"If CHANEL would want me, then my grandma will take me!" exclaims Jihan Zencirli, the ultimate balloon trooper and founder of Geronimo! Balloons.
After starting her career as a balloon girl in Los Angeles in May 2011, Zencirli found herself filling a tall order: creating balloons for CHANEL to send out as invitations to their Paris fall runway show in September of the same year.
“I hadn't even conceived my balloons being that high fashion or high end," she says, "and for them to kind of trust that we could create something that was beautiful, that was to their level of excellence and luxury made me rethink how I projected my business image and how I really felt about where my business could go.” And in true balloon fashion, there was no place for it to go—but up.
In 2010, Zencirli was a Seattle resident with a passion for her job working as the creative director of a children's educational product company. She had grown up inspired by her grandmother's values, a creative woman who "really had a strong desire to do kind things for people by making things since she came from a generation where you don't buy stuff for people, you make them stuff." She says, "I would go over to her house and I would be delivering all of these kind things to people." So when one of her friends was celebrating a birthday at a local Seattle restaurant, Zencirli continued her grandmother's tradition, and made something.
After blowing up the 3-foot balloon she bought online, Zencirli recalls "it just kind of looked funny walking around with its orb by itself; it needed something." She created a ribbon-made tassel with paper, an unplanned addition formed in the craft room in her home from a desire to make the balloon more presentable.
"I walked in [to the restaurant] and everyone just stopped and they were staring at me, and they were probably wondering if I wanted to sell something or if I was in with the circus." The stares were followed by a slow-clap introduction from a man in the corner of the restaurant, who commented that it was the biggest balloon he had ever seen, and culminated with patrons stopping by every few minutes for the remainder of the night to ask questions about the balloon.
A few days later, a woman hailed Zencirli and pulled her car over. The driver recognized Zencirli from the previous weekend and took the opportunity to ask for a job request. She was having a 60th birthday party for her husband, and wanted to surprise him with a really beautiful event. Offering $1,000 and a leap of faith, the woman instructed Zencirli on where to deliver the balloons. And just like that, a business concept was created.
Since being referred to by friends over five years ago as Jihanimo, the word Geronimo held a certain sentiment for Zencirli, and seemed like the perfect fit when it came time to deciding what to call her business. According to Zencirli, "Geronimo is yelled as paratroopers fall from the sky. They yell Geronimo and it's just kind of an old tradition. I don't know if paratroopers still yell Geronimo, but I thought that there was kind of a nice little parallel between Geronimo as flying into the sky and then falling from the sky, so it's been a good name for me."
Geronimo! Balloons really catapulted to business success at the heels of a formidable blogger, Joy Deangdeelert Cho. Writer of the blog Oh Joy! and author of two books, Creative, Inc. and Blog, Inc., Cho is highly respected in the blogging community. With a mutual friend in common, Cho and Zencirli connected with the idea that Geronimo! Balloons would offer photos for a birthday post on Cho's blog.
“I think in her case I knew it was going to be a big deal," says Cho. "I profile people and things that I like and after awhile I get to know what my readers will like…but with her, because what she does is so different, just such great editorial type of images, I knew that people would love it. I did have a sense that it could be the beginning of a great business for her."
And she was right. Zencirli attributes her ability to jumpstart a business in balloons to Cho by saying, "I woke up the next day with hundreds of orders from people who had seen her post on her website and the influence she had on the Intemet just allowed me to really begin and go from there."
The evolution of Geronimo! Balloons may not drift much farther from a differently shaped balloon or a brighter pop of color, as Zencirli points out, "what we do is very simple: it's just balloons. But there's a whole world that lives with that, so when people invite us to do something that's really fun and magical, we love that."
And nothing is more clearly representative of how magical a balloon can be than the packaging details involved with a Geronimo! Balloon delivery. Domestically sourced products are of the utmost importance, along with using post-consumer waste paper and working with distributors local to the Los Angeles area.
An ever-evolving process, Geronimo! Balloons makes changes when appropriate to use only the highest quality balloons and paper, and ensures that each of the balloons are fresh, not stale. This, I am told, is necessary because a balloon stretches out, similarly to a rubber band. The standard for a Geronimo! Balloons balloon is a 36-inch balloon; that is the equivalent to three dozen small balloons! And the final touches are simply unprecedented.
“I always add a little extra and I want people to feel really delighted when they open up the boxes; kind of a little magical world awaits for them to assemble and to share with others,” says Zencirli, who has added mini matching straws to celebrate an engagement and even a mini balloon to celebrate a baby gender reveal.
When asked what the purpose is, what her customers get out of ordering a custom-created balloon package from Geronimo! Balloons, Jihan Zencirli points out the simplicity of her product. "I want them just to be amazed," she says.
“I want them to be inspired to see their day a little bit more beautifully and for them to kind of have a little bit of magic that's added to it." And with that, the image of a paratrooper falling from the sky as he yells Geronimo is met with the grace of a balloon that brings beauty with nostalgia as it ascends towards the clouds.
Originally written in April 2013 for educational purposes