Balloon animals
Balloon animals

By Katie Roiger

It might be a church festival, a birthday party or a benefit, but the happy smiles are always the same. Eager children line up in front of a long table loaded with streamer-like balloons in a rainbow of colors. In the center of it all, fingers flying like a magician’s, 16-year-old Clare Fischer of Balloon-a-Kazoo twists and knots balloons into crazy, made-to-order shapes.

A balloon prodigy

Fischer has been creating balloon animals, hats and toys since she was barely older than some of the youngest kids at her events. When she was six years old, her parents gave her a balloon animal kit with a beginner’s instruction book and a tiny pump. Fischer experimented with the basics and quickly proved to be a natural.

“It started as a hobby,” said Fischer, who still loves making balloon creations for family and friends.

When her younger sister was six years old, Fischer created a balloon house that was big enough for her sister to crawl inside. As her skill set grew, she decided to share her talents beyond her family circle.

I’ve had people wait in line for two to three hours. At that point, you’re just trying to get them through as quickly as possible. Clare Fischer

“Eventually we ordered better supplies, and I started volunteering for church events,” Fischer said.

Word spread, and, at 11 years old, Fischer had the makings of her own business: Balloon-a-Kazoo. Besides birthday parties and church festivals, Fischer has worked at corporate and town events such as Belle Plaine’s National Night Out and New Ulm internet provider Nuvera’s Customer Appreciation event.

A typical gig

Six years of practice and as many as 12 events per non-COVID summer have taught Fischer what to expect when it comes to planning a gig. She now has a game plan she uses to streamline her events. Depending on the venue, she likes to start off by blowing up balloons and releasing them into the air in a colorful stream. This always draws a crowd and gets onlookers excited to see what comes next.

Submitted Image - Clare Fischer of New Ulm and a satisfied customer
Submitted Image – Clare Fischer of New Ulm and a satisfied customer

If it’s a smaller gathering, such as a birthday party, Fischer takes her time meeting each person and making their balloon toy. For larger events with more traffic, Fischer prints “menus” of the different toys she can make, and passes them back into the lines that form in front of her table.

“I’ve had people wait in line for two to three hours,” said Fischer. “At that point, you’re just trying to get them through as quickly as possible.”

Fischer estimates that it takes her five minutes or less to make most of the toys. Sometimes she produces so many creations at a time that her fingers turn green from the latex.

I see the dads pulling out the swords and having sword fights with their kids! Clare Fischer

Animals are a popular menu choice. Fischer keeps a Sharpie handy for kids who want their new plastic pets to have faces. Whimsical hats are also crowd pleasers. She likes to create a hat for herself to wear throughout the event to give attendees an idea of what they can order. The crazier the hat, the more eye-catching it is: For one event, she made a hat adorned with a balloon ice cream cone.

One of Fischer’s favorite things to make, a giant balloon sword, was an accidental addition to her repertoire. When she first began Balloon-a-Kazoo, Fischer’s parents would frequently help her when she ordered supplies. Once, her father accidentally placed a shipment request for 3-inch diameter balloons, which are considerably larger than the 2-inch diameter balloons she usually uses.

“We probably had three or four hundred of the wrong balloons,” Fischer said.

She and her parents were quick to turn the mistake into an asset. Fischer’s father found a YouTube tutorial for making giant balloon swords that had 50-inch blades. The swords proved to be so popular that Fischer and her parents ended up ordering more of the “wrong” balloon size. They are still some of Fischer’s most-requested creations.

“I see the dads pulling out the swords and having sword fights with their kids!” Fischer said.

Building business experience

As a junior in high school, Fisher said that running her own business has given her valuable experience she might not otherwise have gained. Because she was so young when she began Balloon-a-Kazoo, her parents helped her with scheduling and inventory until she was able to do it alone.

Fischer said that her family and parents have been influential in Balloon-a-Kazoo’s steady growth. If not for the excitement her siblings and extended family showed in her talent or her parents’ encouragement as she decided to put those talents to work, Balloon-a-Kazoo might look very different today.

It’s taught me a lot about management. It’s a really good lesson for me, and it’s preparing me for later in life when I need those skills. Clare Fischer

“They’ve been there to help me with the initial setup process and also to push me forward to do it on my own,” Fischer said. “That’s been a really great experience for me.”

Unlike other business owners, Fischer does not have a company credit card that she uses for inventory. Instead, she places the orders with her parents’ card and pays them back using her profits. She credits this experience with providing valuable lessons about money handling and financial responsibility.

“It’s taught me a lot about management,” she said. “It’s a really good lesson for me, and it’s preparing me for later in life when I need those skills.”

Running Balloon-a-Kazoo has also helped Fischer as she begins to consider what studies she wants to pursue in college. At the moment, she said she is most attracted to engineering, or another discipline with hands-on structural work.

“I love doing things with my hands, which is another reason I like working with balloons,” Fischer said. “I’m able to explore the different shapes and forms.”

Looking forward

Fischer isn’t sure if Balloon-a-Kazoo will stay the same once she graduates, but she said she hopes to keep using her balloon-tying skills for her family and friends’ benefit no matter what. She is also interested in continuing to offer her talent at volunteer events.

“It’s definitely something I enjoy doing,” Fischer said. “I’m interested in seeing how it evolves.”