Designs & Displays: 12 Ways Retailers Can Use Balloons as Budget-Friendly Props

A single mannequin in a Saks Fifth Avenue window peeks out from behind giant balloons that catch the eye from across the street.

You’ve probably tied balloons outside your store entrance at some point to promote an event or sale. With their color and buoyancy, balloons summon happy responses from customers and staff alike. “They convey a message that is festive and attention-grabbing,” says Judi Townsend, owner of Mannequin Madness in Oakland, CA, and a retail-merchandising consultant. What’s more, they’re budget-friendly.

So why not enlist balloons regularly in your windows and on the sales floor to engage customers at all points of the sales experience? Practically speaking, balloons catch the eye whether seen up close or from across the road or parking lot. In fact, their round, full shape and myriad colors are so riveting that famous retailers—from Anthropologie, Dior and Saks Fifth Avenue to ballet brands like Chacott—incorporate them into their displays.

Versatile and astonishingly low-cost, balloons make it easy to enhance imaginative and memorable displays that promote your brand while drawing the traffic you desire. Here are some ways to use them.

1. Employ balloons singly or massed in multiples simply to draw attention to an area or event in the store, and to move the customer’s eye around the space.

Twist a balloon, and you have an even more creative prop. Check out these eye-catching pink dogs in an Anthropologie window. Swans, anyone?

2. Highlight merchandise. In a window, attach one balloon to each article of apparel hung from a hanger, so you get a dual effect—single and multiple simultaneously.

3. Tell a color story. Go super-simple yet dramatic by scattering balloons on the floor of your window in shades that play up a color story. If you have new merchandise with a strong color story, like aqua or purple, balloons in the same colors placed near this merchandise will help to reinforce that story.

Blue and white balloons scattered at the base of this Chacott window in New York City amplify and draw attention to the blues in the tutus.

Use balloons in your logo or store colors when you want to tell a brand story. And, of course, balloons in certain colors can help you tell a seasonal story for Valentine’s Day, Easter or spring, Halloween or Christmas.

4. Create a mood. “Use them as a background to bring color to your window, or incorporate them as part of the scene,” says Townsend. “They can convey a mood or an emotion, to get your customers to feel happy and excited.”

5. Spell it out. Mix in other props—perhaps letter balloons that spell out S-A-L-E or S-P-R-I-N-G, or crepe-paper flowers or netting mixed into the cluster of balloons, or balloons in different shapes.

6. Liven up a promotion. Attach small products to single balloons arranged inside the store, suggests Townsend. “This makes the experience more interactive,” she says.

Pile a window full of orange balloons for Halloween. Or red, white and blue for July 4. Green for….you get it.

7. Go monochromatic. Using just one color makes a window display look especially beautiful when lit up at night.

8. Mix different-colored balloons in different sizes, then tie them together in a cluster. Or attach them to a wall in a shape, like an arc or a swirl. Both techniques yield a dramatic and unique effect.

9. If your windows are walled on all sides, fill the entire space with just balloons to serve as a vivid background; then attach signage to the window. This is a good ploy if you don’t have any apparel ready to show at the moment, or want to herald a store party or anniversary, or to stand out from other retailers during a block sale.

10. Apply embellishments for excitement. Add confetti to the inside of clear balloons for a minimalist yet colorful effect. In Milan, the Moschino store created musical notes by combining black craft-paper stems with balloon “notes” attached to the bottom.

Any balloon can serve as a form over which to drape fabric, netting or paper. One retailer applied a very light white lace over balloons placed next to a lace dress, to tell a fabric and color story. Another covered the surfaces with cotton puffs to create clouds. Here’s an even simpler idea: Wrap tulle or netting around an uneven number of balloons, catch the tulle at the base with a thin satin ribbon and tuck in a nosegay of velvet flowers. You can later reuse the tulle, ribbon and flowers.

11. Make a balloon arch. Arches work well outside the store for a sidewalk or summer sale, but also inside for a special time of year, such as recitals or graduation, when you might set one up for photo-taking underneath.

A balloon arch over your door is great for attracting passersby to a summer sale.

You can buy forms online from balloon manufacturers that are specifically made to create larger shapes, such as arches over a door, towers, a frame (for photo opportunities!) or linked hearts. Expect to pay about $100, but the forms can be stored and used repeatedly. For instructions, consult wikiHow (for instance, wikihow.com/Make-a-Balloon-Arch).

12. Turn a mannequin into a temporary form. Attach balloons to the waist and hips to mimic a tutu or even a full skirt. Use them on the head to create a crown or interesting halo or headpiece.

For more balloon display ideas, check Pinterest, including Judi Townsend’s board at  interest.com/mannequinmadnes/balloons-mannequins.

Where to Buy
You can pick up latex or Mylar balloons (either will do the job) at a party store or order from an online supplier like Oriental Trading Company and inflate them yourself. Consider talking to a local supplier about getting a delivery several times a year. “A local balloon company can help you choose the right balloons, tell you about new developments and advise you how long a balloon will last exposed to sun and light,” says Townsend. By learning about the different materials available, their benefits and which are appropriate for what applications, you always spend your money wisely and keep your customers returning for more beautiful and imaginative displays.

Anthopologie storefront by Melanie Sweeney, Melanie S. @Flickr; Chacott storefront courtesy of Chacott by Freed of London; all other images by Thinkstock

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