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Topic: Balloon Busking
Message: Posted by: JeffWampler (May 31, 2005 02:11PM)
Hey guys,

Does anyone do this? While purchasing my monthly supply of balloons from T Myers, I saw he had some books on balloon busking...being the curious guy I am and being ever so watchful for venues to increase my income, I bought them.

So, what do you guys do, if anything? Any comments is appreciated!
Message: Posted by: Kozmo (May 31, 2005 02:33PM)
We are currently working on a project about busking with balloons ...should be a very good project..will psot here when its done..

Message: Posted by: Whiterabbit (May 31, 2005 06:01PM)
I guess what I do is technically balloon busking. I come from a non tipping society (generally speaking) so I pitch balloons and support it with magic. Works a treat: I work in shopping centres, malls, markets, school fetes, charity events and festivals. I generally make more per hour than I do in my real job, so depending on how you do it you can do okay. I also get to give out a lot of business cards and get heaps of children's bookings from it. I consider it more pitching than busking though.

I'm happy to say a bit more if people are interested. I suspect you'd have a few people on the list who work this way (Pokie Poke, for example) and they'd have something interesting to add.
Message: Posted by: Popo (May 31, 2005 09:00PM)
My daughter and I busk with balloons. We usually set up in a mall or a busy place and begin making some balloons. Then we pop one to get attention. People begin coming over and we begin to sell. Often, when working a mall, security may run you out. It depends on the security. The mall will let you do it for a significant cut so we are often renegades. We are currently working on a balloon show to take to the streets. This would include some audience participation through some improv and doing fairy tales using balloons as costumes.
Message: Posted by: Whiterabbit (May 31, 2005 09:12PM)
Concerning how I work, I carry insurance and sometimes casual lease in places like malls. I am always invited where I go and people often want me there to add to the atmosphere. As I entertain a fair bit, I usually get a good deal (70% off the normal price in my case and often free days in return for an hour of performance) for casual leases.

Shopping centres and malls often want you there if you add to the appeal for children to go there. When I chat with them I always mention that angle.
Message: Posted by: Zack (Jun 1, 2005 01:48AM)
Good for you Popo!

Someday somebody will challenge the private property status of malls and win. (Probably not in my lifetime)
Message: Posted by: TheAmbitiousCard (Jun 1, 2005 02:49AM)
So far, I've seen 2 great things with balloons. And one non-repeatable ok thing.

I've bought some balloons and am practicing.

The eccentricks #1 DVD has a fantastic bit with a balloon.

Plus I can make a dog and a giraffe now.

By the way, where I live, there is a guy that can make a "gun" out of a balloon
and he can, no kidding, shoot balloon balls out of the gun with it.

All done with one balloon.

I kid you not.
Anyone seen this before?

I should trade him the balloon gun trick for the balloon swallowing trick.
Message: Posted by: JoeJoe (Jun 1, 2005 09:48AM)
If you have to give the mall a cut, you are DEFIDENTLY doing it wrong! They should be paying you, or at the very least letting you have the space at no cost.

You should NEVER perform at a mall without permission - it is private property and you could get arrested for it. Plus, the mall most likely already has someone they use when they want balloon animals - which means you are stepping on someone's toes, and that is a good way to get on the **** list.

As for busking balloon, focus on quick simple 1 balloon creations. I perfer to give them away with a sign "balloons are free, tips are welcome". If you can make them laugh, you will get a tip the vast overall majority of the time. Most days, I do better giving them away then if I were to sell them at a dollar a balloon - sure some people won't tip, others will overtip. I get quiet a few five dollar bills for a single balloon, if I gave them a price I wouldn't get that.

The upside to balloons is you don't need a lot of people to make money, I do balloons on the slow days when drawing a crowd would be time consuming. If it looks like it is going to rain, I'll leave the magic in the van and just do balloons.

The downside is you are limited to how much you can make by how many balloons you can blow up, thus if the people are there I perfer to do a show and pass the hat. If you can push a lot of swords out (only one twist), you can make $40-$60 an hour.

I have never used balloons to draw a crowd on the street, I don't think you could switch from balloons to a magic show - the people are there for a balloon, not to see magic. But I do use balloons to form a crowd at the flea market, I have a nice technique ... I stand at the edge of my space, and offer a kid a free balloon as they pass by. I blow the balloon up into the isle ... what happens is, as people come walking by, there is this wild balloon spinning and twirling in the isle that they want to walk down. Needless to say, they end up stopping and waiting for me to get the balloon out of the isle before continuing. As I keep doing this, I create a bottleneck of people traffic.

Message: Posted by: Mark Rough (Jun 1, 2005 10:55AM)
I make one balloon animal.
(throw down popped black balloon)
Road kill.

Message: Posted by: Kozmo (Jun 1, 2005 11:34AM)
I can see paying for a permit but I would NEVER pay to work....ever....
festivals and those kind of things pay bands and most of the time no one watches them...but I *** well assure you they watch me so why should't I and we get paid
Message: Posted by: Whiterabbit (Jun 1, 2005 06:05PM)
Well I pay very rarely and, fetes, festivals etc. book me, but for a good mall at Christmas time, given that I don't get donations (I sell), I occasionally lease.

As I said, I pitch, not busk. Consequently, for me, there is that "you're a business argument" that I have to contend with when I go for a space.

Ninety percent of what I do, I don't lease, but some I do. I couldn't legally access those places any other way and I make good money there.

Anyway, that's my method of approaching things, and I can accept that it's certainly not for everyone.
Message: Posted by: JoeJoe (Jun 2, 2005 12:42AM)
I don't even like paying for permits ... I often get the fee waived.

I once had a manager at a bar/resturant combo tell me I could work the tables for tips. Talk about insulting, did he really think I would work for less than a waitress?? I told him I could do that on the street outside his resturant - lol. I'm getting too old to showcase my talents, there are more than enough places to work to worry about a hard sale like that.

Message: Posted by: JeffWampler (Jun 2, 2005 04:38PM)
Wow...thanks for the posts guys...you've been ever so much helpful (<--- btw, I don't talk like that in real life)

There is a flea market in my town that stays SUPER-BUSY all weekend long...Since I'm show-less this weekend I may go up there and do a few balloons...

Quick question:

Would you:

A. Pay for a space

B. Just show up and do it

C. Try to convince the flea market powers that be that your bringing entertainment into their arena in hopes of them letting you do it w/o paying for a space

Message: Posted by: Whiterabbit (Jun 2, 2005 06:03PM)
I think it's great if you can swing them and you've got nothing to lose by trying as long as you're polite and professional: I get this deal a fair bit of the time.

If you still want the space for free then if you're busking that's probably fine with the management (that's what I've always encountered). If you're pitching and people know you're in there for free, in my opinion, you could have trouble from the other stall holders and markets are notorious for these sorts of hassles (and I think Gazzo mentions it in his book). Getting in free one time may actually cause a situation that'll stop you getting in free later (I might point out that regarding tipping, fairs etc., where I am is probably culturally different from the States).

But if you can swing the management on a deal, it's great. A fair proportion of the time you can. By the way, most people purchase balloons near exits or near free children's attractions or bands in my experience. I've found those places good to set up. Also, I've found a place with few exits and a reasonable of people better than a place with lots of exits and more people. You need that stream going by you.

Best of Luck.
Message: Posted by: JoeJoe (Jun 2, 2005 11:40PM)
If all you are going to do is balloon animals, then you do not want to pay for a space. You don't want a space at all, you want to be in the food court/snack bar area. Wear an apron with your balloons, keep a hand pump at your side (in case you get tired of blowing them up which can happen), and wear a button "balloons are free - tips are welcome". The management may tell you to check with the snack bar people, and if it's ok with them.

Give the balloons away - "ya'all need a balloon animal?" ... if they don't bite, "they are free, courtsey of <venue name>". You want balloons in the hands of kids, you want kids walking around the market with balloons. All the kids that see the balloons will also want a balloon, and when they see you they will just assume the other kids paid for them. Giving balloons away creates a demand for more balloons! Don't worry if they don't tip, the tips will come once the free balloons are out there.

After you've been there a few times, you can usually push for a street performance type magic show where you pass the hat. A good approach to this is to do the show, collect the tip and then drop a bunch of balloons on the ground at the end of the show - "now all the kids here, grab yourself a balloon and bring it to me and I'll blow it up into an animal for you! My way of saying thank you for filling my hat!". This will build a line, and lines are what sell balloons. Re-read that last sentence, it's the important part. When there is a line, you get a tip everytime - without a line, people will take advantage of the "free balloons" part of the deal. Learn to speed up and slow down to keep your line. As you are twisting the free balloons for the kids at the show, other kids will join the line - they will tip.

After you been there a while, you can also add to your space - I like a 5 galloon clear water bottle to collect the tips. You can slowly work in signs and other things as well - but be there a few times first, you don't want to shock them with a massive hand cart full of junk. Ease into the space gently, let them get comfortable with you being there. That will prevent complaints from other vendors and what not. And when you do talk to other vendors, your having a bad day - you are always having a bad day. I don't care if you have pocketed ten thousand dollars, your still having a bad day - get used to the fact that everyday is going to be a bad day. There are no good days in a flea market ever!!!

If I didn't already have such a great pitch spot, this is exactly what I would be doing. I've done it before and there is money in it. It's easier than selling, you don't need to get there at the crack of dawn like you would if you had a space - if your not setup at my local market by 9:00, they rerent your space to someone else and your out of the rent money. Big plus, you got nothing to carry, except a bag of balloons. It is an easy way to make easy money - unlike busking which is a hard way to make an easy living.

If they won't let you do it, and they insist on paying for a space ... then I suggest you get Don Driver's Svengali pitch tape and some cheap Svengali decks. That is my approach, I make more from selling decks then I do giving away balloons. I don't try to get the space free, I want a good spot not one of the "un-rentable" spaces in the back of the market. In this situation, put out a tip jar of some sort.

I can't imagine they wouldn't let you do it ... if you feel resistance when talking with them, maybe point out that normally you get paid to do this - but you realize they probroly don't have an entertainment budget so you'd be willing to do it for free if they allow you to collect tips.

Message: Posted by: Zack (Jun 3, 2005 01:06AM)
You go, JoJo! That was a GREAT post!!
Message: Posted by: JeffWampler (Jun 3, 2005 12:30PM)


I was on my way to the telephone to make the call and I decided to check back for some more info...I'm pumped now...

After I make the call, I'll let ya know how it worked out.
Message: Posted by: JoeJoe (Jun 3, 2005 01:11PM)
Glad to know my post is apprechiated. :)


On 2005-06-03 13:30, JeffWampler wrote:
After I make the call, I'll let ya know how it worked out.

WOW! That's one heck of a long phone call there Jeff! :D

Message: Posted by: JeffWampler (Jun 4, 2005 10:07AM)

Well...Here's the story...

I didn't post b/c I didn't have any information to share. When I called, some old lady answered. She didn't know what the heck was going on with anything. I finally get her to tell me the name of the decision maker at the flea market and was told to call back later.

I call back later and get the answering machine. According to the message, they are only there to anwer calls and return messages from 2-4 PM on Fridays! Whew...

Should have some good news by next week...
Message: Posted by: JoeJoe (Jun 4, 2005 11:57AM)
Just show up this weekend, most markets have a "must be setup by time" - ie: 9:00 AM at my market. So at 9:00, someone will walk around the entire flea market to make sure people are setup. If someone is not setup, they re-rent to space to any vendors waiting in line for one.

So by say 10:00, the management is pretty much done their job for the day. That would be a good time to show up and talk to them. I've yet to find a flea market that handles telephone calls well, just show up and talk to them in person.

And don't fret it if they arn't interested, someone else is ... check with your local malls. Malls are differnt, you don't want to just show up there - best bet for a mall is to send them a letter explaining what you want to do. Do you have a "downtown" area? You may be able to do it downtown, that's a whole nother thread - you'd need to check your local street performing ordancences.

Message: Posted by: Dante (Jun 8, 2005 04:59AM)
Hey .. Its my first post!

I do ALOT of balloon work. After my usual weekend gigs, I bring my balloon rig out to the downtown area (near movie theatres, Starbucks, etc.) of a nice neighborhood and work on my skills. When choosing locations, pick an area you are looking to book gigs in. This effectively allows you to target a market.

I consider busking paid practice. Its also a great place to try out new material.

The balloons I do tend to be more detailed. As a result they do take a little more time than your typical 1 balloon poodle. However, Its not uncommon for me to get a $20 tip for a sculpture.

I love busking. I hate charging for the balloons. I'm sure I make more by leaving the price up to the buyer. In addition, large families or lower income families still get to participate.
Wow ... I was about to start ranting about the deeper philosophical ramifications of busking in society ... but perhaps that's for anew thread?

In any case, I book a lot of jobs this way. I hand out a lot of cards, make new contacts, and keep fresh on my designs. I NEVER pay to work. Most areas I've been in allow performers to be just about anywhere public providing they do not charge for the balloons, cause a problem, or interfere with anything. Of course, CHECK YOUR LOCAL LAWS!!!

Best of luck!!!

Message: Posted by: JoeJoe (Jun 8, 2005 06:07AM)
Dante, welcome to the Café! It's good to have you here. :)

Very impressive balloon work at your site ... can I ask how long you spend making someone a balloon? I try to keep it to under 2 minutes, and even then I can easily get a longer line than I desire. If there is no line, I offer to show them a magic trick to hold them as long as possible in an effort to keep a line going. If they get in line, they almost always tip - if I have to call them over, they are more likely to not tip.

I agree ... you defidently make more leaving the price up to the buyer - I don't like touching the money at all, just telling them to drop it in the bucket. I get a lot of fives for my one balloon poodles (although I find poodles have too many small twists, so I discourage them). Sure some people don't tip, but the ones that overtip more than make up for it. Plus, the more balloons out there there the greater the demand - if I make less per balloon, I make up for it in volume.

I try not to notice them reaching for money, and after they put the rest of their money away and before it's dropped in the bucket ... bring my attention to them and say ... "now you didn't have to do that, I said they were free". This gets startled looks from the ones that feel I'm just trying to hustle them, and lightens them up. It also triggers embarasment on the ones that drop a dime or quarter in the bucket - lol.

When I'm doing balloons, I really don't mind giving them away but I've noticed I spend more time on the ones that don't tip then the ones that do, the ones that don't tip are the families of six and they always request the ones that take the longest that arn't on my list. I try to acomadate them but it's frustrating ... especially when there is another kid in line holding a dollar.

I get a lot of requests for bookings also, but most of them tend to be kids parties which I don't like doing. I'm contracted 7 days a week already so I myself don't get to accept many of these bookings. But yes, it would be a great way to drum up extra work.

Another question, do you blow them up by mouth? Or use a pump? My blood pressure jumps 10 points by mouth, but the hand pump slows me down.

Message: Posted by: Paddy (Jun 8, 2005 10:37AM)
[quote]...Another question, do you blow them up by mouth? Or use a pump? My blood pressure jumps 10 points by mouth, but the hand pump slows me down.

JoeJoe, I do a lot of balloons also, (I buy about 60 to 70 bags a month) I also do not mouth inflate. About 4 years ago I bought a "Big Foot" pump from Masters Entertainment. It is light weight, I carry it with me all over restaurants and busking at festivals, it will fill a 260 with one stroke. It is also indestrucable. They are made in Dayton OH and have a fantastic warranty. Call Them at 937-294-6952
Message: Posted by: ed rhodes (Jun 8, 2005 10:39AM)
We have a flea market here in Providence (actually, we have three or four, but I only go to the nearby one). There was a clown outside with a compressor, making and selling multi-balloon animals. (I used to know his name... escapes me now.)

Also, they had a "block party" to kick off last week's WaterFire. Bruce Kavler (who's a big muck-a-muck in the RI magic scene) was doing multi-animals balloons and giving them away. Knowing Bruce is certainly not a fool, I have to assume the block party people were paying him a nice chunk of change for being there.

He did recognizable cartoon characters as well as the "bird on a ring," "monkey in a tree" sort of thing. He also had a compressor strapped to his side.
Message: Posted by: Dante (Jun 9, 2005 03:16AM)
Hey JoeJoe,

I do inflate by mouth. I do so for a number of reasons:
1. Speed
2. Performance Value
3. Soft Warm Air
4. Precision & Control of Air Volume

Its not for everyone, but I swear by it. I usually will go through a few hundred balloons in a day. The only time I don't inflate by mouth is when I am feeling ill.

In regards to time. I try not to do anything basic. Even my swords are fancier than most. However, speed is always a factor. When the line is short, I go detail crazy. When the line grows ... I tend to scale back on the extras. The actual construction is part of the entertainment. I interact with the "client" as I go. Their input affects the finished sculpture.


Thanks for the welcome! :)

Message: Posted by: Al Kazam the Magic Man (Jun 9, 2005 06:29AM)
There was a time that I used to make a lot of balloons as well. I went ahead and bought a small air compressor. We always had electricity where we set up, so I just plugged it in and used one of those small hand held guns to blow the balloons up. It worked like a charm, cut down on time and busted pumps. I'm too old to be standing around all day busting my cheeks and stomach muscles.
Message: Posted by: Paddy (Nov 24, 2014 01:56PM)
This is an old topic that I am kicking up to the front. Recently bought a book/DVD called "Balloons for Cash." He suggests having a list of 12 one balloon items with "Choose a Balloon" across the top in HUGE print and right under that (same size type) "$$$Please Tip $$$" Works, tips have increased and the requests for time consuming sculptures stopped.
Message: Posted by: gman (Nov 25, 2014 06:51AM)
[quote]On May 31, 2005, Kozmo wrote:
We are currently working on a project about busking with balloons ...should be a very good project..will psot here when its done..

koz [/quote]

Hey Koz, guess you never made finished the project.
Message: Posted by: MagiCol (Nov 25, 2014 11:39PM)
Paddy in his last post wrote: "He suggests having a list of 12 one balloon items." Wow, what a lot of choices for the buyer to sort through.
I do just 3 choices of a 1 260 balloon sold at $NZ3, an ordinary round one on stick for $2 [ for people who don't want to spend much, or whose kid just wants to hold a balloon], a heart flower tnat girls love [260 with sepals and one end and a 6" heart tied into the top] for $4, and a foil balloon of a NZ rugby shirt sells for $4 [I can afford to sell cheap because I got them free].
On my foldable menu board I have a photo of the model, the price, and the name of it, to make buyer's choice easier. And at the top I have "Pick A Balloon Shape."
Those who are going to make a Balloon Menu [like the cover of a book in shape so it is self-supporting on the ground], I'd say to start by making sure the Menu fits in your suit-case or on your trolley.
Message: Posted by: gman (Nov 26, 2014 04:54AM)
I ordered the book and dvd that Paddy recommended. For now my balloon experience is only do you want a mutant dog, a sword or a loki hat?
Message: Posted by: Mario Morris (Nov 26, 2014 05:12AM)
Hi George, It was great to see Lady Vee teaching on balloon busking at the magic and mystery school, Las Vegas.
She is with out doubt the most experianced international ballon buskers I know.
Its the way she works her audience, with story telling, never in a rush making each person feel like a star is what Lady Vee does best.
I cant beleave I taught her the basics. Lady Vee will have pepole watch some times for hours and often they don't even want a ballon for their tips
Message: Posted by: tom hughes (Nov 26, 2014 07:18PM)
I have a system when I busk balloons that has worked very well for me for the last few years.

It comes down to a few simple rules;

1) ALWAYS twist with the parent present (they carry wallets, kids don't)
2) Always use a pump and a number machine ( no one gets bad tempered waiting in line, you know exactly who is next and you can close the line with a little forward planning... this is the best idea I ever stole from Mark Byrne)
3) have a menu... with "suggested tip" written on it; I divide mine into three for $3, $4 and $5 balloons
4) don't have a picture menu... kids can't often read and you WANT the parent to read the menu so they can also read the "suggested tip"
5) NO TIPS JAR.. you hand the kid the balloon and the parent your business card... they then hand you money, usually folded.
6) keep talking and entertaining... crack lots of jokes.
7) make a BIG fuss about big tippers and ALWAYS say thank you for even the smallest tip.
8) fix pops for free.

Works for me.

Message: Posted by: MagiCol (Nov 27, 2014 02:42AM)
Tom wrote "8) fix pops for free."
I've heard of a system where the broken balloon must be used as the ticket to get a replacement. Otherwise kids may turn up claiming to replace their balloon when they never paid for one.
Message: Posted by: Mario Morris (Nov 27, 2014 07:25AM)
[quote]On Nov 27, 2014, MagiCol wrote:
Tom wrote "8) fix pops for free."
I've heard of a system where the broken balloon must be used as the ticket to get a replacement. Otherwise kids may turn up claiming to replace their balloon when they never paid for one. [/quote]

In the UK I called that balloon MOT. MOT is safety checks that car's must go through to be road worthy, yes you do need a balloon to go through our MOT repair. This also makes the adults smile, laugh while reassuring them.

Each different country we have gone to around the globe, their are tricks and way's that we have learnt that make sense for the environment your in. For example balloon busking in the UK a bit different to Germany. On the other hand balloon busking in Europe is totally different South East Asia and so on.

I first tried my hand at Balloon Busking over fifteen years ago for two seasons, but I soon went back to my day job of street magic. Now and then I become Veronica's assistant, she really has taken it to a whole different level of mastery. As well as my self Jeff McBride sore her mastery and their for asked her to share her craft in Las Vegas.
Message: Posted by: tom hughes (Nov 27, 2014 05:51PM)
Hmmm... although most kids will bring a popped balloon back I'd never insist that they HAVE to have the popped balloon in order to get a replacement. If a kid tells me that their balloon popped then that's good enough for me (although I do put most non wearables on balloon sticks). Why? Because my job, when balloon busking... is to look like a nice guy and refusing to replace a balloon, even if I feel I might be being ripped off (this has genuinely never happened) doesn't make me look like a nice guy. It makes me look bad. In fact... if a kid walks past me with a dishevelled looking balloon I'll stop them and either repair it or replace it; nothing is worse for business than a broken balloon and an unhappy looking kid.
Message: Posted by: Mario Morris (Nov 27, 2014 06:05PM)
Glad to hear that, take pride in your work.
Message: Posted by: NYCTwister (Nov 28, 2014 07:15PM)
[quote]On Nov 27, 2014, MagiCol wrote:
Tom wrote "8) fix pops for free."
I've heard of a system where the broken balloon must be used as the ticket to get a replacement. Otherwise kids may turn up claiming to replace their balloon when they never paid for one. [/quote]

I don't make one balloon sculptures so the kid usually brings me the half mutilated carcass of whatever the poor thing was.

This is one of those situations where one or two kids might take advantage, but good will is more important than the cost of a few balloons.
Message: Posted by: Mario Morris (Nov 29, 2014 06:02PM)
The bottom line hear is your reassuring parents, if the balloon pops you got it covered.
Lady Vee (Veronica) has got a very interesting way of dealing with lone kids or punks, if you meet her ask her.
Message: Posted by: MagiCol (Nov 30, 2014 03:07AM)
Mario writes: "The bottom line hear is your reassuring parents, if the balloon pops you got it covered."
Sometimes I talk to a kid about their balloon popping. "If your balloon breaks, first have a big, big cry. Then come back to me and I will replace it free." The crying comment usually brings a smile of "I wouldn't cry!' attitude.
And sometimes I will tell the parent, "If it breaks come back if you're handy, and if I'm still here I'll replace it free."

In practical terms, its a waste of words because very few people come back. Firstly, the Qualatex 260's are durable. And this can be helped by not having the balloon blown up too tight.
Probably, if the balloon breaks, the adult figures the kid got some fun out of it anyway.

While I'm talking balloons, I recently realized that it pays to have a back-up supplier in case your major one fails short-term or long-term. My usual supplier has quit, temporarily, and I found a back-up who will become my main supplier until my usual one is back on board.
It pays to have a reasonable stock-pile at your home in case there is a supply delay or a sudden rush need.
Message: Posted by: Mario Morris (Nov 30, 2014 04:38AM)
Their is two sides to this the one is yes your correct but the other side, the disguiesd sales pitch ie reassuring.