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Airigami Balloon Creations

Sometimes a party just calls for giant balloon spiders looming over the crowd — and then exploding — or a stuffed balloon with a deluxe Swiss Army knife suspended inside with its blades and tools opened up. For Michael Keeney, C.B.A. and owner of Airigami Balloon Creations in Middleton, Wis., that’s not a problem to create, seeing as he’s “one of those guys” and all.

“Airigami Balloon Creations exists because I’m apparently 'one of those guys,’” Keeney said. “Many years ago a girlfriend gave me one of those $5 kits on how to make balloon animals as a gift, saying, 'you’re one of those guys who can probably do something like this.’”

It wasn’t until a few years later when Keeney was attending a local food festival that he found his calling. He was in a different, stressful career at the time, and decided to get outside and walk around the festival. With that bag of balloons in hand, he just started twisting the heck out of them, taking out his frustrations on the balloons.

“A little girl came up and asked if she could have one,” Keeney explained. “Of course I obliged and soon there was a line. And even though I was very specifically and vocally not charging — nor did I have a tip jar — I still went home with nearly $200 in my pocket.”

He went to a local party shop to ask about supplies and specific decorating questions. They asked him to take an application and consider a part-time job. When he came back the next day, the manager had already met with the owner and offered him a job. Within three years, their balloon and balloon-based decor sales had grown more than 500 percent and Keeney was managing the business. Three years later, he decided to strike out on his own.

That Extra Touch
Airigami Balloon Creations isn’t a brick and mortar store, but rather a balloon decor business, offering everything from sculpture work, Balloonatic twisting, traditional balloon-based decor, balloon bouquet deliveries, balloon drops and releases to confetti and T-shirt cannons, live entertainers, creative problem solving and event planning.

“Realistically, many of the elements we create can’t be accurately or practically displayed in a store setting anyway, so a traditional store doesn’t make sense for us,” Keeney said. “We’ve got an office and a warehouse and if I need everyone on a job, the business phone automatically rolls over to my cell phone. So, in a sense, someone is always in the office.”

Although he is the only full-time employee, he has four regular part-timers and as many as 12 more who have been trained and have experience that can be brought in for large jobs. All the part-timers have gone through an Airigami-specific training program very similar to the C.B.A. accreditation, and each has the option to go through the certification process at their cost. Everyone is trained toward moving up the chain of command so that if anyone is unavailable for a job or period of time, there’s someone else in position to step up and confidently fill the role.

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Originally posted Monday, Aug. 17, 2009

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