On our next trip around the world, we stop in Canada to learn what unique challenges balloon businesses face and what cultural differences they celebrate.
CURRENCY: CAD, or the Canadian Dollar, is the official currency of Canada. The dollar coin is nicknamed “Loonie.”
CURRENCY CONVERSION: $1 USD = $1.26 Canadian dollars
LANGUAGE: There are two official languages, English and French. However, 196 languages are reported as being used in Canada.
POPULATION: The population is estimated at 38 million.
FAST FACT: Canada has 20% of the world's freshwater and the longest coastline in the world.
Questions and Answers
Would you say balloons are trendy and popular in your country/market?
Scott: Yes, over the last couple of years, we have noticed a significant upswing in balloons being on-trend in many segments.
Jackie: Yes, balloons are super trendy in Canada. We often use them in celebrations such as graduations, baby showers, and birthdays. When you see balloons, you know there is something to celebrate and a cause to be happy. We see balloons in advertisements and on TV shows quite often. It’s always something I notice in the background, even if people I'm watching with don't see it. Being in the balloon industry, it’s something we just see, no matter if it’s a quick sweep of balloon decor in a room.
Alex & Ellie: Balloons are very trendy in our country and market. Popularity has increased drastically since Covid-19, but even before that, social media like Pinterest, Youtube, and Instagram created a massive increase in interest in the use of balloons for décor in all types of events. When we first started more than 20 years ago, it was assumed that balloon decorators only created helium bunches on tables. We were happy to educate our community and "wow" everyone with the possibilities of our creations. Today, Instagram has made it very easy to show everyone what we can do, rather than simply explain it. Our industry is very visual, so social media is a huge positive factor in increasing the popularity of what we do. We regularly decorate the set for our local morning news and daytime television talk shows.
Is balloon popularity growing or decreasing in your country?
Jackie: I would say balloon popularity is on the rise in Canada. It’s becoming such a big trend for well-known celebrities to have large installments at their events and celebrations, and I think balloons are seen as on-trend and "Instaworthy." They’re always good for a photo-op, and people are using them more as such.
Alex & Ellie: It is definitely growing in popularity. We have also seen a big increase in new balloon companies in our local area.
What balloon trend have you noticed in your country?
Scott: Pastels and Retro Colours. Gender Reveal parties seem to be the biggest growing theme. Celebrating milestones--any milestone, has been very popular through Covid.
Jackie: Top requests for me have always been unicorns - which is lucky because it’s one of my favourite themes to bring to life. Whether it’s a twisted unicorn or a centrepiece made from a Unicorn Deco Bubble and a Microfoil Golden Horn, unicorns will always be one of my top requests.
Alex & Ellie: Organic has continued to take the market by storm, and during these lockdowns, we have also had a great demand for balloon marquee designs of all sizes. Portability is a very important aspect of balloon displays we create during a pandemic, as well as when considering the vast season changes in Canadian weather. We create many portable garlands that our clients love, especially because they can place them indoors or outdoors depending on weather and where needed for photo ops or virtual online events. This includes our balloon marquee displays and any portable creation as well. Covid-19 restrictions, which prohibited us from entering homes, made our clients' portable items very convenient and appreciated. It also makes outdoor setups during a pandemic much quicker. The most requested popular colors are soft pastel tones and subdued/muted colours, including greys, earth tones, etc., which require us to make custom colours by double stuffing. Many neutral designs like the Boho style and pink and blush hues are still very popular. Mint greens and sage are also very popular at this time. In addition, we have received many requests for unicorns, rainbows, video games, and mermaids for birthday themes. Many clients have combined themes or requested personal touches on their orders. In particular, branding and personalized names or messages on our balloon designs are still extremely popular. Personalization is always a special touch, from spelling out names with balloon letters to actually printing names and messages on balloons and custom logo printed balloons from Pioneer for corporate events.
What types of celebrations are popular for balloons in your business?
Scott: Birthdays are still by far the biggest celebration for us, but Graduation through COVID has certainly increased dramatically.
Jackie: Birthdays are typically my number one most popular celebration as every day somebody is celebrating a birthday somewhere! Graduation was especially busy this year as well due to the pandemic and graduates not being able to celebrate as they normally would. Balloons bring joy, and I’m so happy I was able to brighten their big day and bring some sense of celebration to their huge achievement.
Alex & Ellie: Our personal events have changed during Covid-19, as they have for everyone in our industry around the world. Our large corporate/private events are no longer possible due to lockdowns and restrictions, so now we have many requests for small displays for all types of private parties. The most popular being birthdays and some micro-events for religious ceremonies. The majority of these are outdoor and often a drive-by setup.
When is your busiest time of year? What about the slowest?
Scott: June & February are our two busiest months. December is the quietest.
Jackie: Christmas and New Year tend to be my busiest time of year. I oﬀer stuﬀed balloons with gifts inside for Christmas as well as stuﬀed popping balloons for New Year's Eve. My Puﬀ and Stuﬀ Balloon Stuﬀers have to be one of my best investments! It’s become a tradition for many families in my town to have these stuﬀed balloons to pop to bring in the new year annually. The slowest time tends to be January and August.
Alex & Ellie: The busiest times of the year before Covid-19 were the months from April to June and then September to January. Now that there have been so many schedule changes due to the pandemic, we have had an increase in orders every time restrictions change. It is uncertain to predict busy times this year because of all the rescheduled events. Grad season and holidays/New Year's are generally still busy times of the year.
Some of Jackie's Work
Jackie Ochitwa, CBA
With a Twist Balloons
Decorator/Entertainer in Airdrie, Canada
Are there many independent balloon retailers (storefronts) in your country, or are mass retail chains more common?
Scott: There seems to be a good balance of both in our country. Since COVID, there has been an explosion of independents working through Instagram & social media that are home-based.
Jackie: We just recently had a large retain chain open in my city, although I don’t ﬁnd that it has aﬀected my business at all. What I oﬀer is diﬀerent from what they oﬀer. I will refer clients if they are looking for simple large helium balloon bouquets as I create mostly air-ﬁlled table and ﬂoor decor.
Alex & Ellie: There are definitely more mass chain retailers than independent balloon retailers. The increase of popularity for balloons has created a massive increase in part-time, home-based balloon artists as well.
What is the craziest or most bizarre balloon request you have ever received?
Jackie: Living next to Calgary, we celebrate the Calgary Stampede every summer. It’s the largest outdoor show on Earth, complete with a massive midway and rodeo. A corporate client asked me to twist a life-size horse on location for their employees to use as a photo op. I heard that the balloon horse had quite the night as he frequented a number of bars and even rode our local subway system.
How/where do you do most of your business? Online or in-person?
Scott: A mix of both.
Jackie: Most of my business is done online. Clients typically ﬁnd me through word of mouth as they see friends and family post pictures of my work on their social media sites, or they ﬁnd me directly through my Instagram and Facebook accounts.
Alex & Ellie: These past few years, the majority of our business is through social media. Our main focus in social media is Instagram. Due to losing staff members during the pandemic, we have reverted to only taking orders via email and Instagram DM. It helps us to get through our day and save time needed for preparing and delivering orders without having to designate someone to answer phone calls. We need to wear many hats on any given day, and our workdays have been much longer as a result, sometimes around the clock.
What about marketing? How/where do you get most of your customers? Word of mouth? Social media? Foot traffic?
Scott: A mix of all these, as well as dedicated sales reps who travel from customer to customer.
Jackie: Most of my customers come from social media, whether it’s through ﬁnding me through my Instagram or Facebook pages or because friends of theirs posted my work on their pages. I am also active in local mom and community groups, where I post my work quite often.
Alex & Ellie: We get most of our customers through both word of mouth and Instagram. We would say word of mouth was most important in the past, but now we would say there has been a huge shift towards social media. It is easy for our clients to simply “share” a post with a friend. This helps us to grow since the definition of word of mouth has now evolved as well.
Who is your target market/common customer?
Scott: We have a broad customer base, party stores, grocery stores, chain stores, dollar stores, decorators, entertainers, and home-based businesses.
Jackie: I always say my target market is the Starbucks/Soccer Mom (so basically me!). Most of my business is helping moms celebrate their children’s birthdays and other milestones. I ﬁnd this gives me an advantage in the market because I know exactly how to market to them as I am also my own target audience.
Alex & Ellie: Our clients range from an average of 20-50 years, and the majority are female. Most of our clients are now mothers that require displays for private events. Due to event restrictions, we no longer have as many corporate events as before Covid-19. In general, many clients have flocked to our industry for contactless deliveries in a time where retail stores are closed. Out of necessity to celebrate life events, even if it is only amongst their household, many have turned to us to help them achieve this. We brought joy and hope to our community when we needed it most and have grown much closer to our clients because of it. We surprised our community with a balloon display in front of our local church and a long-term care facility. We had an outpouring of positive feedback and local news coverage, as well as thanks for helping our community smile and have hope during a time of uncertainty. It was such a heartwarming feeling.
Some of Alex & Ellie's Work
Alex and Ellie Ventura, CBAs
Pacha Balloon Creations
Decorators in Vaughan, Ontario, Canada
How has diversity played a part in your career? What challenges and opportunities have been presented?
Jackie: I receive a number of messages daily from moms like myself from all over the world, some from very diverse backgrounds and countries with not a lot of opportunities. A lot of them see what I do and how I started in this industry, as a mom making balloons for her kids, and they want to know how to get started in balloons themselves. I love that I have the ability to guide these other moms and let them know simple things they might not be able to ﬁnd on their own, like where to buy their balloons and how to seek out educational opportunities. These moms are looking at ways to help provide for their families and get into the balloon business, and I am so happy to help them.
Alex & Ellie: In Canada, we are lucky to have such a rich diversity of ethnicities. We have been raised in a multicultural community. As balloon decorators, we cater to any specifications of every event. We appreciate and love learning about the traditions and ceremonies of various cultures. Should any challenge or limitation arise, we simply communicate with our client what we believe will work or not for any given event installation.
What unique challenges do you face in your country?
Scott: I feel we are pretty fortunate in Canada not to face many obstacles that are unique. Changing purchasing habits to online/Amazon impacts our independent party store customers for sure, though.
Jackie: We are blessed to live in a country where we don’t have many political or economic challenges. Sometimes, I do ﬁnd myself donating my balloons to moms in need if I am contacted by somebody struggling and unable to provide something special for their children's birthdays. A couple of hours out of my day doing something I love - creating a beautiful balloon arrangement - is the least I can do to put a smile on a child’s face.
Alex & Ellie: Our biggest challenge is the fact that there are so many new people in our industry. These new people are uneducated on appropriate industry pricing and therefore drive the market down in perceived value. Many also sell DIY kits or classify their work as DIY creations, which again diminishes our service's overall value. In any creative market, everyone can essentially attempt to "do it themselves," such as the trend was for cakes and cupcakes; however, classifying all balloon art as such hurts the entire industry. They undercut the value of our work as an industry and create less value to our products than there should really be in order to carry out a full-time business. Eventually, they may not remain a business themselves, but in the meantime, this trend will continue to harm those who are in it for the long haul. We consider ourselves professionals in our service.
What unique cultural customs in your country create challenges or opportunities for you?
Scott: Canada is the melting pot of the world, we have a very diverse ethnic population, and that brings so much opportunity to celebrate many different cultural events. A significant population is French only speaking, not only in Quebec but scattered across the country, and finding products that are language appropriate is a real challenge.
Alex & Ellie: Our country and region are rich in cultural diversity. As a result, we have a number of opportunities to celebrate many events in various cultures. They do not create any challenges but rather give us the opportunity for new designs in a range of cultures. Whenever any challenges arise, we first educate our clients as to the best way for décor to be set up.
What is your biggest challenge as a business owner in your country?
Scott: Government Red Tape & bureaucracy always seem to eat up way too much energy and keep us from focusing all our efforts on growing our business.
Alex & Ellie: Our biggest challenge is always to do our best to create new and exciting ideas to offer our clients. We have many popular designs that I am certain will always be requested, but it is always great to have new ideas for our regular clients so that they are not always offered the same things. Also, educating our clients as best as we can on everything from installations to proper balloon usage is essential. We often have to explain how balloons (although biodegradable) should not be released, how they should be properly disposed of, and how we only use "the very best balloons," which are eco-friendly and biodegradable. Due to our open communication with our clients, the biggest challenge we faced throughout the pandemic was trying to accommodate as many last-minute orders as possible, as well as event date changes. This continues to be an ongoing challenge.
We have found that balloons are a universal language of joy that crosses all socioeconomic, cultural, and religious beliefs. Do you have any stories or anecdotes you'd like to share that support that sentiment?
Jackie: I have had some amazing opportunities to teach balloon art around the world. When I picked up my ﬁrst Qualatex 260 in 2010, I never could have imagined where balloons would take me. It’s so interesting to me that no matter where I went, my students in Mexico, Lebanon, Hungary, Dubai, Brazil - could all understand me when I taught - even though there was a language barrier. Everybody is always so welcoming and eager to learn, and they always make me feel like family no matter where I go. The universal language and love of balloons are evident in every country I travel to because balloons bring joy wherever you may be.
Alex & Ellie: Whenever we deliver our balloon creations, we always receive smiles in return. That alone definitely reiterates this idea that balloons are universally a symbol of joy, no matter what language is spoken. We don’t always get to witness all reactions, but when we receive thank you messages/emails/photos or get to witness it in person, it is instantly gratifying to know that the smile on their face was our doing.
Anything else you think people should know about your country?
Scott: Canadians, in general, seem to be more laid back when it comes to celebrating than our US neighbours to the south. Although our values are very similar and often thought of as such, we do not celebrate to the same extent or level.
Alex & Ellie: Often, we use our balloon creations in a method other than simply for events. Through social media, we sometimes use our platform to educate our viewers about a major issue apparent at that time, whether it be Canadian or worldwide. Recently, we posted a tribute to the lives of indigenous children. Currently, Canadians are learning about a heart-breaking discovery of unmarked graves at indigenous residential schools across Canada. In honour of them, we made a heart with moccasins out of balloons. Canada Day this year was not celebrated the same way, as a majority of our country has now decided to join a movement to educate themselves about indigenous people. Even though our creation was for such a heavy-hearted political issue, the outpouring of love and appreciation for our post again reiterated balloons' emotional power. We are so proud to be a part of the Qualatex family.