Pat Garavaglia and Sharon Collins have been running Balloons and Tunes for 35 years and have been decorating Tar Heel Town for as long as they can remember. And this Saturday, they’ll break out the balloons and helium to decorate for UNC’s Homecoming game against Duke University.
“When we first started this business, there were no balloon businesses,” Collins said. “We were entrepreneurs; we created a market and worked hard to get to the point where we could make a living.”
Garavaglia and Collins met in Charlotte at Central Piedmont Community College 40 years ago and have been close friends, as well as business partners, ever since. But what inspired them to create a balloon delivery service in particular?
Collins said she first thought of the idea after reading about a man who had been selling balloons on the streets of Boston for 20 years. When she proposed the idea to Garavaglia, they both thought it was a good idea. So they bought a bag of balloons and a tank of helium, put an ad in the paper and were in business.
“It seemed fun, and it really gave us an opportunity to see people,” Collins said. “Everybody just loved it when they got balloons.”
Balloons and Tunes emerged from a humble beginning. They only had $50, and even that was borrowed. The business first began as a balloon delivery service, something entirely new to the Chapel Hill and Carrboro community.
“Most of our calls were like, ‘What do you mean you deliver balloons?’” Garavaglia said.
What made their balloon delivery service especially unique was the method of delivery: They delivered the balloons with a song, which is how Balloons and Tunes got its name, as well as its big break.
“We muddled along very slow until the first Valentine’s Day,” Garavaglia said. “Sharon went to the (UNC) dental school and sang, and then we started getting phone calls.”
Balloons and Tunes made 250 deliveries for their first Valentine’s Day, which earned them enough money to rent an office space in Carrboro.
But they still had something better in mind.
“We really needed a retail presence because people wanted to see what we had,” Collins said. “So we opened a little shop up on Weaver Street. When this building became available we rented this space, and we’ve been here for 20 years.”
Garavaglia said their success depends on a lot of hard work and sometimes long hours.
“We have to be places on time,” Garavaglia said. “You have to be attentive to timing, and a lot of times everyone wants things at the same time.”
Both Collins and Garavaglia said their success is also largely due to the fact that people can count on them. Collins said they depend on repeat customer business — the people who like what they do and trust that they’ll do it right.
“We work with a small group of people, and they’re all really wonderful,” Collins said. “They work really hard and give it 100 percent. They work hard and go the extra mile when we ask them to. It’s a team effort.”
Elizabeth Geyer is a member of the Balloons and Tunes team that helped decorate Tar Heel Town for the UNC-Virginia football game. She said they start preparing the balloons for Tar Heel Town about a week in advance of a game.
Geyer has been working at Balloons and Tunes for about 6 months and said she really likes working there.
“I never knew I could be so passionate about balloons,” Geyer said.
Collins and Garavaglia also have a passion for balloons and the positive influence they have on people and events.
“We’re doing it because balloons are fun and magic and colorful,” Collins said. “Balloons make everything better, they’re uplifting. They make everything feel like a celebration.”
Garavaglia said a great thing about their business is that nobody comes into Balloons and Tunes because they’re in a bad mood. She said people are always there to do something kind or sweet.
Collins said they have such an affinity for UNC now, even though they aren’t graduates, because they do so much work for the University. They don’t just decorate football games. They’ve also been hired by almost every department at UNC, including the UNC School of Dentistry, UNC Hospitals and the Morehead-Cain Foundation.
“Balloons make every event more exciting,” Collins said. “UNC embraces that and tries to make that extra effort to make your experiences as exciting at Carolina as possible. Balloons make people feel like Carolina is happy to be their host.”