By Suzanne Schmidt
In a time when many businesses are struggling, a local balloon artist company is growing.
Land O’ Lakes resident Ben Alexander started Balloon Distractions in September 2003 with one restaurant in Tampa. He has successfully been able to expand his business to what it is today where he serves about 350 restaurants in 16 states a week. His balloon artists make balloon animals for tips and keep families with children entertained while waiting for their food.
“The company started with me, an idea and a balloon apron,” Alexander said. “Even though I have artists to work for me, I still like to go out and twist balloons a few nights a week.”
Alexander worked his last 18 months of college as a balloon artist. He graduated from Rowan University with a bachelor’s in economics and then went on to a career in sales.
“After I graduated, I sold everything from insurance to underwater cameras to Toyotas,” Alexander said. “I think a sales job is the best preparation for being an entrepreneur.”
In the beginning, Alexander’s business was not the successful, thriving entity it is today. Every year Balloon Distractions has grown and in 2008 saw a 42 percent increase and in 2009 a 62 percent increase.
“When I started the business, it was a little chaotic,” Alexander said. “It has now evolved to be a smooth running system.”
Alexander said he always knew his business would grow one day. He is still working towards his goal of having a balloon artist in 10,000 restaurants a week.
“It took three months for me to get into 20 restaurants a week,” Alexander said. “Now we add about one restaurant a day.”
His balloon artists are in Florida, Georgia, North Carolina, Illinois, California, Nevada, Minnesota, Pennsylvania, Utah, New York, Washington, Missouri and Arizona.
His business is successful because of the three questions he asks himself about his business. The questions could be applied to any business.
Do you provide a service? Is there a demand? Are you easily replaced?
While many of the balloon artists at Balloon Distractions are college students, he has employees of all ages. In order to work for Alexander, balloon artists have to complete an application from his Web site that is based on the Myers-Briggs personality test. He also checks every balloon artist against the national sex offender’s list.
Alexander said he has four main things he looks at when hiring a balloon artist. His artists must be talkative, outgoing, enthusiastic and smart.
“I want to see what is going on with them before I hire them,” Alexander said. “Balloon artists are also getting extensive training. They have to take five written tests and they have to learn at least 20 different balloon animals and it can’t be the easy stuff. We want them to have that wow factor. We want to show the customer something they haven’t seen before.”
Alexander is also a Rotarian in the Wesley Chapel Rotary Club.
“I like being in the Rotary because it gives me a break from just thinking about money,” Alexander said. “I wanted to focus on something that had nothing to do with my business.
Jason Pratt, general manager at Cantina Laredo in Wesley Chapel, was the shift supervisor at Bennigan’s in New Tampa when Alexander was first starting out. Pratt said he was interested in bringing balloon artists in for the kid’s night. Until Bennigan’s closed its doors, an artist from Balloon Distractions was there twisting balloons for families.
“I thought it was a good way to promote our kid’s night,” Pratt said. “It was a good thing for the kids because it creates a fun environment and it is good for the parents because it gives them something to do while waiting for the food. I wanted to help build the sales for that night and we did see an increase in sales on those nights.”
For information, visit www.balloondistractions.com.
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