In this series of interviews, we explore stories from immigrant/BIPOC*/women business owners who have adapted during the pandemic. The purpose is to learn and connect through shared experience. In this interview, Jo Anderson Cavinta (Diversity Services Coordinator at KCLS) spoke with Peter, the owner of a balloon decoration business in White Center.
*BIPOC means "Black, Indigenous, and People of Color."
Meet Peter, Balloon Decoration Business Owner
Peter’s parents fled the Khmer Rouge to a refugee camp in Thailand. He and his family resettled in Rainier Vista when he was 3, moved to West Seattle, then found a large Cambodian community in White Center’s Greenbridge neighborhood. After graduating from South Seattle College and UW-Tacoma with a healthcare administration degree, "I began working at Neighbor Care Health helping people navigate DSHS." He’s currently a DSHS Social Service Specialist.
“I wanted to invest in myself and break the cycle to be the first one in my family to have a business.”
“I was in Party City, in line like everybody else and noticed people from all walks of life getting balloons for all sorts of occasions. I drove all the way to Southcenter to buy balloons and I thought ‘why don’t we have something like this in White Center.’” After talking with his partner, Peter developed a plan to create balloon garlands, bouquets and other arrangements.
His family, however, was not as supportive. “They fled from war and their mindset is to have a stable job. I had that fear, but I felt anyone can do it if you put your mind to it. I wanted to show my cousins you can go to college, have a degree and own your business.” Peter started working part-time at Starbucks with the goal of saving enough money to purchase inventory - balloons, helium, etc.
Then COVID-19 hit.
“We had 6 clients and had to cancel all of them because I didn’t want to put myself or my partner at risk.” Peter decided to focus on marketing on social media. “I posted pictures of past projects and let folks know we’re still active.” Still, there were pandemic-related challenges such as a back order on balloons because of a staff shortage at the warehouse.
A turning point.
By “June or July we started reopening and accepting clients and got a lot of support from people of color. The people I grew up with began messaging me and booking my business.” Peter also bought ads on Facebook and Instagram, which boosted his reach. For $30, information about his business went out to 2,000 people in Seattle and King County. “I really stepped up my iPhone photo editing and making little videos on products. I used all the tools that I had.”
The road ahead.
“I am focusing on family celebrations like birthday gigs, and I want to take it corporate, get gigs at casinos, Microsoft, galas. I’m also making video promos on social media and finding different ways of approaching people.”
Peter’s Business Tip: Contact the economic development office in your city for information and resources.
Support your local small business community! For more financial and small business resources, visit Invest in Yourself.
The Welcoming Center for immigrants, refugees and new arrivals connects you to the people and resources in the area you live.