Shop Talk: The Smoky Mountain Balloon Co.
Balloon drops and sculptures and bears ... oh, my!
By Abby Heugel, Managing Editor
What do you get when you combine a balloon artist, social networking and a wayward black bear? Why, you get a promotion from The Smoky Mountain Balloon Co. on Facebook that increased traffic — in the store, online and on the streets of Gatlinburg, Tenn.
“The Smoky Mountains are known for the black bear, so we learned how to make a three foot balloon bear, mostly for Valentine's Day and Mother’s Day,” said Billy Muncy, CBA and owner of The Smoky Mountain Balloon Co. “For this promotion, we took a picture of the bear, hid it at a cabin rental company that a friend of mine has and said he got lost.
“We asked our Facebook friends to find the location of our missing bear,” he continued. “The winners came to the store to pick up their free bear and a gift card to Smoky Mountain Pizza. We made the gift card for Smoky Mountain Pizza because of The 3/50 Project, to help support three local businesses in our area.”
That area would be Gatlinburg, the wedding capital of the south, so the store's biggest call is for wedding décor. Along with the basics, they do everything from entrance arches for the grand entrance of the wedding party to the head table in designs such as the “Kissing Swans” that form a walk-through arch.
“Because there are a large number of cabin rental companies in the area that attract tourists coming back for an anniversary or special occasion, we offer a romance package with balloons that are lit and a ‘string of pearl’ arch over the bed,” Muncy said. “We even do a Honeymoon tub filled with heart shaped balloons and a string of pearl arch floating above.”
It’s about being unique, as Muncy knows that if you have the same old things in your store, that’s a problem. Changing things up and creating excitement will bring customers come in just to see what you’ve done.
Grab and Go
Muncy knows all about changing things up, as he started his retail career in the horticulture field, working at a garden center and taking floral classes. He found he enjoyed working creatively with balloons and floral, so to get a foundation in balloon decorating, he attended a learnballoondecorating.com seminar, studied the Qualatex DVDs and attained his CBA certification.
He now runs a 2,250-sqaure-foot store that includes a loft/design studio and storage. They work with the client on preparing for that special day — whether it’s a wedding, birthday or corporate event — planning the reception décor from the head table to the dance floor. They also do large sculptures and pieces for buffets.
“We have delivery service for the local area and offer a variety of ‘walk-outs’ for last-minute shoppers to pick up and go, with the choice to have the bouquets or walk-out personalized with an imprinted bow,” Muncy said. “We also carry special bows —wedding vow bows with the name of the couple and date on the tails or a new baby’s name with the date and weight — the possibilities are endless!”
Another unique service they offer allows clients to come in and have their photo taken in front of a green screen. They can place them anywhere they want to go with any of the selection of backgrounds.
“What sells are things that no one else has seen.” Muncy explained. “Displaying our walk-outs in the front window for the most exposure gets people to buy on the spot, and we also make small balloon ‘sculptures’ that can be given and used the same as a balloon bouquet.”
The walk-out pieces are already made in air, not helium, so they have a long shelf life. Muncy said that if they want a foil helium balloon added in, there is just an upcharge for the extra balloon(s). However, the beauty of these pieces is that dozens can be made ahead of time for display and no two are alike.
“They’re very different and cause a lot of ‘oohs’ and ‘aahs’ when the customer first sees them,” Muncy said. “Because they are something different, the customer immediately sees that their gift will be special and they usually want to buy one.”
Air It Out
For Muncy, it’s all about getting The Smoky Mountain Balloon Co. name and product out there for the public to see — and he proves it can be done with nothing more than a quality product, a little bit of good will and old-fashioned elbow grease.
Along with the “missing bear” promotion, they also held a race for their 200th registered fan on Facebook. Giving out complimentary balloon bears before Valentine’s Day to local places such as hair salons resulted in an order of 14 bears to one lady alone.
They also created a 10-foot Pink Ribbon balloon for Hard Rock Cafe in Gatlinburg’s “Pinktober Fest” and volunteer to decorate for organizations in need.
“We did the family Christmas party for the Local 278th Troops Send Off where we offered a free photo for the solider and family, a free photo with Santa and yellow bows imprinted with ‘Support the 278th Troop,’” Muncy said. “During the parade the next day, our bows were being carried and recognized by the onlookers. Not only were we happy with the attention, we also felt great knowing we did an awesome thing for our community.”
They also kicked off the spring season with ‘Kid Print,’ a program that helps parents keep up-to-date photos and fingerprints for their kids in case of a runaway or kidnapping. Along with increased foot traffic and sales, it also increased community spirit.
“And it never hurts to self-promote,” Muncy said. “Send photos (or a centerpiece or balloon bear) to your local news outlets, as it might result in a piece on your company. A local radio station saw our balloon creations and we ended up doing a free TV spot.”
This combination of the old with the new, the face-to-face with site-to-site, is what has helped The Smoky Mountain Balloon Co. make a name for itself in the community.
Well, that and some help from strategically placed inflatable mammals, of course.