Balloons were always around Britnie Davis growing up, though she didn’t always notice them. They were there to bring joy in times of celebration and optimism in times of sadness.
But not once did she think balloons could become a career; her dream was to become a labor and delivery nurse.
While Davis has fulfilled her role as a carer in other areas, she now spends her days providing ‘smiles and happiness’ through Britnie’s Balloon Bonanza. And it all started with a handful of balloons and an air pump from the dollar store.
Shortly before starting his business in 2016, between 12-hour shifts at a local hospital, a balloon caught his eye on YouTube.
Eager to try it herself, Davis bought the materials needed to put together a similar arrangement. People quickly showed interest in his skills.
‘Want to be different:’ Britnie’s Balloon Bonanza impacts lives with colorful creations
Britnie’s Balloon Bonanza, a black-owned business in Knoxville, brings joy to the city with the colorful creations of Britnie Davis, a one-man show.
Calvin Mattheis, Knoxville News Sentinel
For a while, she sent her admirers to the YouTube link so they could try out – until she realized her skills could be used for something bigger.
Her entrepreneurial journey is as unique as the balloon arches, statues and snow globes she now creates. But don’t let the bright colors fool you; hers is a story of trials and triumphs, from overcoming the loss of her newborn daughter to mastering her role as a single mother.
“I’ve been a really, really awesome testimony to others, and it’s so humbling when people tell me that,” she said. “I didn’t have a pretty past. … So when people found out that Britnie was making balloons, it was a shock to everyone.
Looking back on her days as a shy teenager with a hot temper, Davis is the first to admit that balloons were never part of the plan. Her path to caregiving began at school, caring for children who needed special help – a task she was given after getting into trouble.
Balloon arrangements? It just fell in his lap.
Davis started the business by selling $5 balloon centerpieces for Mother’s Day. She walked away with $300 in her pocket – a great payment for someone who still works full-time in a hospital.
This success led to balloon concerts being booked almost every weekend for the rest of the year.
But even when her balloon arrangements began to gain recognition, she kept a foothold in the care business until her aging grandmother needed someone to care for her full-time.
It only lasted a few years until his grandmother passed away in January 2021. Around the same time, Davis’ newborn died of similar complications with his lungs.
Davis knew the pregnancy was complicated, but no one can understand the pain of losing a child.
“My balloons had made people happy,” Davis said. “But how can I continue to make my balloons and make people happy if I’m not happy?”
With her daughter and grandmother not there to celebrate, Davis faced one of her biggest challenges on Mother’s Day last year.
“I wasn’t ready,” she said. “I had a whole line of (clients) there who were last minute, and I was here sweating it out. It was a mess here. You couldn’t see the ground.
But she pushed through. More than a year later, that’s all she can do to keep up with the large number of orders sent to her modest workspace, attached to a warehouse in North Knoxville.
In her workspace, Davis can create arrangements for any occasion, from celebrating a birth to honoring a deceased person.
Her mind is always racing while she creates, and she plays music if her machines aren’t screaming. Most notably, she always works fast.
“Heck, I even talk fast,” she said. “It’s kind of a consistent assembly line. I use this machine, so it’s noisy. But other than that, I just work. I work very well alone. This is probably another reason why I never hired anyone other than trying to find good help. »
Help often comes in the form of Davis’ 7-year-old son, Zahnij, who helps out as much as he can by talking to customers at pop-up events. Zahnij has autism and is a driving force behind Davis’ perseverance.
“I always had to have money in my pocket because I always had to be able to pull up at a drive-thru, especially McDonald’s, for years and years and years,” Davis said. “It didn’t matter if I ate or not.”
She is primarily a solo show and has taken advantage of educational opportunities and grants from the Knoxville Area Urban League to establish herself as a business owner.
The money helped her transition from delivering her personal car to buying a brightly colored van.
Now she hopes to take the next step by opening a physical store where people can buy custom balloons and arrangements.
The balloon bar and events would be part of a balloon store and event center.
The company would use restaurant terms to guide people in creating their own balloon arrangements. Customers could choose from “appetizers,” which would include a variety of take-out options, and balloon colors would be named after flavors like banana and kiwi.
Customers could also add lights, confetti, gender reveal powder, and silver “fillers” to the balloons.
When it comes to being a black business owner, the title doesn’t matter that much to Davis. But having black professionals in his corner through the Urban League has been invaluable to his success.
“I’ve always been loved,” Davis said. “People see my work and they’re like, ‘You created this?'”
She has created everything from a simple arrangement for a cat’s birthday to an extravagant balloon wall built on a 40ft church stage with 20ft ceilings. Some of his more complex on-site creations can take up to 17 hours.
Zahnij had the opportunity last year to visit Dollywood and watch his mother, who was hired to make Christmas-themed balloons for guests.
“I love giving balloons back, making people happy,” she said. “It could be a single balloon on a string; it will make someone happy. I stopped so many tears in Dollywood with this.
The Dollywood experience was the highlight of Davis’ ball career so far and a moment of self-realization. She never imagined performing in front of people, but she came away proud as she heads into the next chapter as a business owner.
Davis said it was hard to believe that her determination and creativity came from a “little girl who didn’t have much to dream about.”
“When I look at this little Britnie here versus this Britnie I am now, it’s a huge difference,” she said. “Everything you can think of has happened to me while I’ve been in business for the past five years. … But I never stopped anything. I just never stopped.