Up, Up, and Away
Kate Hicks knows that it sounds cliché, but the truth is that in starting and growing her successful balloon-design business, whimsy and WILD, she is still learning what it takes to grow and “to not be scared,” she said. “I’ve learned to trust my gut … I’ll never know what I can do unless I try.”
Hicks said that being an entrepreneur is in her blood, having grown up with a father who started a successful advertising and marketing agency.
“Starting something from scratch is normal to me, and I always knew I would do it at some point,” she said. “I thought it would revolve around food since that has always been my passion and career path. Never in a million years would I have thought it would be balloon design.”
This married mother of one grew up in Boiling Springs, Pennsylvania, and has a background in the food and beverage industry. She attended culinary school in Lancaster for pastry arts and graduated from the Art Institute of Pittsburgh with a degree in food, beverage, and hospitality management.
“Before starting whimsy and WILD, I was the director of sales for a hotel in Carlisle,” Hicks said.
It was at the hotel that she got her first taste of balloon design.
“I saw a balloon garland on Pinterest, and my coworker and I made one for a Thanksgiving event at the hotel last year,” she said.
She began making them for friends and family and even had them hanging in some local businesses, including the party venue Tutto.
“People who were throwing parties there started ordering custom designs for their events,” she said.
With the help of social media, and the local connections she had made over the years in the hospitality industry, the business took off, giving her an opportunity to work with some bigger clients and to gain more exposure.
“I booked a lot of big jobs in April and knew I wouldn’t be able to work full time and take on all the new business,” she said.
After discussing it with her husband, she decided it was the perfect time to launch whimsy and WILD.
“Wedding and party season was just beginning, and I knew I’d have an easier time building the business and a name for myself rather than waiting until fall or winter,” Hicks said.
Hicks said that she has never been more confident about a decision in her life than the one she made to start her own business.
“I had followed a lot of balloon-design businesses on social media … so I knew it was a marketable business,” she said. “I also knew no one around me was really doing it. I found a niche and jumped right in.”
Her days are busy since she handles all aspects of the business herself, but hiring some help is a goal she has set for the new year.
“It’s exhausting, especially as a one-woman show,” she said. “September and October in general were very overwhelming … But I pushed myself very hard and made it through. Now I know what I can handle and where my breaking point (a.k.a., need to hire someone to help me) almost is.”
Hicks recently moved into a studio, a goal she set and has now achieved. She typically spends all day Wednesday and Friday making designs for the weekend, when most of her events take place.
“I fill my son’s playroom with the designs, so usually by Friday night, you can’t even walk into the room,” she said.
Hicks said that the work she does for weddings especially stands out to her because “the balloons are being used as something significant, like as a ceremony backdrop or entrance to the reception,” she said. “They give me anxiety, but I always love how they look in the end. I mix fresh greenery and sometimes flowers into the designs to give them a soft and romantic look.”
Referred to as “organic” balloon designs, Hicks’ creations are free flowing, meaning she uses only air to inflate them.
“They are hung on a structure or are free-standing, not floating, which is what you would use helium for,” she said. “I use an air pump to inflate them to the size I want, and then tie clusters together with string.”
A member of the Greater Carlisle Chamber of Commerce, Hicks also does a lot of donated or discounted work for nonprofits and other businesses, such as United Way, CPYB, Leadership Cumberland, and The Pomfret Group.
The best part of her job and something that surprised Hicks is how excited people get about her creations — not just children, but adults as well.
“The favorite part of my job is making people smile,” she said. “I never knew how happy balloons really make people.”