Balloon Boy Costume: A Lesson in Entrepreneurial Instincts

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Millions of people were glued to the TV throughout the balloon boy saga and Bud Kays was one of them. When it turned out that the kid was never in any danger, Kays had two thoughts in his head. The first was the realization that it was definitely a hoax. The second was all business. He had plans to turn this crazy media phenomenon into a lucrative new product: the bubble boy costume… just in time for Halloween.

Kays is the managing director of Plantraco Microflight, a Canadian company that sells electronics and novelty items like radio-controlled model airplanes. But it was a discontinued item in his catalogue that Kays thought of while watching the television that day: the Twin-Turbofan flying saucer.

This item, which has since been replaced by the Microblimp (see it here), offers users the unique opportunity to steer a helium-filled balloon around their yard via remote control. Yet more importantly, it’s a dead ringer for the hot air balloon that millions of Americans watched on TV.  And Kays had thousands of these leftover balloons lying around his warehouse.

“We just re-tasked the components a bit to make the new product,” Kays said in an interview with MainStreet. “So we were able to  liquidate old stock while bringing in loads of new potential customers."

The trick, Kays said, was to figure out how to turn his new product into a marketable costume for Halloween. Kays decided the best thing to do was to be playful, naming his new product the Balloon Boy Hoax Kit. Customers are told to take a cardboard box (you know, like the one the kid was hiding in) and wear it on their head, while holding the balloon. The balloon and gondola are sized so that customers can carry it around with them.  And Kays offers nametags so customers can walk around saying they are Falcon (the balloon boy in question). The product sells for $20 plus shipping.

“You walk around with that and jokes will just start flying,” he said. “That’s what people want from a Halloween costume.” In a way, it was divine luck – the balloon boy incident happened just two weeks before Halloween, right as many Americans start desperately hunting for a clever costume.

Balloon boy costume.

Still, it was a bit of departure for Kays, who has never operated a Halloween shop before. “We’ve had some nice sales before for Halloween parties, mainly from our flying saucers, but nothing like this,” he said.

Kays knew he had a good idea, but how do you turn an idea into a successful product on such short notice?  If he couldn’t get the product off the ground (no pun intended) at least a few days before Halloween, no one would buy it. According to Kays, the most difficult obstacles for the company were management and resources.

“We have to produce it here in Canada,” he said. Relying on overseas manufacturers would be too timely and too costly. “So we’re doing what we can with the resources we have. Friends of mine are helping out.”

In the beginning, expectations were low. Half a day after launching the product online, he did an interview with a local Colorado newspaper, and estimated that he might sell “dozens and dozens.” At that point, he had fielded 140 orders.

“Since then, our web traffic has gone up 1200% and orders keep pouring in,” he said. He’s been receiving about 250 orders a day and last weekend alone, he planned to produce 1200 new pieces.  Still, there is some limit to how much he and his company can produce. At the start of this venture, he had about 10,000 mylar balloons in stock.

Much of the increased demand is thanks to the viral nature of his product. Kays had the good instinct to release a funny video promoting the costume on YouTube, which continues to gain a lot of interest.  And since his original interview with the local Colorado newspaper, he has been featured on multiple radio shows, as well as in the New York Times and CNBC.

To meet this rising demand, he has brought on extra staff and his company is relying on e-commerce for sales. Kays claims they will be able to handle as much as 400 orders a day, if necessary. That should be enough, but as he admits, “because it’s going viral, we just don’t know where the top of this curve is yet.”

Yet, like any fad, Kays knows this one will pass. So what’s his company’s long term plan?

“We’ll be back to making airplanes as soon as Halloween ends,” he said proudly. And Kays believes that even while the public’s interest in silly Balloon Boy costume fades, the newfound interest in his store’s high-quality goods will stick. “A lot of people are coming to us online and think the costume is funny. But then they end up clicking the Home button and see what else we have to offer. They figure out what we’re making and they’ll want to keep us in mind in the future.”

In the meantime, Kays has a few ideas up his sleeve. “Creativity was the easiest part of all this. We have lots of hair-brained ideas like this one. But they’re all top secret.” We can’t wait to hear the next one.

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