The business where inflation counts

Updated: 2011-06-27 10:23

By Yu Tianyu (China Daily)

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The business where inflation counts

Hu Xinying, owner of Balloon Queen in Beijing's Central Business District, surrounded by colorful balloons. She says she is very confident about her future. [Photo / Provided to China Daily]

Young entrepreneur quits the dry world of finance for something more whimsical and romantic

BEIJING - Confident, beautiful and romantically ambitious, balloon decorator Hu Xinying has much in common with her business.


The business where inflation counts

The sweet-smiling, mellow-voiced 27-year-old typical Beijing girl always dresses like the chic models that appear in the top fashion magazines.

Using her talent in design and fashion, the young woman opened a balloon-decoration store, the first of its kind in the capital, in 2009, creating stunning balloon designs for weddings, birthday parties or other romantic occasions.

"There was something in my childhood that suggested that I would be working with balloons when I took out my old albums and they were full of photos of balloons," said Hu.

The girl still remembers that during her childhood her father frequently bought her balloons from gray-haired vendors who wheeled their bikes and trollies along streets, through residential communities and around parks.

"These balloons were of very poor quality and they easily burst," she said. "I cried every time it happened and asked my father to buy me a new one."

The seemingly ordinary graduate began work at an investment firm as a manager after taking a degree in international business and trade. She was not happy with this new chapter in her life, finding no pleasure in dry figures and charts.

Like the majority of urban young Chinese women, she kept to the same daily routines from office to home, with the occasional party with friends thrown in.

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However, Hu possessed rebellious genes and didn't want her imagination left to waste away. "I was really tortured because I had a lot of ideas in my brain but no channel through which to release them," she said.

Many young Chinese people were roused by the scenes drawn by Taiwan's best-known illustrator, Jimmy Liao, in his cartoon books depicting the sadness of a girl living in a dusty and dense urban city who was immediately cheered up after being given a bright red balloon by a nice young man.

Once, on a whim, Hu decided to give a bunch of dazzling balloons to her best friend as a birthday gift, just as people do in the hit American soap operas Desperate Housewives and Sex and the City.

"However, I couldn't find any in the city and online most of the balloons were cheap, unevenly colored and devoid of wit and inventiveness," she said.

The moment changed Hu's life. "If nowhere in Beijing is selling quality balloons, why shouldn't I, because the market is there?" she said.

Without any hesitation, Hu packed in her boring job and started conducting market research and building up contacts with balloon dealers in the US while setting up her own store with an investment of 500,000 yuan ($77,000) from her parents.

"My parents asked me to return to my previous job if I lost all the money," she said. "But I started earning money in the first month thanks to my business acumen and also my popularity among my friends, who helped me a lot with deliveries, advertising and the acquisition of new clients."

Walking into her store in Beijing's Central Business District feels like entering a boudoir: It is filled to the rafters with a variety of colorful balloons set to a background of trilling, silvery laughter.

Calling herself the Balloon Queen, Hu's products are imported from the United States. There are two categories: emulsion balloons and aluminum foil balloons. She also offers a while-you-wait balloon decoration service.

Balloons are part of the culture in the US and European countries, appearing at nearly every festive occasion from weddings and birthday parties to graduation ceremonies and baby showers.

Whether it's the British princess Kate Middleton - officially known as Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge - or a young Chinese woman struggling to buy a decent apartment in Beijing, they both have romantic dreams, said Hu. "Balloons are indispensable guests at all romantic occasions."

Disney-Pixar's blockbuster cartoon UP tells the story of 78-year-old Carl Fredricksen, who set out to fulfill his and his deceased wife's lifelong dream to see the wilds of South America by floating his house with thousands of balloons.

"Just as in the movies, balloons are about love, dreams and wishes," Hu said.

She added that she enjoys balloon decoration, which is one of the most effective, and specialized ways, of giving a room maximum impact.

At weddings, most brides request archways and back drops. "It looks simple, but we have to rack our brains to satisfy fashion-savvy Chinese brides eager for something unique," said Hu.

Archways with Roman columns are the most popular while heart-shaped balloon archways mixed with roses and ribbons are the latest craze, according to the young entrepreneur.

The method for binding the balloons needs to be carried out carefully to ensure they don't come loose but can still be untied easily when necessary.

Different gases such as nitrogen and helium, or just plain air, can be used to creative effect with balloons because of their different qualities. For example, helium causes a balloon to rise.

Hu has been invited by Fortune 500 companies in China to carry out balloon decorations for their annual conferences, special meetings or other formal business events.

"Business people always prefer the combination of white, black or grey," she said.

She is also proud of the balloon decorations she carried out for shop windows featuring luxury brands as well as at the launch ceremonies of high-end automobiles.

Big-name companies always have much higher requirements such as the right color combination to match their brand culture and values, she said.

Hu's business has also expanded to the decoration of television studios as well as backdrops for fashion magazine photography.

Her most memorable work with her colleagues was a 17-meter archway for an international energy company's conference. They fixed the balloons without using any framework.

"You may feel nothing, but industry insiders were stunned by the height and form," she said. "It was really something great."

Balloon design closely follows the catwalks of international fashion, said Hu. "Whether polka dots, bright colors or pastels are in vogue, the balloon industry takes its cue."

The next step for Hu is to introduce her own branded and designed balloons. "I'm very interested in architecture, painting and ballet as well," she said. "I believe that my aesthetic appreciation and skills can help me in this area."

Price might be the most controversial part of Hu's business, given that aluminum foil balloons can cost from 25 to 200 yuan, nearly 10 times as much as traditional balloons.

Aluminum foil balloons can be atomically sealed and can be reused while. Also their decorations will last for several months. "We offer value for money, but I have to explain that hundreds of times a day to my customers."

Decoration charges range from 2,000 yuan to more than 10,000 apiece. Hu has completed more than 60 deals so far. "Every project is a kind of art creation and it's an expression of my sentiments," she said.



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