October 4, 2005 > Balloons To Go Go
Balloons To Go Go
by John Fisher
It has been said that happiness is doing what you enjoy and getting paid to do it. If that is true, then it works for Kathy Mederios. Have you ever said, "I ought to quit this job?" That is exactly what Kathy Mederios did. For 16 years Kathy worked as a bookkeeper/cashier for Lucky Stores. "I could probably be retired now if I had stayed," she quiped. "But you know, I feel I've come full circle. I'm doing what I enjoy, I like entertaining, especially the children!" When you drive through Niles you can easily miss her shop on the edge of the business district, but one visit is enough to put it front and center of any Niles experience. Kathy has been at this location seven years and in business in Fremont 21 years.
Kathy started the business with $500.00 seed money in 1984. She said, "I'll be the first to admit I made some mistakes, but I worked hard to correct them. When I started, it was a process of trial and error; I had no experience whatsoever." In fact, some people close to her said she would fail. That was motivation enough to spur her on. "I haven't failed and I've never been a failure, at anything!" she added.
She went on to explain that when she was a child she would plan and organize "shows" with her friends to entertain their parents and neighbors. Now, she does it for a living. While I was interviewing Kathy a 5-year-old boy was busy playing with toys from her stock. Before the child left, she asked him what color balloon he wanted and filled a bright red helium balloon for him.
Visitors enter this store under a sign that reads, Balloons To Go Go and Telegrams. The smaller print expands services offered to include Party Decorating & Supplies, Helium Rentals, Gag Gifts, Custom Cakes, Halloween Headquarters, Clown and Character Shows, Costume Rental & Sales. Pleasant surprises are commonplace here. It seems that whatever is necessary for a fantastic party can be found at Balloons To Go Go, even performers for special events.
One of Kathy's hidden talents is behind the greasepaint and goofy looks of a clown; she performs as a professional clown and trains the clowns she hires. Pony rides, magic acts and whatever entertainment is no problem for this maestro of fun. Kathy has contacts for just about any theme and is can use her decorating talent to create the right party atmosphere for clients or instruct the do-it-yourself crowd. As you can see, those who pass through the Balloons To Go Go portals, come out saying, "wow!"
When you enter the shop, you may be greeted by Kathy's partner, Beanie Baby. Beanie, a 7-year-old Chihuahua, isn't much bigger than his namesake. "I've never had a boy, so he is my son," stated Kathy. His friendly greeting is emblematic of the store environment and the service that has proven a successful combination for Balloons To Go Go. Inside is an emporium of festive accessories. Unless you know exactly what you want, distractions are everywhere: costumes, face masks and decorative displays for almost every occasion. No matter what your fancy - ghosts, goblins, fantasy, super heroes, historical, political, patriotic - just as the military slogan says "be all you can be," at Balloons To Go Go, you "can be whatever you want to be." It's a fun place to just browse.
Costumes are available for purchase or rental at Balloon To Go Go. Kathy has filled requests for almost everything; "A teacher will need, say, an Abraham Lincoln, (for a class project) and I supply it." Her reputation has spread beyond local boundaries and Kathy has traveled as far as Monterey to decorate for events. "You fill the balloons on site. I've become very fast at filling balloons." When I asked how many balloons in a year does she "blow up," she laughed and said, "lots."
Balloons To Go Go is the only balloon business in Fremont with a storefront. Kathy emphasized that she is customer service oriented. "I'm on call 24/7," she said. "I hate missing a call. It's easier to take the call than try calling a customer back!" In fact, Kathy carries her cell phone everywhere. She adds, "You can't close at 5 p.m. and forget the customer."
Although Kathy is the only employee of Balloons To Go Go, she says there is really a second person behind the scenes. "My husband is an employee, and he helps, like a good husband should," she adds with a chuckle. The entire family has been helpful creating and operating the business. In the early days of the business, Kathy and her daughter worked together to form a business plan to see what would work. Her grandson, age 3, at the time would help by holding the balloon strings.
Kathy's business philosophy consists of three major points; "Work hard, have great customer service and watch your money!" She adds, "Nothing happens without work" and is often up at 4 a.m. getting material ready for an event. Experts in business success often say that if you want to learn to be successful, hang around successful people. That may or may not be good advice, but if you intend to learn from Kathy, you won't be "hanging around," you will be too busy trying to keep up.
"This month will be a busy month, then Christmas time, lots of parties around New Years Eve. We have Santa costumes. We have bunnies in April. These are not live rabbits, but costumed characters. You can have the Easter Bunny come to your party and entertain. Also, she contracts with four clowns for whatever event you my have, rents Jump Houses, Snow Cone, Cotton Candy and Popcorn machines. Want face painting or a special cake? Kathy's baker is an artist and can put whatever you want on your cake.
Kathy showed me a photo of a balloon arch she made. "I taught myself how to do it, no classes," she said. "Show me once and I have a knack for picking things up. I decorate for events, or I'll give customers tips if they want to do it themselves."
Asked about her biggest mistake, she thought a while, then said, "It was a long time ago, but at a Cal State Hayward game I had made a balloon arch that was too short. I hadn't measured at the site and they had measured wrong. I lengthened it, but a gust of wind snapped the line and there went 300 plus balloons sailing off into the blue." Then she laughed. It takes grit to laugh about a mistake. "I rushed around and got more balloons and made everyone happy, but I've never made that mistake again."
Asked what she liked best about the balloon business, she replied, "Everything, and the entertainment!"
Kathy, through hard work and determination has created a well deserved niche in a very specialized market. Bravo!
Balloons To Go Go
37769 Niles Blvd.
Fremont, CA 94536
Tue - Fri: 12 p.m. - 5 p.m.
Sat: 10 a.m. - 1 p.m.
Closed Sunday & Monday