If you have ever been to a birthday party, a festival, or a corporate event, there has likely been one common item you have seen at all of them, maybe without even realizing it.
Tealia Carrière is the owner of Tickled Teals Entertainment and for the past six years, she has been working her way to becoming the “go-to” individual for all your balloon related décor needs.
“I love design and element and when it comes to doing balloons. When I was a kid, I honestly thought that was something everyone could do,” says Carrière.
“I started seeing some of the stuff other people were doing as I got older and realized, ‘I guess not’. What I try to do is interactive, fun, different and unique. I don’t like to just blow up a balloon and put a string on the bottom.”
What Carrière does do is makes these balloons as their own attraction.
“I just had a balloon go out that was a mini figurine of a hockey player that had helium balloons attached to it. I customized the star to say Happy Birthday on it,” she says.
And 2020 was supposed to be the year that set her apart, but in March those plans were popped.
“I had been lining up festivals and I had about 25 of them planned for the spring and summer. I was then double booked on the last weekend of March. March happens and within a span of a week, all of my festivals got cancelled. I think that was the toughest week of my life to tell you the truth,” says Carrière as not only did she have plans for herself to appear at these events and festivals but she also had a team ready to go.
“In February I did my first training session with my four clowns. They got their apron and costume and their training manual and we went over all the designs, everything was coming together. I fortunately only had to refund one or two people but that was easily $20-25,000 lost with those festivals gone.”
But Carrière was able to make a complete turn around and cater to people during the pandemic.
“I’ve done an Easter Bunny balloon in the past, which is a bunny balloon stuffed with chocolates but I hadn’t planned on doing that for 2020 because everyone had withdrawn and so I basically shut down the business,” she says.
“But I had one customer ask if I was still doing Easter Bunnies, and so I reached out to a bunch of my previous customers and then I picked up some new customers as well and I sold about $500 worth of Easter Bunnies in a week and I just started to think ‘this could be something here.”’
The Easter Bunnies were a hit on social media and Carrière started getting more and more requests.
“I didn’t have a helium tank at the time, it was just me building things and trying to make them look nice. I ended up doing some balloon drop off drive-by events. One of the birthday parties I was originally booked for, the mother asked for me to do that. So, I dressed up as a clown and did a balloon delivery,” she says.
“When we were allowed to do curbside pickups, I had one lady come in and get a New Year's Eve exploding balloon and she said ‘did you know you were at one of my friend's birthday parties a while back and we had no idea you did all this extra stuff and it's so great to see the transition from doing the clown stuff to the balloon stuff and it's something you will be able to do afterward.”’
Carrière knows first-hand how hard it is to be a young entrepreneur, but while studying at Nipissing University she did her Honours Thesis in Business on Young Female Entrepreneurs and discovered that the business world is not particularly forgiving to this demographic.
“People didn’t think that there were any differences for someone like me going to a networking event. They thought I was seeing a bias because I fit that demographic, but I wanted to go out and prove it, and I did that with my thesis,” she says.
“I learned that women overall are less likely to push themselves and are more risk-averse, especially younger women under the age of thirty. We don’t have mentors and we don’t have the same support groups and we don’t have the same level of push that males do in other industries. If you are a male CEO of a company, the person you are more likely to see as your replacement and the person you are more likely to mentor is going to be male. You don’t have women in higher positions to pull younger women up to show them how to take riskier options and show them how to get those positions. Women aren’t going to stand up for themselves as much because they don’t see other women in those positions.”
Carrière brought her findings to the stage, making a five-minute Ignite presentation on the subject. She says the message was there needs to be more women ready to be leaders in that business community.
“We need more female role models; we need more women on shareholder and corporate meetings because we need their voices and opinions. I think it’s going to take a couple of years but I think we will see some change.”
Carrière had to change her business model because of the pandemic, but it's not just the entertainment industry where she generates an income, she also runs Teals Social Media Management.
“Teals SMM started about three years ago,” she says.
“I do website updates, emails, Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn for clients. That was my Monday to Friday business that really only was about 10 per cent of my income since I was making more money doing events and getting booked at festivals. COVID-19 completely flipped that. I had a couple of clients; a children’s author, a health agency, and a real estate agent and so they were fully online at this point and they needed help in setting all that up. They needed help learning how to do Zoom, they had to have their emails and websites up to date. I ended up with a couple more clients throughout the pandemic and that side of the business really helped fill in the holes for the income that was lost without being able to run Tickled Teals.”
But Carrière found she was able to run both sides of the business that helped her land a $5,000 grant from PARO which is a group run through FedNor that is aimed specifically at supporting female entrepreneurs.
She says, “You had to have a major pivot in your business and show that you were persevering during the pandemic. It took me about three months to write up the application and I had an amazing person to help me write that.
“I ended up getting a new helium tank, I ended up getting my certification as the only North Bay area Qualatex Certified Balloon Artist, and I’m one of only three in northern Ontario. I bought a ton of equipment, including a new computer which means people will be able to come into my store and order right off the computer and it allowed me to have faster internet access to run online shopping and updating the business better. The helium tank has been an absolute life saver.”
Carrière says this has helped grow her business as balloons seem to have been one thing that people could give and receive safely in what has been a trying time.
“I really didn’t think what I was doing was a big deal until this year when some parents were just asking me to do things for them because there was nothing else that they could do for their kid's birthdays,” she says.
“I had one parent who has three girls and she has had me do all three of their birthdays for various years. I did a birthday for her husband; I did a special one for when she graduated as a Personal Support Worker. It’s so great to have such amazing local customers”.
Carrière says she hopes her story can be an example for other young entrepreneurs who may not have the drive during a pandemic.
“Don’t stop and keep going,” she says.
“I have been at this for six years and now I’m finally feeling like I’m hitting my stride. I have been at that point where I’m so close to not even making enough money for rent but now I finally feel like I’m hitting my groove and it's so annoying to see so many businesses that will start up and try it for two years and then give up. You can’t just do it for the money.”
Carrière says it has been a slow build but her enduring through the setbacks has only made everything so much more rewarding.
“You have to just keep pushing, it will happen at some point, but you can’t just wait for that success to come to you. Last year was supposed to be my year with all the festivals lined up, my team of clowns, every single weekend was double booked, I was ready to go! But then Covid happens, which then forces me to change over to the décor and the balloons which I would not have been at this level if it wasn’t for the pandemic as sad as that sounds, but it made me realize you have to just keep going and persevering.”