When people find out Jill Shortreed owns Charleston Balloon Company, the first thing they think is that she twists balloons to make animals for children. When they realize she creates elaborate, large-scale balloon sculptures for high-end events, they want to know whether she can help plan their next party.
“Our work tends to be unique,” she says. “It’s not your typical balloon on a string.”
Think the Google logo in balloons, a New Year’s Eve balloon drop at 5Church, or a wall of balloons on a rooftop bar. Jill embraces the challenges that come with accounting for different architecture, and wind and weather. She relishes figuring out how to make it work. Her favorite venue is the USS Yorktown, which doesn’t have elevators for easy transport and often calls for some construction on site.
But more often than not, she finds a way to deliver. When a bride wanted to release balloons at her wedding, but didn’t want to get the required permit from the airport, Jill tied invisible fishing wire to the balloons and made it appear as if they were floating up into the sky. After the photos, the balloons were pulled back to the ground.
Jill’s balloons are biodegradable, and she often tries to find ways to reuse them, donating them to nonprofits or hospitals.
“It’s a happy business,” she says. “It’s that satisfaction of growing something from scratch.” Still, she says, “Balloons have challenges. They pop. There are cussing moments.”
Jill is not kidding around when it comes to balloons. She is a CBA, a certified balloon artist. The certification requires a series of tests about balloon design and business management. You have to submit photos of your work, including a cost analysis of each piece, and pass a four hour hands-on exam. She has won national awards for her balloon sculptures and travels across the country teaching business and marketing skills at balloon conventions.
Jill believes you have to be willing to take financial risks in order to enjoy financial rewards. She and her husband, Scott, are preparing to open a bricks-and-mortar store in West Ashley this month. The store will have a large window to the back workshop, so you can watch them work on large-scale sculptures, and still buy a bouquet of balloons upfront.
In the end, it’s all about having fun. She has been known to throw elaborate backyard parties for her five children. At Halloween, you shouldn’t be surprised to find a family of skeletons seated at her dining room table. Her dream prop? A fire-breathing dragon.
“With five children, you can imagine the amount of house parties we’ve had over the years,” she says. “That’s what led us to do this. It just kept evolving.”