OPPORTUNITY KNOCKS
Up, Up & Away
This innovative balloon gift-wrapping machine offers
entrepreneurs a Unique way to inflate their income.

BY YVONNE UNDERWOOD
henever there are birthdays, holidays, parties and celebrations, there are people looking for last-minute gifts.
    To capitalize on that need, Balloon Wrap dealers offer these desperate shoppers a novel alternative: shiny, transparent balloons bearing gifts inside. What makes them irresistible to gift-givers, of course, is the fact that the gift is inside the balloon.
    It defies logic. It looks magic. And with a wholesale cost of about $1 per balloon, and retail price of $6.50 and up depending on the gift inside, it's one impulse item that has profit potential.
   What makes it possible is a portable machine that inflates the gift-stuffed balloon by using a patented air-displacement method.
    The machine, plus 18 hours of training videos and unlimited phone support and consultation on an 800 line are what make up the basic Balloon Wrap business opportunity, which costs $1,500.
    Balloon Wrap, based in Yorba Linda, Calif., was launched in October 1988 by Les Wigger and a partner, who opted out of business after several months. The company now has 2,000 dealers scattered throughout all 50 states and 30 countries.
    "Eighty percent of our dealers are home-based," says Wigger. "Typically, they are first-time entrepreneurs. Some are handicapped, usually with leg or back problems. There is no heavy lifting. But you do have to be able to use your hands to make this work."
    Getting started. "A typical start-up is that you get the machine on Thursday and you're out at a flea market that weekend," says Wigger. "People make their complete investment back in anywhere from a couple of days to two to four months, depending on what days and hours they keep. It only takes selling 250 balloons to make your money back." Johnnie and Bill Katz, who launched B&R Balloon Wrap this past January in Black River, N.Y., believe that their start-up experience is typical of anyone who's willing to put some time and energy into the process.
    "From the time we ordered the machine until we opened our spot in the local mall was two-and-a-half weeks. We opened for 10 days at Valentine's Day and made back 83 percent of our total investment, including the dealership cost, mall fees of $700 plus a percentage, stuffed-animal costs, balloons and ribbons," says Johnnie.
    "In a couple of weeks, we were able to get a business license, print business cards, buy supplies (using lists supplied by Wigger) and make about 25 practice displays," says Johnnie. "We were determined to open for Valentine's Day. And Easter was just as good."
    Growth potential. "All my life I've worked for other people," says Kandi Naples, who with husband Billy bought a Balloon Wrap dealership in March and launched Creative Design in Struthers, Ohio. "I wanted to see what I could do with a business of my own. I started at a craft show, then did four graduation parties, a wedding and a 25th anniversary party. I have a mini-shop in a flea market. This is everything I'd hoped it would be."
    Meanwhile, Kandi says friends are referring her to talent shows, limo services and motels. "I believe I'll meet my goal of being the largest balloon decorator in Youngstown, Ohio, by this time next year," she says.
    Reality check. Sounds like you could make millions with a single balloon machine, right? Well, not quite. The Smiths, Katzes and Naples' are quick to point out that the quick, easy money comes on the big gift-giving holidays. During the rest of the year, income depends on ingenuity and marketing. Fairs, festivals, craft shops, parties and proms--any-where people gather or celebrate--can provide opportunities. Those who are successful in this type of business plan for the slow times and compensate with creativity and innovation.
    But despite the drawbacks, these owners are high on the business. "It seems funny to say," says Katz, "but I'm a mortgage banker and Bill is an Army pilot. Those are stressful jobs. There's not a lot of stress in our balloon business. If the balloon breaks, you just redo it. It's no big deal. It's just a balloon."