You probably see balloons several times a week. The colorful orbs star in commercials, promote special events, decorate car dealerships and more.
Amazing Balloons by Gee is one company making balloon magic happen in Southern California.
Claudia Gee co-owns Amazing Balloons by Gee with her husband. Like many entrepreneurs, she didn’t start out to be a small business owner but began her career in the corporate world as an accountant.
“After we got married, my husband and I wanted to start a business together,” she says. “I wasn’t sure we would make a good team until we bought a salvaged car to repair.” Claudia quickly discovered that she and her husband worked very well together. She would read the repair manuals and he would do the dirty work. “It was a great bonding experience!” she says.
Once they discovered that they were compatible working together, it was time to start looking for a business that was a good fit.
“When we were dating, my husband would bring me balloons and flowers. I would save the balloon foils and hang them on my wall. When we attended a trade show for small businesses, we came across a balloon business and decided to give it a shot.”
Initially, they started their venture part-time. Claudia and her husband worked evenings and weekends and used personal credit cards for the $4,000 start-up costs. After her husband was laid off from his full-time job, he suggested that they go for it.
“I quit my job the next day,” Gee says. The couple has now worked together for over 20 years and their client list is impressive.
Amazing Balloons by Gee specializes in creating theme décor for all occasions from the most private events to big and splashy productions. Recently, the company was hired to decorate the headquarters of global toy company Mattel for a Make-A-Wish foundation event. Their balloon designs were seen worldwide in August 2015 when featured at the Special Olympics’ opening ceremonies. Located not far from Hollywood, Amazing Balloons by Gee has been hired for displays on television shows like Glee and Grey’s Anatomy, in commercials for Honda and for feature films.
“The largest job we’ve ever had was for the movie Poseidon. We did a balloon drop using 15,000 balloons,” Gee says. “That was an experience!” In addition to large events, they also create smaller balloon bouquets that can be delivered for birthdays or other special events through a national distribution company.
“At the height of our business in 2000 – 2001, we employed two part-time drivers along with an office administrator and others. There were a total of eight people working for our home-based business. It was busy but fun.”
Then tragedy struck the U.S. on September 11, 2001. The economic affects were felt worldwide and Amazing Balloons by Gee was not immune.
“After 9/11, every single party stopped,” says Gee. “Unfortunately, every downturn in the economy affects celebration events and has a direct impact on our bottom line. We used personal credit cards to keep the doors open.” Claudia and her husband weathered that storm and came back strong. However, they faced a worldwide helium shortage in 2012. A tank of helium was suddenly $200.00 instead of $65.00.
Gee had a business line of credit she could access during tough times but the credit line was sold to a bank and closed. Gee had to keep making payments but was unable to access money to run her business. Another line of credit was available to them but had rates as high as 16%.
“When we added in our credit card payments, it was very hard to manage cash flow.”
Like many small business owners, she found it difficult to secure the relatively small loan size she wanted. “I felt that it was hard for the banks to take us seriously because we didn’t want a million dollar loan,” she says. Gee started an online search looking for a solution that would give her financial relief. She came to SmartBiz through Staples.com.
“I was glad to see that SmartBiz was connected with a well known brand. It’s scary to put all of your financial information out there on the Internet.” She researched other lenders but found that they were offering less money for shorter terms.
“That would not have been helpful so we went with SmartBiz and we are very happy”, she says. “After being rejected so many times, we never thought that we would qualify for this loan!”
After a 5-minute pre-qualification, Gee started the application process. Unfortunately, she ran into a problem. A fraudulent tax return had been filed in her name. Gee received a call immediately from her SmartBiz loan representative. “We brainstormed how to handle this. The IRS said it could take anywhere from 6 weeks to 6 months to straighten out paperwork for a fraud victim.”
However, her SmartBiz representative helped with ideas to speed up the process. Gee ended up walking into the IRS office in her area and the problem was quickly cleared up.
“We secured a loan for $150,000 with a 6% APR and a 10 year payback. The whole process was awesome…just great. The funds helped us consolidate and save big. I feel like we can just breathe.”
"We secured a loan for $150,000 with a 6% APR and a 10 year payback. The whole process was awesome…just great. The funds helped us consolidate and save big. I feel like we can just breathe."
Before her SmartBiz loan, Gee was making total payments of $4,000 to credit cards and lines of credit each month. With the SmartBiz loan proceeds, she was able to consolidate her debts and now pays just $1,600 monthly.
“In addition to consolidating our loans, we are finally able to put aside money for an emergency fund and savings. It’s a big relief.” If things continue to go well, the Gees would ideally like to hire a full-time driver to free up time pursing more balloon business. Gee and her husband are looking forward to growth and are excited about industry innovation.
“You can’t believe the new techniques coming out of Russia and Japan. Keep an eye out for creative balloon flowers and dresses in the new future – it will blow your mind!”
Use of Funds
Refinance existing high interest debt, establish an emergency fund and savings
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