Let’s Get this Party Started: The Beginning to Party Supply Shop Unelefante
Inspiration for entrepreneurs is all around, but the deep details about how a brand goes from an idea to a physical product or service are fuzzy. We’re breaking it down this week with Unelefante. In part 2 of a 4-part series, learn about how Tatiana Sánchez got the idea for this party supply and gift company and how she turned into a full-fledged business.
Be sure to check out the first part to this series on Unelefante.
How did you initially get the idea to start Unelefante?
Tatiana Sánchez: For many different reasons, I was broke and I needed cash. A business that required a minimum investment and could be managed from home was my only option. On that quest, I read some articles about the party balloon industry and found out that I could easily start a balloon business (no skills required! 😂). Then I realized that all balloon businesses in Mexico were offering the same old styles, there was nothing creative or imaginative happening in the balloon market, so I decided to give it a try.
You used to work as a jewelry designer. How did your experiences there inform your work for Unelefante?
Tatiana Sánchez: I began designing and manufacturing fashion jewelry and accessories when I was around 22 and that's what I did for almost ten years under three different brands. I learn a lot during that time...I had to hire people, buy tools, machinery and supplies, run a workshop, exhibit in tradeshows, sell to department stores and boutiques, open a brick and mortar, export to other countries, pay bills and taxes, get paid (or not) and, my favorite part: design products, packaging and websites.
Once you decided that this was something you wanted to pursue, what were your next steps? How did you take it from an idea to physical products people could buy?
Tatiana Sánchez: I couldn't launch the brand with just a pretty balloon, it had to be the most awesome balloon, so, after a couple of days of wandering online and mixing trends and visual references the first drawing came out. After that, everything was trial and error (before that, I had never inflated a 🎈 with helium 😳)
Dozens of balloons had to be inflated in different sizes to see how much they could hold, how long they could last and where they could fit. After having the perfect size, we began shipping them to other states to see if they could survive the perils of the shipping industry.
The balloon survived and we immediately launched the web page, Facebook and Instagram. A couple of months later we created the first gift set: a balloon with a box of French macarons made by Theurel & Thomas, a local confectionery. The set sold very well so we decided to produce our own 🍫 to grow our line of products. We partnered with Jorge Llanderal, a Computer Systems Engineer turned into chocolate maker. He sold his computer business in his 50's to pursue his passion: chocolate. He prefers chocolate tempering machines to computers, he's the best chocolate technician, we love him!
We designed the Pollock bar and he gave life to it...
When you were just starting, what did your operation look like? How many people did you have helping you then, and how have you expanded?
Tatiana Sánchez: I started with a dear friend from primary school but he was also starting other businesses so very soon I continued on my own. The whole operation began in a small studio at my mom's place in the summer of 2012. The next year I moved to my place (big step 😂) and I hired a girl to help me, the business grew and I moved to a small retail space in a trendy neighborhood. Last summer we moved to a bigger space and we now are a team of ten full time people plus two to three paid interns.
How did you spread the word about Unelefante when you were just starting out?
Tatiana Sánchez: Facebook and Instagram were and still are key to our business growth. Instagram is our favorite social media, it still feels pretty organic and it's a wonderful tool to create a sense of community...
What were the first products you had? What all do you currently sell?
Tatiana Sánchez: First was the big balloon, second came the French macarons and third our Chocolate Pollock. We now have 3 different balloon styles in many different colors, more than 20 chocolates bars/bonbons, greeting cards, enamel cups, plush toys, pinatas, socks, puzzles... and we're about to launch our own jewelry line, manufactured in a small local workshop.
As a smaller business just starting out, how did you manage creating and storing the products you were selling?
Tatiana Sánchez: It was relatively easy to create a balloon line, and when we decided to add new products, the best option was to leave the manufacturing process to the experts, so we've managed to partner with incredible workshops and factories to produce our designs in amounts that we could sell and store.
The tricky part at the beginning was to negotiate lower volumes with top discounts. Fortunately, we found amazing suppliers that believed in our brand and gave us a hand at the start. Our chef, the company that produces our kraft boxes and our logistics agent were key to our growth.
How did (and do) you aim to make Unelefante different from other gift shops out there?
Tatiana Sánchez: We transform ordinary gifts into extraordinary experiences. Most people prefer safe options when purchasing a gift. Balloons, chocolates, jewelry and plush toys are safe options, we wanted to be the most imaginative and playful safe option in the market and by giving the customer the ability to personalize, we assure our customers that in a world of mass produced merchandise, their gift is unique...safe product, extraordinary design and packaging, personalizing options and moderate price = unforgettable experience for the recipient.