Sights and sounds for balloons in 2012
If you sell party goods of any sort, you know that licensed products are perennially popular. Dora the Explorer, Disney's Cars and Pirates of the Caribbean are constant blips on the retail radar in everything from costumes to balloons. Because you can refer to the Licensing Lists on our website, this annual balloon trends feature isn't going to talk about any of that. Instead, this feature will focus on innovation and ideas for implementation.
So let's look past the old and get to the new, as 2012 looks to be another great year for balloons.
Bright and Bold
When it comes to basic aesthetics, expect to see bright and bold colors and traditional party-related icons like cakes/cupcakes, candy, streamers and presents. Shanan Kern of Anagram Int. said specialty film types are a key way to differentiate your offering from ever-growing mass and dollar channels.
"Be sure to feature a high volume of specialty film types as part of your balloon offering," Kern said, "including both holographic and clear film types."
Lisa Bennett of Pioneer Balloon Co. said themed designs where the inspiration is pulled from nature and designs using unusual textures, patterns, colors or special finishes will add the element of surprise that customers will be looking for in gift-giving occasions and special events.
"Look for fun-loving flowers, insects and animals in a new dimension," Bennett said. "Zebra print designs in neon pink are a perfect example."
For weddings, bold and bright colors have been popular for the last couple of seasons, but Bennett expects to see them changing over to more soft and romantic hues with classic soft balloon colors such as pearlized white, ivory, pale blue, peach and pink.
Bennett added that Qualatex Décor Shapes are building blocks for retailers and decorators and the line is expanding to include six new Starpoint colors and three new Taper colors.
"The Taper and Starpoint shapes combine in many different ways and are perfect for creating garlands and Party Bursts," she added. "Tapers can also provide the structure for columns or even stand-up characters."
Walk the Walk
When it comes to innovation, expect everything from sound and blinking lights to products that literally walk themselves right out the door. Steven Rose from burton + BURTON said the company is looking to build on the success of the "My Own Pet" collection introduced in 2011.
"The My Own Pet collection currently has 27 different styles of dogs and farm animals (cow, horse, chicken, etc.), inflate just like helium balloons and can be walked around like a toy," Rose said. "Once people see them, they want one. If a retailer inflates four or five and positions them around the store, they will literally walk out the door."
Anagram is also releasing additional "walk out the door" items with a new line of licensed SKUs for their AirWalkers category, a balloon and weight all in one that enables the balloon to hover. Each character is sold packaged and has a leash attached so once the Balloon Buddy is inflated, it can be taken anywhere.
Kern added that to drive sales, the AirWalkers should be inflated at retail so the customer gets the full impact of the product in its true form.
"The sound category also continues to be strong at retail," Kern said, "so look for a refreshed line of Sing-A-Tune Balloons with the new ‘Try Me' button that allows consumers to play the song in the package before the balloon is actually inflated."
Now that we've covered sound and movement, how about some lights? Steve Martin of Rainbow Balloons has noticed a trend in light-up products in the marketplace, specifically Party Dots, an innovative LED balloon light available in various colors and sizes.
"Because Party Dots are so bright, the decorator can sell a great effect by just using a few in their arrangement," Martin said. "Twisters can insert one into a fairy wand or a glowing alien head to really impress a crowd. When their customer brings it home, their piece of balloon art will blink or glow for days."
The point of all these great products is to sell them, so let customers know that what they see is what you sell - not just a store decoration - with creative, accessible displays.
"Customers make 70 percent of their balloon purchasing decisions as impulse buys while in the store, so put balloons where shoppers will notice them," Kern said. "Make it easy for your customers to make planned purchases, too, by merchandising balloons according to theme, licensed image, sentiment and color so they can pull together the best bouquet for their needs."
Rose added that balloons are an emotional sell. An uninflated balloon folded up in a package does not have the same power as a balloon ready to go. Retailers need to make balloons easy to grab-and-go and ribbons should be attached with balloon weights tied on and pricing displayed.
"Inflate helium filled balloons and place them in strategic areas throughout your store to attract customers," said Reagan Pollack, national sales manager of Creative Balloons Mfg. "Tether them with unique and colorful balloon weights and clips to further draw attention to your display and offer a ‘Free Helium Balloon with a Happy Weight' with a minimum purchase of other products in the store."
Bennett suggests using temporary merchandising units and revolving displays, as they're easy and fresh ways to keep your customers coming in for new ideas. Plan a merchandising schedule around holidays and seasonal events where you keep a display up no more than six weeks, and if you have a period of time that's empty, promote a specific theme for that time of year or special everyday events.
"Develop an in-store display calendar that reflects seasons, community events and the special interest of local shoppers who come into your store," Kern added. "This will make it easy for all store personnel to know what product should be inflated on a daily or weekly basis, and the consumer will be confident that their balloon needs will be satisfied with every visit to your store."
As this industry continues to evolve, setting yourself apart from the competition is the best way to grow your business. The key? Education.
"Participating in education classes and special industry events or programs is the only way to keep one step ahead of the crowd and make more money," Bennett said. "We all enjoy this industry, but we need to be successful in business and learning new ways to keep your business sustainable will more than return your investment in sales growth."
Kern added that every retail account should have a Balloon Manual clearly outlining helium safety and the proper way to "weight" balloons - including the importance of Smart Balloon Practices, general merchandising tips and frequently asked questions about balloon product - to make it easy to train store personnel and for them to be knowledgeable about the balloon category. (For more information on The Balloon Council, Smart Balloon Practices or the Responsible Balloon Retailer program, go to http://www.theballooncouncil.org).
"Encourage your staff to attend local balloon training events or camps on a regular basis," Kern added. "This will ensure that your business is ahead of the trends. Plus, it will bring fresh, new decorating and merchandising ideas to your store."
Along with education and participation, collaboration - stores working with other stores and neighboring businesses to the benefit of everyone involved - will be key.
"Are you a small party store in a retail location that has a bakery near by?" Rose asked. "Walk over and see if you can get a list of party cakes going out that week. There are likely several cakes booked featuring characters like Elmo, Disney Princess, Thomas the Train, etc. Partner with the bakery to give discounts to customers who come over and buy a licensed balloon to match their themed cake.
With a little creativity, the possibilities are endless - especially with social media. Steven Swartz of U.S. Balloon Co. added that they're seeing a growing popularity in individuals educating each other. From LinkedIn Groups to YouTube tutorials to Facebook Fan Pages, everyone is sharing their ideas.
While some people might be intimidated by the thought of working with the "competition," in the end, everyone wants to see this industry not just succeed, but thrive. In my humble opinion, that's a trend worth following.
By Abby Heugel