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Starting up running a balloon business

Many people have been tempted to enter the balloon business and many have left it again after a few years. There is a low cost of entry - all you need is a tank of gas and a bag of latex balloons and you can call yourself a balloon decorator.
This is a  problem for those balloon decorators ( many of whom are also florists) who wish to offer a quality product.  Unless they differentiate themselves sufficiently from the price-cutting section of the market they will not be able to charge enough to cover the extra cost in time and staff of providing a top-quality service.  
The balloon industry is no different to any other business, for success you need capital, good financial controls and a good business plan. You also need determination and some luck of course.    
There are many different parts of the business to choose from when thinking about starting up. This list shows most of them, two or more can be combined (Beware! each one has very different profit margins and capital requirements so they must be kept separate in your management accounts)  If you are in Great Britain go to the Balloon & Party Show which is held each year, to see what is going on.
Decorating service
Wholesaling
Printing
Balloon and party shop
Balloon trainer and consultant
Balloon importer
Helium gas rental, equipment rental.
Balloon gifts delivery service.
These are the requirements, the advantages and some of the pitfalls for each category:
Decorating - a car, a cylinder of helium and some balloons.  Training is readily available. Too much competition. Advertising is expensive. Mostly weekend work.  Large jobs need military-style planning and a lot of staff (and you can still make a loss).
Wholesaling  - a good sum of capital to buy stock and somewhere to keep it.  Small margins and bad debts a problem.  Difficult to break in and become a distributor for a well-known brand.  Stock shortages are endemic in the balloon business, which might be a good thing for a new entrant.
Printing- my favourite!  Need machine and know-how and balloon stock.  Good profit margins and can work from home and post out your work to the customer.  The consumer market is presently  underdeveloped. Work when you feel like it e.g. at night. Creative input in designing artwork. Long runs in more than one colour for big companies (10,000 plus) cannot be done without investment in very expensive machinery.
Party shop.  These come and go in every town due to poor margins and high rents. They can work if combined with printing or wholesale but be careful to keep separate accounts for each business sector.
Balloon consultant.  Get some training and work for other people and you can become a balloon style-guru. Get the latest American magazines or better still go and work in the US and you can be paid to teach other people how to do the latest balloon sculpture and decoration.  
Importer.  There are lots of manufacturers of balloons and balloon accessories in the world and not all have distributors in Britain so there may be opportunities.  Problems same as number 2.  Do not forget freight costs, import duty and VAT payable at the point of entry for goods sourced outside the EEC.
Gas rental.  Not much capital required, maybe a van if you plan to deliver the cylinders yourself. Problems - getting the empties back again and severe back pain. Can also rent out electric balloon inflators and balloon nets.
Balloon Gifts.  Need small stock and a van.  This is on the fringe of decorating for parties but people do like to have a surprise gift delivered on the right day.  Problems: advertising is expensive and couriers often damage the goods, the Royal Mail do not do their Special Delivery on Saturdays which is when everyone wants their gifts.    Margins work out surprisingly small even though you charge a lot of money !    

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