By Kristen Seidl
UNL College of Journalism and Mass Communications
When she was younger, Brandy Rima didn’t know what she wanted to do when she grew up. In 2004, she received a flyer in the mail advertising how to make animal balloons, and her passion took off from there.
Rima owns a combination balloon and fitness store in Seward called BB’s, which stands for Brandy’s Balloons. Balloons and fitness might seem like a strange combination until Rima’s history with each is explained.
“As long as I can remember, my mom [Jon’el Hunt] was a fitness instructor,” she said. “I’ve been going to the gym my entire life.”
Rima said she knew that she wanted to do something with fitness since it was so prevalent throughout her life. Other than that, she had no clue what she wanted to do and she was desperately looking for an answer.
After receiving the flyer in the mail that proclaimed she could make up to $50 an hour, Rima went to meet with the company in San Antonio, where she was living at the time. The lady asked her if she had ever made balloon animals before, and when Rima said she had not, the lady showed her how to make a few of the basics.
“I took my balloons and my little pump home, and I had to practice for a week and then audition to show her that I could make balloons,” Rima said. “Then I was sent out to different restaurants to make balloons.”
She created balloon art in San Antonio as a profession for three or four years, but then she moved to Lincoln. Rima grew up as a military brat, and with Hunt in the military they moved around a lot. Hunt was being deployed, and since Rima’s sister was still just a teenager, she moved back to Lincoln to watch over her and their house. There, she didn’t touch balloons again for several years, opting for a more professional job.
“They just kind of sat in a bag in the closet and I didn’t touch them for 5, 6, 7 years,” she said. “I just didn’t really go back to them because I kind of burnt myself out on it.”
Then, Rima started working as a sales and marketing coordinator at a metal shop called Innovative Metal Technologies in Lincoln where she did the accounts payable and receivable and was financially comfortable and stable for a while. The shop was owned and operated by a close friend of hers, Nick McKim, who was self-employed.
“It taught me a lot about hard work, entrepreneurship and building a brand, as well as what it takes to own a business,” she said. “I felt like I got a lot of first-hand training as far as learning how to own a business and I decided ‘Why not? I’m going to quit my super cushy job and sell balloon animals and see how I do.’”
Rima believed in herself so much that she said she just decided to take that leap of faith. She figured she could always go back to her old job if she needed to because leaving a steady, well-paying job was scary, but she decided she didn’t want that safety net and just jumped in.
She originally started as a home-based business, but as she practiced and got better she was able to get a small store front in Central City. She had moved there with her boyfriend, Elliot Grosshans, who she has been with for over four years. She started her balloon store at an incubator business owned by the Merrick Foundation to help her get up and running.
She said that after moving into the incubator space, her business had doubled in a year. After that, her boyfriend decided that he wanted to finish school in Milford at Southeast Community College so they moved to Seward since it was an easy commute, and BB’s is currently located there.
Since Rima and Grosshans knew they wanted to move back to Central City after Grosshans was done with school, they knew that living in Seward would be a temporary situation, but since Rima didn’t want to go back to being a home-based business, she got another storefront, located at 649 Seward St., which opened on Oct. 31, 2018. This store handles all her balloon business – her main business – in the front, and she has a fitness studio in the back of the shop.
“The fitness side of my business started because I saw a real need for it in such a small community,” she said. “I really just wanted to help people. I know how exciting fitness is, and I know how empowering it is and I wanted to be able to bring that to others.”
Rima said that being able to make connections in the small town was really beneficial for her business.
“I already had a connection with most of the moms because they were already used to getting balloons from me for their kids,” she said. “There was just a need for it so it evolved into adult fitness.”
In addition to having seven different fitness certificates that allow her to run that side of her business as an instructor, Rima is one of only five certified balloon artists in Nebraska. She completed her certification in September 2019 through Qualatex, the main balloon brand that handles just about everything in the balloon industry, and the only ones who offer a certification.
“This certification means that I am recognized by Qualatex as a top professional,” she said. “The certification means that I understand the concepts of business, as well as the fact that I am skilled at making balloons. It really doesn’t change anything other than the fact that I know that I put in the time and dedication to build a business.”
Rima chooses to run both sides of the business, rather than focus all her energy into one, because they have different business cycles and she wouldn’t be able to afford to stay open all year if she just did one side.
“Fitness is very popular in January,” she said. “Balloons are not popular in January. In the springtime and summertime fitness becomes really busy and sometimes that’s when balloons start to slow down.”
She said that as much as she would like to be able to just focus on balloons, she said she can’t do it in such a small town.
“I give as much time and focus as humanly possible to the balloons; however, balloons aren’t always going to pay the bills,” she said. “I have to have something else to help pay for this space, so that’s why I do fitness as well, but it is kind of the side business.”
For Rima, it’s not just about running a business that she loves; she loves the aspect of entrepreneurship that comes with it.
“I put in the time and dedication to build a business. I am building a brand,” she said. “When someone sees balloons, I want them to think Brandy’s Balloons. I want them to think of the two B’s in teal and green.”
Being certified with Qualatex allows the balloon artist to do more in the way of teaching classes through them or being a balloon instructor, and Rima said this is something that she would love to do in the future.
“Instead of teaching others how to do balloons, I would like to teach people a lot about business,” she said. “Entrepreneurship is something that is very near and dear to my heart. I try to collaborate a lot with other businesses and foster that entrepreneurial spirit in as many ways as I possibly can.”
* This story was published in the Dec. 18 edition of the Seward County Independent as part of a joint project with the UNL College of Journalism and Mass Communications.