WILLMAR -- When he opened Fiesta Time Rentals, Roberto Valdez Jr. planned to double his sales in his first two years in business.
A little more than two years after its launch, Fiesta Time sales have tripled.
Valdez's story is an example of a small business that started small and has grown into a thriving enterprise.
Fiesta Time started with a simple idea. The Valdez family had young children, and a common complaint they heard from young families was that there was "nothing to do," Valdez said last week.
He had always wanted to own his own business, and "I wanted to do family entertainment," he said.
When he hit on the idea of renting inflatable bouncers for parties, he started his research. Valdez has an associate degree in marketing from Ridgewater College and a business degree from Moorhead State University. He put both to good use in preparing to open his business.
He looked at how similar businesses operate in other areas. Minnesota doesn't regulate bouncers yet, but he equipped his business on the assumption that the regulations would come. All of the equipment in his business meets other states' regulations, he said.
Valdez and a partner launched Fiesta Time in April 2008 with an 8-by-12 trailer, three inflatable units and a popcorn machine to rent for parties and celebrations. The partnership did not last but his former partner remains a friend, he said.
Today, the business has 11 units, including the first three pieces, and two box trucks to make deliveries. Other items include a 40-foot obstacle course, a bungee run, a giant slide, bouncers shaped like a tiger and like a princess's castle, and a cotton candy machine.
Valdez drives a Ford pickup painted a screaming shade of yellow, and his business is advertised on the side.
The company started with small backyard parties. As it has grown, Valdez said, he has purchased the larger units so he can handle big events. Fiesta Time provides entertainment for community celebrations, church events, family reunions, company picnics, weddings, birthday parties and other celebrations. The company also rents tents, tables and chairs.
Valdez said he can also provide other entertainment his customers might want. He set up a cash booth for a recent celebration in Willmar.
When Fiesta Time started, his plan was to grow as he could afford it. "I wanted to raise capital and start off small," he said. "I haven't taken out any loans for it; my plan was to grow slow."
Even though Fiesta Time was a very small company when it began, Valdez didn't want people to see it that way.
"Our vision was to carry ourselves as a big company," he said. That meant full-color brochures rather than photocopied fliers and developing a logo and theme that could be used across marketing platforms.
"Hours and hours and hours went into our look," he said. "We really took pride in what our company looks like. ... It's a clean, family-owned, family entertainment business."
He said he realized quickly that his market might be children but the people who would be hiring and paying him would most likely be mothers. So he developed some different logos and showed them to a variety of people. Men seemed to favor a geometric design, but women liked a smiling bright yellow sun shaking maracas. "Moms loved it," he said, so the sun became the company's logo and still is.
Valdez said customer service has always been a priority for him. The company delivers equipment, sets it up and takes it down again. Delivery is free in the Willmar area. "We pride ourselves that our units always look clean," Valdez said, and they are sanitized after every use.
When the business had grown enough that Valdez couldn't do all the deliveries personally, he outfitted his employees with company shirts and stressed the importance of customer service in working with families and children. He now hires four people for the summer season.
Valdez is the director of the Willmar Area Multicultural Market, and part of his job is to work with small businesses that are just getting started.
Valdez said the WAMM board is supportive of his having his own business, and he feels that his own business experience gives him credibility when he ad-vises other business owners.
Owners of small businesses have many things in common, like trying to find time for family and maintaining the passion and drive it takes to keep a business going, he said.
"It's always going to be a risk; you have a lot of responsibility," he said. "At the same time, owning your own company -- there's a very big sense of pride."
For more, visit www.FiestaTimeRentals.com.