story & photo by Bill Koelzer
Tina Valenzuela, owner of San Clemente Balloons, sat ten years ago with other employees of a Dana Point party store listening to the marketing consultant that the store had hired. The consultant was telling the staff how to sell more consumer products, including balloons. Tina, who’d worked at the store for two years, was the one asking him all the detailed questions. She asked because she had a dream.
A few months later she maxed out her credit cards and formed San Clemente Balloons, located today on El Camino Real. And she put into practice all that she had learned about marketing from the party store’s marketing consultant.
“For growing our business, we rely mainly on word of mouth, yellow pages and Chamber of Commerce membership,” Tina shared. “We rarely run ads and I have always remembered what the consultant said about giving samples away. Today we give away a lot of balloons and consulting work to non-profits. And it always seems to come back to us tenfold in business generated by the good will we produce.”
Sole owner of the firm, located in San Clemente for the past 10 years, Tina donates balloons for many major and minor non-profit events around the area. (All you have to do anytime to get six free balloons is to walk into her store and ask for them.)
Each year she donates more than 500 red latex balloons for the annual “Say No to Drugs” children’s parade in San Clemente, plus to dozens of other community events and fund raisers. Says Tina, “I cannot stress enough that to be a good citizen as a business you have to give away a portion of your products and services.”
She and her part-time staffers decorate events both big and small, ranging in size from a birthday party in a home to pro bono projects such as huge balloon arches spanning a street at corporate and community events including the Marine Homecomings.
“If someone orders six dozen balloons for a party, I might throw in a nice centerpiece for free,” Tina explained. “ It just shows them more of our capabilities for next time.”
Tina is not hurting for paid business by any means. Clients include Susan G. Koman, Dave & Buster’s, Wal-Mart, Toshiba, Trader Joe’s, Kawasaki, Marbella Country Club, Sears, Disneyland, the Ice Palace, Ford, Wells Fargo, Bank of America, Saddleback Hospital, dozens more major name firms, and many area city governments including San Clemente.
Ballooning a personal party may bring in just a few dollars; but big jobs range into many thousands of dollars when she provides expert consulting and then stages entire hotel ballrooms or business locations, shopping centers, entire stores, etc. for a corporate event. Large jobs usually include medleys of arches, columns and clusters, mostly of helium-filled balloons. Shapes available include wreaths, candy canes, cartoon heads, snowflakes, palm trees, snowmen, Frankenstein and similar fantasy characters, and well ... virtually anything.
A major adjunct to Tina’s business since January is the inclusion, at the front of her store, of Lavender Garden Flowers, owned by Tika Strong, whose shop was formerly located on Avenida Del Mar. This space’s capabilities include FTD flowers, 800 Flowers and other major phone and Internet flower services, plus imaginative arrangement for all occasions made on the spot.
Tika will operate the flower business and Tina says, “It’s a perfect way to get both your balloons and flowers by making just a single stop.”
Tina and her husband, Phil, relax by getting away to Mission Bay or Lake Perris in their 31-foot Coachman motor home for camping and SeaDoo-ing. Their kids are ages 32, 26 and 16, and grandkids 13, 12, 6 and 4.
“When I first started, it always seemed odd to me that after you gamble everything that you have to start a business the best advice on building that business is to start giving your goods away,” Tina revealed. “I see now where that advice was profoundly accurate.” b
Contact San Clemente Balloons, whose motto is “No party too big or too small,” at 366-5420. Visit: www.SCBalloons.com
, email: SCBalloons@AOL.com.