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Ken Shute is a semi-retired hobby entrepreneur who is currently based on the big island in Hawaii. He has been part of the balloon entertainment industry for 15 years; but, now that he has moved his business from California to Hawaii, he exclusively focuses on designing, sewing, and customizing specialty gear used by balloon artists around the world. In this interview, we talk about how the Covid-19 pandemic has “grounded” many of his entertainer colleagues which has, in turn, affected the demand for Ken’s products. During his busy times prior to the shutdown, Ken was often in his spare-bedroom workshop, putting 60 to 80 hours a week into creating and shipping his balloon aprons, bags, and other gear. However, he’s had a lot more down time recently and has changed his focus toward raising chickens and adding even more tropical plants to his one-acre Hawaiian farm in paradise.
In the past, Ken worked on some large scale and high-profile projects at places such as Universal Studios Hollywood and was able to connect with some big names in the balloon world over the years. We talk about how a lot of those in the “business of fun” are generally good at collaborating and are currently engaging in more virtual balloon jams in order to continue to practice their skills and discuss business strategies. During the pandemic, many are temporarily switching gears from parties and festivals to work-from-home alternatives such as lawn decor and deliveries or focusing more on developing and learning new designs in order to retain their skills during this slow season. Ken has been invited to speak with entertainers at conventions, and he currently runs a Facebook group specifically for those in the balloon industry who are working on their business and marketing strategies.
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Ken Shute of Air Born Creations, can be found in the following ways:
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April Malone 0:07
Hello, hello, my name is April Malone, and I'm with Yes, I Work From Home; and this is the podcast! Today, I have Ken Shute with me, coming from Hawaii. Thank you for coming, Ken.
Ken Shute 0:18
You're welcome. Glad to be here.
April Malone 0:20
So, Ken and I don't know each other in real life, but we have actually talked a few times now; and it's really exciting that you're with me today. I know that you've never done a podcast before, so thank you for logging on so early in the morning to do this.
Ken Shute 0:35
No problem, no problem.
April Malone 0:36
We've got a three-hour time difference; and, so, he got up at the crack of dawn today. Ken, Let's just chat about how we met, just recently, and then we'll go dive into your history and what you're doing.
Ken Shute 0:52
Okay, I was contacted by the Arizona balloon jam that is currently online, and they asked for a couple of products; and I sent them some; and, evidently, your daughter won one of them.
April Malone 1:10
Yeah, it was an exciting day! So, he mentioned the balloon jam. So, I have three kiddos; and my oldest daughter, when she was six years old, she asked for a balloon kit for her birthday. And I ended up having a balloon artist friend from Southern Illinois, who I reached out to; and I was just like, "Hey, what are the best balloon kits like for our six-year-old?" And he was like "Oh, no, no, no. Don't buy one of those balloon kits. You need to" and he named off, like, the proper equipment. "You need to get Qualatex balloons. You need to get this kind of pump, the Qualatex green pump will work out, you know, well." And he was like, "And I have some connections in Arizona." So, he sent me the name of a gentleman who used to live in Flagstaff, Cody Williams, I think, and, you know, "Buy his DVD and learn how to do twisting." And then he gave me the name of a gentleman who did a balloon party for us, for my daughter's birthday party. "And, also, by the way, the professional balloon artists of Arizona get together twice a month, and you might want to join them." And, so, we have been going to these balloon jams here in Arizona for about almost four years, three-and-a-half years. And when the coronavirus pandemic hit and everything moved to virtual, I ended up hosting the--I'm not a balloon twister or a balloon artist myself, but I host the balloon jams now online on the Facebook group and just send out the invites. So, Ken contacted me asking, you know, "Hey, I want to give away some products, who do I go to?" or something like that. So, he came to that event where we had a giveaway that night, and a lot more people than usually show up came; because of his product, I think. So, but that night, I was able to ask you for your story. Do you want to tell us a little of your story of how you started, first of all, making balloon equipment? Tell us what product are you making and who do you serve?
Ken Shute 3:05
Sure, sure. First off, I serve the balloon community which is a very eclectic group, not a very big piece of the market, overall; but it's about kids' entertainment, anybody that twists balloons or does balloon decorations can use any of the gear that I make. How I got into this? My current girlfriend got me into this. She introduced me. She'd been doing this for 15 years by the time I'd met her. And we did a couple of--she taught me how to do ten different items, and then it just went from there. And, as we grew in our job needs, we needed more great gear; and at the time I couldn't find anybody that made anything. So, we designed some stuff. She was a sewer. I'm a sewer, and we put together the original first bag. I have it right here, is this one, to hold all the balloons in small pockets so that they can see them, and those gets blown up and used during the entertainment parties. And, as we went and went to our own jams, people saw what we were using and decided they wanted one too. So, I started making them for the locals, and then we went to some conventions and took our stuff there, and then it just snowballed from there.
April Malone 4:33
So go ahead and describe that bag that you just held up for the people that are listening today and are not watching the video.
Ken Shute 4:40
Okay! For those that are not watching. This is a heavy gauge nylon bag that fits over the top of a pilot-type handled tote. It hangs. It's got 20-some odd pockets that all hold about 50 balloons per pocket. So, there's a lot of balloons that an entertainer can handle and carry with them, so that any request can be made.
April Malone 5:07
It's kind of like a tackle box for balloons.
Ken Shute 5:09
April Malone 5:10
So, the mesh pockets are like gentle; and they're not going to pop the balloons.
Ken Shute 5:14
Right. Nice soft pockets. Yes.
And once we got to the conventions, I am now shipping to 26 different countries.
April Malone 5:25
Countries, oh my goodness.
Ken Shute 5:26
April Malone 5:27
Ken Shute 5:28
My favorite was Reykjavik, Iceland.
April Malone 5:31
Oh wow, that's awesome. So, yeah, I actually didn't know about your bags; because, like I said, I'm not the balloon twister in the family. And I've been sitting in on those jams now for a few years; and I'm hearing all the lingo. I'm getting, you know, familiar with the equipment. I see people rolling in all these--I guess they call it a--what do you call it if it has wheels? A rig. These balloon artists, you know, come in with their big totes and things all on wheels in all sorts of shapes and sizes. Well, there's a lady New Zealand, Pippity--Pip? Pippity-Pop? Is that Pippity-Pop?
Ken Shute 6:03
April Malone 6:05
And she has, you know, her Ken Shute bag; and she's got it all decked out with lights and everything in there. And everyone was so excited you were going to come to our raffle that night. So, you said you're shipping to 26?
Ken Shute 6:19
Twenty-six different countries. Australia and New Zealand are big buyers, yes.
April Malone 6:24
Yeah. Go ahead and tell us the story of how you started making bags. Now, you were a twister, you were doing parties with JoAnn. And now--why are you not twisting anymore?
Ken Shute 6:39
Well, since we moved, JoAnn retired from her county job; and we moved to Hawaii as a retirement, semi-retirement kind of situation. And, once we got to the island, we decided we wanted to be semi-retired. Now, that means something had to go and there's not much of a call on the island that I live on. Because this is more agriculture than it is rural, like Oʻahu. So there isn't as much of a mainland feeling on this island as, say, Oʻahu. So, we decided to go ahead and cut back on the entertainment end of it and just focus on the bags themselves. Those will continue for a few more years, and we'll see how long it goes; because, eventually, I do want to be retired. It's too pretty a place not to have plenty more time.
April Malone 7:36
Let's talk about how coronavirus and the pandemic in general has affected the entertainment world this year.
Ken Shute 7:44
Well, for the coronavirus, as I see it, way out in the middle of the Pacific here, we have been curtailed. Our business has dropped to pretty much zero. A lot of people out there, because they're entertainments, they're tip generators, they're sometimes off the books, they're sometimes running their own show, just trying to make a buck. And, with the shutdowns, we've been deemed pretty much a nonessential. So, we can't work. They can't work. They want to save as much money. My job, as making balloon gear, gets moved down to the bottom of the barrel, as far as priorities. So, I am enjoying the time off, but I would like to see everybody else get back to work.
April Malone 8:39
Right. So, it's not just that people don't have the money to buy the gear, it's that parties and events and festivals and everything has just stopped. So, basically, where the balloon artists would show up, those things aren't really happening right now.
Ken Shute 8:54
Correct, correct. Because every area has its own limits as to how many people can congregate in one area. Birthday parties are mainly drive-bys now. So, the guests will stay in their cars and drive past the birthday party--the guest of honor's home. They'll wave and be--it's not the same, but, hopefully, we'll get back to that soon.
April Malone 9:22
And what have you seen balloon artists doing in the meantime?
Ken Shute 9:25
Well, in the meantime, they've been doing things--what they call yard art. And balloon twisters don't generally leave their twisted creations down on the ground in front yards. What they've done is they've modified their business to include decorations; which, in the past, you're either a twister or you're a decorator; and very few people--JoAnn and I were exceptions, we did both--but very few people actually did both. So, now, they're just scrambling trying to, again, make that dollar; because they found, not loopholes, but opportunities to be able to earn more during this time.
April Malone 10:18
I think everyone's expecting a comeback, at some point; and so I'm also hearing a lot of people just kind of honing that craft, like, trying to stay active and keep those, you know, fingers limber and keep twisting and also talking a lot about the business stuff. Do you want to tell us a little bit about some of your experience with helping people as they--Okay, for instance, I saw you post the other day, someone was asking about a business card design. Do you want to tell a little bit about how you got into giving like business advice for entertainers?
Ken Shute 10:50
Sure, I was asked to do a couple of classes at a convention, based on business; because too many people in this world of balloons and fun don't seem to know how to run a business well enough to make a profit. They don't understand that profit is not the same as what is left over after--they don't know the number game of running a business. And it's fun, balloons, a lot of parties, that's the fun part. But the business is what's going to keep your doors open. And, as we ran into problems, I just shared that online; and, again, connections started picking up on those posts, and they liked what I said, evidently, and invited me to teach. And business cards was one of them. How to get jobs, how to find jobs, how to use the information out in the world to be able to market. That's--You've still got to be a real business, even though you're in the business of fun.
April Malone 11:57
Right, taxes and responsibility. Keeping inventory and all of that. Not as fun stuff.
Ken Shute 12:09
Right. Well, one balloon maker makes 64 colors. We've got two major players in the balloon world; and, so that's 128 different colors of balloons; and then doesn't even count the different kinds of sizes between the 160s and the 260s, different kinds of sizes the balloons that you make, rounds.
April Malone 12:30
350s and 646s.
Ken Shute 12:31
Exactly. Yeah, there's a lot of balloons; so, if you start multiplying that out, you'd have to have a warehouse to hold on to these things. So, you've got to figure out how you're going to buy them, how to store, where to put them, and how to keep track of them. Because they are--a balloon will last about three years in normal storage, before they started getting kind of sour.
April Malone 12:58
Yeah, they deteriorate because they're actually a natural product. Yeah, and you're not going to be the only balloon person that I interview; because, now that I'm getting all these connections from, you know, we've got New Zealand and Australia and UK all showing up to our jams now, so it's kind of fun. But you're the only one that I could really think of that was making a business out of this working from home right now. So you were--okay, I think you told me she did 15 years of balloon, and then you did 15 years of balloon also.
Ken Shute 13:27
Yeah, well, when we met, it was about 14-15 years ago. Yeah. So, I've been in the balloon world for about 15 years now.
April Malone 13:35
So tell us a little bit about what you did back then and then what does a regular day for you look like now?
Ken Shute 13:42
Now. Yeah, like everybody else, everything is changed. I basically have not been in my sewing room since--. Well, three different jobs that I've done since Corona lockdown. But, basically, I've got dust everywhere. But, in the past, I was working six, seven days a week in a year, 10-12 hours a day. I've set up one of the bedrooms in my home to be my--I would turn the computer around, but the back of the computer is not clean, so too much dust!
April Malone 14:22
You're in your workroom right now? Okay.
Ken Shute 14:24
I am in my workroom right now. You can see the sewing machine in the back behind me. I will turn it over here. This is where I keep my most of my material. I do almost everything in entertainer black, but we do customized things, like camo or balloon fabric, anybody--it's a whole different ball of wax when I start talking about my products. I won't go into that, because most of your listeners can't see this.
April Malone 14:50
So you went into the balloon twisting world as an entertainer, going out, doing parties, doing events. Did you do any big events?
Ken Shute 15:01
Big events? Yes, through a couple of connections, I started working with a couple of the bigger names in the business. I was--had the opportunity to work on the movie premiere Up with Pixar down in Hollywood. I've done a couple of jobs with, like, Despicable Me. We did the opening of the new ride at Universal Studios Hollywood. That was an interesting job. I've done a couple of television shows. I've kind of done balloons on, well, big names, some of which I still have a nondisclosure agreement on.
April Malone 15:43
Ken Shute 15:44
So we can't tell, because, you know, they want to keep their privacy, and I respect that.
April Malone 15:49
Well, good. So, what was it like for you when you transitioned from being out in the crowd and, you know, the fun of--you we're in California, right?
Ken Shute 16:00
Correct. We were in Southern California, down in Orange County, just five minutes from Disneyland.
April Malone 16:06
Can you just talk about that transition to, when you moved to Hawaii, and you're like "Wow, we can't do that life here anymore." What was it like for you to try to make a business out of your home?
Ken Shute 16:16
Well, since most of my business was online, prior, in Orange County, as far as my products are concerned, that change is not a big deal. Because, if you can do it here, you can do it there. Everything I had online. So, whether I'm in my bedroom or if I'm in an office or if I'm in California or if I'm in Hawaii, it doesn't really make any difference where that is. The entertainment, however, is site specific; because you have an area that you can drive to. We drove from, when we lived in California, from the Mexican border, all the way up to Central California. I had no problems driving four to five hours to do a job, because we made sure it was a big enough job. But--the transition was just in deciding not to do it anymore, because we just didn't have the market available here. There's not as many people, there's not--this--you need a big population base. Because while everybody has birthday parties, not everybody hires birthday entertainers for each birthday. So, you're kind of swinging it to the ones that do. And it's difficult. We decided to give that up when we moved here. That's our only downside, I suppose.
April Malone 17:46
Ken Shute 17:46
We do enjoy the entertaining.
April Malone 17:48
You had already made that transition a little bit back when you lived in California and a lot of your businesses working from home there.
Ken Shute 17:58
Yes, as far as the business is concerned on the gear end of it. We had two separate businesses going, the entertainment side and the gear side; and both of them were being run out of my bedroom, because it was just better overhead cost. I mean, we already had the room. So, we decided to take advantage of that. But once we moved, we had to make some choices. Yeah. Entertainment went, but the gear is. We're still in business for gear.
April Malone 18:29
So, you're my first guest who is actually selling a physical product. You want to just talk a little bit about what that's like? Keeping inventory, getting things shipped to Hawaii--and then shipping away from Hawaii.
Ken Shute 18:42
Oh, that's a whole can of worms. Talking about culture shock, moving from the mainland to an island community. There is a real thing called island time. Everybody here gets it, and I think I'm sliding into it. My inventory control consists of just in time, pretty much a just-in-time kind of thing. I make all of my orders to order. I don't pre-assemble anything. Once it comes in on my website, I start the process of patterning, cutting; and it takes anywhere from one hour to six hours to produce any one of my products. So, as long as my orders are coming in one or two or three at a time, I'm good with being able to do it in an orderly fashion. When I can get behind or if my material lags, currently my material is coming in from Michigan.
April Malone 19:41
Ken Shute 19:42
Because there are no suppliers here that have the quality of material that I use. My thread comes in from California. It's a sourcing issue. And the one of the problems that I run into is "Does not ship to Alaska and Hawaii" is a real thing here. Even though we have the postal service, we have UPS, we have DHL. We have all the major carriers and all the major players, there are still people out there that believe that Hawaii is out someplace that they can't reach.
April Malone 20:16
Oh, so for you to get your supply is difficult.
Ken Shute 20:19
Correct. I had to change suppliers, because some of them would not ship to me. And that was a big change. The post office system here is completely--but that's a whole other podcast. Well, we don't have things like running water. We don't have things like--If you don't live in the city, you don't have some of the standard mainland amenities.
April Malone 20:44
So do you have running water where you live?
Ken Shute 20:47
Oh yeah. Yeah, it's just a whole different way of getting it. We have to catch it. It rains here almost 300 inches a year, and we catch it right out of the sky. It was rain yesterday, and it's in our glass of water today. And I really liked that part.
April Malone 21:02
Oh my goodness that's so different from us.
Ken Shute 21:04
April Malone 21:06
Yeah, I mean, I grew up with well water. So what I thought--
Ken Shute 21:09
It's about the same thing, yeah.
April Malone 21:11
But you're catching it from your roof? How do you gather water?
Ken Shute 21:13
Yeah, yeah, we catch it in the roof, and it stays in a tank, and then we we run it through a filtering system and a UV light. We process the water to make sure that it's clean and safe, but it's so much better. It may just be because I'm in Hawaii now, and it's so much better.
April Malone 21:34
You want to tell us a little bit--okay, I want to go back to like a typical day, not coronavirus typical, but like when you were working 60- to 80-hour weeks. Let's talk about how you balanced your life with, you know, being able to enjoy your island and also working so much. What would a typical typical day look like for you back then?
Ken Shute 21:59
A typical day, I would wake up normally about 4:00 or 4:30. Start with breakfast, coffee on the patio, the lanai, and then we started it at a regular time, because working at home is difficult to make sure that you get the stuff done; and if I'm that far behind, where I'm working 10-12 hours a day, I got to get to it. So, I get into it. I start doing mostly the patterning, the cutting, and then we'll do the sewing; but I do it one order at a time, process the order, put it in a shipping container, and set it aside, and get started on the next one. I took lunch like every other business, and we took breaks, just like every other business; but, if I needed to, I would run as late as I had to, to make sure that I got them on time. I do have an on-time period that I put on my website that, once the order has been placed, it's in the mail in three days. And, in order to keep that happening, not so hard when I've only got 10 or 12 orders; but when I've got 20 orders, it gets a little sticky. So, I have to keep my regular old business schedule the same as I would at home as if I was at an office somewhere.
April Malone 23:25
So you start from scratch, one order at a time, first in, first out?
Ken Shute 23:30
First in, first out. Yes, unless-
April Malone 23:32
Ken Shute 23:34
The only batching that I do is if there's multiple orders, and I have had people that order for their crews; because some of the some of the people that order from me actually run an entertainment company which has multiple balloon twisters, multiple other artists; and what they'll do is they'll buy five or six items, and that's when I can start batching.
April Malone 23:55
Oh, like if they're the same.
Ken Shute 23:55
And that's when I can get a lot of stuff done. Yes, the same item, the same colors, the same--as long as, you know, it's six of this item, three of that item, two of those items. Well I just batch those together. But again I just work on their order one at a time. But this is a small business I, I would classify myself as a nano business, nano-sized business. And I'm not looking to be the next Walmart.
April Malone 24:23
Right. You have a very specific niche that you work with.
Ken Shute 24:27
April Malone 24:28
Do you have anyone else who is looking for your products for other purposes?
Not at this time, but my marketing strategies are to keep them within the balloon industry. I don't want to get big enough to where I have to start hiring. I don't want to get big enough to where I have to start outsourcing. It's too difficult to manage. For me and my choices, it's too big of an issue to outsource and keep the quality that I can be responsible for.
Ken Shute 24:57
So quality control reasons.
April Malone 24:59
Ken Shute 25:00
Absolutely, it's just quality control reasons.
April Malone 25:03
Interesting. So you kind of have mentioned you are sewing, but then you also say we a lot, so are you working with--
Ken Shute 25:15
Well, JoAnn started the first design. So, I include her in my business; because it's a mom and pop kind of thing. And our entertainment business wasn't separated from my gear business. Okay, so, not in the business sense of the word, where it's a separate company and separate division and separate building, etc, etc. So, I don't know, it's just easier for me to refer to us as us instead of so divisional by saying just me, just me.
April Malone 25:51
Right. But you are the one who's doing the sewing.
Ken Shute 25:54
Oh yes, it's me. I am the sewer, I am the sweat guy. My sweatshop is right here.
April Malone 26:02
So, I have to tell you something. You know, I had you fill out that Google form to tell me a little bit about yourself, and you said that you were the head cook and chief bottle washer or something like that. And I didn't know that expression, like I'm an English teacher, right? But I didn't know that expression. So, I was thinking "Oh, he's got a past in cooking or a chef;" and then I was like "Oh, no, that's just a saying." So what did you do before balloons?
Ken Shute 26:27
Well, before balloons, I was 24 years in nursing, medicine, and 10 years in construction. Well, I did do some work at fast food and some restaurants so there's a way in the back. Yeah. But that was my first job at $1 90 an hour. That was way back. Yeah.
April Malone 26:46
Oh man. And then, as far as now, what would you consider yourself? Do you tell people that you're retired or do you tell people that you are a bag maker? Or how do you describe what you do to others?
Ken Shute 27:00
I describe my company as a support company for balloon accessories, and entrepreneur, doesn't--I don't say that a lot, but it certainly fits. But I try not to be so--I don't know. I'm really not sure how to properly label my name, my title.
April Malone 27:28
We haven't actually said the name of your company yet, I think. Do you want to tell us?
Ken Shute 27:32
No, not yet, not yet. I didn't want to bring that up myself.
April Malone 27:36
Go ahead, tell us what it's called.
Ken Shute 27:39
My company's name is Air Born Creations, and we do all things with inflated balloons.
April Malone 27:46
How do you spell Air Born?
Ken Shute 27:49
Air Born. Air Born (no E) Creations, with an "S," AirBornCreations.com. And that's our company.
April Malone 28:00
Right, well we're not done yet we still got stuff to dig into here, but I just wanted to make sure that we got that out. And, so you started this by yourself; because you didn't find anything like this out there. Do you now know others who do similar things? Do you have like a network of people that make--you know, that you can talk shop with?
Ken Shute 28:23
Oh yes, we don't--the makers that I know that are making currently making balloon gear for this industry, one was a fellow jammer that lived in Southern California, he's still active as an entertainer, so he makes three or four items. They're really good quality; and I really like him as a person, because I've sat down and twisted balloons with him. Another guy actually outsources his constructions to an outside vendor, but he has some really good quality bags; and I haven't met him in person yet. But this entire industry, which is based on the business of fun, is one of those that creates networks within it. So, we can get along well.
April Malone 29:16
Ken Shute 29:17
I think we get along, much better than some. Maybe not as well as others, but we do get along really well. So, networking is part of our industry.
April Malone 29:30
Oh, it's beautiful. I have so many things to say about that. It almost feels like the kind of environment like-- My stepdad and four of my five brothers are all electricians, and that's more of like the apprenticeship-style industry, and I feel there are some similarities with the balloon industry, that it's something--it's like an art that you pass down, that you kind of help train. How did you learn twisting?
Ken Shute 30:08
I learned by going to a balloon jam, where artists come together in a central place, and they teach each other by example, by showing; and the newbies can ask questions, the experienced artists will share. They don't share everything, but they share a lot of things. And, of course, secrets are secrets; and we are still in our own businesses, but there's a lot of camaraderie, because this is the business of fun.
And everybody just has too much fun.
April Malone 30:50
So you see more collaboration than competition.
Ken Shute 30:53
Absolutely, absolutely. You haven't gone to a convention yet, balloon convention for your daughter?
April Malone 30:59
We were signed up. We had one--we had a hotel reserved and everything, it was supposed to be the week before school started and--
Ken Shute 31:06
Yes. Well, once you understand how a balloon convention can change your whole perception of competition and working side by side. We had some--Southern California was a hotbed for balloon people, because it's already--Hollywood is part of the entertainment industry, one of those big hubs; and there are balloon artists and glitter tattooists and airbrush tattooist, there are people out there doing the same thing. It is like you can't throw a rock without hitting somebody that does balloons. And, so, you're working side by side. If we were too competitive, it would be a terrible place or terrible industry to be in. So it's just much better to get along and have some fun.
April Malone 32:05
And also, they'll be able to cover each other every once in a while, right?
Ken Shute 32:09
Yes we do. Yes we do. I have, because we go to the balloon jams, we know who can do what, as far as their skill level. And we can find people to help out at our jobs that are bigger than we are, say we need 1, 2, 3, 4, or 5 different artists to cover. We can go and go to the balloon jam people and say, "Well, I know he can cover this, because I know what he can do."
April Malone 32:37
Ken Shute 32:38
So, competition isn't really competition in our world, because I twist differently than someone else, but I have a skill level that other people can use; and, conversely, I look for the skill levels that I can use when I'm trying to cover a gig.
April Malone 32:58
One of the things that I've seen people do is always give credit to whoever they learned that skill from, so they'll say this design came from; and then they'll say, you know, the name of that person who inventedit. Or, if they don't know the name of the person who started that particular skill, they'll say who they learned it from. You know, always giving credit to, you know, to whoever designed that. So, I appreciate that. You know, there are some, I don't know, copyright issues. You know, you have to be careful of, you know, whose stuff you're sharing. That's one reason why we don't always want to record every single meeting, because it's like, well, I don't know if we have permission for you to put that out there.
Ken Shute 33:40
That's the difference between the balloon world and the real business world, is that the real business world is concerned with market share, it's concerned with intellectual properties, it's concerned with who has the patent, who has the copyright, who has the trademarks. And then, conversely, protecting those properties. Because those properties do have real value. And since we didn't invent any of these twists or we didn't invent any of these designs, truly. Because a balloon dog, there was a guy that did that big balloon dog in New York; and he tried to copyright that, and the courts decided that he was out of his mind, because you can't copyright a balloon dog. It's been in the public domain too long. But it's just that--it comes out of the magicians world. In their world, a trick, a thing--Respect is everything in a magician's world, and we wanted to try to bring that into our world is the best I can describe it. If you respect your competitor, they may reciprocate and respect you back. So--
April Malone 35:08
I think that's where that's coming from. So it's just good form to say who you learned it from.
Mm hmm. Absolutely. So, while we're here in quarantine, our family is actually staying home or social distancing, maybe more than some people are; but we are showing up almost every week on Wednesday when our area has the balloon jams. We actually are collaborating with Texas; and, so, we're taking turns every other Wednesday. We're hosting; and, you know, my daughter actually wasn't showing up a lot of the time, she would get sidetracked with dinner; and then, like, maybe the other kids were watching the show or something. And, lately, I've been like "You know what, we really need to make use of this time right now. While we're home, you should be getting really good at balloons; so that when, you know, the parties start up again, you're ready. She's had two paid jobs which is really wonderful for her, really boosted her self esteem; and we started a bank account for her with the money that she earned. And now that she has this amazing bag that Ken has made and shared with her; and, you know, one of the other--Dan the Balloon Man is sharing a pump with us so that we can have something to put it on, we didn't even have the big pump yet. You know, that she's gonna be really ready, like as soon as that market opens up again, we're gonna be like on our game here. And I decided that I better learn, because if I have to sit around driving her to all these balloon jams and to all these paid gigs, I probably should be ready to be, you know, productive as well and be her apprentice and learning some of the business side of it. What advice would you give for people who are stuck at home, and, you know, that are in the entertainment industry right now? What would you tell them, you know, as far as using this time wisely?
Ken Shute 36:57
Well, using the time wisely is the best thing you can do for your business. You no longer have the gig to go and take away time. So practice, first off. It's a skill-based industry. If you don't do your twist, you can't get the muscle memory. You can't remember how many twists to do and what size balloon. What size bubble. These are all made up of small twists and in certain sequences; and, if you don't--it's a use it or lose it kind of thing. Put it down for too long, and you just forget. I still have balloons from five years ago. I keep them in a dark place; and, every now and then, I break them out; and I play, because somebody's gonna ask me to do a balloon dog, and I better know how to do it. But, yeah, use the time to take classes. There are plenty of things online that you can watch, listen to, podcasts you can learn from. There are plenty of places you can go to find your business online in the different forums and the different places that they go to. The internet is an amazing place to learn.
April Malone 38:18
Right, so, and a lot of free opportunities.
Ken Shute 38:20
So, use that time, yes, use that time.
April Malone 38:21
Like, for people that are concerned about money, there's YouTube channels that will--Skillshare is another website, I think--I don't know if they have balloons on there right now, but there's just a lot of free content available out there.
Ken Shute 38:32
Right. No matter what your business is, there's always a way to find some way to make it better in the downtimes. So, if you're not taking advantage of that, then it's your business that's going to suffer for it.
April Malone 38:48
Now you mentioned to me that you are involved in a business Facebook group? Can you tell us a little bit about what that is?
Ken Shute 38:55
Well, the business Facebook is Mind Your Own Business, and it's a business-to-business forum. And what we do is, it's designed not for advertising, but for taking an advertisement that they're thinking about putting on a Facebook forum and having the members critique it and say, well, this color combination doesn't work quite right, or this--it's basically a marketing for your business, business forum. And I wanted to set it up so that it would be business-to-business so that there wouldn't be any clients coming by and so we can talk openly and truthfully, and so far it's been working pretty good.
April Malone 39:41
Now, is that also balloon world, or is that any kind of business?
Ken Shute 39:46
Currently, right now, it's just the balloon world. And the reason I was keeping it that way is because the current members, that's their genre, that's what they know, that's--we're looking for input on their experiences for their business which means it may not apply to somebody making widgets somewhere out in, you know, somewhere else. We kind of like to keep it on topics that we know something about.
April Malone 40:18
Ken Shute 40:18
Because it's tough. It's tough. I can't speak to how to make, you know, a wheelbarrow; because I don't know how to source the wood, I don't know how to source the metal, etc. etc. So, I want to try and keep to what we know.
April Malone 40:33
You know, you mentioned wheelbarrow; and that reminds me, you're actually making a product that often fits over other products.
Ken Shute 40:40
April Malone 40:40
Do you want to talk about how you choose, like, for instance, your carts and things that you design your bags, your balloon bags, to go over?
Ken Shute 40:48
Sure, sure. We do that reactively. Through the years, I've been doing this for about 15 years, plus or minus. And, over the years, different totes and carts and ways to get gear from their home to their job site has changed in. As long as it's got a pilot-type handle on it, like a balloon--the last big trend was Crop In Style. Crop In Style made paper, a tote to take around your paper goods. I'm not even sure what--
April Malone 41:33
Was it kind of like the stationery?
Ken Shute 41:35
April Malone 41:36
Oh, like the scrapbooking and--
Ken Shute 41:39
Yes, the scrapbooking. Now we modified that for--it's a big tote. It's 22 inches wide by 16 inches deep and 14 inches down. So, it holds the balloons perfectly; and it'll hold pretty close to 20,000 balloons. So, it's a great way to just put it in the corner when you don't need it and roll it out to the jobsite when you do, and I put something on top of it. And then ZUCA, the sport cart people, for the Frisbees?
April Malone 42:09
Ken Shute 42:09
The disk Frisbees? I can't, I guess Frisbee.
April Malone 42:10
Ken Shute 42:14
Yeah, disk golf. That's the one. That came along; so, now I've got an entire line based on that size. And, because I'm the only maker that makes customized gear, anybody that has any tote, any box, bag, suitcase, you name it. I made gear for suitcases. I made gear that fit in cardboard boxes, because that was the character that he entertained with was a hobo. Oh, so he would show up with a cardboard box. And, rather than have just messy plastic bags or something, I actually made him up a gear set of nylon gear to hold his balloons inside of cardboard box, so he could stay true to his character.
April Malone 43:00
I love it. So, when my daughter did her first--well, she did a birthday party for a friend. It was my friend, actually, and her son. The balloon artist that they hired for some reason, whatever reason, wasn't able to make it; and, so, last minute, she asked could my daughter to do it? Because she had seen my kiddo do it for my other daughter. I have two daughters. So, last year, the older daughter did balloons at the younger daughter's birthday party. Well, then, you know, I posted about that on my Facebook page, on my personal profile; and another friend was like, "Hey, we've got a school event coming up, would she be able to come and twist; and there will be some other balloon artists, but she can, you know, work alongside of them. And they got special permission and had her come. Well, it was really a good experience; but there was a moment that it all kind of went to, well, it didn't go well.
Ken Shute 43:52
Yes, that happens.
April Malone 43:53
She had her plastic bags of the balloons. You know, they come in a bag of 100 or 250 or whatever from Qualatex, or whoever we got them from; and she had them on the table. She had a balloon apron. It's just like a waitress apron for her pump, but she didn't want to wear it. She was just setting her pump on the table and the balloons on the table that she's working next to. And I had her--she had like a glittery top on, it was like sequins and stuff; but we didn't have like anything that was like really signage. Well, all of a sudden, some kids started grabbing the pumps; and, actually, it was some moms. Moms would take the pump and take the balloons and start pumping them up for their own kids. They thought it was a free for all or that the balloons were just laid out as like an activity for everyone at the fair. They didn't realize that she was actually working, like the other people were working next to her. And, so, all of a sudden, like all of the pumps were out of her hands. I was sitting aside, you know, away a little while, reading a book; and I just saw this go down. And, all of a sudden, like, all of the people were just grabbing and grabbing and grabbing; and she couldn't get control of the situation. It was really kind of terrifying for her. She was like, "You know, this is not--these aren't--you know, I'm the balloon artist!" Or the twister, you know. And, so, I was able to come; and we had like a little, it wasn't one of your cool bags. We just had a--it was a hard-side lunchbox. I don't know, 18 inches by 12 inches or so. And we just zipped it up, and we walked away; and we went and got like a pretzel or a slushie or something. And we came back 20 minutes later and kind of regained control of the situation, and I came away from that thinking she needs something that shows that, you know, this is her professional equipment now. This bag like basically screams, you know, "This is the real deal." Like, this isn't just a free-for-all here. And I've seen people hang signs on your bags, like they use your bag to actually display like their menu items or something, like for the balloons.
Ken Shute 45:55
Yeah, we have a space on the back of the bag. That you can either get them with pockets on both sides or pockets on one side; and, on the backside, we can set it up for sign hangers, we can set it up for embroidery. We can set it up for all kinds of different ways of signage. Everybody goes through that at least once a month.
April Malone 46:19
Ken Shute 46:21
Oh it's terrible. Yeah. Sadly, you know, people are so geared into the fun, they see that there's a balloon laying there, I'm going to grab it; and I'm going to try and do something.
April Malone 46:32
Ken Shute 46:32
It's very difficult to control the crowd, and that's a whole skill that she will eventually pick up on; but it will never go away.
April Malone 46:40
And that's been something I've been hearing a lot about during the during the balloon jams online. Now that I'm sitting in on them, since I'm kind of running the Zoom for them, I'm hearing all of that talk about, like, how do you close down a line. Like I was only hired for two hours and all the different techniques that people have now, you know, either like number cards or signup forms or just the thing that you say to the last kid. Or some people will even have a bag of balloons that'll just give out to the remaining kids and just, you know, as you leave. And it's a skill, like that whole crowd control and the management. It's not just "I can twist a balloon," it's "I know how to handle children who are disappointed, because their balloon popped," but there's 15 other kids in line right now.
Ken Shute 47:20
Right, right. And so that's the difficulty of doing balloons in a situation that has more people in it than, say, a birthday party, say like a store opening or a festival. There's always going to be somebody hanging around, and there will always be somebody that's going to go away disappointed; and that's the sad part of our business. But Macy's and Target and all the other big people that are normal big businesses close their door at night. And there are people that they have to push away; because they close the door right in on them. It's nine o'clock--closing time. It's part of our business, and nobody wants to turn away a dollar, especially today because COVID is the way it is.
April Malone 48:05
Ken Shute 48:06
But there are techniques to learn, the signs, the end-of-line signs. For my gear, I actually make covers for all my gear; so that, once the balloons are gone, they can't see that the balloons are available. So, it makes it easier for the artist to walk away.
April Malone 48:25
Ken Shute 48:26
Now, that doesn't always work, because there's always that one customer that's out there that's been "waiting for eight hours" on a two-hour party. There's that guy, and you'll always have to deal with that; but Target has their problem too, you know. They're standing at the door What was that Mervyn's TV commercial Open, Open, Open thing. But, you learn how to deal with it; and it's an ongoing thing, because people are people. We do work with people in an environment here.
April Malone 48:59
I want everyone to know how they can find you and find your amazing products.
Ken Shute 49:04
My website is AirBornCreations.com. I am on Air Born--I am on the web. I am on Facebook, and I have a very limited presence on Instagram. On Facebook, it's Ken Shute, Air Born Creations.
April Malone 49:22
Air Born with no "E."
Ken Shute 49:24
And on Instagram--Yes, no "E." I did that on purpose, because Airborne with an "E" means it's the guys with the guns.
April Malone 49:31
Ken Shute 49:31
And we are balloons, we're all about fun.
April Malone 49:36
Oh wow, thank you so much for speaking with me today. I have really enjoyed this. I do want to just remind everyone that Christmas is coming, and if you have a balloon artist in your life, they might benefit from enjoying upgraded gear. If someone were to maybe outfit like a younger, like a child or a teenager or someone who's just thinking--maybe a college student--who's thinking about paying their way through college with balloon twisting as many people have done. What kind of products should they start off with? I mean, this is this is a little overkill for a 9-year-old; but I think she's gonna be able to rock it, because she's had a few years of training now, but--
Ken Shute 50:12
Yes, yes, that one was designed specifically for restaurant work and small, thin aisleways. We have balloon aprons that are designed for wearing in festivals and things like that. That's the best way to go. You get the most bang for your buck as far as how many balloons it carries and how many different things that you can make with the balloons that you can carry. It has room for the pockets, pumps, everything you need. After that, we have Buster bags that are small, medium, and large. We have all manner of custom work. If you can think of it, I can make it. But starting out, a good old fashioned balloon apron.
April Malone 50:55
Right. Okay. Yeah.
Ken Shute 50:56
That's the best.
April Malone 50:56
Yeah, I think that your aprons would be way better than the three-pocket thing we got from the waitress supply store. I remember that you gave away a little wallet too, at that raffle. Now, that's not for like a big gig; but when do people use the little wallet?
Ken Shute 51:12
Okay, that came about; because somebody asked me what I did when I was standing in line in the supermarket, and I said "I'm a balloon artist." Well, if I had had that when I was in that line, I could have said, "Watch this," and maybe gotten a gig outta it.
April Malone 51:27
Ken Shute 51:29
It's a small item that holds about enough balloons for about 20 small sculptures, and it's great for--I've used the thing in airports to keep, you know, screaming kids happy. And, you know, because that long plane flight from California to Hawaii, it's five and a half hours. But I've made things. Oh--oh, it's just a small thing to keep busy with, yeah, just so you have balloons on you at all times.
April Malone 52:01
Well, we appreciate this amazing gifts that you sent us; and my daughter forgot what was coming; so, when we got the package from Hawaii, she said "I don't know anybody from Hawaii!" So, it was extra fun. Well, we appreciate you; and thank you for sharing your wisdom.
Ken Shute 52:18
Thank you for having me!
April Malone 52:18
Yeah, well, don't forget, it's Ken Shute at Air Born Creations. And you were otherwise known as SuperK in a past life, right?
Ken Shute 52:25
That's right. Yes, that was my stage name, yes, SuperK.
April Malone 52:29
All right, well this has been Yes, I Work From Home. I'm April Malone with Ken Shute, and thank you again. Take care.
Ken Shute 52:35
Bye bye, from Hawaii.
April Malone 52:21
So bonus section! I hung up our recording, and Ken started telling me the coolest stuff about where he lives. Ken, what do you have on your farm?
Ken Shute 52:32
On the farm we have, it's a full one acre here on the Big Island of Hawaii. The community is called HPP, or Hawaiian Paradise Park. It's the second largest housing tract in America. It's got 8800 one-acre lots, and it works out to be about 16 square miles of land, just for our tract. On my property, I've got 75 chickens. We've got eight turkeys. We're looking to get some goats and some pigs and some sheep and rabbits. I have some of the--Since we're in the tropics, I wanted to make sure that I had as many plants and trees as I could muster that were tropical. So, I've got four chocolate trees, which are cacao trees. They grow here about with the northernmost latitude, so it's what is considered the North Pole of chocolate. Coffee trees, we've got. Anybody knows the gum Juicy Fruit, in the yellow packet, that flavoring comes from the jackfruit that is grown here; and I've got a jackfruit tree. I've got some things called soursop and lilikoi, which are passion fruit everywhere else. On the island they're called lilikoi. They have a beautiful flower, and invasive vine--man, they'll take over if you're not careful. But we have cashew trees. I have currently 65 cashew trees growing. What else?
April Malone 54:13
In one acre you have all this?
Ken Shute 54:15
Well, right now, the cashew trees are only about this big.
April Malone 54:19
Okay. And you mentioned asparagus.
Ken Shute 54:23
Yes, I've got vegetable starts. And one of the beauties about being, again, in the tropics, is we don't have winter. Our thermostat--we don't have a heater. We don't have an air conditioner. We don't have insulation in the walls which is kind of irritating to me, but
April Malone 54:41
I thought I heard water running earlier, and you said that was--
Ken Shute 54:41
It was raining. Yeah, it rains every day here. It rains almost every day here. We get anywhere from 200 to 300 inches of rain a year, which means every day, 365 days, we get about, on average, about three-quarters of an inch of rain, every day. But, yeah, since we're living on an island, a volcanic island, it actually sponges, wicks water away. During Hurricane Lane that came through two years ago, we got 54 inches of rain in three days. In my driveway. In my rain gauge. And the reason my house is still here is because the lava acts like a ginormous sponge. It's just the water hits the ground and just wicks straightaway. So as green and as tropical as this side of the island is, if it didn't rain as much as it does, we wouldn't have this beauty here.
April Malone 55:42
It'd be like a desert.
Ken Shute 55:44
It would be, which is Kona Side. They get 40 inches of rain every year, and it's as desert as Arizona.
April Malone 55:50
Wow. What is your island known for?
Ken Shute 55:50
Agriculture. It used to be the home of one of the biggest pineapple and sugar plantations, ever. Some years ago, they decided to move away from that; and the government asked them, politely, through subsidies, to leave.
April Malone 56:12
Pineapple and sugar?
Ken Shute 56:14
Both at the same time which was very difficult for the Hawaiians here, that put them into a huge economic downturn.
April Malone 56:24
Ken Shute 56:25
Yeah, but they wanted to move in more residential. They wanted to get more mainland-like, without losing the island feel; and I think they've done a pretty good job of it so far. There's some hiccups here and there but, you know, transition.
April Malone 56:44
So, what is the new agriculture?
Ken Shute 56:47
The new agriculture is small. Everything is small. The COVID problem is getting everyone on the planet back to gardening.
April Malone 56:55
Ken Shute 56:56
The small victory gardens, these things. Our garden hasn't been put in yet; but, like I said, it's tropical. We can put in anything any time of the year. The thing we can't grow is tomatoes--and garlic, because there's too much water.
April Malone 57:10
Ken Shute 57:12
Those have to be grown indoors. Yeah.
April Malone 57:16
Ken Shute 57:17
Onion is another one that needs very little bit of water; and, so, some of the normal crops that everybody can grow in the mainland are very difficult to grow here, just because there's too much water.
April Malone 57:30
Ah, well that was a fun little extra tidbit. Thank you so much! All right, we're gonna wrap it. Thank you again, Ken, take care.
Ken Shute 57:40