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