Business

My Biz: Iowa City balloon artist's career skyrocketing

Chad Johnson taking IC Balloons to new heights

Chad Johnson, owner of IC Balloons, inflates a red balloon to add to the comb while working on a dancing balloon chicken at his home office in Iowa City. The chicken will be made of 400 to 600 balloons for a weekend event at Popeyes Louisiana Kitchen in Cedar Rapids. (Liz Martin/The Gazette)
Chad Johnson, owner of IC Balloons, inflates a red balloon to add to the comb while working on a dancing balloon chicken at his home office in Iowa City. The chicken will be made of 400 to 600 balloons for a weekend event at Popeyes Louisiana Kitchen in Cedar Rapids. (Liz Martin/The Gazette)
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IOWA CITY — On any given day, IC Balloons CEO Chad Johnson has roughly 100,000 balloons on hand in his garage, and it’s about so much more than mere child’s play.

IC Balloons designs and builds one-of-a-kind balloon creations and structures for any type of event ranging from corporate promotions to birthday parties.

It all started when a good friend of Johnson’s began showing him how to twist balloons.

“I was a martial arts instructor at the time and had my days free. He was a balloon artist who had his days free so the two of us would get together and he would teach me what he knew,” Johnson recalled. “I spent several months sitting in my living room twisting balloons.”

The moment of revelation for doing balloons as a vocation came during Johnson’s engagement party.

“There was a little girl having a meltdown, so my friend twisted a balloon for her,” he said. “The room was full of several different clusters of people, but no one was really mingling or having a good time.”

“My friend brought out his bag of balloons and started doing what he does and as I watched, that whole room became focused on these balloon creations that were going on. The little girl was delighted and everybody started smiling and laughing and sharing a great time together — all because of balloons,” Johnson said.

“There was a lot of power in that and I decided I wanted to be able to do that.”

In the seven years he’s been in the balloon business, his career has skyrocketed with several high profile gigs, including this summer’s Pride Parade in Chicago, the Fourth of July parade in Coralville and the recent balloon extravaganza he created for the NCAA Women’s Gymnastics Championship in Iowa City.

“The NCAA project was the biggest installation I’ve ever done,” he said.

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Using 3-foot round balloons, he and approximately 60 volunteer helpers created a balloon canopy in a 200-foot long by 14-foot wide hallway that competing gymnasts used to enter Hawkeye Carver Arena.

“We put around 45 lights controlled with remote control inside the balloons,” he added. “It’s a new kind of light product for balloons.”

Johnson said he never was shown how to twist the proverbial wiener dog, something fairly common at fairs and carnivals — and he never will learn how to do it.

“If you’re standing there twisting dogs and cats, the parents are bored,” he explained. “The kids still want the balloon critter, but the parents aren’t paying attention and they don’t respect you.”

“But when you can make a giant flamingo that the kid actually gets into and rides,” he added, “suddenly the parents want it and are excited about what their kid is going to get.”

“That’s our goal — unique creations that are bigger and more interesting and get better attention.”

Three and a half million views on the Web of the company’s creation, Conrad the Unicorn, seem to indicate Johnson’s company is well on track.

AT A GLANCE

Owner: Chad Johnson

Company: IC Balloons

Address: 4171 Ruth St., Iowa City

Phone: (512) 350-4242

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Know a company in business for more than a year that would make a good My Biz? Contact George C. Ford at George.Ford@thegazette.com

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