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Balloon Business Takes Off

With helium balloons, this Conwin Carbonic franchisee makes sculptures, centerpieces, bouquets...and a business.

Today, Judy Bradt, 44, works out of a warehouse in Pico Rivera, California, but like many entrepreneurs, she started out working out of her garage with no formal experience. Unlike many entrepreneurs, Bradt has a business creating bouquets, centerpieces and sculptures--out of balloons.

Bradt, who previously worked in personnel management, had always enjoyed decorating for office parties, so her interest was sparked when she took a class on starting a homebased business taught by a balloon decorator. "It was really exciting," says Bradt. "I couldn't believe someone could make a living doing this." She started out in January 1992, offering balloons, catering and murder mystery parties, but it was the balloons that took off. Event decorating became the focus of her business, A Special Event.

During her start-up phase, Bradt relied on Conwin Carbonic Co. Inc., which sells equipment and offers start-up kits and training for helium balloon businesses. While not much formal training was available 11 years ago, Bradt says, "they were helpful and patient. I went in many times to have them explain things to me." Conwin helped her find the right equipment for the best value and answered many of her start-up questions.

A Special Event grew so much that, in April 1996, Bradt had to move it out of her home. She and husband, David, 52, a former graphics designer who now works with her full time, still decorate most of their 150 to 200 events a year by themselves. In the past couple of years, their work has won several competitions at the International Balloon Art Convention in Chicago.

Today, Bradt teaches classes for Conwin Carbonic, traveling as far as Australia and Brazil. "It's really fun to share with other people all the mistakes we made along the way, to make it easier for them," she says. Bradt highly recommends that "anybody thinking of getting into this business start out homebased" and says those who succeed are those who research as much as possible before they begin.

This story appears in the November 2002 issue of Startups. Subscribe »