the garbage with us. Everything that can be reused (tulle, pins, Fome-Cor components, Lomey dishes & pedestals, etc.) gets cleaned off and packed up for a future job — including weights.
QUOTES AND PROPOSALS
We NEVER tell the customer that we need to visit the site and measure. Why? This could lead them to think that we are unfamiliar with popular wedding venues. We ask the name of the venue so that we can “check the specifications” of that venue from our computer records. “You would be surprised how many weddings we’ve done at the city Zoo.” We find this impresses them more, as they begin to wonder if there is a venue in this city that you HAVEN’T decorated previously. It’s building that perception in your customer’s mind that your company is very experienced – knowledgable – stable – venue data at your fingertips – true pros! And if the customer asks you about the carpet colour in the Plaza Hotel, and you aren’t familiar with it ….. don’t say you don’t know! Say, ” Our CBA Stephanie usually decorates that venue, I’ll check with her later.” You hope they’ll ask, “What is CBA?” Get what I mean? If you take your car to a mechanic, do you want to hear him say that it’s the first time he has ever worked on that model Volkswagon? If we discover the venue to be new to us, then we (quietly) make an appointment to go do the measure and take notes. When an individual is trying to get prices without giving any information that will give you adequate details to bid a job and calls more than one time, you may wish to try the following. Each job we price is individually tailored to fit the location, personal taste and budget of the event we are doing. These are some basic starting prices.
If you would like a more thorough bid I will be happy to meet with you for a one on one consultation. There will be a nominal advance charge of _________ for this consultation service. You receive a certificate that can be applied as a credit on your account when you place your actual event order. This helps us reserve our time, attention, and creativity to help plan the very best possible event for you. Would you like to schedule a morning, afternoon or evening appointment? Would ________ or ________ fit your schedule better? This type of presentation prevents people picking your brain for your competitors or at least compensates you for some of the time involved in helping your competitors design their marketing strategy and gives you a more professional image and presentation. You don’t antagonize your serious customers who have difficulty making choices but you don’t give away the store either.
It communicates that you are a serious professional who strives to meet the individual needs of your clients. proposals – ask for a little information, ie: What theme would they like? What budget do they have for the decorating? What is the layout of the venue? If they don’t know their budget, ask them questions like, how many guests, (work out a price per head) ie they say 500 guests, you think 500 x $5 per head, or $10 perhead= $2500 – $5000, you will usually get a reaction like “Oh my God, no we were thinking maybe $1000 tops! Then you know where you stand, and don’t waste many hours coming up with endless theme ideas and decor that simply will not fit into their budget. SELLING When we get a customer who wants balloons we ask a few questions and find out if it is for a child’s party or gift and the ages. If they are under 7 years of age we sell the the foils; 4″ – 9″ – bouquets of 18″ and the Big shapes.” Many of our customers have called us after to let us know, they were happy they opted to spend a little more for the balloons – because they found the results were fantastic! No crying children because their balloon broke and they last so much longer ! Increase your consumer education and foil sales! You’ll find your customers will be impressed and appreciate the extra time and attention you give them.
As many out there know, I am very particular about terminology when it comes to marketing and sales techniques. We are in the business of selling emotion, excitement and colour. The vast majority of our customers are women. In recognising this, we should all try to “appeal” to women with our marketing and sales skills. Words in our business that are unlikely to appeal to women are those such as; gas – stuffing – rubber – burst and blow-up. So ….. we teach our sales staff to use more appealing words in lieu. Gas becomes helium. Rubber – latex Burst – Pop Blow-up – inflate Balloons arranged in a bouquet “kiss” each other, rather than – touch. Something as simple as selective choice of terminology can mean the difference between having her say, “I’ll think about it!” and …. squeezing the sales trigger that makes her say, “that sounds like just what I’m after!” Many of us sell a jumbo latex balloon filled with 100 smaller latex, feathers, confetti or the like. For years I’ve been looking for a better sales description or name than “Exploding Balloon”. I’ve found this term sometimes turns a customer off. They immediately invision a threat of fire or possible injury from the “explosion”. Or that Grandpa may suffer a heart attack being unprepared for the sudden “explosion”. Bill McFaddin CBA recognised this many years ago and advocates to his students the use of the term “Disolving Balloon”. Much better than the other word but, to me, didn’t sell the EXCITEMENT that this special effect delivers. Disolving walls or disolving arches …. yes, but a single disolving jumbo?? I’m told that Aussie women tend to associate the word “disolving” with cooking, stitches in a wound and terminating a marriage contract. So …. maybe not the best word to use when selling the big moment as the bride and groom cut the wedding cake. No disrepect to Bill McFaddin, whom I respect and admire as one of the world’s leading balloon decorators, an event specialist and marvelous tutor. Today I thought of a new sales description for the good old exploding balloon. What about “the suspended MAGIC BALLOON.” The sales person’s script says, “Abra cadabra ….bang …. and we transform what appears to be one balloon, into a spectacular shower of 100 balloons and shimmering confetti. The guests are initially startled, and then break into an instinctive round of applause”. Our promotional flyers could simply say under the photo of a jumbo; “The Magic Balloon” … we turn 1 balloon into 100 before your very eyes! rather than the term “double stuffing,” how about “color transformation”? I would like to add to your list of words if I may, the word “Centerpiece” I always use and educate my customers by saying “Table Decor”. No matter how you say it, to me it sounds classy and describes exactly what we do. We are in the sense of the word “decorating the table” so why not use it and give our customer a classy new word for our creations. I also think that “The Magic Balloon” is perfect. And you describe be perfectly. Converting 1 balloon into 100. But the double stuffing, you can not use the word color transformation due to the fact that when using a colored latex inside a clear it is not transforming. When using the Diamond Clear Just Married print around with a coloured balloon inside we call it a lace over effect and liken it to a brides gown – you know satin with a lace overlay. I explain to my brides that have balloons outside or inside with no a/c or in this “wonderful” summer weather that with the weather conditions, our balloons will take on a “frosted” look so there are no surprises!! “Frosted” sure sounds better than “Cloudy”, huh?? =)
SELLING Hi-Float and Balloon Glow
- Do you sell Hi Float or keep it as a ‘trade secret’?
I use it as an add-on sale when selling balloons “to go.” I always have asked customers if they would like HI-FLOAT, tell them the benefits, and the small additional price per balloon. I think it’s a bargain at 3 C-shells per dozen balloons and customers love it.
- I think all deliveries should be HI-FLOATed, since the longer the balloons last, the longer they will be around to remind people of your business. I like to deliver big bouquets of HI-FLOATed 16-inch balloons to office buildings. That way the recipient is less likely to take the balloons home from work (they’re too big!) and more likely to leave them on their desk. (I’m getting paid to advertise!) Let me tell you, a 16-inch with HI-FLOAT lasts a mighty long time!!!
- When selling balloons with HI-FLOAT, let me recommend that you add a tag that explains that the balloons were treated. Otherwise the customer or recipient won’t know/remember and will likely develop an unrealistic impression of how long latex balloons last w/o treatment. That can come back to bite you. Ask me to tell you about the disgruntled customer I had once because of this very thing!
- If someone comes into the shop for a few balloons, we sell them Hi Float as an add-on sale. Some customers want it, and some don’t see the need.
I started out doing parties for, on average, 100 C-shells. Then I found that I could do an arch at a wedding for the same amount with a lot less work and materials. So I decided to do only weddings. I found that the small jobs didn’t have enough pizazz to catch the attentions that would get me more and bigger paying jobs. So I decided to offer only packages. Now when a bride comes in to check out the price on an item I show them what they are asking about (like an arch behind the head table). Then I explain the QBN recommended decoration spots. I show her the matching dance floor, center pieces, cake and gift table (using all those exciting words) I then explain how the arch behind the head table would cost say $X, the dance floor usually starts at $Y. But they can get this “Clouds of Love” packages for only $Z (less than X+Y). So you get your centerpieces, cake and gift table done for free. Then if need be you can then show them the money they will save going with your packages (such as not paying for other centerpiece). From there you can move them up to your next (higher priced) package, add lights or more centerpieces. I have been very blessed with brides that listen and understand. The bride wants what is best. You know what is best, the whole package. When my brides walk into their hall they are in awe. That’s why I do balloons. People seeing the wedding will ask who did you decor and you will get more calls. It works for me. I have a wedding brochure that outlines some “packages” the brides can choose from. Of course there is a choice of good (budget), better and best. It took me several days of concentrated effort then a week or two to refine my “package pricing” sheet. First you need to get a handle on what wedding components you offer: Pearl arches, swirl arches, basic centerpieces everything. Write all these on a piece of paper with their prices = this wil be the start of your A La Carte sheet. Then find 4 – 6 of those items which fall in price range #1, for example 100 peanuts Then find 5 – 7 of those items which fall in price range #2, for example 200 peanuts Then find 5 – 7 of those items which fall in price range #3, for example 300 peanuts (for this packaging, you might combine items such as 4′ heart with 2 fantasy clouds = 1 item) Then you could offer an Economy package of three items for 300 peanuts minus 10 – 15% Mid-range package of 4 items for 800 peanuts minus 10 – 15% Deluxe package of 4 items for 1200 peanuts minus 10 – 15 % The prices only need to fall in the given range of items – for example items in eceonomy pkg average 100 peanuts , some may be 110 peanuts, some 90 peanuts. Remember that the prices of items in the package must add up to be less than their price if purchased separately, the items must be easy to set up and use limited or no framing or other components which would require striking by your staff. You don’t want to cheat yourself, so be careful to not give away the store. If you are pricing correctly, then you will still make money on the packages. I have a lot of brides come to me because the prices in the packages look enticing, but they usually end up purchasing a la carte or adding to a basic package. After trying numerous different ways to set up our wedding packages through the years, the one we have found to be the easiest for us, as well as the most popular for our brides is the “mix and match” method. In all levels of our packages (i.e., cheapest, less cheap, and not-so-cheap), we give the brides a choice of 5, 7, or 9 items (i.e. cheapest = 5 items; less cheap = 7 items; and not-so-cheap = 9 items). From these choices, they may choose any 3. Of course, the more expensive the package price, the more expensive each of the item choices will be. We used to put specific items in each package, but found that some brides wanted centerpieces and entry decor, while others only wanted dance floor and head table decor. We try to put at least 1, sometimes 2, and maybe even 3 of each type of item in each package – dance floor, centerpieces, head table, cake table, entry, etc. This way, they feel they can pick what THEY want thus being more in control of their “package” and yet they are getting the bargain price of a package as opposed to premium priced custom decor. We also always make sure that no matter which 3 items they choose, they will get at least a small discount off the full retail price of those same 3 items if they bought them a’la carte. Special notice should be made here that over 80% of our brides up-grade or add on to the packages because they usually want more than the 3 items. We have a video that we show to prospective brides during consultations as well as at bridal shows. What we have done is to dub off the video we take on site when we are finished decorating as well as all of the photographs we have taken, onto a tape, add music and there you have it!! Great selling tool, and you don’t have to have all of your photo albums available all of the time for people to look at… Works great!
We provide new clients with a list of 5-6 client references. Since we always follow up with our clients after an event, both with a phone call and a written questionnaire, one of the questions we ask is … “May we use us as a reference? If so, how would you like to be contacted?” This is the information we put on the list — Client’s Name ( if it’s a corporated account, our contact), address & phone number. Some clients do ask, not to be contact by phone, so the phone # is excluded and that requested is stated on our reference list. Nothing more. I only list clients, who have given us permission. Most are very happy to do this. And our future clients are pleased they have the information. After a job of any type we send the party that hired us a questionnaire along with a stamped return envelope. The cover letter thanks them for hiring us and explains that we would like them to complete the questionnaire. It also explains that while we like positive comments we learn from negative comments, so both are appreciated. The questionnaire consists of five or six generic questions. Each question line is followed by a line with “Yes”, “No” and “Comments” We always have a two part question on each questionnaire; “Would you recommend us for other engagements?” and “If yes, may we use your name, address and phone number as references for other engagements if we are required to provide them?” Every questionaire we have sent has been returned. Most of them will fill in the comments section which we then use in our literature. Usually by stating “Our customers have said ———.” Most important is we are building up a reference list. When we are contacted by a potential customer that requires references, I will go through the questionnaires to find the ones that had similar services to the requesting the references. I would probably not send a reference from someone who had balloons only to a business that wanted a stage show only. This has been the best tool we have used to gauge how we are doing. These are just little things, but they do help to hear how the clients feel. We have almost never received a negative comment and everyone has always agreed to giving the reference. For small deliveries I give out a self addressed stamped postcard with a few questions on their response to the show, and a space for comments. There is a box they can check if they don’t mind being used as a referral. I’m running a business; most people appreciate that and with few exceptions are very willing to help me out. For larger corporate functions I have just recently started the practice of *asking* for comments on their business’/organization’s letterhead, and whether they would mind being a personal reference. Include a SASE.
CUSTOMERS WHO BRING THEIR OWN BALLOONS
I have had brides & clients bring balloons before for my use. I tell them I do not guarantee that the balloons will float for any specific amount of time, also the savings is not what they think it is. If I charge 1.00 C-shell for a helium filled latex balloon, my cost of balloons I would have supplied is 0.08 C-shells, and 0.92 C-shells is their cost for helium, labor, delivery, etc. So, they have actually saved only the cost of the balloon which they have spent on the cheapies and also have no guarantee of the balloons floating or holding air for a specific amount of time. I also put the loss of guarantee in writing and have them sign it so if there is a problem they aren’t knocking at my door. When I explain this, most people opt for my quality balloons. Your balloons represent you and your business. There are many potential customers at the wedding. You want them to see your best work. Maybe if you tell the customer that it costs the same, her balloons or your balloons, she will return the “cheap balloons”. It is one thing if someone comes to me with a dozen of their own balloons to inflate, but a decorating job for a wedding is different. With all the time and energy you will put into her wedding she deserves the best quality balloons you can supply. in regards to the bride that wants her decorator to use balloons she bought at the dollar store – PLEASE DON’T GIVE IN – this is a disaster waiting to happen. Besides the obvious “but you’ve been waiting for this day all your life and you deserve the very best on your wedding day” speech – I think the way to get yourselves off the hook would be to nicely explain that it would cost the bride less to use your “decorator quality” balloons than it would be to use the cheap balloons she bought at the dollar store (plus it will look ten times better and last through out the whole reception). You could explain to her that you are able to get the job done much quicker by using a professional balloon that will hold up under the pressure of the helium tanks and air machines, and that you also can guarantee the float time. Explain that if you were to use her “cheap” balloons, you would have to charge for the helium that went into every popped balloon, and there would be more labor hours involved that you would have to charge for because you can’t work as quickly if the balloons pop easily. If she still isn’t convinced, have her bring them in and put them to the test against your balloon right in front of her. Will her balloon withstand the pressure of the helium and/or air equipment? Do they shine and look as pretty? How long will they float, will they float as long? Are the balloons able to be packed tightly into a garland for an arch or column? I am sure the answer to all of these is probably “no”, and that should solve the problem instantly. Most people just need to be educated, and by showing her she will probably understand and trust you. If you have a sensitive postal scale, show the customer the difference in weight between a bag of her balloons and a bag of yours. So that she doesn’t feel like she’s wasted her money, why not suggest that she give those balloons to the people throwing her wedding shower – let’s just hope THEY don’t bring them to you to fill and decorate the shower with! I also don’t give when it comes to the *cheap* balloons…..especially for decor. I usually tell the brides that I will not guarantee these balloons and why. I have never had one that did not use my balloons after explaining why. If they bring balloons just to inflate and try ribbons on, I explain to them that I do not guarantee them and why, and they will have to pay for any wasted helium. And we all know that there will be wasted helium. Most of them will again go with my balloons……not always…….but usually. I also make the price unattractive to them for blowing up their balloons. I also make it clear to them that they have to be 11″ or bigger or I will not inflate them at all. I have had customers bring me in two different sizes…..9 inch and 11 inch stating they are both 11″…….that is when I will blow them up with air to show them the size difference. I also have in my agreement that there will not be any other balloons on the site that I am doing work on for their event or wedding that are not mine. I reserve the right to refuse the job and since it would be breaking the agreement on their part, that means that the retainer fee still will not be refunded. It seems that after you explain why to people, they understand and don’t push the matter. I would absolutely refuse to use her balloons. The reason being – and I speak from experience – IF her balloons are defective in any way – either they won’t hold helium, break or they “pear” then it makes a bad reflection on you. I always tell my clients that good quality is a reflection not only on you the decorator, but on them, the person giving the party. The other thing is that if you do any other decor, like a heart or arch, you will use your favorite brand of balloons. The colors may not match. She is really not saving that much money when it comes down to it. Therefore, my response to that bride who tries to “penny pinch” is that she find another decorator. It’s probably not worth it to you to have to try to convince her otherwise if her mind is set. Our policy on customers balloons is that they pay us as if we supplied the balloons unless we can verify the quality of them. If they are Qualatex or one of the other good brands we will allow approximately 25 cents off per balloon. Please use this price only as a guide. I will not work with balloons supplied by a clients. It is my name that is on the decor ( not Billy Bob and his cheap balloons). Sure maybe one average job ( using their balloons ) might not hurt my business. But a great job will lead to many more ( and so on ). Don’t ever waste a chance to advertise. Each job you do is a full color ad. Someone at that functions will need a balloon artist, sometime. Show them your the best .Who they gonna call ? Not the ghost busters. ( sorry couldn’t resist ) When a client insist on using their own balloons. I charge the same price as if I were using my own. Educate your clients. Explain and show them the difference in the product. Then I tell them, ” It is important to me that you have only the best, so at no extra charge I’ll will use the better balloons “. ( you already had the balloons in the price ) The client is pleased. They feel special, and your friends forever.
GREAT PRODUCT + GREAT WORK = GREAT MONEY !
I will not use customers balloons. If you decide to use the schools cheap balloons make sure you put in your contract that you can not be held responsible for any of your decor that uses their balloons. As far as high floating junk balloons, once you add the cost of high-float ( very low ) then labor ( time consuming and costly ) it would be about the same price to buy a better brand of balloon that you can trust. ( use their junk balloons for weights ) Always remember a great job will get you more jobs. A poor job ( no matter why ) will lose work for you. So with that thought , can you afford not to use a better product. Clients wanting to help We agreed to do some decorations for a silent auction fundraiser for a church. Their plan was to have parents do most of the work needed to decorate a very large hall. The design was to transform the hall into a bigtop with ceiling treatments and large murals covering the walls and large buckets of popcorn and peanuts as table centerpieces. We were contracted to build some clown columns and arches for the entryway. It is our habit to build everything in the warehouse and finish up with the helium on site. When we arrived (ahead of schedule) on the day of the event and started setting up, people began yelling ‘they’re here!!’. The group got larger and they were yelling and getting louder. Apparently some of the parents had decided to add helium balloons to the buckets of popcorn. They’d rented a tank and bought some cheap 9 inch balloons and came in the night before to inflate and tie them to the tables. The room was so brightly colored with different colored table cloths and napkins, and we had not noticed all the dead balloons. Many people thought we had done them and were furious with us. They wanted us to fix all 65 tables. We completed the work we were contracted to do, and offered to help for a fee. The crowd became very mean, and of all the parents who participated, NO ONE fessed up to the balloons. The church canceled our check. When we went back at 11pm to strike, all of our stuff was gone. They told us it was in another room. When we went there, there were 4 parents taking every thing apart. Their quote was “we wanted to see how you made everyting so we don’t get screwed by another balloons company next year.” We were contracted to create 10 or 12 columns for a radio station. They wanted to use their imprinted logo balloons, and insisted they were Qualatex. They weren’t. The popage rate was outrageous and quality was vary poor! They provided us with twice the balloons we needed, but because of poppage we barely had enough balloons, and it took 3 hours longer than planned. The latex itself was so bad that it damaged the skin of my fingers. For a job that only paid labor, it ruined our hands for our following real jobs. For a graduation ceremony, we did the arch over the stage and they provided their own balloons for their students to do a realease. We informed them of the proper way to do a release (hand tie, no ribbon etc.). After the arch was built they walked out with the balloons to release… all with discs and metalic ribbon… they said it would look better in their photos. BE CAREFUL – think before you accept a job. We now have a clause in our contract that there may be no balloons at the event that we have not provided. If we arrive on site and there are balloons present, we inform them they have breeched their contact and they can either remove the other balloons or we walk. We recently did a job for a customer that asked us to not only provide her with decor, but she stated that she had some balloons of her own that she wanted us to blow up. We agreed to do it. We did ask a lot of questions, though, because we needed to know how much additional helium to bring. When we got there, she had told us they were 11 inchers and they turned out to be 16’s. She had two gross of them and we couldn’t do the job properly because she didn’t know the difference. SO, now our policy is that we will not blow up any balloons unless they are shipped to us directly and we see the quality of the balloons. In the past we did the same thing and the balloons popped like crazy. They also didn’t hold the helium, and we had a dissatisfied customer. Some of our Bar Mitzvah clients want to be involved in designing and creating their centerpieces. They may have an idea but not a glimmer of how to execute it. Or they may execute it…well or badly. Most of the time I quote them a price to do what they’ve requested, and also a price to do the entire job. They usually opt to have us do it all. Before accepting this type of work, make certain that you see a completed centerpiece or have them bring you the balloons. Examine each and make recommendations accordingly. Invariably, these customers become walking billboards for us because they are so personally involved in their event decor. They always give us repeat business and referrals; they always increase their budget on their next event; and they always have us do more decor at each future event. If their idea or mock up is really ‘tacky’, I make suggestions and give them design ideas that are within their budget and ability. If the customer wants to make their own centerpiece there is not much you can do about it. As for blowing their balloons, we discourage it. We must see the balloons first, and we do not discount the overall price of the work. We inform them that we won’t be responsible for the succeess of their balloons. That will generally discourage them, so that they won’t bother. What do you do when a do-it-yourself-er comes into your store to get information on directions to do decor for which they don’t want to hire you? I politely ask them if they also plan on asking the city’s top chef if he will write down his recipe for their 4 course meal …… because they can’t afford to have him cook for them. They could also ask a magician to teach them all his card tricks, so they won’t have to pay the magician to entertain. If you are polite and throw these questions back to them WITH A SMILE, I think they’ll understand that you are not about to give them freebies as your business is just as professional as any other . They should in fact feel that they have insulted your profession for even asking. Some want freebies and are bold enough to ask. I still try to be polite to these type of people because if you help them out, they could be really good customers in the future. I don’t give them the instructions but I let them know that it is not as easy as giving them instructions and setting them on their own… that it takes learning a lot of techniques before even thinking of putting the item together, and even if I did give them the instructions, they more than likely would be unhappy with the results. I make it sound like more of a process than it actually is and that it takes more time then it actually does. They either go on their way or ask about our company doing the work for them. If I can fit them in, I am always glad to do it for them. If I can’t, then they should have been thinking about it way ahead of time. PROBLEM CUSTOMERS About your problem customer, stick to your guns. If she truly is being unreasonable, then she is that way at most places (and with most people) that she deals with. If she can get you to bend her way, she may (may not) become a repeat customer. She won’t change and you’ll have the same type of issue with her the next time she shops. Is it worth it? Many people erroneously believe that she will “tell 10 people” about her “terrible” service and that they will believe her and stay away from your shop as a result. In my experience (I ran a store for many years) people are well aware of her credibility and if she mentions your shop in a derogatory way, they won’t take her seriously. So if she mentions your shop, even negetively, it’s just advertising. Some people are marginally dishonest. That is to say they may take advantage of you if you allow them, but in general, won’t steal etc. They just like to make a scene in hopes that you will drop the price, give them something for free, etc. Again, if you comply, you are setting yourself up for more hassles in the future. They will probably tell you that they’ll “never shop here again”, or they’ll “tell their friends not to shop here”, but that is just talk. As soon as they need something that you have, they will forget their grievance really quickly! This is not to say, that if they have a legitimate complaint that you don’t act on it. The quicker you fix and overfix the challenge the better, but if you really believe they are being unreasonable, stick to your guns! You are much better off if you treat your GOOD customers so well that you knock their socks off. They are the ones others will believe, they have credibility and when they mention your name, you can be sure its worth it! Also, your GOOD customers are much more likely to become loyal and shop with you well into the future. I find that in todays environment of trying to please everyone, its the “squeeky wheel that gets the grease”, the obnoxious customers get everything and the timid but pleasant and honest customer gets nothing extra. If you want to attract the better shopper, reward them, not the others. LAST MINUTE JOBS Business is business. fit ’em in where you have a space, or you pass ’em on to a networking (friendly) competitor when you haven’t got the space. NEVER miss an oportunity to sell ’em balloons. In my classes I constantly remind everyone that we are in a business that is closely related to the hospitality, entertainment, wedding, promotions, retailing and domestic service industries. We gotta be flexible! That in itself is a unique skill. So …. “milk it” as part of your speciality and point of difference. “Yes m’am, we do have the resourses to accomodate your party on such short notice!” On the “charge out” side of this issue ….. the customers that come to you on such short notice will normally expect to pay a small premium for fitting them in. So …. do it! Ask for the short notice premium up front, or simply bury it in the quote without a mention. We prefer the latter. Sometimes they will say, “and is there extra to pay for short notice?” To which you can reply, “Tipping the decor crew in accordance with your satisfaction is appreciated.” This also gives you clear and immediate feedback. Customer feels he will only have to pay extra if satisfied. The crew members also get a personal reward. Everyone wins! This raises another point I would like to make. For the life of me, I can not understand why anyone out there in this business closes their doors on Sunday …. or on any day. We are in the celebration business! People party on weekends! Why not open for business ALL weekend??? Religious beliefs and activities may dictate that you don’t work on the sabath. O.K …. Employ someone to open on Sundays if you must. Does anyone know a landlord who only charges rent on the property for 6 days a week? If I pay rent for 7 days …. I trade for 7 days! If the customer wants the decor done after midnight or a delivery at precisely 6 minutes after midday ….. that’s what they get …. and that’s what they will pay for. SERVICE! When you deliver service with a capital “S” …. price becomes secondary. Guess when brides find the time to go and inspect churches, reception venues and wedding car companies???? Sundays! They get Mom and their best girlfriend in tow, and off they go …. wedding shopping. Dolly’s business books 75% of her wedding decor jobs on a Sunday. Is it the same in the USA and Europe? I should think so??? Let ’em sit on a couch, browse the portfolio, touch the products you sell, see your awards and letters of thanks, give them a coffee, sample colours to match to their dress …… all the things that “Ajax Balloons” doesn’t offer. What do brides want from their wedding day? They want to feel they are the centre of attention. This is their day. They expect brides to be spoiled with attention. Spoil ’em with service and kindness and they will in turn reward you with an order. I have a few last minute customers myself. I take the opportunity to up sale. The first thing I say, is due to the time restraints. This is what we can do. Most customers understand they are late ordering so it usually is not a problem. I may add overnight shipping charges, something else. Most of my distributors understand. We just tack on the extra charges, whether it be overnight charges or surcharges. Be happy for any job you get and don’t to worry if there is no time. This is a service industry and I should be prepared to offer the services I advertise. Educate customers as to the costs associated with a last minute job. Accept the job and bury any additional cost in the final quote and tell the customer that the only “charge” would be to tip the crew if desired. Another suggested being up front about a “rush charge” but then eliminating it out of goodwill, thereby creating postive feelings that the customer is getting a break on the price the first time. The customer than goes away feeling she got a deal and tells others you need more time. The charge can than be added the next time the same customer needs a rush job and there will be no surprises. Most everyone agreed that it was acceptable to pass on the costs for overnight shipping and other costs directly to the customer. And the general feeling was to just get used to the late comers as it seems to be human nature to procrastinate and there will always be the few who will want the absolute last minute decorating.
Earlier in the year we briefly discussed the legalities of refusing service to lawyers. One thing that was mentioned was that it would be discrimination to do so and I replied that lawyers were a bad risk and insurance companies discriminate against people they consider to be a bad risk everyday.
- I entertained at the WA Osteopathic Convention yesterday and learned that one of their seminars was on this subject. I was told that the seminar taught that a business has “the right to refuse service”. It was also recommended that these Osteopathic Doctors refuse service to lawyers and their immediate families because of the high risk of related litigation.
- I found this to be particularly interesting because I had refused service to a law firm only two days before. The gentleman I spoke with told me that I could not do that because it was discrimination. I responded by telling him that I considered them to be a bad risk because of the high percentage of lawsuits that are filed by lawyers. I must have used a magic word because there was no more argument after that.
WORKING WITH EVENT PLANNERS
On some of the jobs we receive through event planners where we meet with the client directly (with or without the planner), we know that we will be sending the event planner a 10% referral fee, so we just add 10% to any fees discussed. It’s best to say something like, “I’ll work out exact costs and fax these to you later today”. Then do it. This gives you time to make certain your costs are covered. If an event planner books something with us over the phone, and we don’t need to take any time meeting, planning, designing, etc. I feel like 15-20% is fair depending on the size of the job and the profitability. In the first scenario, the contract goes directly to the client. After the event – and payment – a copy of the final contract and the referral fee are sent to the event planner along with a thank you note. In the second case, the event planner receives the original contract along with any updates and is billed 15-20% less than the stated cost. The planner should be paid for her advice, creativity and for orchestrating the event, that’s why many charge the percentage over and above the cost of materials (linnens, band/DJ, ballons etc). I deal with several planners and I will give them a discount on standard items only. They get a rate sheet at the beginning of the year with their prices on standard items such as bouquets, sculptured hearts/letters/numbers (easy sculptures), columns, and arches. Anything that is complicated or custom, such as centerpieces, is priced at my rates. If she can sell the client on basic decor and I don’t have to deal with the client, then she is doing me a favor and I will give that price break (my discount is more like 10% off regular rates). But if I have to design a complex room decor scheme or if I have to build a centerpiece and provide a prototype for the client to see, then there is just as much work as if I had the client in my office – hence no discount. What you will give the planner is a small selection of photos of your standard work, with some of your most popular centerpieces and just one or two of your most creative photos (just to wet the appetite). Then you tell the planner that she is responsible for taking her own photos of the work you do for her and she will build a portfolio from there. We work in a similar method. We offer a package to the planners that includes basic centerpieces, a small arch, a topiary heart and several bouquets. If we don’t have to see the bride, we’ll give them 10% off of the retail price of that package. Anything out of the ordinary is not discounted. You’re point on dealing with the event planner is well taken. If they are going to be as difficult to work with as a bride, then you should be paid for your time, not 80% of your time! We have ours “trained” to know what their choices are if they want the discounted price, and they usually are fine with that. We’d rather lose the job than lost the profit! We have found in our area that we use 2 percentages. If we do not have to meet with the client and just have to show up to do the balloons we give 20%. This happens because there are times when all the client wants is balloons added to centerpieces and an arch — basic things. The party planners we work with have pictures of some of our work so that the client can see the quality. If we meet with the client the party planner gets 10%. We do this with florists also. We work with lots of planners… and we give them “quality”!!! We will NOT EVER drop our price, but rather we will provide them worry free professional decor. Now, I will ask you …. do you do the same? Yes… or No… I hope the answer is YES! Please think of this opportunity…. Major client has gone to an “Event Planner” Why? This answer is easy they have a major event and want it to be perfect, with one contact person/company !!! Do you think they want the cheapest balloons? No they want the most professional Decor package possible… You must be selling a complete professional decor package, and this is how much our balloons cost. In return, the event planner will now sell your DECOR to compliment their complete package (Total dollar) and not …. here is the cost per balloon! PROMS I send letters to each middle school, high school and college in my area. The middle schools and high schools were sent to the prom committee chairperson, and the colleges were sent to administration. I only did this once and the response was great. Here’s how I contacted the schools. 1. I looked up all the high schools in the telephone book. I looked them up in the Yellow Pages under schools and then again under the county board of education section in the “blue pages” to make sure I hadn’t left any out. 2. I set up a page (actually in excel) with a section for each: school name, phone #, teacher name, and notes. 3. I called each school and got this information. 4. Here’s my telephone script: “Leeds High School.” “Hi, this is Sharon Buck with Balloon Sculptures & Designs (say this with a smile in your voice and speak slowly). Who is the teacher who is handling the prom decorations?” pause 5. “Oh, um, that’s Ruth Bowles.” 6. “When is the best time to reach Mrs. Bowles? I know it will be Monday (or whatever the following day is – the big thing is they don’t want to have to pull the teacher from class) 7. “Yes, she’s teaching right now. Her free period is 12-12:45.” 8. “Thank you so very much (smile in the voice and, yes, I do talk like that :-)) I appreciate it. I’ll call Monday. Thank you again.” Here’s what I found out: first, the office secretary is intrigued by the balloon angle; I’m not a “typical” salesperson; because I want “nothing” from them except the teacher’s name and free period, i.e., they aren’t having to look up information, etc.; by being nice (aren’t we all) they’re willing to help out. Once I’ve talked to the teacher, I simply ask if I may stop by during her free period and take 5 minutes to show her a couple of pictures of the “type of work I do.” Notice, I didn’t say I had done them. Since I haven’t done a prom yet but I do have photographs of designs I do know how to do, I do not feel/believe I am misleading anyone. We offer our services to the schools in three different ways and let them choose. 1. They can purchase supplies in our store and do everything themselves. 2. We can do the entire job ourselves with our staff or 3. We will furnish materials and team leaders to guide the students. The kids do all the work and the team leaders show them how and we supply the equipment. Each method has a different price and normally they select the 3rd method. It saves them some money and gives them so much more for the money spent. We have been working with three high schools for three years and the expenditures vary up to 2800 C-shells. Are you meeting with the teacher or the entire commitee? Usually I find that the teacher turns the meeting entirely over to me. Before the meeting I ask where the dance will be held (check to see how much time you’ll have on site), what their theme is, what their budget is, what colors they’d like, the feeling for the event, etc. Do your homework and check the Anderson’s, Stumps and other decor catalogues – the kids are probably going through and purchasing prom favors, etc. Use their ideas as a jumping board, but don’t duplicate them. Try NOT to have the students help you to save money – a major headache (at least for us), and most likely an unwanted photo for your portfolio. At the meeting, come prepared with some samples – it’s a heck of an easy sell if you have a sample that can be “broken apart” so that each of the five couples at the table takes something home. They will always spend more for that type of centerpiece. They most likely will want centerpieces, dance floor decor, entry decor and perhaps photo backdrop decor if the photographer doesn’t provide it. Our average prom budget is 500-1000 C-shells and they always find more money if they get excited about how it will look. Sometimes I meet the committee at the site and use a lot of adjectives to describe how the room will look AFTER we’re finished — it’s usually gloomy, empty and VERY un- magical so even a simple double bubble looks smashing if you’ve added something glitzy to it. I bring three samples – one much higher than their stated budget and I pass around photographs (the larger the committee, the few photos I bring) and listen to the comments. Go with what they like – let them vote on them. Majority decides. Prepare a contract and send it to the teacher’s/sponsor’s attention and remember to bill the school 3 or 4 days before the event – they usually take a bit of time to pay. Prom contracts: our experience is no deposits, no up front money. Bill ahead of time. The staff advisor to the students submits the bill, the check is cut and the advisor guards the check with his life. On completion of the work… ie the job is struck and cleaned up. He relaeses the check to you. We have had no problem with cancellations after they ask for the bill. We have always billed for prom decor the Monday after the prom. However, they have always asked if we needed a deposit. If you are unsure if they are serious I wouldn’t hesitate to ask for a deposit. I am sure that you wouldn’t be the only vendor to ask for something up front. Also, we charge the same as we do for wedding work. An exception is if there are extra charges for something because you are doing all purchases as opposed to a rental that you might do for a bride. I once had someone tell me that they figure everything for a prom to be a sale; nothing is going to be returned. We have done rental centerpieces and only one was taken by one of the students. One was broken, so they paid for two of them. Of course, they knew up front that they would have to pay for anything broken or not there when we did teardown. CAR DEALERSHIPS Most car dealerships have their own helium tank and put up their own balloons. But a balloon artist can still do lots of things for a car dealership that they can’t do for themselves. We can: Build a canopy around and over the STAR CAR that month…. We can obtain Custom Imprints with his logo or “SALE” or anything he may want to get across his clients……( Check his dealer co-op advertising plan…sometimes big companies like Ford and Chevy will help pay part of his advertising costs if the logo is included!! ) We can build a giant Hot Dog and Coke Can … Or a PIG sculpture for his next BarBQ/Pig Roast. For that matter…we can build a BALLOON CAR in his showroom !!! We can install a star shaped balloon drop to spill out over the clients while the name of the big winner in that months contest is drawn…… We can do a CLIENT APPRECIATION bouquet…..Suggest he send a nice display of Thank You Balloons and a few of his imprints to clients to THANK them for purchasing with him….Buy enough in a month and give him a deal … remember…each one of those bouquets has YOUR name on them somewhere!! 🙂 We can use RIBBON..instead of kite string…..lol….oh pretty 🙂 What we can do that “JUNIOR” can’t do is limited only by what we think we can do….use your imagination and go talk to them…. Sometimes they don’t know what they want till WE tell them 🙂 RENTALS Selling vs. renting – we almost always rent Centerpieces that have any kind of expensive design components. What I do is come up with a price of what the centerpiece would sell for (using my QBN job cost form, of course!), and then I add up all of the design components that can be re-used in the centerpiece (design dish, acrylic tube, pedestals, votive candles, etc.) and take that number off of the selling price. For example, if I am building a two-tier pedestal arrangement with votive candles and expensive wired ribbon spiraling down the pole, I would add up all of the re-usable items – let’s say the cost just for design components is $10.50 (not balloons or any type of filler – just the main “skeleton” of the centerpiece). We have calculated that the selling price for this arrangement will be $40.00 – so by subtracting the cost of design elements ($10.50) – the rental price I would charge would be $29.50. When I caculated the selling price I figured in the cost of the components + profit – so by taking off the cost of the components on the rental price I am only giving up the profit on the components themselves (not the whole centerpiece). I am still coming out way ahead because I have charged the client for the cost of the components and when I rent this centerpiece again it will be pure profit. By figuring both prices for the client – you are letting them make the decision as to whether they want to rent or buy. Most people will not have any use with the centerpiece after the event anyway, so they will probably choose to save some money and rent. Then you can point out to them that since they just saved $315.00 on their 30 table centerpieces, you can add an awesome entrance arch for their guests to walk-thru when the enter the party – since they rented the centerpieces, it’s like getting the arch for free (or so they think!). Oh yeah – Don’t forget – always take a deposit or credit card to secure any rental items!
- We are adding more frames to our selections. Do you charge a security deposit on each frame or a basic fee for the whole thing? The columns cost me 50 C-shells each. I would hate to lose them, but 200+ C-shells in security seems a lot.
- It’s easy to do security. If anyone ever objects, I say it’s just like renting a car.
- We have a standard rental contract that’s part of the decorating contract. If there are no rentals, I zap it out before printing the contract. (Look to friends in the party rental business for contract ideas.) At the end of the contract we have a security deposit amount. We request either a credit card # with signature, or cash. We do not accept checks for security.If any damage or losses occur, then we run the credit card or don’t return the cash. This is rare! Most clients are very good about their rentals if their money is on the line. As far as an amount, I usually estimate what the total will be and put that on the contract. We don’t run the credit card, unless we suspect it isn’t any good, then we run a test sale and reverse it.
- Believe me, we get our rentals back!! The other thing we do is charge a high fee to go out after hours (especially after midnight) to retrieve rentals, if a facility is unwilling to store them overnight. Most facilities are very cooperative, but some are snippy. If we know in advance, it’s to everyone’s advantage to pick up rentals right away. A clean-up, or striking, fee can also be included.
- It sounds silly to me to say ‘That will cost 30 C-shells and that’s a rental price… so…you Hafta return the frames … cause I said so… or else I’ll bill you.’Instead, all of my proposals say ‘The rental price for the item is 30 C-shells and the purchase price is 200 C-shells. Which would you prefer?’ Make the purchase price high. You don’t want them going to K-mart and buying balloons next year and trying to refill the frame.
Want to form better relations with the other balloonies in town? When introducing yourself to them, let them know that you are willing to rent to them your SDS panels, base plates, electric inflators etc rather than them having to buy additional equipment. Again, you get some income to cover capital expenditure ….. they might return the offer to you …..and thereby reduce your initial expenditure on new equipment. Everone wins! Adopt a company policy of renting equipment to reputable balloon pros ONLY. NEVER rent out your professional balloon equipment (base plates, etc.) to laypersons if you are not doing the balloon work! You have invested lots of money into your education to make you the balloon professional that you are. You are under NO obligation to give away any trade secrets that you spent this money to learn. I have had people ask and I look at them sweetly and say with a smile on my face “I can’t tell you that! It’s a trade secret!” The hardware that you use is part of what you have spent money on to learn! Without the right hardware, nothing works. Just be super sweet while you tell them “No.” Or by using the term “company policy” it comes across a little … softer. It’s kind of like the decision was made by a third person (the company). You would really love to oblige ….. but it’s against company policy. Drats! have at least 2 electric air inflators. As a means to gradually recoup your capital outlay on equipment, rent out the spare electric inflator for those customers who need to inflate hundreds of latex without using lungs. Eg; the local scouts group who don’t want a decorator ….. just the balloons for the kids to inflate themselves. We have about 6 inflators and 2 or 3 rented out every weekend. I have been using archways, columns, tulle, lights, ivy and so on in my decorating as rental items. I set up a form that the client receives along with all of the rental items that explains exactly how I would like the rental items returned. For example, Ivy Candle Bowls: Rinsed and dried, rewrapped in plastic provided and put into tubs…. Everything is explained in simple terms with everything supplied to cut down on the time I have to spend repacking, wrapping etc. these things when they come back. I have on the form that if the items are returned in any other fashion (like tulle balled up) they will lose a portion of their security deposit to cover the time it takes us to do these things. This helps keep my prices affordable. We always ask for a signed credit card imprint when renting items. We tell renters that the imprint will be returned so long as the items are not damaged and returned according to the rental agreement. If they don’t have a credit card…always ask for a security deposit worth at least 3x the rental value…It’s better to be safe and ask for a large deposit then be sorry afterwards. Our rental agreement specifically states that if the items are not returned in the proper fashion, or are returned damaged, or are not returned at all… the owner shall be authorized to charge the Renter’s credit card for all damages resulting from their actions… also, if the items are not returned… you should have the right to repossess the items or take legal action against them… which legal fees they shall be responsible for… All this should be stated in fine print on the bottom of your rental invoice… and Renters must always sign and date it to indicate their acceptance… this is where you request a signed charge card imprint… It’s similar to when you rent a car….. I’m not sure whether you’ve adopted this procedure already. If so, that’s great. If not, we suggest you do asap, even if it means altering your rental invoices and procedures. Oh, and lastly..always make sure your rental invoice specifies all the pieces rented…and exact dates and times for return….and…that the items are to be returned in the proper fashion or there will be a 25% surcharge on their credit card (or whatever % you wish to charge). The surcharge must be specifically set out and BOLDED (on the invoice) so that they are aware of it…and always verbally advise them of your policies while they are filling out the rental agreement…They can’t come back later and say they didn’t know…Posting your rental procedures at the front desk is also a must..Trust me…it’s really important, especially if it ends up in a dispute…we’ve had horror stories in the past and had to set strict procedures… Please don’t be afraid to surcharge…renters know their responsibilities..some just don’t care…do not let Renters get away with leaving you with hours of work and never tolerate items that are returned damaged. You must charge them! Your time is $$$$. I have gotten into many rental items in my shop and really have no method anymore as far as how to price them. I used to say after 3 rentals they should be paid for, but now am pretty much going on what the competition is charging. Some of my items pay for themselves the first time they are rented, like white corded lights and tulle, others like my columns took 2x, my archways took 3.5x, ivy and flower garlands 2x rented to be paid off. I was trying to figure the 3x, but I was way under the competition on some things and felt that I should get the same $$ as they! This may not be the best method, but it has worked for me and my rentals are paid off and making me money quickly! Since there is a signed agreement between the Client and yourself, should you request a deposit for the items to cover the cost of possible damages? Absolutely!!! Otherwise, how are you going to replace an item that they return unuseable! I do a lot of rentals which are prepaid at the time that they are rented, with no return of monies if they “change their mind” because of the possiblility that I could have rented it out for the same date. I also take a separate check in the amount of the replacement cost of every item that they have rented which I hold until the items are returned. I have a 3 day inspection period in which I either return the check if nothing is damaged, or cash the check and take out the replacement cost of item(s) that were damaged and refund the difference. This is all in writing so there is no doubt in anyone’s mind as far as what my rules are! Either obtain a security deposit or have the customer sign a blank credit card voucher (and make sure they are clear on the policy that their credit card will be charged if the item(s) are damaged or not returned). If the item is damaged or not returned, you just apply the appropriate charges to their credit card. GETTING YOUR STUFF BACK When you’re doing a decor job, say for an evening wedding on a Friday night, when do you go back to pick up your products (centerpieces, heart frames, weights, whatever)? Bride is not sure when party will end, so you can’t really go back that night. Bride doesn’t want to be responsible for items left over night. How do you all handle this? If you want your props to not grow feet and walk, you pick them up the moment the party is over. Often times, I will be at the facility 1/2 hour before the party is over (especially a bar or bat mitzvah) to make sure I keep an eye out for my things leaving – like mirrors for centerpieces, turn tables, etc. Some people just like to take things just to prove that they can. I have had people try to walk out of the party carrying an 8 foot stanchion filled with balloons. (Now, what are they going to do with it?) I yell “Freeze! Balloon Police! Put the XXXX down and keep your hands where I can see ’em!” Anyone caught red-handed has to help you load your van. You should also make sure that you have your client sign, as part of your contract, that she/he is responsible for your props and products (centerpieces, heart frames, weights, whatever) if they start to “walk” before the party is over. She must to reimburse you the replacement value of the prop/linens/etc. Otherwise sell the job in a way that it doesn’t require you to return to pick anything up. We have it noted within our contract what needs to be returned to us and what the cost will be if it is not or if it is damaged. We give them three days to return the items. A signed charge slip is on file just in case we have problems. If the return isn’t made by the second day, we give them a call to remind them. When they return the items, we check them for damage before disposing of the charge slip. We put our name and phone number clearly on the items (top of baseplate, bottom of mirrors, etc.); notify the hotel staff that we will be back for them and ask where they will be and what time they can be picked up. We are there exactly when they stated the stuff would be ready for pick up. We have only had a problem once with mylar curtains that were probably very difficult to take down and keep in one piece anyway. The client chose to keep them and pay the predetermined price. LINENS RENTALS I rent linens out to clients all the time and I make a nice profit on them. I use a local company. You can check in your business to business directories or just call rental services such as Taylor Rental. You can also get valuable information by attending local networking parties held by NACE (National Assoc. of Catering Executives) or MPI (Meeting Planners International). If you work with a caterer and have a good repore, you can ask them. I like to rent linens because I can offer another service to my clients. I can also be assured that the colors that I am using with my balloons and flowers will match the linens. Linen companies will send you out swatch charts. The client picks out the colors that match, or compliment, the balloons. Sometimes the caterer supplies the linens but the client wants more. In that case I often rent a print or lace overlay. Again, adding $$$ to the bottom line. The biggest pain about renting linens is that you have to go back to get them after the party is over (but then I have to go back a lot of times to pick up my props anyway). Most caterers that I work with bag them up and all I do is just pick up the bag. One tip . . . make sure you count the pieces and make sure the client knows that they are responsible for replacement. The same goes for chair covers. Many linen companies rent them as well. And yes, they are expensive, but the look is fabulous!! There is a company called Sculptichair that ships chair covers to you in a duffle bag, then you ship them back the same way. I think they also sell them. SculptChair 16114 North 81st Street Scottsdale, AZ 85260 1-800-USA-2750 www.sculptchair.com We added linen rental and chaircovers to our decorating service about 5 years ago and since then we have made ALOT of money on this without having to invest hardly any money at all. We have several linen companies that we work with, which I will list at the end of this. The way we started out was by requesting catalogs from the linen companies listed in “Special Event” magazine and we just keep them on file for when we need them. After collecting a bunch of catalogs (a laundry basket full!) I picked out a few of the table coverings that I thought my customers would like and I had them shipped to me, along with matching chaircovers, so that I could set a table up and take a picture to put in my portfolio. Some of the companies even sent them out to us at no charge. As another way to let people know we did specialty linens and chaircovers, we used them on our tables and chairs at all of our bridal shows. Now, this is definitely not something we do in our area every weekend, because it is very expensive, and our average bride does not have the budget for it. But once in awhile you will get a more upscale (polite way of saying “rich and spoiled”) bride with a bigger budget that will love the look and will go for it. All you have to do is order the linens, count them when they come in, install on the tables, pick them up from the reception and then ship them back. (Of course, we always have contracts signed and a large deposit taken.) We mark up the rental price (what we are renting the linen for) a certain percentage and then we add on an installation and removal fee per item. Then, we have to figure in the shipping back and forth. Then, that’s when we can set our price that we will charge the client. Sometimes after adding all of that up I just about have a stroke and think “there is no way they’re going to go for this”, but often to my surprise they won’t bat an eyelash. A client can literally have HUNDREDS of dollars into each table, but if it’s the right kind of client and that is the look they want, they won’t care. One of my linen jobs last year (it was the wedding shown in issue #4 of Weddings with Style) was out of control – their total specialty linen and chaircover bill was over $10,000! And I didn’t pursuade them at all – they came to me because I am the only one in my area that offers specialty linens and told me what they wanted – all I did was service their need. Again, we don’t do these types of weddings very often, but the 5 or 6 we have every year is very worthwhile and is kind of like “bonus” money (we usually end up doing other decorating too). Especially when there is virtually no investment – just labor in installation and teardown. Here are a few of the companies I work with: BBJ Linens Skokie, IL (800) 722-0126 Carousel Linens Highwood, IL (800) 238-8182 Munkeboe Party Linen Nashville, TN (800) 255-6385 Table Toppings Miami, FL (305) 836-8807 Gotcha Covered Linen Rental Metairie, LA (800) 992-3930 Connie Duglin Tampa, FL – tablecloths, napkins, skirting, and chair covers, 1-800-243-6888 Ultimate textiles 1-800-567-4451 You can see some of our specialy linen jobs on our decorating web site for Elegant Occasions at http://www.specialtymile.com/elegantoccasions. Look in the photo gallery. We get most of our linen suppliers out of the Special Events magazine. If you don’t take it, you should. It’s a great magazine for decorators and has lots and lots of resources in it. We don’t get our linens from any one supplier, but from many. http://www.specialevents.com/magazine/ Special Events Magazine. Hope this helps. A-1 tablecloth company number is 1-800-party-usa They have the best prices I have found on both rental and sales of table linen and chair covers. A-1 table cloth will rent you chair covers. I believe they are $3 or 4 to rent. ( cotton\poly ) $8 to 9 to buy. I just bought a whole bunch of table cloths and skirts at what I thought was a very reasonable price from A-1 tablecloth company. They are located in New Jersey. (USA) Their toll-free number is 1-800-727-8987. They also do wholesale rentals. You might want to check out Issue 4-5, 1998 of BALLOONS & Parties Magazine. This double issue had an article entitled “Linens-Your Hidden Decor,” part of which dealt with the pros and cons of renting vs. buying linens. We started offering linen rental to our line of services a couple of years back. We contacted several local companies, who deliver directly to the venues we work out of. Call the local catering manager of various venues and ask who they are currently using. I got quotes from several companies before placing the order, especially on themed linens, because they vary quite a bit in price at times. We’ve now developed a relationship with two companies in particular, who offer us discounts on a sliding scale, depending on how big the order is. If we place a small order, we only receive a 10% discount. But on larger orders, we’ve negotiated as much as 25% – quite a nice profit, considering I’m just making a few phone calls. A caution though. If you leave the linens in trust of the hotel where the rental company will return to retrieve them, and they’re not all there, you’re the one who will pay for anything missing. If our strike crews are going back, we have them bag and bring the linens back to our warehouse, and make arrangements for pick up there. It’s alot safer, depending on the hotel. Overall we’ve found it to work well and be profitable. I own a party store–supplies and rental–along with balloon decorating. While it is true subrenting the linen will allow you to provide a greater range of linen choices, it also reduces the income you can earn (assumption since I don’t know what type of mark-up you are planning). My basic linens pay for themselves after 2-3 rentals. I pay 10-12 C-shells for a 60×120 and rent them for 5 C-shells. While I would love to have a variety of printed linens, my town is too small (5,000) for anything other than white or ivory. But the companies I buy from have a great selection of patterned, moire, and sheer. They also offer chair covers.