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Monthly Archives: January 2012


Tonight, while at a Chamber of Commerce dinner event….we were talking in depth about the impact we make on people’s lives.  Customers come to us for their baby shower….then we see them for the first birthday, then the second birthday and now that we’ve been in business over three years…the third birthday.

Someone at the table asked us:  “How do you compete with the dollar stores?”

Our answer:  “We don’t.”  We don’t try to compete, because we aren’t in the same category as them.  We create beautiful custom bouquets and provide individual service.  There may be some things in our store that the dollar store has, but we don’t offer them to “compete” with the dollar store….we offer them as a convenience to our customers so that they can enjoy one stop shopping.  Even if our price is twenty five cents higher on a particular item, our customers will pay that extra quarter for the convenience of making one stop.

Someone asked us:  “Do you dress up like clowns?”

Our answer:  “We don’t.”  We want our customers to relate to us as fellow human beings…real people with real hearts.  When customers come to us planning a celebration, we rejoice with them.  When customers come to us planning a memorial service or balloon release for someone who is deceased, we empathize with them.   We feel their pain.  A clown is not real.  We are real.

Someone asked us:  “Isn’t everybody happy when they come into our store?”

Our answer:  “Not necessarily.”

I will never forget planning a balloon release for a 17 year old who was killed.  It was tragic.  I felt numb as the friends of the mother all came to the store to place the order.  As I staked the balloon release which held 300 latex balloons into the ground, tears rolled down my face as I said a silent prayer for the family.  We know many customers who come to us for releases….and there are some customers who we know don’t even want to engage in conversations…so we quietly hand them their balloons and give them peace.

Someone said:  “I bet you throw the best parties since you’re in the party business!’

I said:  “I don’t have time to throw parties!”

Our family parties are held at the store.  Even my wedding was at the store.    I’d much rather be helping other people plan their parties 🙂  It’s not a party store, it’s a way of life 🙂

I am very proud to be a part of the local party store.



It’s a constant battle…and I go back and forth.  Taking work home with me isn’t good for myself, my husband or my daughter when I take it to the extreme.  Yet, there is always so much to do and I take it home and spend my evenings doing e-mail correspondence, balloon projects, website updating, and so on.  And then I go to work and do more of the same thing in between customers.  And then I wonder why I’m feeling fried.

On Monday, I took our kitchen table and put it in our living room.  So now, in addition to having a “balloon studio” in my living room filled with every size and color balloon, I created an paperwork office and completed many paper projects.  I spent a lot of time at home this week working on projects and studying for my upcoming CBA exam.  And I spent a lot of time working at the store.  There really wasn’t much of a break.  And I found myself getting more and more frustrated each day.

So, today, I moved the kitchen table back into the kitchen.  I packed up all the bins of balloons.  I put everything into my car….to take back to the store tomorrow.  I’m declaring “No more work at home.”  My daughter is on the couch next to me, my husband is in the next room, and for this brief moment in time….I feel like a “normal” person.  I feel serene, I feel happy, I feel no stress. 

But I have to wonder how long it will last.  I’ve been down this road before.  Packed it up….taken it home….packed it up….taken it back to the store.  And so it goes….the constant pull between what’s healthy and what’s insane….what’s enough and what’s too much….what makes me feel happy, and what makes me feel stressed.

And it’s always been like this for me….when I was a teacher, I put everything I had into my classroom.  Yes, I was the crazy teacher who didn’t just teach ABOUT elections (for example).  I was the teacher who created an election polling box out of an old refrigerator box, created ballots and took the students through the whole election process by creating a mock election in the classroom.  And, when I was in healthcare marketing….I didn’t just execute marketing plans.  I walked into my jobs and created them….and then was asked to take my marketing materials and share them with my peers and with those who were at the top.  I created Powerpoint presentations before they were the “norm” and I worked around the clock to shine.  So, it’s not just the party store….I can see it’s just my way of being Amy.  And sometimes I like it, and sometimes I just want to create a new Amy who can just live without constantly trying to push, push, push and push.

I hesitate to say it’s “wrong” to work from home…..and I don’t think there’s any such thing as “right” and “wrong” when it comes to investing everything you’ve got into a business dream which is ultimately quite fulfilling and rewarding.  I guess I rely more on my feelings….my gut…my intuition.  And when I start to see myself slipping into anxiety, irritation, or agitation…..I pull away and give it a rest and pack everything up to go back to the store.  Which is what I did tonight.

So we’ll see how long it lasts….as for tonight, I’m declaring this home to be a “work-free” zone.  There IS more to this world than the store….and it’s just learning to find balance which makes me human.  I try not to wonder if I’ll ever achieve balance, because I’ll take that thought and overthink it and overanalyze it until it’s written on my giant dry-erase board for evaluation.  And I don’t want to do that tonight.  Tonight I just want to watch some TV and eat some popcorn, cuddle with my husband and wait on my daughter.

What’s a typical Wednesday like at a party store?  First of all, there’s no such thing as typical.

Day starts coming to the store and finding out that it’s full of customers, which is a good thing.  But not if a hospital committee sends you an e-mail and then calls you asking you to bring two samples of the designs you have created to their campus at 3pm for a committee meeting.  Which is what happened today.

So, juggle customers and make two samples….

Even though I sent her pictures two weeks ago, I try very carefully not to get irritated.  These are busy people trying to coordinate big events.  I want to be their balloon lady, I must do whatever I can to keep their business.  Event is in March.  30 tables.  Worth my time.


A pastor calls and needs six bags of balloons by tomorrow, and then you realize that the main balloon (a 24 inch deco bubble)  you need for the sample TONIGHT at 6pm isn’t in stock because it was sold out over the weekend and you’re trying to take off Mondays and Tuesdays, so due to the urgency of the situation, you quickly coordinate a balloon order to be picked up by dad in an hour.  Then, decide that since we’re placing another order to get all of the “Just Married” latex balloons and other supplies for Sunday’s bridal show.  That will save time later.  No problems so far. Rep from Brodys calls, no problem, of course he has us covered.  I love Tony.  Website says “4 hours notice,” but for us, they find a way to do it in one hour.  THAT’s why it’s important to always be nice to your vendors.  I am grateful. I always say thank you 🙂

Juggle customers, make samples.

Samples getting done….even though a half hour search for the Balloon Bond is in vain, and the Balloon Bond which is $45.00 a roll is missing. Quick fix….run home and get some from living room balloon studio and run back to store.  I live 5 minutes from store.  Good idea if you have a busy balloon store where things get misplaced.  One sample is a high-end sample with the gumball stuffed bubble balloon and the hospital logo made out of a crescent and a star on top of the bubble.  Yvonne, who is training at our store, compliments me on my steady hand.  Projects both looking awesome…

Juggle customers.  Lady planning baby shower wants to do pacifiers at each table.  Referred to us by a friend.  Word of mouth is still number one.

Then realizing it’s Wednesday means we have to complete balloon order from Rainbow, since they are a 2 day ship and we need a couple things by Friday for special projects, and so that needs to get done.  Fortunately Alissa started it yesterday, so it’s just a quick “forward” from my e-mail account to reps e-mail account. .  Rep calls with question and I have a bubble balloon in one hand and fishing wire in the other hand, but I drop it all to help figure it out and complete order.  We go through previous orders to figure out which crescents and curves I need for upcoming job.  Might as well get those now.  Add a couple of horse balloons for Saturday night’s chamber dinner….still need to give them a call to coordinate the details.  Rep at Rainbow is very patient.  I write him an e-mail that says:  “Thank you for your patience.”

Phone rings off the hook and everyone wants to talk to AMY.  Which is fine, except that it’s nearing 1pm and the hospital is in Gary and the distance between store and Gary is kind of questionable with traffic at this time of the day.  Nerves start setting in.  Two samples due at 6pm still haven’t been started.  Oh, and the Facebook contest winners need coupons waiting for them at balloon counter.  Thank you Irene for handling that.

Two samples look awesome, and four e-mail messages in my inbox are awaiting a response.  No problem, I’ll e-mail them while driving to Gary.  Nevermind, that’s probably illegal to e-mail and drive.  They can wait.  Two voicemails….hmmmm, hoping it’s not a balloon emergency because it’s 2:15 and I need to get to Gary.  Rep from wedding magazine wants to talk with me and another lady wants consultation at the Munster Social Center.

Parking lot is far away from hospital, which makes it hard to carry two big arrangements.  Project would have been destroyed in the wind if we didn’t have balloon bags.  Today, balloon bags are my best friend.  The path to the hospital Auditorium room was long, but the sweet little front desk lady takes me there and tells me my balloons are beautiful.  I graciously thank her, I never would have found it without her.

Drop off complete…2:55….meet and greet with committee members who gush over my balloons and get back to the store by 4pm which leaves me 1 hour to complete the two bouquets for tonight’s tasting.  Their main event is February 11.  Tonight is a tasting, and of course it wouldn’t be complete without samples of the balloon decor.  Complete two gorgeous centerpieces….fortunately heat sealer, glue gun, lighting, fishing wire, crescents, curves, feathers, beads, mask and everything else were easily found.   HUGE mess all over the floor is completely my fault….I take the credit (or, should I say “the blame”) and instruct high school employees to clean it.  They hate cleaning up after me.  I just know it.  G-mail calendar sends me a reminder about the tasting just as I hopped in car….perfect.

Car ride….half hour….peek at e-mails, 2 more waiting….confirm advertisement and get back to a school in Cedar Lake about our Give Back program.  She wants me to make her flyers to put in her office with our store information.  I tell her I will do it Monday.

Arrive fifteen minutes early….2 tables were beautifully set up, put one bouquet on each table….one balloon display is a classy gold and white arrangement.  One is a colorful arrangement with beads and a mask made out of crescent and curves.  Meet with Foundation Director as we were the first ones there.  Discuss with 14 others the specifics about my balloons and then engage in the tasting.  Lady from earlier committee (the one that was due at 3pm)  tells me which arrangement the previous committee favors, and I feel like I scored because she had my back.  I thank her.  In fact, I thank everyone.  Every single one of them is pulling for me.

Found out the referral for my big project a few weeks ago with the fire pits was from Foundation Director, I thank him.  The hospital is made up of a lot of Indian doctors.  Referrals from every direction.  I am truly grateful. Time with them and providing samples for their huge events has a lot of major pay-offs.  Most of all, I really really like these people.  This is my second year working with them.  They are my biggest account.  I feel like they are also my friends.

I eat things I normally wouldn’t eat….crawfish, shrimp, beans, and blackened chicken.  Surprisingly, I enjoy everything.  I don’t choke, I don’t spit when I talk, and everyone keeps telling me how much they love my balloons.  The balloon lady has class.  I wonder how much they paid for me to be there.  I tell them about World Balloon Convention and they think it’s really awesome.  While voting for which soup to choose, guy across from me tells me I won’t be his balloon lady anymore if I vote for the beans and ham.   I laugh.

Banquet hall director tells me about huge event (Circus theme) being held there…700 people….and tells me that she told the director of that event about our balloons.  Another score for our balloons.  I give her a stack of cards, and she thanks me as if I’m doing her a favor.  I am truly grateful. We talk about how we both love what we do for a living.  I like her.  I’ve met with her several times before, but today we truly bonded.  She’s passionate, like me.  I can see it in her eyes.  Our eyes meet….and I can’t describe how it feels when my eyes meet with someone else who is passionate about serving others, but it’s a really cool feeling.  She likes that we come out and provides samples.  She likes the lighting in our bouquets.  She said we are so creative.

Come home at 9pm….call and discuss plans for Chamber Dinner Event for a half hour with the person in charge of that event…get budget….get online and start putting together ideas.  I dictate while my husband makes my list for this weekend.   Follow up on the e-mails I missed during the day, return Facebook messages and decide if the 8:30am Chamber Ambassador meeting tomorrow morning is a priority or not.  Right now I think not.

Today was a good day.  The retail store had a good day too.  I feel grateful that I have so many projects in the works.  I feel confident that our team can handle all these big upcoming events.  I feel truly connected with my customers and I am happy that I can give them superior service.  That’s what will separate me from all the other companies out there.  That’s why business keeps growing.  I feel very proud of our team and of what we can do.  I feel somewhat stressed, but it’s the good kind of stress.  It’s better than the stress of no business at all.

Important factors to always remember?  Always say THANK YOU.  And, Marketing is Relationship Building.  It’s THAT simple 🙂

Today’s conversation with a crazy lady who phoned in the store:

Her:  “I need to talk to someone about the order I placed last night.”

Me:  “That would be me, I’m Amy, I’m the one who helped you.”

Her:  “How much did you charge my credit card?”

Me:  “Twenty dollars.  It was a twenty dollar deposit.”

Her:  “Are you sure it was only twenty dollars?”

Me:  “Yes, it was twenty dollars.  I’m sure.”

Her:  “Do you have a transaction number for that twenty dollars?”

Me…..silence, transaction number?

Me:  “Transaction number?”

Her:  “Yes, from the credit card company.”

Me thinking that maybe the receipt that she signed is what she is looking for…..all receipts go home with my dad each day for reconciliation with credit card company.

Me:  “All of our receipts from yesterday were taken home by my father this morning.”

Her:  “Can I please talk to him?”

Me:  “He just left the store to go home because of the snowstorm.  But I can have him call you tomorrow.”

Her:  “Snowstorm?  What snowstorm?”

Me:  shaking head, as snow pours down through the window….6 inches, EVERY news channel covering it…people had been talking about it two days prior….big weather news…..

Me:  “I can have him call you.”  (shaking head….still unsure of the transaction number)

Her:  “I don’t want to leave my number.  I will call him back in five minutes.”

She hangs up.  Okay.

She never called back.

Crazy Situation With Batman Balloon Order

Lady comes into store with balloons that were trashed.

Me:  “Oh my goodness, what happened to your balloons!”

Her:  “I don’t know….I set them on my table and they just popped!  They look terrible!”

Me:  “They do look terrible.  I’m so sorry.  I don’t understand.  What kind of table did you put them on?”

Her:  “Well, it was just my kitchen table.”

Me:  “Well we will replace them….but I just can’t understand why they look like this!  I am soooooooooo sorry!”

Her:  “I don’t understand it either.  My husband picked them up on his Harley and then brought them home and they just popped! Some of them were even popped before I put them on the table. “

Crazy Situation Where Apparently We Fill Balloons For Free

Lady pulls out all kinds of balloon from her bag.

Lady says she wants to place a balloon order.

Alissa looks at her balloons and starts to write up order ticket.

Lady:  “What do you mean you’re charging me for helium?”

Alissa:  “We charge 75 cents for the latex and a dollar fifty for the small foils.  The large foils are three dollars.”

Lady.  Confused.  Bewildered.  Unhappy.

Lady:  “But you told me that if I brought my own balloons you would fill them for free!”

Another lady:

“I need my balloons filled.”

She pulls out Party City Bag.  She paid $12.99 for a balloon that we sell for $9.99.

Us:  “We charge $3.00 to fill a jumbo.”

Her:  “Three dollars?!  But I spent $12.99 on that balloon!”

Us:  “We’re so sorry, but you didn’t purchase it at our store.  We need to cover our helium costs.  We charge $3.00 to fill a jumbo foil.”

Her:  “Well that’s not fair because I paid $12.99 for that balloon and you only sell it for $9.99.”

Hmmmm….how is that our fault?

Landlord Wonders What We Wrap

Representative from property management group comes to store to talk about the issues behind the store involving prostitution.  Apparently since we are on busy Route 30, truck drivers park behind the store and get blow jobs from prostitutes.  He told us he is putting up signs behind our store restricting unauthorized vehicles parking there.  We thank him for keeping us in the loop.

And then he tells us he’s gotten complaints from other store owners about the sign in front of our store which reads:

 “We wrap gifts in balloons.”

I don’t see the problem.  But we removed the sign.  Crazy World.

Kissing Balloons

One day, we went through our Facebook portfolio and counted 27 pictures of Amy kissing balloons.  We removed most of them.

A year later, Amy marries a real person.  Much better 🙂

Ten Minute Conversation About Helium

Lady picks up a bag of balloons which say “Helium Quality Balloons”

“How long do these float?” she asks.

“They usually last about a day,” I say.

“So if I fill them with air, they will float a day?”

“You need to have them filled with helium.”

“No, it says on the bag they are helium quality.”

“That just means that they are strong enough….that they are the right type and quality of balloons to put helium in…but you need the helium.”

“No, I’ve done this a dozen times before.  I know that they float when I fill them with air.  I just want to know how long.”

“When you put helium in them, they will float for a day.”

“The helium is already in them.  I just need to know how long they will float!”

“They will float for a day.  With helium.”

She got mad.  She bought the balloons.  I never heard from her again.  I hope they are still floating.  Two years later.

Alissa Trains New Store Owner

Helium tank ran out of helium.  Alissa trains new store owner.  Pulls in new tank.  Replaces valve.  Fills balloon.  Every step of the way, she is explaining her actions to the trainees.

Balloon falls to ground.

Lesson #3 in retail….Nitrogen Tank is YELLOW.  Helium tank is brown.  Nitrogen will sink.

Yup, THAT’s how you train a new store owner.


Customer:  I’m calling because I want a refund.  My Gift In A Balloon Popped.

Us:  We’re so sorry that happened to you.

Customer:  It was in the back seat of my car and my son kept playing with it.  It was a four hour drive to Wisconsin, the balloon should have made it, right?


Customer:  I’m looking for balloons for my husband.

Us: we help her for quite some time.  Customer was growing more and more indecisive and difficult.  She didn’t like anything, and we have over 400 balloons in stock and the best bouquets in the town.

Finally customer says, “I don’t even know why I’m putting so much thought into this….I don’t even like the guy anymore. We’ve been married 37 years, he’s just a crabby old man.”

And she was absolutely pleasant.

Delivery Charge

“I want to send my daughter a bouquet at work.”

“Sure, we’ll show you some of our delivery options.”

“These are expensive.”

“They include a delivery charge.”

“You charge for delivery?  I thought you just delivered for free.”

“No, we don’t deliver for free.”

“Well I just spent a thousand dollars to buy her a trip to Las Vegas.  I don’t want to spend that much money on balloons. I just want to spend about ten dollars.”

Maybe she should go to Party City and see if they’ll deliver a bouquet for ten bucks.

Balloon Drop

Customer:  “How much would it cost to fill the balloons for a balloon drop.”

Us:  “We charge fifty cents a balloon and three hundred and fifty for installation.”

Customer:  Why is it so much cheaper that way?

Us….thinking….it’s really not that cheap….

Customer:  Well if your regular balloons are 99 cents and the balloon drop balloons are only 50 cents, I don’t get it….why would it cost less? That doesn’t make sense. It’s just as much work”

Hmmmmm.  Yes it does make sense.  You wouldn’t want the balloons for your balloon drop to stay up in the air.

And by the way…..I never ever go into businesses and question their prices if I feel like I’m getting a good deal…..

20% Off Coupon

Customer:  Will you honor my 20% off coupon for Party City?

Us:  No, we’re sorry….we can’t do that, our prices are already more than 20% less than Party City.  We keep our everyday prices lower than  their prices.  We’d be happy to match their prices.

Customer:  Well if your prices are already 20% lower than their prices, wouldn’t it make sense to honor their coupons?  You would probably get more business.”

Me to Myself:  True, very true…but we would be out of business.  Like I said, we would be happy to match their price…..ugh 🙂

Walking Pet

Lady walks in with a walking pet which is sliced along the side of it.

“Oh my goodness, what happened to your balloon?”

“My dog must not have liked it because he pounced on it and it popped immediately.”

The Customer is ALWAYS RIGHT

Customer places baby shower order for geoblossom balloons in pink.

Due to manufacturer problem, we were unable to get more of them in stock.

We call.  We apologize.  We are so sorry that we cannot get them in, can we work with you to come up with another idea?

Her:  I’ll just go to Party City.

Us:  Maam, I’m pretty sure Party City doesn’t sell them.  They are specialty decorator balloons.

Her:  No they’re not, I saw them at Party City.  I’ll go there.

We find out Party City Does NOT sell them.  We call.  We check.  Oh well.

Day later:  Customer comes to our store.

Us:  “We were pretty sure Party City didn’t have them.”

Her:  “Well, Party City DID have them…..but I changed my mind and decided to just get some flower balloons made out of balloons instead.”

Some people just have to be right….all the time.

Balloon Candy Dish

 99% of our customers are thrilled when they pick up their balloons.

Occasionally, we have a customer who isn’t very happy….

such as the candy dish customer.

She had a Deal of The Day Coupon for a 1/2 price candy dish.

She ordered Dora the Explorer and requested pink, purple and blue.

She saw her finish project and looked unhappy.

Apparently, she had another shade of  light pink, light purple and pale blue in mind.

We’re so sorry….do you want us to fix it?  It will only take a moment.

She just looks at it.  We chose the colors that match Dora….we’ve done it a hundred times.

She decides to take it anyway, but wasn’t happy.

An hour later, she calls sobbing….

The little balloon looks crooked….

oh no.

Do you want us to fix it?


I tell her to wiggle it, it’s very durable.

But she said she didn’t know how.

And she cried.

But she wouldn’t let us fix it.

What more can we do?

I guess we can’t make every customer happy every single time….but we DO offer.


It’s my best friends wedding, a customer tells us, and she wants to bring her four bouquets.

We explain our bouquet pricing.

But, Party City has a “Dozen Special” she says.

That’s fine….if you want a dozen low quality balloons that aren’t arranged, and that aren’t on a weight, you can go to Party City.

We sell bouquets.

“But I don’t have time to go to Party City,” she explains.

It wasn’t my fault that she didn’t manage her time.  I had never met her before.

We sell bouquets.  The total order would be about fifty dollars for her best friends wedding.

Her:  But what about the dozen special?

Us:  If you want a dozen special, that is a dozen balloons. Not on a weight.  We sell bouquets.  We arrange them, beautifully, on a weight….perfect for a wedding.

Her:  But can’t you take the dozen balloons and put them into bouquets on a weight?  I don’t have the time to put them on weights.”

Yes I can….and those would be called bouquets.


This was her best friends wedding.

Silly Question

Customer:  “Well we couldn’t fit them in the car, so we put them out the sunroof.  Do you really think that’s what made them pop?”

Um, yes…if you exceeded about five miles an hour for more than a block, that’s quite likely what made them pop…


Customer:  “Do you think you could show me how you make a balloon arch?  I really want to learn how to do it myself so that I can save money.”  That’s the same customer who will go to the dollar store to buy her balloons.

What’s Hi-Float?

Customer:  What does the Hi-Float do exactly?
Us:  It just makes the balloon last longer….instead of a day, they’ll last for several days.

Customer:  Can I buy some for my husband?

And on that note…..

“I’m having a bachelorette party.  I need a balloon buddy with a thing….”

“A thing?”  I laugh.

“Yes, you know what I mean….

and can I bring in some fur from Michaels to put around it?”

Yuck.  There’s a line…..there’ s really a line here that I don’t want to cross.  No fur.  No hair.  Not there.  Not on balloons.

Balloons Will Blow Away

Customer orders a dozen balloons.

Customer leaves with them.

Customer comes back a few hours later.

We recognize her.  “Did you decide you want to add more balloons?”

Her:  “When I opened my car door, a gust of wind came and pulled them out of the car.  You should really have some sort of a warning.”

Okay people:  Warning:  Helium Balloons FLOAT.

Not JUST Balloons

Ex-partner:  “They’re just balloons….you act like you’ve discovered the cure for cancer…I can’t believe you’re making this big of a deal about balloons…it’s not that big of a deal.”

Few days later.  Alissa’s grandmother dies.  Sad, very sad.  Sad for all of us.  We love Alissa.

A balloon order was misplaced in the confusion since I let her leave abrubtly.

Customer is absolutely irate that we’ve misplaced her order.

“We still have plenty of time between now and Sunday.  Don’t worry….I’ll take care of it for you.  We’ll write an order right now.”

Customer remains irate.  “I can’t believe this is how you run your business….I’ve never met such disorganized people….”

Me….reassurring her….”I’m so sorry, Alissa’s grandma died….she went home….I can handle this for you.  Your order will be done.  We do columns all the time, this is easy…let’s just rewrite the order.  I’m so sorry.”

“I don’t care….I don’t care who died…I just can’t believe that this is how you run your business. In fact, I can’t believe you’re still in business if this is the way you run things!”

Me:  “Maam, they’re just balloons.  I can’t believe your making this big of a deal about balloons.  It’s not that big of a deal.”

 Thinking to self:  I can’t believe I just said that.  But THAT LADY was crazy.

I’d Like To Make A Return

Customer:  “I’d like to make a return.”

Us:  “Sure, we’ll help you with that.”

She pulls 20 cello gift wrap bags out of a bag.  She gives us a receipt to our store.  I enter the receipt number.

I scan the merchandise to process the return.

It doesn’t come up.

I look at the bag which say “Dollar General” on them.

Ours sell for $1.79.  Apparently, she had gotten hers from Dollar General.

Me:  “I’m so sorry, we can’t process your return because these products were purchased elsewhere.”

Her:  “No they weren’t, I bought them here. I have the receipt.”

Me:  “I understand that you have your receipt, but these are 20 bags from Dollar General.  The bags you purchased were from our company, Creative Converting.”

Her:  “No, that’s not true.  I bought those here.”

Me:  “But we don’t sell Dollar General Merchandise.  They didn’t scan.  They aren’t in our system.”

Her:  “But I bought them here.  Why would I buy twenty bags here and try to return them if I didn’t buy them here?”

(Hmmmm…..do you really want me to answer?  If so, it’s because you TOOK the nice cello bags that we sell here and you used them for Christmas gifts.  Then you purchased cheap ones at Dollar General to return to us so that you would be making an extra seventy nine cents per bag. Duh)

Me:  “My computer system won’t allow me to return these.  I’m so sorry, there’s nothing I can do….they aren’t in our system.  We don’t sell them.”

Her:  “You do sell them!  They are in your gift bag aisle!”

Me:  “I realize that we sell them, but we DON”T sell Dollar General Merchandise.  We are not a dollar store.”

Her:  “But I didn’t pay a dollar for them….look at my receipt….they were $1.79”

Me:  “But the bar code indicates that THESE were not the bags that were purchased here.  You can return these to Dollar General to get a refund.  But these were not purchased here.  I cannot issue you a return.”

Her:  “But I know I bought them here.”

We’re not DOLLAR GENERAL.  If there is a sticker on your merchandise that says “Dollar General,” I am 100% certain that it wasn’t purchased at our store.


When doing an on-site set up, be careful not to carry your columns into a thorn bush.   You’ll lose the whole column.  Ask Amy and Alissa.

If mapquest says location can’t be found…and if customer assures you it’s only fifteen minutes away….trust the mapquest over the customer.

No matter how crazy your day is, never let a customer pick up their order without first confirming that they are picking up the correct order.  Someone who spent ten bucks might walk away with bouquets that someone else paid a hundred dollars for, and you will end up making two one hundred dollar orders while only getting paid for one 🙂

 Be sure to secure your Bubble Balloons onto your columns very well.  In fact, double secure them.  Otherwise, you will have to chase it across an entire parking lot during a delivery with onlookers who are amazed that the bubble balloon has bounced over two cars and still hasn’t popped.  The Bubble Balloon can withstand quite a beating when filled with Nitrogen….but it does get kind of dirty and you still WILL have to replace it.

 If a customer is ordering 6 dozen balloons, ask them if they have room in their vehicle for it. 

Otherwise, they might ask for a refund for the balloons that won’t fit in their car.  It’s happened twice to us. We do not issue refunds on balloon orders, and neither should you.

I don’t know exactly when I started to think “BIG.”

But I do know….that from the very beginning, I knew in my heart and mind that we would be a very special party store.  There were a lot of hurdles and obstacles.  There were days I wanted to just quit.  In fact, I mentally “checked out” for several months at one point.  But, somewhere in the back of mind, there was always this vision.

At one point, I think it was after the first year and a half, the vision that had previously been in the back of my mind came to the front of my mind.  Our customers LOVED us.  I bonded and connected with them and with the community through Chamber involvement.  The right people kept coming into the store to inspire me, encourage me and spark a little fire in my brain.  I became very conscious of my thoughts.  I joined a gym and spent time in the sauna doing meditation exercises.  I quit drinking.   I began to read some powerful books….Wayne Dyer on CD became my nightly bedtime ritual.  I started to invent a possibility in my mind that It’s My Party would be a bustling, thriving party store….a prototype upon which future stores could be built.

I remember double stuffing five inch balloons into a clear latex balloon, and I declared to Alissa:  “One day, I’m going to teach other people how to do balloons.”

I remember being at balloon camp….learning lots of cool things….and I declared to myself:  “Soon, I will have a big customer and I will do a large scale event.”  A few weeks later, the director of a hospital foundation walked in…purchased a $.99 greeting card, and was so blown away with our balloons that he told me he would be contacting me for an order.  Fast forward 6 projects later (each with a budget of $250)….we decorated a ballroom at the Radisson Star Plaza.  And we knocked it out of the park!

And all of the visions that I created in my head started to become reality.

I wrote my visions on large post-it paper in my bedroom.  Plastered all over my wall were declarations:  “We will be the most successful party supply store in Northwest Indiana.  It’s My Party will hire high school employees.  I will teach other store owners how to run their store.  We will be an efficient system, producing consistent results.  Our team is inspired.   We will have one dozen schools enrolled in our Give Back Program.  We will sell 4 projects an hour at $25.00 each.”  Skeptics will tell you that I am completely insane….but I’m a dedicated hard worker and though I stretch the truth at times,  I’m generally overly honest and I’m far from insane.  My declarations became reality.

People who came over to my home laughed when they saw giant post-it notes all over the place.  I even wrote “gratitude” post-it.  In big bold print, I was reminded every day of all of the things I was grateful for.  My daughter chimed in…and we were crazily writing post-its everywhere.

My declarations are constantly changing.  Today, my declarations are much different than they were a year ago.  Today I’m declaring that I will have one dozen large corporate clients.  I’m also declaring (jokingly, but also very seriously) that I will become best friends with every banquet hall manager in our region.

Ask my husband….he hung two GIANT bulletin boards and one GIANT dry erase board in our bedroom.  My business dreams and goals are right in front of my face every morning.

Every day, the actions I take are consistent with my declarations because I’m FOCUSED.

Funny how someone who spins around in circles for five minutes looking for a pair of scissors can actually be “focused.”  But in general, I am when I come to my business goals 🙂

I would suggest that anyone looking to run a retail operation become entirely clear on what they are trying to accomplish.

What I’m writing about isn’t anything new.  Laws of attraction….positive thinking…what we think about, we bring about….we’ve all heard this, read about this, etc.   They are in every single self-help book I’ve ever read.  Business books will touch on them too.  The key to me was making the switch from reading about them, to actually taking action.

Today was a really super day at the store.  We completed brand new balloon menus and we implemented a “Frequent Buyer” program.  I was intentional about getting them done today….before I started the day, I wrote down that I would complete these tasks today.  The energy in our store was contagious, and it all starts with a positive attitude…and my positive attitude can set the tone for the team (so can my negative attitude….so again here, we must always remember that our actions guide our outcomes).  Every single employee was a rock star today.  And again…when I call them all “rock stars,” they become rock stars.  We’re all rock stars.  Every day.  Because we say so.  Powerful stuff.

I also had a phone call from a lady who wants to come to our store in the spring to train.  Hmmmm.  Funny that I declared that I would be training a dozen store owners this year.  We delivered a big project to a church.  The person who received the order was so touched that he cried.  Another one of my declarations is that I will make this world a better place through the use of balloons.  And so it is.

It’s not JUST a party store for me.  It’s not JUST balloons.  It’s a way of life.  And I love it.  And I am creating it.  So can you 🙂

For the first year and a half in business, I thought I was the store.  It was “my” store.  It was all about me, me and a whole lot more ME.  I thought that everybody loved me as much as I loved me.  I thought that people would like me if I talked about myself and about how awesome I was all the time.  I thought customers cared about me, my life, my skills, my aptitudes, my abilities and again…just how awesome I was.

There were a lot of problems during those first 16 months.  And guess who caused them?  Yes, me.  Because, it was all about me of course.  It was hard to manage a team when the only person who mattered to me was me.  It was also a time of much FEAR for me.  I was afraid of big jobs, I was afraid of big customers, I was afraid to take a $1,000 check.  I was afraid of these big events because I knew I couldn’t do them alone.  And I didn’t have “team” thinking then.  Instead, every business decision was based on how much I could handle.  When things went well, I had no problem taking all the credit…..but when we expanded our store and the sales didn’t follow, it made me physically sick for months.  I took the blame.  But I was the one who had created an atmosphere where growth was impossible. 

It was during a personal crisis that I had to step away from the store for a few months and let go of control so that I could take care of myself.  Looking back, I don’t know why my team stepped in the way that they did……they orchestrated everything and worked a lot of extra hours without pay so that I could get the help that I needed.  They were like plants which had just been exposed to sunlight and oxygen…..they grew, they became green and healthy, they were alive and they became vibrant.  Not only did they protect my investment, they created some amazing things…..

I came back from that period of time with a new set of eyes.  I realized that these people I had hired to work at the store cared about it just as much as I did.  And they did it with passion, dedication and love.  And, in some respects, they did many things much better than me.   Quite a revelation for a know-it-all who just wanted to run the show……ALONE.

Our team is divinely inspired.  If you were to watch us interact, you would think that I spent thousands of dollars in psychological testing to put together the perfect match of personalities.  Some of us make a mess as we create amazing balloon decor, and some of us find our joy is cleaning up the mess and creating order.  Some of us can’t count, some of us make complex mathematical equations and organizational charts.  Some of us lose our patience with a particular customer, some of us take that same customer and turn them into a $100.00 balloon order.  

If you could take our team and wrap us up and put us in a box, you could sell us to businesses worldwide and make a ton of money.    Together, we make a whole.  I am grateful for the hardships that have taught me to lean on them….I am grateful for their compassion when I struggled to put certain pieces of my life together and I am grateful for the contributions they make on a daily basis to our party store. 

The party store pretty much runs without me now…..I’m marketing 3-4 days a week and trying to get new corporate accounts.  The big jobs don’t scare me.  I’m not afraid to be out of the store to get them…..I’m not afraid to take a team to set them up, and I’m not afraid to leave half of the team behind to take care of the retail customers.  And THAT’s how you grow.

Here’s what I have found to be the ingredients to our amazing team:

Have fun.  We make up little songs to go with the daily things that we do.  While making balloon squiggles, we sing:  “Squiggle it, just a little bit…..”  and while pumping up balloons, we have a chant and a dance:  “pump, pump, pump it up!” Silly.  But we laugh.  We laugh with our customers.  We smile.  We smile at our customers. 

Acknowledge.  We cannot afford big raises or big bonuses.  But, we do acknowledge team members for things that are done well.  For ways they handle situations.  For ideas they come up with.  We have a lot of fun ways to acknowledge one another……”That’s the idea of the day!”  “You get a gold star!”  “You get a first place ribbon!”  We do have a lot of fun with the phrase “Balloon Rock Star.”  And when we see someone acting like a balloon rock star, we point it out.  And it’s a lot of fun to be a “Balloon Rock Star.”  I know it’s not kindergarten, but the simplicity of acknowledging someone for something that they do well works for all ages of humanity:  We all want to feel important.  It’s a basic human need.

Hire for commitment.  When I look at the skills needed for people to be successful in this world (or in the store), I can think of dozens of them that are important.  But I believe that the number one thing to look for is commitment.  When someone is truly commited to your cause….your vision….your passion and your store, they will do just about anything to make it work.  They will do anything to help you keep customers.  They will go out of their way to bring you new customers.  They will come in early, they will stay late.  They will check in when they know you are working alone and bring you a coffee…..  Commitment is the one quality that all of our employees have.  It cannot be purchased or taught….it just IS, or it isn’t.  And if commitment isn’t there in any of your employees, then they might not be the right one for the business you are trying to create…..

Don’t Scold for Mistakes.  Everyone gets that awful feeling in the pit of their stomach if they make a mistake.  Why take that awful feeling for someone and make it worse?  The day won’t go better.  The thing we always say when a mistake is made is:  “The thing I have learned from this mistake is……..”  And WE ALL learn from it.  If we all learn from a mistake that is made on a small scale (maybe costing us $20.00), it could potentially save one of us from making it on a larger scale ($500 event).  I will never forget preparing for a wedding job before the store opened.  We used Hi-Float and we put the balloons in the warm, damp store.  The Hi-Float never formed a seal and it dripped to the bottom of the balloon.  We set up the event mid-afternoon and we got a phone call the next day.  The entire balloon order had fallen to the floor by 6pm.  It was a $200.00 refund.  As a result of that mistake, we found out everything that we could about Hi-Float.  We spoke to the makers of Hi-Float.  We evaluated procedures, we revised procedures and I am absolutely certain that our learning experience cost us very little in comparison to the knowledge we have gained.  Mistakes are opportunities to learn better ways of doing things.  Treat them as such….

Allow for Self-Expression.  Nobody likes a micro-manager…..and micro-managers don’t produce extraordinary results in their team.  A bird won’t fly if the wings are taped to the ground….and I remember this as I work with my amazing high school students.  When the employee is commited to the vision, he/she will do whatever it takes to get the job done.  But we can’t always define HOW they will do whatever it takes.  I always allow free time for my high school students to come up with new designs and create.  Our best designs were not created by ME, they were created by members of my team who were given the opportunity to create.  Our customers love our work because it is unique and original.  I would doubt that our work would be original if I was telling everyone exactly what to do and questioning every move. 

It’s Not About Them Liking Me.  I used to worry about if my team liked me or not.  Today, that’s not my concern.  Today, my concern is that they like themselves.  So I do things to create an environment where they like themselves in relationship to their job.  When I say “Kelsey, you are so creative!” ….Kelsey likes herself, she likes being considered “creative” and as a result she likes herself in relationship to her job….and if that’s the case, then she will continue to be creative and she will continue to thrive.   It’s not about me at all…..if I’m proud of a big job that I’ve done, that might not be as important to the employee as the fact that the employee just scheduled a $200.00 baby shower.  Keep the focus on what’s important to your employee….and they WILL like you.

Communicate.  Open communication creates a space where misunderstandings and differences of opinions can be explord.  Honest communication is a key to building trust.  Ongoing communication eliminates confusion and puts everyone on the same page….every day….taking your vision from the top and keeping it real in everyone’s mind. Texting is never a good idea….face to face is always best.  I have been known to grow impatient very quickly.  I know, for me, that sending a message in the heat of the moment will always have a bad result.  Face to face it’s hard to overreact….looking into someone’s eyes, it’s hard to be unreasonably irritated. 

My ingredients work for me.  They work for a party store with only 7-8 employees.  I don’t have a staff of 10,000.  I don’t have an HR department.  I don’t have a “GOLDEN BOOK OF RETAIL.”  But, I’ve learned through my experience how people work….how my team works….and I hope that any person getting into this business will think twice before they think they can do it alone.  Even our party store has several different departments:  retail, balloons, ordering, inventory, bookkeeping, and marketing.  And I know that I need the right people in each of these departments because I certainly can’t do it all.  And that means, The TEAM is the way 🙂

If you’ve ever wanted to own a retail store or balloon decorating business, you will need to be certain that you are willing to give up all your weekends.

In three years, I’ve taken off about four Saturdays.  Once was for my grandma’s 90th birthday.  Once was to see my marathon-man-boyfriend who is now my husband run a half marathon.  I slept in the hotel room the whole time.  Once was because I was ridiculously sick, and I’m pretty sure that I DID show up for work that day, but was sent home by the team.  Once I was at a balloon convention.

To me, working weekends is a joy.  I love the craziness of the store.  I love the on-site set-ups for big clients.  I love the energy of having my whole team present.  I love that just about every single customer is happy because it’s “the weekend.”  I love that there are so many children in the store.  I love shooting our “Out The Door!” video.  I love being surrounded by dozens of cool balloon projects that are being picked up that day.

I especially love when I’m at the store until midnight on a Friday night and then back at 7am to get the projects done.  There have been days that I’ve had only a couple hours of sleep, but coffee and positive balloon energy were enough to get me through the back to back 14 hour days.  There is so much to coordinate on a weekend….big projects, deliveries, and the flow between the balloon counter and the cash register.   Excellent customer service is our goal….and it all starts with having the entire team there on weekends to make that happen.  So, I work weekends…..

And I often joke that I work 40 hour weekends.  I think back to the commercial for the army I remember watching as a child.  The one where the bottom line is “we do more by 6am than most people do all day.”  I do more all weekend than most people do all week.  It makes me feel strong.  Yes, I have pride.

Every day, I get e-mails and letters from people who are looking to start their own balloon business or retail store.  They see what I do and it looks like fun to them.  And, it is fun.  But it’s work….and most of it takes place on weekends.  If you want to watch your children play sports, a retail business might not be right for you.  If you want to spend your weekends with your family, think twice about this field.  Consider all the other things you like to do on a weekend.  Would you want to miss them?  You need to be ready to help other people plan their big weekend events as you sacrifice  all of the big events taking place in your own family.  And very often….there are several really big jobs on a Saturday, which means that the day starts very early and ends very late.

My once-a-year family vacations start on Sundays.  Family dinners or birthday parties are held at 6pm on Sundays or during the week.  My mommy-daughter time with my daughter takes place on Monday and Wednesday afternoons and on days off of school.  My “Saturday” is really a Monday, which is good because the grocery store is never crowded.  And then I sleep.  I sleep all day.  I call it “catch-up” sleep….and it feels great.  And then it’s back to work on Tuesday….because my “weekend” only lasts one day.  And I wouldn’t have it any other way.  I love what I do.  It’s a way of life…and I love my weekends.