Shop Talk: A Pink Gorilla
Spotlight On: Cleveland
Where they make each day count, personally and professionally
When Cornelia Franklin of A Pink Gorilla started making books from home while caring for her two children in 1984, she didn't envision herself donning a pink gorilla suit and delivering balloons just a few short years later.
But a few years later, that's exactly what she did. What progressed to a personalized children's book kiosk has since turned into a 3,000-square-foot full gift and balloon retail shop in downtown Cleveland - A Pink Gorilla - that has worked with everyone from Lady Gaga to LeBron James.
"In 1988, my husband Domonic's job moved us back to Cleveland where I opened a book pushcart in two local malls that was always highlighted with a handful of foil balloons," Franklin said. "After about six months of people asking to buy the balloons - which were not for sale - I gave in and researched balloons. Two weeks later I was partially in the business of selling balloons and two months later I had successfully delivered a few bouquets and decorated for two corporate events and a wedding.
"I soon opened a kiosk, and a few years later it was obvious to us that we had a little something going on with this whole balloon thing," she continued. "The name was changed to A Pink Gorilla (from About Me Books and Balloons) after I saw an ad in a trade publication that said, ‘Increase Deliveries: Deliver in a Pink Gorilla Costume!' So I bought the costume and started delivering in the crazy hot pink suit."
The rest, as they say, is history.
Franklin said they've learned that people go home to the suburbs and shop, so when they come into the city for work, at lunchtime, etc., they just need a quick balloon fix. And with the Internet, they're seeing less people in the store and more online orders that people just want delivered. A keystroke or two for customers means they don't have to walk or drive over and they can still get exactly what they need, no matter what the theme.
"Themes have become more popular over the past 10 years, and some are very elaborate where a client wants seating cards, signage and the base of a centerpiece to all match and also be over-the-top creative," Franklin said. "We've seen an increase in how much clients are spending as well. While the economy affected us for a few years, it seems things have pretty much bounced back in the past two years."
Some of the staff has been with them for more than 20 years, so they have the capacity to bring experience to decorating huge events. They also travel to and sometimes travel with certain clients to where they have moved to decorate for their private parties, special events, concerts, etc. In fact, 70 percent of their events are for corporate clients and their sales meetings, product launching, grand openings and holiday parties.
"Although it requires a lot more hand holding and more leg work, one of the perks of being in this type of business is that we get to meet some very high-profile clients and sometimes become apart of their secondary families," Franklin said. "We've worked with presidents, majors, NBA and NFL stars and movie/music celebrities. LeBron James was a huge fan of our work and still calls us when he is need of some ‘fun' when he's back in Cleveland."
They've also worked with Lady Gaga, becoming involved with her tour through FUSE TV. A Pink Gorilla was contacted to create a unique backdrop for her interview in Cleveland.
"We built the backdrop, stayed for the interview met her and hung out for the concert and backstage after the concert," Franklin said. "She's obviously a little over-the-top creative and eccentric, but quite a sweet young lady."
Of course not every area is conducive to high-profile clients, and Franklin advised other retailers to do research as far as the area they live in to see what the needs are for the area. Location and product needs are important to research first, as there may already be a grocery store and a big box chain party store in the area that sells balloons.
"Unfortunately, competition from chains can be awfully hard with their discount pricing and negate any chance you have to show the potential clients that you are more creative and more customer friendly," Franklin said. "You're always competing with someone, but in order to stay in business, you have to be able to make money. It takes money to make money in this world, so it's also helpful for a new business to have a nice nest egg to have as back up."
Marketing for a new business can be expensive, and it takes money to drive new clients to your website with things like local advertising, logos on your trucks with the website listed, business cards, flyers, etc. Franklin said some people open/start a business and really have no concept of some realities in starting a business.
"Owning a business means you work longer and harder than most people, and you also need to be flexible and wear many hats in a day," she said. "This is a reality that some people don't recognize. It may mean that you work six or seven days a week, and possibly 10 to14 hours a day.
"After more than 24 years, we still work six and sometimes seven days a week, often rising at 4 a.m. to get to the shop for early corporate events during the week and still working until 5 p.m. or later," she continued. "And when Saturday rolls around, it's another early start to the day with all the private parties that need to be done! Because, as we all know, balloons do not blow them selves up."
While it is a labor-intensive service industry, Franklin said it's "rewarding and never boring - a lot like marriage."
Domonic and Cornelia have been married for more than 32 years and have now worked together nearly 20 years, and she likened owning a small business to marriage.
"You do whatever it takes to keep it going through tough times and you celebrate in good times," Franklin said. "Life is always a challenge, and being a small business owner only increases those challenges. But it's about balance and common sense, and when you keep those two things in mind, you find yourselves staying happy!"
Franklin said they always stay focused on business when at the shop, but when they lock the back door and get in the car to drive home, it's all about family.
"We have raised two children (now 28 and 30), put them through private colleges, helped with weddings and now we are enjoying our first grandbaby," she said. "Life has always been good because we make each day count, personally and professionally."
By Abby Heugel