The Timeless Lesson of a Balloon
If you go to Melissa Miller’s TikTok, you’ll first be distracted by an adorable pup named Trev. His full name is Trevor and he’s actually not a puppy at all. He’s a 13 and a half year old dog with a knack for bringing in clients for Pink Gorilla Balloons and Events, located in Cleveland, Ohio.
Trev is a mainstay on the company’s TikTok and those big round eyes are difficult to ignore. Animals seem to be a running theme for this balloon business. Pink gorillas are the mascot, white dogs help to bring in the revenue, and yellow bears with red shirts supply the ancient wisdom.
On Pink Gorilla’s TikTok profile, you’ll see a quote just below the profile picture:
“Nobody can be uncheered with a balloon.” – Winnie the Pooh
Melissa, a life-long entrepreneur and Balloon Planet partner, has found the wisdom of Winnie the Pooh to be something deeply rooted in her sense of professional purpose.
“I’ve always said to people, I love what I do more than anything in the world, but I’m not curing cancer. What kind of impact do I really make on the world?”
Getting her start.
It’s not always easy to acknowledge the good that you’re doing in the world. Especially, when a lot of the decisions we make in life are not premeditated. An opportunity presents itself and you either leap or you don’t.
Melissa is the type to leap. She graduated from Ohio State with a degree in advertising and immediately started her own business, Silver Screen Media.
For 20 years, Melissa’s ad company specialized in pre-trailer ads at the movie theater. Before COVID, when blockbusters were common and people actually went to the theater, Melissa’s company was big business. And it should have been. Her company worked in 10 different states and she oversaw employees and a full sales team.
Unfortunately, industry’s change, and there came a time when theaters were no longer using the pre-ad format. Melissa and her company were given 2 weeks to take their equipment out of the theaters.
“I was like ‘Oh my god, what am I going to do now?’”
An organic shift.
A smart entrepreneur knows how to change with the tides. Melissa took her expertise and clients from Silver Screen Media and created her own boutique ad agency. One of her first jobs was to create ads for several shopping centers.
The goal was to bring shoppers physically to the stores. So, she decided a simple ad wouldn’t do. Instead, she hosted several seasonal events per year to draw customers to the shopping centers. Think, breakfast with Santa and meet and greets with the Easter Bunny.
These events were a hit and Melissa’s creativity was showcased for all to see.
“I didn’t know what I was doing or how to plan an event, but I did it. All of a sudden people would be like, ‘You’re creative, can you help me come up with a theme and decorations for my kid’s bar mitzvah?’
From that point on, her popularity snowballed. Melissa Miller was now a full blown event planner. Something that was never part of the plan. It was just something that happens when you leap.
From leaping to floating with a pink gorilla.
In 2013, the original owner of Cleveland’s A Pink Gorilla made the decision to retire. Melissa was A Pink Gorilla’s vendor and she was presented with an opportunity to buy the rights and assets of the company. The question posed to her was, “Do you want to be your own biggest customer?”
Melissa said, “yes,” figuring it would be better to be in competition with herself rather than someone else. It was a smart move. The balloon business was well known in Cleveland and buying the rights to the company included a list of loyal customers.
“I’m very lucky because from being around so long, the phone just rang from day one. I’d never blown up a balloon. I didn’t know what I was getting myself into.”
On top of the company’s trusted reputation, A Pink Gorilla already had a contract with Balloon Planet, so taking over rights of the company included the balloon delivery services.
What’s with the company name?
Well, “It’s kind of a funny story . . .” The short answer, “They just wanted something crazy.”
The original A Pink Gorilla got its start over 30 years ago. The internet and search engines weren’t the forerunners of advertising and marketing.
In the pre-internet days, people found businesses and people’s contact information through phone books. The name A Pink Gorilla was a smart and strategic move. Simply, the owners just wanted to be in the ‘A’ listings in the yellow pages.
Changing names for the changing times.
Once Melissa took over the company, the business name had to go through some minor changes. Now, in the internet age, search engines need specificity. The term ‘balloons’ wasn’t in the name of the company. For clarity and search engine ease, Melissa changed the front facing name by dropping the ‘A’ and calling the company Pink Gorilla Balloons and Events.
Learning to Float
Now, Melissa is nonstop. Event planning, graphic design, and of course, balloons and balloon delivery. Balloon Planet came with a bit of a learning curve in the beginning, but she’s gotten used to it. She says the customers are “pretty amazing” and since most people aren’t used to ordering balloons, Melissa uses her event planning chops to help customers find what it is they’re really looking for.
She understands the importance of care and that special touch. If you ever order balloons from her, if she thinks something won’t work, she’ll call you to suggest something that she thinks will look better. It’s obvious in talking to Melissa, that she takes great pride in her work.
“No balloon goes out of here without something on it. It’s either a ribbon accent, a squiggle. Something goes on every balloon. And mylar balloons, that tab gets taped and a ribbon goes on it. Nothing goes out of here with a string hanging. I just don’t do that. That’s sort of my signature.”
The COVID Era
If there’s one thing that people needed during the height of COVID, it was care. In 2020 and much of 2021, Melissa was an event planner living in a world where events were not allowed. So, what did Pink Gorilla Balloons and Events do?
The pivot included that adorable pup Trev dressing up in seasonal holiday attire to help market the balloon delivery side of the company.
“I totally changed the whole dynamic of my business because people didn’t even think to call me for that [balloon delivery] because they thought we only did big stuff.”
Instead of large events, Melissa’s clients were turning to balloon deliveries to celebrate birthdays, anniversaries, and other milestones in their loved ones lives. If they couldn’t be there in person, at least they could send a beautiful balloon bouquet to express their love and cheer.
“I started getting calls and emails and messages from people just saying how happy to it makes them. It’s been sort of inspirational to me.”
COVID was a time of isolation for many. The world slowed down, and people had more time to take stock of what really mattered in the world. Small acts of kindness that go unnoticed in the world of distraction, became the things we held on to to find connection in an increasingly lonely and uncertain world.
Melissa received photos from grandmothers, showcasing their smiling grandchildren with balloons. She received videos from parents with their children laughing with the balloons in hand. The notes accompanying these photos and videos were sincere words of gratitude.
A honey jar half full, not empty.
It wasn’t uncommon for Melissa to receive thank you notes from her customers. But during COVID, the messages became more detailed and more meaningful.
Cleveland is also home to some of the country’s most renowned hospitals. Some of those being children’s hospitals. Many of the thank you notes came from the parents of children staying in those hospitals. It’s difficult not to feel your impact on the world when you see the joy a balloon can bring to an ailing child.
In the midst of it all, she had a profound realization about the work that she does.
“I realized what an impact we do make on the world. It is making people happy and making people smile. There’s no way you can be unhappy when somebody gives you a balloon. And it sounds so stupid, but I didn’t even realize it myself,” she says.
“But, I learned that it’s like on my TikTok, it says under my profile, a quote from Winnie the Pooh. ‘No one can be uncheered with a balloon.’ And it’s the truth, right?”
Today, Pink Gorilla Balloons and Events is busier than they were before COVID hit. When asked if she’s ready for the return to normal, Melissa gives an enthusiastic, “Bring it on!” Time and time again Melissa made the decision to leap, and now she’s learned how to float.