Interview with Bill "Stretch" Coleman, Inventor of the Bubble Tower.
Tell me about your current business. What are you doing exactly?
Bubble Tower is a solar-powered tower that produces mounds of bubbles. We entertain primarily at festivals and county fairs. Also at Charity walks such as the American Heart Walk in Denver, and neighborhood picnics and ice cream socials.
When did you start the business?
I started entertaining as Stretch – the nine foot clown, in 1997, and introduced the solar-powered Bubble Tower at the 2004 Colorado Bubble Festival in Manitou Springs, CO.
What were you doing before this, and is this your first business?
I started entertaining as a nine foot tall clown/stilt performer in 1997. Prior to that I was in sales, and started and continue to operate Crystal Window and Blind Cleaning.
How did you come up with your business idea?
It was a gradual process, starting with a conversation that I had with Vince from www.solarpoweredbubbles.com. I designed a more portable, and artistic version, dubbed the solar powered Bubble Tower Sculpture. I soon saw the need for a more visual bubble performance, and created the Bubble Cluster machine that tops the Bubble Tower Sculpture that you see today. Our first Bubble Tower Sculpture was a rainbow design, soon followed by a pink sequin design for the Koman Race For the Cure for Breast Cancer, and a cow design, made from reclaimed, outdated vinyl billboard material. Currently, we are collecting burlap sacks from coffee roasters for a Coffee Bubble Tower that will feature colorful burlap sacks from all over the world. Meantime, about three years ago, we were approached by Bellco Credit Union who took me up on my offer to put their banners on top of the BT in exchange for their sponsorship. The concept was very successful, and Bellco continues to sponsor the Bubble Tower at area festivals, and has been joined by the South Denver Heart Clinic at the Denver American Heart Walk. We are actively seeking sponsors for other events in and outside of the metro Denver Area.
Did you write a business plan? Was it an effective tool for you?
No. It was a very evolutionary process, based on closely observing the reaction to the Bubble Tower. Everyone loves bubbles, and it was just a matter of refining the delivery, expanding the designs and letting folks know about us. After 5 years word of mouth continues to drive our expansion. Once they see it, they are hooked.
What outside resources were helpful for you -- Business incubators, Chamber of Commerce, SCORE, etc.?
I am a member of the International Association of Fairs and Shows, the Colorado Festivals and Events Association, the International Festivals and Events Association, and a number of regional associations. I subscribe to the World Chamber of Commerce Directory and other sources to direct me to events. Because of our location and sparse population for the part of the country, I have to cast a wide net. If I was located on either coast with higher density it would be a lot easier.
Green business is all the rage right now. Has it really been practical for you as an entrepreneur to incorporate green business practices?
It has been an advantage, right from the start. Not having a generator freed us from fuel, smoke, smell, and noise. It improved the experience. Not being dependent on a power line gave us the freedom to site the Sculpture on any level part of a large campus. People are intrigued by the solar aspects of the Sculpture, and ask us questions. Using reclaimed materials not only helped our budget, but also inspired creativity, and gave us credibility in our marketing.
With the current economy in a slump, what cost saving tips would you have for a new entrepreneur?
Become familiar with the tax code so you can structure your spending advantageously. For example, you can award several hundred dollars a year in $25 good attendance and safety awards as gift certificates, tax-free, to each of your employees. Tax deductible to you, and tax-free to them if you follow the rules.
What advice would you give to somebody else who wanted to start a similar business?
Be persistent, be creative.
A tower of bubbles is definitely creative, Bill. It must be great to make a living bringing happiness to people. Thanks for talking to me.