Peer Perspective: Stuart Davies, Beyond Balloons
Owner, Beyond Balloons
Tonyrefail, Wales, UK
When the family business fell on hard times, Stuart Davies saw opportunity in balloons. After intense study, Davies has achieved amazing results in just four short years. That includes designing a 45,000-balloon drop at this year’s World Balloon Convention welcome ceremony.
He’s designed work for a Beyoncé label launch celebration on Oxford Street, for Walt Disney International on numerous projects and won an award for a 13,000-balloon display at London Pride 2017, which led to being commissioned to design for Pride events in London and Dublin this year.
Davies is also slated to be an instructor at Float 2019 in St. Louis.
How long have you been in the balloon business and what drew you to it?
Beyond Balloons opened as an actual shop just over four years ago, but I started the process of working with balloons about nine months earlier in the summer of 2013.
I started to be aware of difficulties in our family business, which was a newsagents (newsstand). Family members were working incredibly long hours (80-plus each week), and if they’d paid themselves a basic minimum wage, it would have been bankrupt years ago.
Due to the downward trend of the newspaper industry, there was no way of looking to develop that side, so I suggested we needed to find something else before the income stream totally collapsed.
One thing led to another and I came across balloons and, in particular, Pioneer’s QBN course. I completed it in about a week. I didn’t have time to mess around; we had to find a solution!
I nearly threw the entire course out the window on the first day. I was using a bag of cheap substandard balloons — I think 50 out of the 100 balloons burst. That first Garland was a mess!
But one thing I learnt throughout my life is that if someone else can do it, then why couldn’t I? So I did more research and it dawned on me that it wasn’t just my inexperience, that there was also a likelihood that the balloons were an issue, so I researched balloon quality. That’s when I came back to Pioneer and the Qualatex brand.
Finding Pioneer and Qualatex was the starting point. Jag Dhillon of Pioneer Europe visited our shop and demonstrated a deco bubble with tulle. I can remember that day and moment vividly. I asked how much he would sell it for, it took him under 10 minutes to make. A few quick calculations later, I was called the rest of the family to have a look. I asked them all two questions.
How much did they would pay for it? They all gave me a value higher than Jag’s.
Would they buy it? All said yes.
The gross profit after material on that one piece was the equivalent of the same amount of profit we were getting from having 30 average sales in the shop.
What are the specialties of Beyond Balloons?
As an individual, I would say I am a jack-of-all-trades. Last year, Pioneer Europe invited me to become a Qulatex Instructor in Europe. I think my main specialty, as a trainer, is to help people to relate the balloons into a business model, making sense of how they develop their business and sell their products.
As a balloon artist, I am equally happy twisting small pieces, creating retail designs, designing and decorating weddings up to full scale large builds. I think this came from my wide access of education and training I gained from Pioneer/Qualatex.
What inspired your balloon drop at the World Balloon Convention and how did you make it happen?
When I was chosen to be the guest designer of the Welcome Event in WBC in San Diego, there was a mix of amazement and trepidation in that I was following in the footsteps of so many brilliant artists.
My application was quite extensive and talked about three key areas — The Look, The Feeling and the Emotion.
I wanted a specific look that was simple and structured based around the art deco/art modern look that was prevalent in the WBC marketing poster.
I was looking for inclusion and involvement. I wanted to create an intimacy where people felt together. This was going to be difficult as the venue was 35 feet tall, 200 feet long and 100 feet wide. Amongst other techniques, I used eight full-size Aeropole arches top reduce the size of the room to create a sort of amphitheater using giant rainbows.
Then I wanted the emotion. I wanted to create a singular moment of joy. I didn’t realize that moment would carry on for 20 minutes. No one wanted to leave when we released hundreds of 3-foot balloons from the top of the marquee. Just being able to see everyone’s faces was the icing on the cake for me.
What’s the best balloon advice you’ve ever received or could offer a fellow balloon artist?
That’s a hard one. I have received so many tips and tricks from so many amazing balloon decorators.
I have to say I think my biggest influence over the last four years has been Sue Bowler. Apart from a teacher and, in some ways, my mentor, I am fortunate to also be able to call her my friend. Sue has assed hundreds of golden nuggets of advice, but I think the best is: “You are always learning and you can always learn something new.” It’s so true.
My best bit of advice is start with baby steps. Yes, have a vision or a dream, and make it big — but have a plan and start taking those small steps from where you are now to where you want to be. As you grow in confidence, ability and strength, those small steps will start growing. Before you know it, you will exceed all your expectations. Just look at where I was four years ago.