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Shop Talk: Jeannie’s Let’s Celebrate

Shop Talk: Jeannie’s Let’s Celebrate

Spotlight On: Chicago

Staying Afloat
Expanding balloon business has been big for Jeannie’s Let’s Celebrate

With two-and-half decades of party supply retail behind her, Jeannie Jermal didn’t hesitate when asked what the biggest change in the business has been since she started.

“Balloons,” said Jermal, owner of Jeannie’s Let’s Celebrate. “When I started, it was three helium balloons attached to a weight. Now, people want all sorts of creations and designs. Balloons have been very good for us.”

That’s clear upon entering Jeannie’s Let’s Celebrate, which is tucked just inside Chicago’s city limits in the Norwood Park neighborhood. The first thing customers see is a wall lined with dozens of Mylar balloons to the left and an end cap featuring more to the right.

Bullish on balloons

Jeannie’s Let’s Celebrate carries everything one would expect to find at a party-supply store — decorations, tablewear, costumes, greeting card, etc. However, Jermal called balloons her business’ “niche.” Jermal and Beth Flores — Jeannie’s daughter and right-hand woman at the store — stay up on training to make sure Let’s Celebrate can satisfy customers’ growing wants in balloon creations and ensembles.

“My daughter and I have both gone to the Ballooniversity and take classes whenever we can,” Jermal said. “Neither of us is certified, but we can do just about as many things as they (Certified Balloon Artists) can.”

Jermal began working at Let’s Celebrate in 1992. When the owners retired in 1998, Jeannie and husband Rick Jermal bought the store and renamed it Jeannie’s Let’s Celebrate to avoid confusion. In 1992, helium-filled balloons sold for 65 cents at Let’s Celebrate. Today, they go for $1.25 apiece. (Sixty-five cents in 1992 translates to $1.10 of buying power in today’s market, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ CPI inflation calculator.) Despite the helium shortage that hit particularly hard two years ago, Jeannie’s Let’s Celebrate has been able to keep prices reasonable thanks to experimenting with a seldom-used valve option on its helium tank.

“We’re not having trouble getting helium anymore, but the price has gone up substantially. … We haven’t raised our prices too much, but we now we use a 60-40 mix of helium and air in our balloons,” Jermal said. “It’s a valve (on the helium tank) — we always had the valve, but we hardly ever used it. So, we tried it with HI-FLOAT to see how long the balloons would last with the 60-40 mix, and they actually lasted just as long as the other balloons. You can’t use as much HI-FLOAT. You just put a little bit in to coat the inside. If you put too much, the balloon will sink.”

Party with Pinterest

All three of Jeannie’s children — Tom, Beth and Kathy — have worked at the store. While Tom and Kathy have gone on to other careers, Beth, now married with a 10-month-old daughter named Emily, knew she was where she wanted to stay at a young age.

“This is something I really, really liked doing,” Beth (Jermal) Flores said. “I went to school for business and marketing. So, it was great I was able to go to school to learn more about what I could do to help.”

In addition to her in-store and administrative duties, Flores handles the growing responsibility of maintaining the store’s social media accounts and sending out email blasts. Pinterest, in particular, has been a great source of inspiration and sales for Jeannie’s Let’s Celebrate.

“Pinterest — that’s a big one for us,” Flores said. “People come in with different ideas that they find on Pinterest and say, ‘Can you do something like this?’ Ninety percent of the time, we can. That’s one of my favorite things is when people come in with ideas, because that’s a challenge for me — it’s something new.”

More big sellers

Balloons may be Jeannie’s niche, but the store offers a full line of party supplies and more. That includes costumes, tablewear, decorations and a full aisle of 59-cent greeting cards from Gallant.

“We have to order cards every week, Jermal said. “People come in and buy stacks of cards every day. It’s not unusual for someone to come in and buy 40 cards. We get people who come in just for cards. They come in, go right to the aisle and know exactly where they’re going. Sometimes, I wonder if they know we sell anything else.”

Another popular area is the store’s discount aisle, where products are not more than $1.29. “We sell a lot from this aisle, but we also make sure people know we have much more — we don't want to be known as a discount store,” Flores said. “This area is great when people are looking to add on a few things.”

Jeannie’s is also involved with area schools by way of selling yard and handheld signs featuring school colors and logos. They are great for making a centerpiece for a graduation party or selling as is to show school spirit at sporting events.

“We put those right in our front window,” Jermal said. “That’s big for us — people know they can come here and get school-related products.”

Loyal fan base

Jermal said the store’s clientele is primarily repeat customers, calling them “our regulars.” She sees good products, top-notch customer service and the family atmosphere that permeates from having a mother-daughter team in leadership as being imperative in maintaining the customer base.

“Good customer service is No. 1. If they’re not treated nice, they’re not going to come back,” Jermal said. “I know if I go to a store and I’m not treated nice, I’m not going back there. … I think our selection is really good, and the trained staff that I have, they’re able to help any customer at any time.”

Seasonal customer-appreciation parties and special offers are other ways Jeannie and her staff stays at the forefront of their customers’ minds. Jeannie’s has found a nonaggressive way to get customers to share their contact information by simply having an email signup form at the checkout.

“Usually people will see the list and say, ‘What’s this for?’ without us even mentioning it,” Jermal said. “We tell them it’s a way for them to get coupons or special deals, and they usually sign up.”

Jeannie’s Let’s Celebrate is located in Chicago proper, but just barely. Canfield Avenue is the divider between Chicago and the suburb of Park Ridge. The Chicago address has some drawbacks — higher taxes and more regulations, according Jermal — but one major advantage in terms of publicity.

“When someone Googles ‘Chicago’ and ‘party store,’ we typically come up,” Jermal said. “It also helps our website is partystorechicago.com.”

About the Shop

Where: Jeannie’s Let’s Celebrate, 6185 N. Canfield Ave., Chicago

Size: Approximately 7,300 square feet

Owners: Jeannie and Rick Jermal

Employees: Currently 12. Jeannie Jermal and daughter Beth Flores are the only full-timers. Many of the part-time employees are hired while in high school and often continue their employment while in college. “We throw a lot employee appreciation parties,” Jermal said. “We feel like the employees are part of our family.”

Online: www.partystorechicago.com, Facebook, Twitter (@JLCelebrate) and Pinterest

— By Zeke Jennings, Managing Editor

Originally posted Tuesday, Jul. 28, 2015