Photography by Travis Commeau

Helium Hot Rods

Vroom Vroom Balloon keeps up the pace

When Harlan Ruby gift shop owners Sunny Becks and Fiona Flaherty first envisioned Vroom Vroom Balloon in early 2017, they imagined a small balloon stand in their East Nashville gift shop. Their primary ambitions were to create a source for extra income and to bring smiles to the faces of customers’ children. Flash forward a year and a half and things have turned out differently — and far more colorfully — than they could have dreamed.

“We had our gift shop that we had just launched,” Becks says, seated next to her daughter and business partner Flaherty in Vroom Vroom’s workspace at Harlan Ruby. “We followed some other gift shops around the country that we were really inspired by. We love color and brightness and design. One of the gift shops we follow out on the West Coast had a little balloon bar. So Fiona’s idea was to do [the same], and I was like, ‘Hell yeah, we can do a balloon bar.’”

The pair ordered an array of colorful, quirky balloons and set up shop in the spring of 2017, unsure at first whether or not there would be the level of customer demand for such an enterprise.

“We really thought it would just be one little unicorn balloon going out the door every few days,” Becks says. “It was not that at all. It’s been a lot more than that. We had to grow with the demand of the community and the demand of our own creativity and inspiration.”

The pair’s breakthrough balloon commission was for tech company Slack, on the exterior of Belmont Boulevard eatery Proper Bagel. Restaurant patrons were stopped in their tracks by the pair’s colorful, two-story creation, which turned the dark brick exterior of Proper Bagel into an art piece. Vroom Vroom Balloon became a word-of-mouth sensation, with their reputation further buoyed by photos of the massive balloon installation on Instagram. Many found themselves wondering just who was behind Vroom Vroom Balloon, and how they could enlist their talents at events and celebrations of their own.

“That was our first paid, outdoor, big installation,” Flaherty says of the Proper Bagel project. “It was up for less than 24 hours and it, by Nashville standards, went viral. That was a huge game changer for us because it was right before New Year’s Eve, and then we suddenly had wedding planners calling us and event spaces calling us and people wanting us for their homes.”

“There were people that drove by Proper Bagel that immediately called their wedding planners and were like, ‘I just saw this on Proper Bagel and I want something for my wedding,’” Becks adds. “It was this really neat, organic ‘wow’ moment for our customers and for us.”

Since then, Becks and Flaherty have been in-demand and working around the clock (“We’ve worked every single day but two this year,” Flaherty says), designing and installing balloon creations for Hewlett-Packard, Draper James, Victoria’s Secret and, recently, Miley Cyrus, whose fiancé, Liam Hemsworth, posted a photo of Cyrus standing beneath a rainbow balloon arch for her 26th birthday. Becks recounts Cyrus’ installation as a personal favorite, saying, “I loved doing Miley’s birthday. I think that was really special, because it was a very sweet, loving gesture.”

While higher-profile installations get a lot of attention for Vroom Vroom Balloon, they also work with individuals and families for more intimate milestones and celebrations. Those projects don’t always get the level of “virality” of, say, Proper Bagel, but bring a great deal of meaning and fulfillment to Becks and Flaherty.

“We did a celebration of life for a gentleman in town who passed away,” Becks says. “He was a very colorful person and his children loved color. For us to really pull something together last-minute that was super meaningful for that person, I think is one of my biggest thrills. I like achieving what you think would be impossible and making it happen.”

Becks attributes their success to positivity and faith in their neighborhood. “I’ve always looked at East Nashville as not what can’t succeed or thrive, but kind of just assuming that we have a really supportive neighborhood and we can make it, even though I have seen a lot of businesses come and go over the years.”

But Flaherty sums up the biggest dividend of Vroom Vroom Balloon’s success quite succinctly: “We get to make a lot of people happy.”