Valley girls Liz Romani and staff make expert balloon creations
By Bernie Schmitt
She and her staff create art with air.
“How crazy is that?” asks Liz Romani, the energetic manager of Valley Party Supply in Vincennes, and who has emerged in recent years as a local expert on balloon creations. Her artistic flair, help from her staff, and non-stop enthusiasm and work ethic have led to success.
She recently returned from Wales, where she and other balloon artists created a castle made from 40,000 balloons. This fall she taught a balloon art workshop in Florida, and in June the Chicago Tribune published a photo of her and her balloon creations at the Chicago Pride Parade. Sales of balloons at Valley Party Supply have skyrocketed.
“I am always looking to grow, whether it’s in my job or my life,” Romani said. “I’m never satisfied. I always give 150 percent and put my heart and soul into everything.”
Romani, a native of Hollywood, California, became the manager of Valley Party Supply four years ago. She was hired on in 2008 as a clerk at Valley, a wholesale food and party supply store, owned by Wabash Foodservice Inc. of Vincennes.
She had worked at JoAnn’s Fabrics until a house fire moved her family into a home across the street from what was then called Valley Cash and Carry. On a whim she decided to apply for a job there. Her work ethic and acceptance of more responsibility helped her earn the manager’s job.
The blossoming balloon business is another story.
Romani and her assistant manager, Leslie Arnold, were looking for ways to grow the business. She had inherited a Facebook page someone had started for the store, but because it was opened as a personal page and not for business, Facebook contacted her about changing it. Somehow when it re-opened as a business page, it was in her name.
“But we wanted it to be the Liz and Leslie page, the Valley Girls,” she said. “We were only doing helium balloon bouquets back then. But we got on to do a few videos of what we offered at the store and things like that.”
Romani and Arnold learned via Facebook of a balloon group page, where they discovered the artistic creations some were making, and selling, balloons — without helium.
“But we didn’t know how to do that and we didn’t have the tools,” Romani said.
She credits Joe Gish, the manager at Wabash Foodservice, for agreeing to send herself and Arnold to a two-day balloon creation workshop at Gatlinburg, Tennessee. There they met Steven Jones, one of the top balloon designers in the country.
“He’s like a rock star in the balloon industry,” Romani said. “There we learned how to build costumes and balloon sculptures. We built six Minions and paraded them in downtown Gatlinburg. The people there loved it.”
After that, Romani says, she and Arnold couldn’t stop. They were excited to bring home their knowledge and began offering the community something one might only find in a larger city. They went to more workshops, slowly but surely honing their craft, and getting more sales.
“This changed the way Valley is seen,” Romani said.
With balloon sculptures and other creations taking off, they wanted to emphasize the store’s party supplies. Wabash decided to invest in a complete remodeling of the store. Discount tobacco was discontinued, the place brightened up, party supplies and an “Inflation Station” for balloons moved to the front.
“We did a major facelift about three years ago and with Liz’s help we focused on the party concept,” said Gish. “She is not only a hard worker, she’s the Energizer bunny. It (party business) has exploded because of her.”
“I am always looking to grow, whether it’s in my job or my life.” — Liz Romani
The store continues to carry all the food and food service materials it once did. New freezers were purchased for its frozen food offerings, and new shelving and better organization allows customers easy access to everything.
“Because we’re off the beaten path, in the middle of a neighborhood, it’s a challenge to get the word out about Valley, but we’re doing it,” Romani said.
She and Arnold continued making videos to highlight their balloon sculpting prowess. At first they were promoting “Party Bombs,” where they would decorate the office or home with hundreds of balloons, surprising the recipient, and then making a video of the proceedings for Facebook and YouTube.
“It became a memory for those people,” she said. “And they loved it.”
Romani and Valley also merges their balloon success with community involvement. She and her crew built a balloon gingerbread house for Santa to sit in front of this year, she and Valley were involved in two different Shriner events that raised $15,000; and another event raised $2,000 for the local animal shelter.
“I’m in Rotary and we are a member of a Chamber of Commerce,” she said. “I always try to find opportunities to get involved.”
She and her workers have led balloon workshops for children, and they’ve offered free photos with Santa for customers coming into the store around the holidays. Valley has enticed people to bring canned goods for local food pantries or the Salvation Army by offered balloon creations.
Balloons filled with air have helped boost the store’s business. Romani said in her first year as manager balloons brought in around $9,000 a year. But balloon revenue in the last year was upwards of $120,000. She is making a name for herself with Betallatex, a Kansas City-based company that makes and sells balloons.
“They were the ones who asked me to teach, to lead a workshop in Florida,” Romani said.
Opportunities, like going to Las Vegas last January for a conference, seem to “fall in my lap,” she said. Her enthusiasm for a career she accidentally fell into, and how she is making sales in a small Indiana county is what is getting people’s attention.
“Except for the workshops they’ve sent me to, these other things were to no cost to Wabash Foodservice,” Romani said. “And the Wales trip I paid for myself. I’d never been out of the country and this was one of the biggest balloon events in Europe. I was the only one from the United States.”
Though she is getting some acclaim due to her manager’s position, she says she could not have built Valley’s success without her “sidekick,” Leslie Arnold, and her staff.
“Leslie and I are a power duo,” Romani said. “We are intertwined in all of this.”
She and Arnold are looking forward to a great 2019 at Valley Party Supply. She said she loves her adopted hometown of Vincennes, though she enjoyed a vacation last summer to Los Angeles and Hollywood.
“I’m really happy here,” she said. “Community involvement is important here, and we also want to make Valley important to the community. Hollywood is always fun and exciting. If anything, I’m trying to bring some of that excitement and sense of entertainment here with what we do.”