From Passion To Profit | Santana Balloons
Emma Highfill | Photographer
She started learning to twist balloons on her own and quickly got good at it. She was 10 when she walked up to Stan the Balloon Man at Topeka’s annual Fiesta and told him that she could make balloon art, too. He laughed at first, but when she created a sword, he was impressed, and he let her help him all week.
Her next opportunity to shine came when she and her family went out to hear local performer Kyler Carpenter on family night at a pizza restaurant, and her mom, Stacie Torrez, had the idea to bring some balloons along. Kyler welcomed Santana to twist balloons and keep the tips she made. At first, she only knew how to make a few things, but when kids would ask for a design she didn’t know how to make, she would learn. The first night that she left with $30 in tips, the light bulb turned on.
“That’s when I realized that I could really make money doing this,” Santana said.
And with that, Santana Balloons was born. At first, Santana’s jobs were all through word of mouth. Kyler recommended her, and one job led to another. As Santana got faster and learned how to make more options, she asked for a bit more per hour to do the work. When she was hired for a carnival, her mom stepped in as her assistant.
“She was still 10 years old, and those long lines could be stressful,” Stacie said, “so I helped her by inflating the balloons ahead of time, and then she would twist. Now I’ve learned how to do some twisting, too, so sometimes I do jobs on my own.”
Twisting balloons is half of Santana’s business. The other half is balloon art, or décor. Santana and Stacie
got their first opportunity to try balloon décor with an arch for a Zumbathon. It took hours to complete the piece, but they did it, and one job led to another. Now arches and party décor are a big part of the business. She and her mom even attend conventions to network and take classes with experienced artists.
This year, Santana will make a balloon dress for the couture night fashion show at Float, a convention dedicated to décor.
She will also compete for the first time at the Twist & Shout Convention, which focuses on balloon twisting. Santana says her mom gave her the courage to enter the competition.
“I wasn’t sure that I was ready, but my mom encouraged me to try,” she said. “She really built my confidence and made me want to reach higher.”
MONEY & MARKETING
Like any savvy entrepreneur, Santana invests some of the money that she makes back into her business. She buys supplies, of course, and the money helps pay her way to conventions. Fortunately, she doesn’t have to budget for advertising, because her business still relies on word- of-mouth and on social media. Santana is emphatic about how important social media is to her business.
“We share our designs on Facebook and Instagram, and it keeps us in people’s minds. When an event comes up, they think of Santana Balloons.”
Santana knows other teens who are running a business using social media, too. She says that social media has definitely made it easier for young people to put themselves out there and let people know what they have to offer. Her best piece of advice for young people who have a passion or an idea is to follow it.
“Don’t let anyone tell you that you can’t do it,” she said. “You can!”