Who’s Who in the Balloon Industry
Tom Myers (1 April 1948 – )
Entered industry: 1982
Type of balloon business: wholesale retail education
Official site: http://www.tmyers.com
Tom (AKA the ‘T’ in T Myers Magic) is single (married previously to Merrianne who was heavily involved in the growth of T Myers Magic), has no human kids but has a bunch of dogs. His family consists of hard working educators and professionals. So it’s no surprise that he was so successful at his chosen path. While he is known most these days for running a large balloon distributorship that caters to balloon entertainers, those that have been in the business for a while remember the years he spent on the road teaching classes and designing a line of balloon pumps that changed the way entertainers inflate balloons.
The path leading up to his current involvement in the balloon world wasn’t short or direct. He worked as a farm hand, fry cook, file clerk, candle maker, leather craftsman, carpenter, retail store owner, rental maintenance man, awning and banner maker, surfboard bag manufacturer, magician, balloon twister, lecturer, and mail order business owner. In his words, “While it sounds like I have a lot of skills, it seems like I’m having to learn something new every time I turn around, like doing this catalog on the web.”
The early years in the entertainment industry did not involve a plan to become a balloon distributor. He began as a magician working on the street, doing birthday parties, company picnics, and Renaissance Fairs. His original goal at the when starting the business was to make a living by busking.
Tom describes his own experience learning to busk with balloons:
To me that meant doing a magic show and passing the hat. Learning to busk was the most challenging, satisfying, gut wrenching and educational thing I have ever done. Since I had no theater or magic background there was a lot to learn. Learning magic took discipline but I could practice by myself. Learning to perform took an audience. It took years. I studied street performers in San Francisco, Boston and Renaissance Fairs. I did free shows for nursing homes and friends until I was confident I had a show.”
The first few tries at working the street were dismal failures. It took all the courage I could scrape up to go out and try, then it took even more to go back. It seemed abusive to myself and my audience to go through this learning process but eventually I had a show that made me proud and made me some money. The one thing that worked for me was sticking at it..
I never became one of the great street buskers. I was merely competent but that’s saying a lot. In 1985 I found myself in Seattle for the summer. The crowds weren’t large or steady enough to make a living and I needed more income. In this situation, balloons for tips worked better than my magic show so I follwed the money. This led to the invention of Pump 1 which led to selling pumps and supplies. My goals and responsibilities have changed but I would encourage anyone to give busking a try. You’ll learn a lot about the world and yourself.
Major contributions to the balloon industry
True Inflations ™ “From the T. Myers Academy of Arts Inflatique”
For years Tom published a hard copy newsletter, True Inflations which included sculpture ideas, small business tips, and information about the balloon industry. T. offers 3 volumes of the “Best of True Inflations.”
T continues his educational service to this day, offering monthly front page articles at his web site.
Pump 1, PumpO, Pogo upright balloon pumps
Pump 1 model invented by T around 1985. It’s been a couple decades since T invented PUMP 1. He didn’t set out to sell balloon pumps. It all started one summer when T and Merianne (T’s ex wife and former business partner) were ballooning for tips at Seattle Center. The audience loved the balloons and the money was good. There were just a couple of problems. Merianne couldn’t blow up balloons at all and T discovered the meaning of “hitting the wall,” (in this case it was three weeks of blowing 5 gross of balloons a day by mouth.)
In self defense T assembled some bits and pieces gleaned from the local Coast to Coast and, there on the picnic table at the campsite, created the first PUMP 1. It made all the difference in the ability to mass produce balloon sculptures and have fun doing it. “We were immediately inspired to give customers multi-balloon hats and animals on leashes. They, in turn, were inspired to give bigger tips.” Soon other balloonists were asking where they could get the pump. What started as the finest one-stroke manual pump for long, skinny balloons has become the symbol of the serious professional – “The Rolls Royce of Balloon Pumps.” It has been continually improved and refined.
The evidence that these pumps were valuable to balloon artists can be seen in the huge number of copycat pumps that exist today.
TJAM 99, the First Balloon Twisters Convention
Following some discussions on the Balloon HQ Entertainers Email forum (the “twister’s list”) about how there were no conventions dedicated solely to balloon entertainers, Tom stepped up to plan the very first convention for that group. Planning a get-together to visit with T and have a big balloon jam, T&JAM99 was created.
TJAM 99 became a reality when 232 registrants from 8 countries and 36 states came to the Austin Chariot Resort Inn & Conference Center on February 19th – 21st, 1999. Workshops were given by Marvin Hardy, Royal and Patty Sorell, John Holmes, Tom Myers, and the Balloon Headquarters team of Larry Moss, Sheena Beaverson, and Mark Balzer. Industry support and prizes were offered by Qualatex, BSA, Prestige Balloons, and T. Myers Magic.
The convention format developed for TJAM 99 has served as the basis for other balloon entertainers conventions held in later years (Twist and Shout, Millennium Jam, Euro Jam), with respect to workshops, sculpture competitions, ice breaker activities, private lessons, and the final night banquet.
The word “copycat” is used above to describe pumps that came after T’s inventions. That’s not to suggest others didn’t independently develop similar pumps, or for that matter, other standing pumps with different construction ideas and goals. An article by Tom Myers on what he invented can be found in the BHQ entertainer archive.
Other articles of interest about T’s contributions to the industry:
- T& Jam Review (long post) By Patty Sorell>
- I was at Mecca! – by Patrick Duffeck
- T and Jam by Patrick Brown
Quotes from this person
The rest of my life will be described by pre and post TJAM 99. My assumptions and attitude about you as a market has had some serious adjustment. The number of people who are passionate about twisting as an art form kind of amazed me. Not by what they said, by what they did. The contest entries blew me away.
Some people may be born entertainers. I’m not. I like people but I’m kind of shy. Learning to be the confident performer in front of a crowd took practice. But how do you practice something you don’t have? It’s a catch 22..
Quotes about this person
Mark Balzer writes about TJAM 99
Unless you were there, surrounded by breathtaking artistry on all sides, you can’t imagine the difficulty I (and others) faced in trying to decide on one and only one best sculpture from a hundred entries in each of the small/medium/large categories. After strolling through the contest room, I personally was unable to pick fewer than _four_ top sculptures for each category. Having to cross out three of my four choices (in order to leave one and only one) was not only extemely difficult, but the realization that I couldn’t give my crossed-out sculptures _any_ credit was heartbreaking.
Sheena Beaverson writes about TJAM 99
The entire event was phenomenal and now that we’ve discovered the proper venue, I don’t think that Marvin will ever have to worry again about losing balloon sculpting as an art form. It’s out there, we just never had enough chances to see it before!