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Elevate to Escalate

A lthough the value of education in any industry cannot be understated, the highly competitive nature of party retail all but makes having that “extra something” a necessary tool of the trade. So how can you rise above the competition and offer customers that little something extra? By increasing your knowledge, you can increase your sales.

But with so many resources out there — the Internet alone can boggle the mind — how can you go about finding the best resource for you and your needs? To get an unbiased perspective, I talked to a handful of manufacturers and professional balloon decorators. My conclusion is that ... well, I love balloons.

But I also learned that it’s important to figure out what you want to learn, as the needs of a beginner will obviously be different than those of someone who already has an extensive portfolio of professional events and parties. Whether you’re the former, the latter or somewhere in between, the Internet can be an easy place to start.

Many professionals in the balloon industry use online resources as a way to network with one another, and while the Internet has made it easier for professionals to share their experiences and learn from each other, a Google search for “how-tos” on balloon decorating will bring you close to 500,000 options.

Your best bet? Look to the leaders in the industry first. If you’re just jumping into the inflatable fun, talk to your reps and other party store owners about what works for them and where you should start. Contact the manufacturers of the products you sell, check out their Web sites and ask them if they are involved in balloon education and what they would recommend.

It’s important to keep in mind that while distributors are focused on education, they are also often focused on selling their product. However, they are extremely knowledgeable about their product — and the industry — and a great place to start.

If you’re a beginner, Qualatex.com is a good starting point for retailers and balloon professionals looking for education. They have been a leader in the industry for decades and the Web site offers a multitude of resources, including balloon decor and gift ideas, instruction sheets and news about the latest Qualatex products and events.

Balloon professionals can also find more information on becoming a member of the Qualatex Balloon Network, which provides further education and members-only access to special features on qualatex.com (see sidebar).
There are many new features on the site, including Business Boosters. Organized by everyday and seasonal categories, each Booster is a “one-stop shop” designed to meet all the planning and promotional needs of balloon decorators.

Conwin Inc. also has a Web site directly relating to education. It offers an artists spotlight and education center that updates the consumer on special events around the world (artist conventions, decorator conventions and gift shows), as well as a section educational feature articles.

“There are also some resources in the retail business (gift shows and trade shows) that offer a wide range of classes for someone who is a beginner, intermediate or advanced,” said Jacqui Bennoch of Conwin, Inc. “In addition, Conwin and Pioneer have come out with a MasterSeries DVD set that offers a wide range of education to all levels.”

These videos are directly connected to the Web, so staff at both companies can constantly update the information and change the designs based on new product development.

Betallic offers something called the “B-Gallery” — an online resource that assists the decorator and retailer with knowledge and education with everything from special events to support for distributor events. By visiting the Web site, http://www.betallic.com visit,ors can become registered members and get access to balloon decor instructions, current news, contests, links to continuing education programs and more.

According to Robin Oxley, director of merchandising for Anagram International, Anagram also offers multiple resources to help retailers optimize their balloon program for greater efficiency and greater profits. Anagram’s lead decorator, Chris Horne, is known throughout the world for his talent and has extensive experience teaching classes to beginners, as well as those with developed backgrounds in the balloon industry.

“One resource is AnagramBalloon.com where you can find retailer merchandising solutions for any type or size retailer,” Oxley said. “We offer everything from balloon walls proven to increase overall foil balloon sales by 80 percent and bouquet recipes for upgraded sales to merchandising tools for high-impact displays.”

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Originally posted Monday, Aug. 17, 2009

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