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LEARNING CURVE: BALOONEY BALLOONS : Inflation Spiral : Balloon Seller Keeps Client List Growing

February 13, 1996|KAREN KAPLAN

In four years, BaLooney Balloons founder Ray Bidenost has cultivated 550 clients by perfecting the art of the cold call and discovering other ways to recruit and maintain customers for his balloon gift and decoration company. Bidenost was interviewed by Karen Kaplan.

I started this business about four years ago because I wanted to make some extra Christmas money. I just got on the phone, made a bunch of cold calls and got five or six accounts.

I started by calling restaurants, then bars. I called places I'd been to that I'd seen use balloons for decoration before. I got on the phone and said: "Hi, this is Ray. I'm opening up a new balloon company." They knew who I was because I was their customer.

In the beginning, I picked up one client for every eight calls I made. Sometimes people would hire me right then and there. Sometimes I would have to cultivate a relationship. I'd go into the restaurant and dine there. Eventually they would call me back.

After a year, I was able to quit my job organizing recreation activities for a Pasadena orphanage and concentrate on the balloon business full time. Now I've got about 550 clients on my database. Some of them order from me once a year and some of them place orders every three months.

Each of the business groups I belong to, like the Beverly Hills Chamber of Commerce, has list after list after list of members, and those are good for finding new clients. First I'll send out postcards to people on the list. Then I'll start making cold calls.

I just call people and act like I know them. I call them by their first name. Sometimes they're not sure how to react. I talk about the different accounts I've had in their area and mention people I've done work for that they might know.

I don't go directly into sales. It's good to spend some time getting to know them. But if they're really busy, I offer to send them a packet with information about our services.

I average up to 50 cold calls a week, depending on how much free time I've got. I have a list of who I'm going to be contacting throughout the year. For example, right now I'm focusing on hotels.

I also give commissions to people like party planners, caterers and rental equipment people who send me new business. It's like having a part-time sales force out there.

*

On cold calling . . .

"I call them by their first name. . . . I don't go directly into sales. It's good to spend some time getting to know them."

On the value of chamber of commerce directories . . .

"Those are good for finding new clients. First I'll send out postcards to people on the list. Then I'll start making cold calls."

On other ways of finding new clients . . .

"I also give commissions to people like party planners, caterers and rental equipment people who send me new business. It's like having a part-time sales force out there."

AT A GLANCE

Company: BaLooney Balloons

Owner: Ray Bidenost

Nature of business: Makes balloon decorations and bouquets for parties and other special occasions

Location: Hollywood

Number of employees: Three

Annual sales: $160,000

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