This episode of The Bright Balloon Podcast was originally published here.
Sarah Meyer, host of The Bright Balloon Podcast, hosted by 17 Hats, invited Stephanie Colfield to have a chat on her podcast. The episode was published in August 2023. Read the transcript of the interview with Stephanie Colfield, the owner of Celebration Creations, below.
Sarah: Hi and welcome to The Bright balloon, a podcast where I’m sharing bright ideas for your balloon business. My name is Sarah Meyer and I’m a balloon business owner like you, and I love the creative side of what I do, but I really love the business side, which seems to be the part where most people struggle, so I’m here to help.
Each week I’m bringing you an episode full of bite size tips you can use to make improvements in your business. I want you to make more money, eliminate stress, and learn along with me as we grow our creative businesses together. Welcome to The Bright Balloon Podcast presented by 17 hats. Hello and welcome to another episode.
Today we are kicking off the second half of our summer interview series with an interview with my friend Stephanie Cofield who owns Celebration Creations and we are focusing on retail which is something I know nothing about. So Stephanie gave an incredible interview that not only applies to people who are interested in opening a retail location for your balloon business, but there are so many gems in this interview that are relevant to any kind of balloon business owner.
So if you don’t have a retail shop, don’t tune out, because oh my gosh, Stephanie is just amazing. She’s an incredible person. You’re going to fall in love with her when you hear this interview, and I just had such a fun time chatting with her and she just deserves all of the success that she has found in her business.
I’m just so thrilled for her and how her business is growing and how she is building a business that works for her. So retail has always been a dream of hers and she pursued it even though there were some naysayers in her life. So I just love this interview. I can’t say enough about Stephanie.
We are friends from Balloon Boss Mastermind I remember chatting with her years ago in Florida, and have just been such a fan ever since. So this kicks off actually a two week retail episode series so next week we will also hear from a retail owner so if you are not home based if you are wanting to move into a brick and mortar, tune into these two episodes for sure.
Sarah: Alright, welcome to another episode, we are chatting with Stephanie, we are mastermind friends, balloon Boss mastermind I remember meeting you back at Summit. And I feel like we’ve kind of been growing at the same rate but in very different ways. So I’m really excited to chat with you.
You went the direction of retail, which I know nothing about. So I’m really excited to chat with you. But before we jump in, give us an introduction. Tell us about you and your business.
Stephanie: Okay, great. I will. Hello everyone. Hi Sarah, thank you for having me. I’m Stephanie Cofield. My company is Celebration Creations. We’re located in Manahawkin, New Jersey amidst in the Jersey Shore area.
So we have a very mixed and diverse community of what we call the Benny’s people who come from Brooklyn, New York and Philly and then the local people who stay here year round. So it’s an odd mix and sometimes an odd type of business because people aren’t always here. And I live in the state of New Jersey and and it’s what I call a “two hour state” so from top to bottom, you can go from takes two hours so I travel a lot around the state doing work as well as having my retail shop. My retail shop is called the Balloon Boutique.
Sarah: Okay, so it does have a different name.
Stephanie: Yeah, well, it’s Celebration Creations Balloon Boutique. So people find me both ways. If you Google it, you can get both actually.
Sarah: And you’re still very much doing on site balloon installations. I largely do on site installations. Despite having this retail space.
I opened the retail space sort of as a dream, it’s something I’ve always wanted to do. I’ve looked into it multiple times. I’ve tried it in various different ways on a very small scale, like weekend flea market situations and things like that or pop up shops. But this was my dream and once my kids were grown and raised, I said that I was going to have a shop and so here I am about a year and a half in.
Sarah: So what what about it? What is your dream like the idea of having a place you could set up and have people come or like what about it was so appealing?
Stephanie: A couple of things. One I was trying to cater to my the inner shy in me. I’m not very shy. I’m pretty outgoing. But for the most part, I never liked the cold call concept. And I love social setting. So I get along really well with people. I thought I always wanted a place where people could come and I could have conversations and talk that was one part of it.
Second part of the dream was that I wanted to get the mess out of my house. I’ve worked in my home for over 20 years since I’ve moved to Manahawkin, NJ in Ocean County and it’s been great but it’s also been horrific. It takes over your house, I’m sure you know. Even if you have a dedicated space, which I have a really large walkout basement that was dedicated to it and a half an aboveground garage that has the roll up doors. It’s still overwhelmed.
Sarah: Yeah. Oh, that’s interesting. I didn’t know you had been doing balloons for 20 years. I guess I thought we were more similar just because I’m like eight years, nine years, but I guess we kind of took the steps out of our homes around the time, which is why we were similar when you’re a veteran. You’ve been at it a long time.
Stephanie: If I tell you how long I’ve been doing the loan. It’s been since 1989.
Sarah: So this really was a long time dream. Well, congratulations.
Stephanie: Yes, yes. So yeah, I started out I went to college to be an accountant, started first job as an accountant and first company I went work for went out of business and decided I don’t want to work for anyone else. Yeah, and so for a long time I’ve done this sort of you know, as I raised my children, so it wasn’t always full time but for the most part I’ve been a what I call a “work from home mom” and worked with full time it was good source of second income and now it’s a great income.
Sarah: Okay, so before we start talking about retail, why did you rule out a warehouse? If you wanted the space you like the social aspect, but What benefits did you see retail bringing you that a warehouse or just like a rented garage wouldn’t give you?
Stephanie: Actually I don’t I didn’t see it that way. I didn’t even weigh it in light of whether I wanted a warehouse space. I did have a warehouse space at one point that I worked out of but it because I felt very uncomfortable making the cold calls. And that’s a past tense statement that I’m making because I’m much more comfortable now. But I always thought and I believe that dream about “if you build it, they will come” so I kept that even though I knew that wasn’t true. I still hope that if I build a retail place in the right spot, that I would have that interaction that I’ve always wanted.
And and so for the most part, the way I operate it is as if I’m still working from home, except I do get the people that come into the shop and I get to tell them about my service. And I become way more comfortable with making cold calls and actually going after corporate events.
I didn’t think I would do that in the warehouse space. I honestly did not feel that I would go out and reach out to people my demeanor has changed so much from being a balloon boss member and meeting people and, and getting tips and tricks on how to just make those calls and go after customers. So it’s a big difference in probably since 2021 to now and in my approach in just freedom from fear honestly.
Sarah: Let’s give mastermind a shout out. This is like a group coaching program that we are both a member of. So we’ll link it in the show notes. If anyone if you’re like doing balloons alone. That’s really hard. Like that’s that’s kind of my message like that’s really hard.
It gets a lot more like simple and easier and fun when you have friends to chat with and ideas and questions and resources. So balloon boss mastermind is a great place to go for that and we will link it in the show notes. It’s it’s open to everybody. You can join us, it’s not an invite only thing. So that is when we are chatting about and it had definitely had an impact on on both of our careers I would say.
Sarah: So what was your first step you you got to the point where it was time to do the retail location. I don’t even know where you look for locations. Where do you even look?
Stephanie: One trick that I learned from speaking to a couple of other people who were in retail and I have school, mentors and coaches that I work with. One of the things that they had suggested was keep an eye out for Where’s there another party store? Is there a Party City near there? If there’s a party city near where you live or where you’re interested, that’s a good place to start because they’ve already done the work of the demographics for you.
Sarah: Oh, that’s so interesting. I would totally assume it’s the opposite like get as far away as possible. But yeah, like it they’re not going to put a location where there’s no people.
Stephanie: Right, exactly. And we know from being in this business now that there’s plenty of business to go around for everyone, one. Two, they do not do what we do, as well as we do, in in any way shape or form. So they’re not true competition, per se.
And I’m actually friends with my Party Fair in my neighborhood the owner and I share the same name, so we call each other “Hey, Steph, how are you?” You know, and if I’m short on something, I call her up and “What are you working on?” I’ll tell her the project I’m working on and I need something. We developed the relationship over the years and they don’t feel threatened by me. There’s jobs that I’ve had that I can’t handle, I’ll pass it over to them if it’s not complicated and vice versa. So they are really not competition. It’s a good market, and they’ve already done the work for me.
Sarah: That’s so smart.
Stephanie: So that was one thing and then I began to drive around my neighborhood. And I’ll be honest with you, Sarah, I drove around my neighborhood and I had my eye on the place probably for two years. Two years of seeing a place and sharing my dream and sharing my vision with other people – bad deal. Naysayers are gonna say “nay”.
And so what I discovered was there’s more people who are willing to kind of crush your dream with practical thoughts than I need. I am a dreamer. Dream big and go after it is what what you should do. I’m not saying be foolish. Absolutely not. There was a lot of other things that I needed to do. And one of the things I said is, things I wish I knew before I know what I know, now. There’s a lot of things that I’m learning in progress while I’m while I’m working the shop, that I know that I would have done differently.
The one thing I wish I hadn’t done is waited those extra years where there’s someone else scared me out of it. And because that was that was a little bit of a disappointment in myself that I let someone scare me out of my dreams. talk me out of it. The particular place that I had in mind, believe it or not, there’s a party store in there now.
Sarah: Oh my gosh. So you were, you had a good thought.
Stephanie: I had a good thought and someone else’s in that very spot. They’re a little bit different from me. And actually they consider me their below decorating service. So when they have an event, they refer people to me, because they called themselves Parties On A Budget. So again, not my competition, people when they want something low key, they can go to them, but they if they want something like the organics or a themed event, they’ll send them over to me and I give them a commission. So we work together.
Sarah: Oh, that’s great.
Stephanie: Yes, but it was good idea. One of the things I would tell anyone who’s looking to transition from home to retailers honestly make a decision about what type of business you want to run. I did not want to be a party store. I don’t want to have paper products. I don’t want to have gift cards or anything like that. I don’t want anything that’s going to collect dust or that I have to put on sale.
Sarah: Well and just from interviewing people, I feel like I have a little insight that like those things don’t move very well. Like I’ve heard over and over. A lot of people find out the paper products just don’t. They don’t sell like they thought they were going to, to not.
Stephanie: So if you look at Walmart and you look at the party stores and you go inside and you look at their product, pay attention to where they’re making their money. When I’ve stood in Party Fair, which I’ve done and just watching and observed. People walk in and out and all we’re doing we’re buying balloons in and out buying balloons and I’m just observing. Buying balloons. And how many people gone by paper products that paper goods at cost $7 per packet. 24? Not many.
I thought, that’s not the smart thing to do. I don’t want to carry any type of paper products. So yeah, there’s absolutely only thing in my shop that other than balloons, things like stuffed animals. And candy because I do do Balloon Planet. Okay, and that’s a big bonus.
Can we do a sidebar and talk about Balloon Planet because I’m really interested in Balloon Planet. But I feel like it’s a bit of a mystery. I feel like people who have done Balloon Planet have done it forever. And then I don’t know if they’re not taking new people, I just started very much about it. But people who are listening Balloon Planet is like a one 800 flowers, right? So we like people order online and then it gets distributed to certain balloon people but you’re saying, it worked well for you?
Stephanie: It works well and it probably is probably one of the best kept secrets in the industry, maybe because we’re a little bit territorial. So basically, they sub out the work as people come in. So if you have multiple people in your area, it could get kind of dicey because you’re all vying for the same customer. You understand? So that may be some of the reasons why people aren’t really sharing it. I do tell people about my Balloon Planet, because there’s people all over, it’s a nationwide delivery service.
Sarah: It’s really heavy and heavy, right? It’s a lot of bouquets and a lot of inventory. I don’t know if it’d be a good fit for me, but I don’t keep an organized inventory. And helium is a million dollars here. So I don’t know that it would be profitable, but I am curious about it.
Stephanie: I think that has been the problem now is because helium is so expensive. And a lot of companies aren’t even taking on new clients for helium. So that a few people that I’ve recommended haven’t even been able to start because of that reason. So if you can get helium and you are well, pretty organized at keeping inventory.
I would say yeah, you have to find someone else who was a Balloon Planet member to recommend you. That’s how it works. Okay, you, you refer the person and then they do some kind of vetting process. And if you fit their needs, they’ll go ahead and work with you. But it is I love it. It’s sometimes hectic. It’s sometimes hard to keep up with inventory and things like that.
I’m still learning another thing I did not understand is retail is a whole different beast than just keeping inventory for a party.
Sarah: So tell me like, What are some of the big differences things that I wouldn’t realize, setting a retail location versus having, let’s say a warehouse where people just can’t come in.
Stephanie: Okay, first thing is the look, you don’t you can have your house your shop or whatever, as messy as you’d like. And it won’t bother anybody but your family but they love you. You can’t have that in a retail shop. You know, store standards to me are really a big deal, because it represents for me, the fact that we’re creative, it represents the fact that we’re detail oriented, and that we’re organized. Everything that you see when you walk in this shop to me speaks about how we are as event decorators as well, because that’s the type of service I’m trying to promote.
So, I’m very concerned about you know what the shop looks like, changing over displays and things like that, making sure that the shelves always look stocked. You never want to buy from the store when the shelves look empty, right? So the same thing goes for this place.
So I had to come up with a way to not try to carry too much product but also keep the store looking like a boutique, which I want. No empty pegs on my hooks and things like that. So that was important to me.
You really want to learn about managing inventory that I didn’t know before we were just buying balloons for each specific job and if you have something left, great.
Sarah: Right, I have like a couple bags of every color but it’s not like I don’t like look at the SKU or like I don’t have to sell them, you know?
Stephanie: So for retail, there’s a lot of forecasting that has to go on. You know, we do have to look at the seasons and look ahead to the season so we can start marketing, but I’m talking about forecasting so that you can buy product, so you can have it on hand, just in case someone wants to come in.
It’s graduation season right now. I have a ton of balloons for graduation, and I want some on display and then we have some that are flat that people don’t see. But we want to be prepared for the customer that just walks in and we get a lot of them believe me. Last minute. “Oh, my graduation’s today.”
That’s what they expect in retail. So if you’re if you’re trying to make that decision, here’s one key thing. Keep in mind that when you walk into WalMart, you don’t want anything out of stock. When you walk into Walmart and you want to find a paper product or you want to find a cleaning product or whatever you want to see it there. You don’t want to say “oh, it’s a special order, come back in a couple of days”, or it’s a rush order. So the way I have to operate it in a retail establishment is I have to make sure that when they come in, it’s in stock or we have something to show them or offer them for the occasion. So I have to plan ahead.
I have to think okay, what are the next seasons and get ahead of it before it sells out.
Sarah: Yeah. Is there like a like a program you use or is this just in your head and it’s something you’re getting better at? Like how do you actually do that?
Stephanie: It’s actually nope pad and paper and just honestly my husband worked retail for so many years. It’s in his head more than it is mine. So he has helped me a great deal.
I’ve started recently reading a lot of books on retail, retail 101 retail for Dummies kid read anything like that because I believe that you do have to plan things like forecasting, you’d have to plan and learn about that. That’s not something that comes naturally. You know, we’re creative. We can do things on the fly with whatever we have. But when it comes to retailing actually being able to… I don’t know if I have enough for six of one item because somebody walks in and they want six of the very same product – you have to plan for that.
Sarah: The scariest thing about the walk walk ins for me would be selling to them face to face like I’m so used to selling via email or like I think usually over the phone, but that always comes after like an inquiry form. I kind of know what they want. But just like striking up a conversation and having to like, use words to explain what the balloons are going to look like. Like that seems really hard, really hard.
Stephanie: Well, that actually I think has been the best thing that I’ve had to do. It’s for me easy, in other words, but I’ve had to train staff and it’s not. So talking to them about building rapport, not always being a salesperson, but just being a helper.
Ya know, when people walk in our shop, I hate the phrase “How can I help you?” I don’t know what that does to people. But for me, it’s you know, we just say “hey, thanks for stopping in what made you come and visit us?” You know, and people do sometimes like, “Oh, I just saw you we didn’t know you were here. We just want to feel free to look around”,
We kind of have some cheat sheet, prepared. We have a couple of flip books that we have bouquets and we say these are the most popular designs because we want to just the same way we say we sell what we show on Facebook, and all that, it’s the same thing in the shop so we have some flip books with different bouquets and things that we want to push them to that makes it easy for that walking customer.
So we won’t stop our flow from doing what we want to do most which is the event decorating. So we want to keep we want those customers to come in but we want to be able to help them quickly. And we want to help them decide quickly and then we also want to show them what we could do if it’s a larger event.
So we are still learning about that. I’ve tried practicing we do role playing and things like that with our and I don’t have a large staff but when people come to work we do we practice how to answer the phone and what to say on the phone. And some people say things better than me. So we steal their line and different things like that. So we’re learning from each other. Having again, I do have a bit of a sales manager background because I’ve done some part time work. Not even part time I would say I was full time for a season where I was a sales manager for a large company.
So I recall some of the trainings that we have, we have what’s called a playbook. And the playbook is sort of like if they say this, then you direct them this way. If that then you direct them that way. So we have some things written out for that purpose, a playbook, so to speak.
One of the other things I’ve learned from retail is I have a binder called a LAB binder. It’s a leadership accountability binder. And basically everybody that walks in, that works for us, they kind of have a step by step to do lists. So there’s, if I’m not here, you’re not stuck. You’re not lost. About what to do today or what to check. Everybody knows to check Balloon Planet three times a day. Everyone knows to check the email three times a day. Check for texts, because customers send us text even though we asked them not to. Yeah.
So you know we have the sort of checklist every day, some things happen all the time. So we have some processes in place to make it easier for retail.
So I would suggest you look at what you do if your home base and if you’re going to change to retail, start writing down what you do.
Sarah: This is relevant to home based businesses, too. I feel like this is so good. I’m drinking from a firehose, right now. I’m trying to jump in because I have an employee I’m trying to train and I’m gonna know this stuff like it’s all in my brain. So I am very much in that clunky process of like, I love the playbook. I love the manuals. It all makes so much sense, even if someone’s home based, even if you have a warehouse, this idea of having employees know what to do even if there’s “nothing to do” quote unquote, like it’s so important.
Stephanie: So one of the things that I would tell anyone, even if you’re just like a hobby now, or part time, treat it like it’s a business that is a full time businesses. Always write everything down. Always create some kind of process. Even before I came here, I have a little book, it said procedures. We were very manual at one time. Credit card acceptance process, we had it all written down. So now it’s changed because we’re doing it through 17 Hats. So you just chose the process a little bit, but it was always written down.
And one of the things I’ve learned is asking the people who are doing the job to write down what they do because, for me, in case you don’t know I do struggle with attention deficit. So for me to write things down in an orderly fashion sometimes it’s hard. I’ll skip a step. And so it’s also hard for me to teach people, but if it’s written down, I just do it. It’s easier for me to help someone else.
So I say even if you’re just a home based business, just doing it as a hobby right now, anything still treated as if it’s a full time business, because you never know when you want to shift and then you’ll be prepared.
Sarah: I had no intention of ever leaving my home. I had no intention of ever quitting my job. I had no intention of ever having an employee or a van, like and it all just kind of happened. All the sudden it’s like, Man, if I had just been preparing for the last seven years, I’d be in a better spot right now. For sure. You just you never know where it’s gonna go. But my gosh, you said so many good things.
Really quick. You mentioned 17 hats. I feel like I didn’t know that. Now. I’m remembering that you are a 17 Hats user. You use that for your on-site installs or do you use that somehow for retail as well?
Stephanie: I use it for retail as well.
Okay, so we have square okay, so when the customer comes in, they just want to check out we use it. But 17 Hats is here as well, we have it on our iPad, it’s right up front. So why not get them into your system right then in there? And then hey, send them an email. Hey, thanks for stopping by the store, just in case. This is what we do. Here’s our general pricing guide. We get them right and so they’re automatically in our mailing list now. So when we send out a newsletter, it’s already in there. It’s all right there.
And most people love it because we ask them “you want to be part of our mailing list? We’re going to send you some interesting things.” They love it. “Yeah, sure, why not?” So why not just do it right while we’re up front we’re at the register talking to them. “Can we put you on our system?” And they say yes.
Sarah: And then the other thing you mentioned that I don’t want to gloss over is staffing because if you’re doing these on site installs, someone has to be back at the store, I’m assuming so what how many people? I mean, like that, I feel like I would have a heart attack if I had a full staff all the time. But like what is that like?
Stephanie: Well, you just said that a heart attack when you have a full step all the time sometimes when you’re a big shot right so we 1200 square feet. Like right now there are four people in the shop and inflating because we have a lot of jobs today, tomorrow. We have a lot going on right now. So it’s really tight. And trying to figure out how to make the most of the space and maximize the use of the people in that space is not easy. So that’s one thing but as far as the biggest thing, I think is the struggle is making sure that you have someone when you’re out doing a job, so…
To hear the full episode, listen using the audio play on this page, or visit The Bright Balloon Podcast.