Local Focus: Renowned Balloon Artist is Floating on Air

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Treb Heining and a handful of colorful balloons. — Photo courtesy Treb Heining ©
Treb Heining and a handful of colorful balloons.
 — Photo courtesy Treb Heining ©

Ever since his first job at age 15 selling helium balloons at Disneyland, Treb Heining’s career has been on the rise.

Heining, who lives in Newport Beach, fell in love with balloons as a skinny kid hawking Mickey Mouse inflatables during school summer breaks from 1969 to 1972.

After two years of college, Heining took his balloon ideas and “burst” into the special events business with new and exciting inflatable decorations that lasted well beyond the lifespan of traditional cut flowers.

In 1979, with an artist’s passion, Heining formed the world’s first balloon-centric special effects and décor company, BalloonArt by Treb.

His initial mega-client was Cher, for whom he created the first-ever balloon arch on her Malibu home tennis court for her son’s third birthday.

From that auspicious beginning, Heining grew to become today’s foremost producer of balloon productions and presentations. Not content with simple arches, he expanded to invent balloon columns, letters, logos and other lighter-than-air sculptures on truly grand scales for over-the-top national events.

For almost 30 years, he has enjoyed owning and operating the balloon concession in South Coast Plaza, adjacent to the carousel, where originally just regular old balloons on a string have evolved to become a color-rich, helium-filled “umbrella” of more than 150 Disney character balloons-inside-of-balloons that float enticingly like a colossal airborne lollipop. He offers a variety of other inflatables, as well.

Balloon art — Photo courtesy Treb Heining ©
Balloon art
 — Photo courtesy Treb Heining ©

Heining, along with co-developer Henry Unger and Associates, spent several years perfecting what they call glasshouse balloons. According to Heining, “they are the best-selling balloons of all time.”

He now provides those balloons exclusively to all of Disney’s theme parks worldwide.

“The Mouse has been very good to me,” Heining enthuses, but in return, he also has been very responsive to Disney. When Disney calls for his specialized product and services, no matter what time of day or where it’s needed, Heining makes sure he quickly responds to their needs.

After his early years of plodding the asphalt of the Magic Kingdom, Heining came to see balloons not only as wonderful Disneyesque remembrances (albeit short-lived souvenirs), but also as an art form that literally and figuratively could soar into new market niches.

Disneyland taught Heining and his fellow squad of carefully hired “balloon boys” that there’s a sales psychology to selling balloons. Simply, “When walking around with large numbers of balloons attached to your hand, balloons sell,” Heining revealed.

It’s now a universal concept, and that’s why balloon vendors everywhere always have a clutch of balloons anchored to their wrists. They make the sky as much fun as a sprinkled cake.

Early in his entrepreneurial progression, Heining realized that “I don’t really sell balloons (even though he has sold literally millions of helium-filled orbs globally), I sell concepts that use balloons.”

He has sold those concepts repeatedly, profitably and spectacularly to the producers of some of this country’s greatest happenings, such as the Super Bowl, the 1984 Olympics, presidential nominating conventions, major facilities debuts, and blockbuster-celebrity bashes.

At Disney’s 50th anniversary, Heining set the world record for a single balloon release:  one million. He personally has inflated several million balloons, which in itself may qualify for a page in the Guinness Book of World Records.

Every Halloween, Heining sends aloft a 120-foot-long tethered string of balloons, topped by a 10-foot-diameter, tooth-deficient pumpkin. Its proximity to John Wayne Airport once attracted the FAA to his home to evaluate potential threat to aircraft.

Balloon art — Photo courtesy Treb Heining ©
Balloon art
 — Photo courtesy Treb Heining ©

One of Heining’s trademark offerings is the balloon arch, where dozens of helium-filled balloons are woven to an anchor cord. However, because of a recent slowdown on helium production, his popular arches could very well have become fallen arches.

So with his partner in invention, set-and-special events designer Bill Schaffell, they patented a flexible, take-apart rod to which balloons can be effortlessly affixed, thereby by-passing the monopoly held by a few helium-producing companies.

Called the AeroPole System, this invention has taken off around the world faster than a Mickey balloon cut loose by a careless kid.

As his balloon business continues to climb, there’s a part of Heining’s operation that continues to fall annually, and that’s his confetti wing.

Every New Year’s Eve, Heining packages up a couple of thousand pounds of extra large-diameter confetti appropriately named “Time’s Square Blend” that he and 100 friends toss down from 12-stories up on surrounding buildings at precisely 20-seconds before midnight.

“When the ball starts to drop, the people below go nuts; the noise is so loud you can’t hear yourself think. Then when we toss over the confetti, the noise doubles again. Just thinking about it, just talking about it gives me goose bumps. I just get tears,” Heining admitted, with evident moisture starting to well up as he recounted the moments.

During one Paris production, a Frenchman strutted up to Heining and proclaimed, “Monsieur, you are an artiste!”

Over the years, he has enjoyed many complimentary monikers. However, the only name that this this balloon maestro and recent grandfather should never be called is “Pop.”

For more detailed information about Treb Heining and his balloon enterprises, contact Heining at [email protected]

Treb Heining and an array of animal balloons. — Photo courtesy Treb Heining ©
Treb Heining and an array of animal balloons.
 — Photo courtesy Treb Heining ©

 

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3 COMMENTS

  1. So it seems that this man may be responsible more rubbish from the sky than any other individual alive today.

    Let’s hope that he now realises how much damage balloon releases do to the environment and what a danger they pose to wildlife and has taken to preaching the “don’t let go” message!