Balloons Are Booming (Jun, 1951)
Balloons Are Booming
Dream up a new inflatable toy and you’ll also inflate your bankroll.
By John Noah
“WHY do so few people have new ideas for toy balloons?” That’s the question that puzzles H. W. McConnell, president of one of America’s largest toy-balloon companies.
Balloon sales are booming and retail outlets are begging for new types to market â€”but the fresh ideas don’t seem to come. For want of amateur inventors, virtually every toy balloon that McConnell and many other balloon men produce must be devised by someone within the industry.
When it comes to suggestions for new balloons, almost any screwball design has a chance for consideration. Competition is viciously keen in this industry and few companies hesitate to “improve” upon a competitor’s latest creation. As soon as a cheap adaptation of one of his inflated brain children appears, McConnell prefers to abandon the design in favor of something new. So he and his whole staff are kept feverishly busy originating balloons and balloon toys that must immediately capture the public fancy to give the company a profit before they are copied.
“A toy balloon isn’t hard to dream up,” McConnell insists. “You needn’t be wise to the technicalities of balloon production. Merely sketch the balloon you have in mind and let our mechanics try and figure out a way to produce it. Just be careful,” he adds, “that it isn’t too detailed.” McConnell’s company is the Lee-Tex Rubber Products Corp. at 321 East Jackson Street, Los Angeles, Calif.
But, in case you feel inspired to make a realistic John L. Lewis balloon, forget it. Due to the whims of air pressure, inflating his bush eyebrows [Continued on page 98] would be difficult if not impossible. The same for Gable’s ears. The best plan is to add some non-rubber detail, such as the cardboard feet on the toss-up balloon.
Although lifelike, figurine balloons, such as Woody Woodpecker and Funny Bunny, account for much of a balloon company’s profits, a toy balloon need not be realistically contoured to become a best seller. Take the Roy Rogers balloon, for example.
After securing the right to produce a balloon featuring the well known screen cowboy and his horse Trigger, McConnell debated whether to make a figurine balloon or merely imprint an ordinary round one with the likeness of Rogers and Trigger. He decided on the latter and, despite its plainness, the balloon was an immediate hit. As Rogers gets a royalty, his yearly share of the profits buys plenty of oats for his nag.
The incorporation of a noisemaker in many a toy balloon has meant the difference between its success and failure. An animal balloon toy, in which McConnell had great faith, failed to sell despite its cuddly cuteness. He used practically every known means of promotion but the balloon continued to gather dust on dealers’ shelves. As a final try he added a squawkerâ€”a noisemaker within a toy. Provided with a voice, the balloon became a sales sensation, selling itself whenever a shopper gave it an inquisitive squeeze.
Once a balloon has left the factory, McConnell does not lose interest in it. People who over or under-inflate balloons are his pet hate. He believes the beauty and novelty, to say nothing of the sales value, of a toy balloon are impaired by improper inflation. McConnell still fumes when recalling a Washington dealer who blew up balloon-toy Woody Woodpecker “until he actually looked pregnant.”
Exploring new uses for toy balloons is both a hobby and a business with McConnell. His latest discovery: “There’s nothing like ‘a brightly colored balloon to divert a scared kid’s attention from a barber’s shears. No barbershop should be without a batch of balloons.”
The odor of rubber has always been a barrier to the 100 per cent popularity of the toy balloon. Many people, otherwise fascinated by balloons, are allergic to their smell and will not touch them. McConnell hopes to overcome this bugaboo with a perfumed balloon that is now in the experimental stage. If this smelly idea turns out to be a rose he plans to seek the cooperation of leading perfumers.
“Imagine a Chanel No. 5 balloon!” he beams.